Martín Pérez on The Art of the Changeup

Martín Pérez has a plus changeup, and he relies on it often. The 30-year-old native of Guanare, Venezuela has thrown his “cambio” 24.6% of the time since coming to the Red Sox prior to the 2020 season. A four-seam circle delivered at an average velocity of 84.9 mph, it’s the pitch the southpaw was once told would be his ticket to the big leagues.

Perez discussed the art of the changeup prior to a recent game at Fenway Park.


Perez on his changeup: “I started throwing my changeup when I was 14 years old. Before that age, I just threw fastballs. I’d met couple of guys in Venezuela who played — Ramon Garcia, a righty with Houston, and Ernesto Mejia, who signed with Atlanta — and they told me not to throw breaking pitches, to just throw fastballs. As soon as I started my process to sign as a professional baseball player, I started to throw changeups, breaking balls, and fastballs.

“It’s important to have a changeup that will have the same arm speed as the fastball. You throw your fastball, and you throw your changeup, and they’re going to look the same. That’s why it’s so hard to hit. It’s hard for hitters to recognize that pitch, because they both have the same rotation. So, that was my focus.

“After I signed [with the Rangers] in 2007, the guy who was my boss at that time was [Director of Player Development] Scott Servais. In 2008, I played in [short-season] Spokane and it was a good year. I threw my breaking ball, my changeup, and my fastball. I had a big breaking ball. It was 12–6 and really good; I could throw it in any count. But then, in 2009, I went to Hickory, Low-A, and they told me, ‘Martín, you don’t have to throw more breaking balls. We want you to focus on your changeup, because that’s the pitch that’s going to take you to the big leagues.’

“When you advance to the higher levels and hitters have more experience, it’s too hard to just throw fastballs and breaking balls. So I focused on fastball-changeup, fastball-changeup — a couple of breaking balls, but not too many. That’s why I can say I have one of the better changeups, because it became my real focus.

“One thing I always like to do in my routine, in my throwing program, is when I’m out 90 feet, 120 feet, I do my warming up with two steps and throwing my changeup. That pitch is about extension. You’ve got to throw it in front of your eyes, always. If you don’t throw it in front of your eyes, it’s going to be up, or it’s going to be down for a ball. They’re going to recognize that right away.

“I don’t really pronate my changeup. I just throw it like a fastball, a four-seam fastball. Four-fingers fastball. Boom. The [middle finger] is the last one that’s going to touch the ball. It’s your biggest finger, and you don’t have to play for movement with your hand, because that finger is going to create it for you. But everybody is different; they put the ball in different positions in their hands. I just like to have a good grip to where I feel like I can throw it as hard as I can.

“I had a chance to to talk with Johan Santana in 2019. I asked him, ‘What do I need to do better?’ He told me, ‘You don’t have to do anything better, you’re good enough to get people out.’ I told him that I had another question: ‘What do you think about my changeup?’ He said, ‘Your changeup is nasty, so you don’t need to do anything with it, but make sure that you have the ability to throw it for a strike or for a ball.’ That’s something that I always keep in my mind. I want to be able to throw my first-pitch changeup for a strike, and then I can throw it down, or I can throw it away. You can play with location after one strike.

[Santana] had the ability to throw his changeup both outside and inside. Like a slider-changeup. Sometimes he would throw it and move the ball inside, or he would throw it and move it outside. He could either [run or cut it]. Mine is, ‘Stay in the middle and go down, and sometimes stay in the middle and go away.’ You never know which way that pitch is going.

“One big thing with that pitch is my forearm. My [glove-side] arm is going to give me my direction. If I want to throw my cambio away, I’ve got to stay closed and follow the glove of the catcher. If I want to go in, I have to go in with the glove. Boom. That’s the direction I have to take. If I rush a little bit, it’s not going to be where I want it to go. That’s why I always focus on my arm. It’s the same when you’re going to fight. It’s the same when you pitch. It’s about direction. Your line needs to be perfect.

“You need to be able to throw quality balls. I remember when I got here last year, Pedro [Martinez] told me, ‘You have just one problem.’ I was like, ‘What is my problem?’ Nobody had told me this in the seven, eight years that I’d been in the big leagues. He said, ‘You throw too many strikes.’ It was like what [Santana] had said. You need to throw quality balls when you need to throw balls.

“It’s the same with your fastball. I have the ability to throw a two-seam down and away at 96–97 [mph] and I can throw a two-seam down and away at 92–94. That’s a big difference. I’m going to throw quality balls with that pitch, because the harder you throw with that pitch, the less movement it’s going to have. If you throw it slow it’s going to have more movement, so that’s what I try to do when I have runners on and am looking for a double play.

“When you throw your changeup, it’s the same rotation as your four-seam fastball, but they’re going to go [in different directions]. That’s two pitches. You throw your two-seam, and at the last second it’s going down. That’s three pitches. So, I can throw my changeup — boom — and then I can throw my two-seam and they’ll think, ‘This is a changeup down-and-away.’

“The easiest pitch to hit in the big leagues is the fastball. I’ve never seen a pitcher who throws a fastball that nobody can hit. Everybody can hit the fastball, but if you have a secondary pitch that moves just a little bit — it doesn’t have to be nasty — you’re going to get people out. I use my cambio to get people out.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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