Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.
Mike Clevinger, Indians
“My curveball was pretty inconsistent in the past. I would get kind of slurvy with it — it was sloppy the past couple of years — but I’ve tightened it up. It’s more 12-6 now. I’ve been able to find a more consistent up-to-down break.
“There was a lot of process involved. It literally started as… it was almost like we were trying to catch a bass, just flipping it with a tight wrist. A reversed stance — my right foot forward, almost like a pickoff — and just flipping it, flipping it. We were kind of getting the feel for that, coming down and pulling out in front.
“From there we eased into walk-and-throws, then moved on to walk-and-throws with a lot of intent. I would walk in and try to throw the crap out of the curveball. I would throw it as hard as I could. That was after I’d found the feel for it lightly, with the casting.
“The process led to tighter spin and better feel, throwing it out of the same slot. Instead of creating a curveball with my arm, I’m throwing the curveball more naturally. Before, I was kind of manipulating it, trying to force the movement. That’s why it wasn’t good. I really didn’t know what I was doing with it. Now I’ve got the feel and do know what I’m doing with it.”
Will Harris, Astros
“I’ve thrown it the same way since I was in high school. It was taught to me by the LSU baseball coach at a Christmas baseball camp when I was about 14 years old. For me, it was all about trying to throw the pitch as hard as I could. I think this year that’s helped me out. I was trying to work on a slider, and creating arm speed for a slider got the arm speed back on my breaking ball. I added some velocity. Any time you can throw a curveball in the low to mid-80s, like the one Ryan Pressly has, you’re doing a lot right.
“Curveballs are more of a feel pitch, but I try to make it a power pitch as much as I can. Working on a slider, trying to get that more horizontal break, and then going back to my curveball… in practice it seemed to help with the spin and the break on my curveball.
“When I was trying to add a slider — this was earlier this summer — the two kind of morphed into one pitch, which ended up being a harder curveball. I get a little more horizontal break than I used to. Instead of being more 12-6, it has a little more sweeping action to it. Because of that I’m able to have a little more velocity, which is what we’re all looking for when we throw breaking balls.”
Brandon Workman, Red Sox
“I learned to throw it when I was 16, and I’ve kind of just been throwing it since. There’s really not a cool story behind it. A guy at my high school, an older guy, showed me how he threw his, and I started throwing it that way. The guy was Heath Taylor. He pitched at Oklahoma and then made it as far as Triple-A, with Cleveland.
“It’s a spiked curveball, but it’s not a dug-in spike. My [pointer] finger is just kind of sitting on top of the ball. My middle finger is on the inside of the seam, so I can pull off of it, and my pointer finger is sitting beside it, basically out of the way.
“I’ve gotten better with it. I’ve been able to tinker with it a little bit over the years, but it’s basically the same pitch I learned when I was 16 years old. Nothing major has ever changed. It’s just gotten better because I’ve been throwing it for all these years.”
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.