Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 11

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.

In the eleventh installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Tyler Clippard, A.J. Minter, and Seung Hwan Oh — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Tyler Clippard (Blue Jays) on His Changeup and Splitter

“My changeup is a pitch I’ve been throwing since I was 13 or 14 years old. It’s always been the same grip, kind of a circle change. The grip itself isn’t that unusual as far as how most people grip their changeup. The biggest thing I think I do a little differently than most guys is that I have the ability to kind of kill my lower half. That stems from a pitching coach I had at an early age. I took what he said to heart and developed a feel for not pushing off the rubber, for having a soft front side.

“My split is kind of an interesting story. I was playing catch with my brother during an All-Star break — I think it was 2012 — and he threw this pitch to me, kind of playing around, and I threw it back. After that, I would play catch every day and mess around with this splitter grip that he showed me. We both have really big hands, so it was a pitch that almost knuckled.

“When you’re messing around playing catch on the side, you’ll throw knuckleballs to guys, and that was kind of my way because I was never good at throwing an actual knuckleball. My way was to split my hands and let the ball slip out, and it would dance. My catch partner that year was Ryan Matthews and he fought me. He said, ‘Man, you’ve got to throw that pitch in a game. It’s really nasty.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’ll give it a shot.’ So I did. It was an easy pitch for me to throw, I got some good late action action on it, and it was very different from my changeup, so I decided, ‘Why not?’”

A.J. Minter (Braves) on His Cutter-Slider

“I’ve thrown a cutter since high school. My pitching coach at the time, Travis Chick — he played pro ball and debuted with Seattle in ’06 — introduced me to it. When I got to [Texas] A&M, my first two years were out of the pen, so it was mainly fastball-cutter. My junior year, I became a starter and would throw a curveball and a changeup a little bit, but unfortunately I blew out and had Tommy John. Once I came back, it became strictly fastball-cutter.

“I call it a cutter, but at times I’ll try to make it a little bigger, maybe if I want a swing and miss. I’ll kind of get around it a little bit and get more slider depth to it. It’s the same grip, just a slightly different angle on the ball. It’s not much — we’re probably talking centimeters — and I’m always thinking fastball and trying to throw it in there as hard as I can. There are just times where I manipulate the ball a little bit. I’ll put more pressure on my middle finger and get a little bit more on the side to try to get more depth.

“You never want to become complacent. These hitters have a 50/50 chance of guessing either fastball or breaking ball against me, so I wanted to make my cutter-slider different at different times. I’ve never tried to turn it into an actual slider, though. I like more horizontal movement. I don’t want a dot on the ball. I always want that four-seam-action spin so hitters can’t pick it up as much.”

Seung Hwan Oh (Blue Jays) on His Four-Seam Fastball

“This is maybe going to be boring, but the grip on my fastball is a little different than the standard [four-seamer] that most guys throw. There’s a little bit of gap between my hand and the ball. I also have my thumb on the side of the ball, and if you watch closely enough, with kind of slow-motion video, when I release the ball my pinky lifts up a little bit. Maybe that’s interesting.

“I learned that grip when I was in middle school. My coach taught it to me. He told me that I could pitch faster. That was the only reason he gave. I practiced that pitch and somehow it worked out pretty good. Pitch grips [in Korea] are pretty similar to here, it just happens that my fastball grip is a little unique.”

We hoped you liked reading Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 11 by David Laurila!

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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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Lunch Angle

Always fascinating! So Clippard’s splitter is basically a hard knuckler? Now I gotta see video of this pitch.