Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 12

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 twelfth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Matthew Boyd, Sam Gaviglio, and Hector Santiago —— on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.


Matthew Boyd (Tigers) on His Slider

“My slider has kind of evolved over the years. My junior year [at Oregon State], we had a rain delay at the University of Portland and I was playing catch out in front of the dugout. I asked Nate Yesky, our pitching coach, how to throw one. He taught me how he threw his.

“It turned into this big slurve. I kind of rode that my senior year — it was a big pitch for me — and once I got into pro ball it slowly tightened up. As the years went on, every coach on the Blue Jays worked with me on it, trying to make it more like a cutter. They wanted to make it more high 80s, closer to my fastball, but I could never really get to that pitch.

“I was still trying to figure it out when I got to the big leagues. It wasn’t very consistent. Rich Dubee really helped me out, trying to tighten it up. But again, it would come and go. It wasn’t until later in the year, last year, that it started getting tighter.

“This offseason, I threw with James Paxton a little bit and he showed me how he throws his. We obviously have a much different slider-cutter, but I threw it like his and from there it took on a shape of its own with my own delivery. It’s become a real weapon for me.

“We talked about grip, pressure, wrist… different thoughts you have with how you preset your wrist and how you come through it. I’m a very loose-wristed guy on all of my pitches, and I think that helps with how the ball comes off my fingers, but sometimes with the slider I get too loose with it — I have a tendency to get around it. He talked about his wrist, and that really clicked with me. I wouldn’t put mine in the same category — [Paxton] has a really nasty one — but the way we throw our sliders is similar.

Chris Bosio has helped me with how to keep it [consistent]. He’s been instrumental in giving me a framework to go back to, because your pitches flee from you sometimes, right? He’s helped me with where I want to start my slider and finish it, using my sight lines. That’s been huge, too. ”

Sam Gaviglio (Blue Jays) on His Split/Fosh

“I worked with a pitching coach in San Diego, Dom Johnson. His father [Deron Johnson] played in the big leagues, and he has two mounds in his back yard. Quite a few guys down there. It’s called ‘The Back Yard.’

“I’d kept trying to throw a circle change, and he had me throw a fosh instead. He had me split my fingers. I kind of throw a combination split-fosh change. My fingers are on the side, which is what works for me. If I go with a straight split, the ball wants to just kind of come out. Having my fingers on the side of the ball helps it stay in there.

“I worked on the pitch when I was in the Dominican [Winter League in 2016-2017] — that’s when I kind of got it going real good — but even this year, I’ve kind of changed it from when I came to the Blue Jays. It’s really just moving the ball around. The grip is also a little different up here than it is in the minor leagues.

“The minor-league ball is different than a big-league ball. The seams on a minor-league ball are a little bit bigger, a little more pronounced, while the seams on big-league balls are a little closer. I was having trouble hanging on to the big-league ball, so I needed a slightly different grip.”

Hector Santiago (White Sox) on His Screwball

“I was down in Puerto Rico playing winter ball [in 2009], playing catch with Angel Miranda, an older pitcher who’d played with the Brewers. We called him Chimilón. We were talking about offspeed and young guys figuring out pitches, and I was throwing a changeup to him and he was throwing a screwball back. He said, ‘Man, you have a really good arm slot for one. It’s the same thing as a changeup, you just turn it over.’

“We played catch at 50 feet, then we went back to 60, then we started long-tossing. Over time it kind of developed into a super changeup. Mentally, I was really pronating the pitch. He said to try to throw with fastball hand speed, and to think of throwing a curveball right-handed, but from the left side — really getting your hand inside the baseball and having it kind of fall off the top of your hand. That way you’re taking velocity off of it and have a 20 mph difference from your fastball. My screwball is anywhere from 76 to 80, and as long as I got on top of it and finish it, I get good depth and angle down and away to righties.

“I have had to tweak it a little bit. Over your career as a pitcher in baseball you start developing arm things, like losing extension. My left arm is shorter than my right arm right now. I don’t know if it’s from throwing offspeed or just building up scar tissue, but I have a little bend in my elbow, so I’ve had to move the ball a little bit to create the same angle and spin on it. Early on in my career I had really good extension out in front, and I just turned it over. It was easy. Now it’s a little harder, but I still do it. I’ve thrown more screwballs this year than I have in any other year in my career — even 2012, when I basically got called up to throw the screwball.”

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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