Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 14

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 fourteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Yoshihisa Hirano, Joe Musgrove, and James Paxton — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Yoshihisa Hirano (Diamondbacks) on His Splitter

“I started throwing it when I turned pro in Japan. The truth is, when I was in college, I was able to get hitters out without having a splitty. A fastball and a slider was enough. When I got to the pros, there was a lot of talk of needing a pitch that comes down and about how there’s more success with that pitch. I started toying with it a little bit my last year of college, and when I got to the pros I started using it.

Kazuhiro Sasaki was a big splitty-forkball thrower. There are some books about him, and I studied those. No one really taught me anything. I just went out and started playing with it, checking the books on how he grips it. I found a grip that was comfortable for me. There are some guys who throw it the same way, but there are other pitchers in Japan who grip it differently, too. They have a different placement within the seams.

Hirano’s splitter-forkball.

“There are some people in Japan who say you might get elbow soreness if you throw a lot of splitties, but [overall] the thought process is different than it is here. They don’t think it’s going to cause injuries. A lot of guys get injured without throwing the splity, too. Maybe the cause is guys throwing hard. Really hard. Here I’ve seen a lot guys that throw really hard.”

Joe Musgrove (Pirates) on His Cutter

“My cutter has become a good pitch for me. Jerome Williams, who’s been with Houston, the Angels, San Francisco — he’s been around awhile — showed me the one he learned from Mariano. It’s a similar grip. I just don’t do as much cocking of the wrist. There’s not really manipulation, I just throw it like a fastball.

Musgrove’s cutter grip.

“I really started throwing it last year, although I threw it a couple times in 2016 when we faced the Cubs. I broke it out for [Anthony] Rizzo. I was having trouble figuring out how to pitch him, with him liking the ball inside. A cutter was something I could start inside and run out of the zone, and try to get weak contact. Basically, I broke it out in the middle of that game. I liked the results, so I kept working on it, and it slowly became part of my repertoire

“After the 2016 season is when I started talking to Jerome Williams about it. We threw bullpens together that offseason. He showed me the grip, and I kind of toyed with it and found the right feel and release point.”

James Paxton (Mariners) on His Cutter-Slider

“In Triple-A, I was basically just fastball-curveball. Being a two-pitch guy, my pitching coach, Dwight Bernard, came to me and suggested adding a cutter to my repertoire. It was something to get off the barrel, and it was a pitch that would be easier for me to throw for strikes at the time. After that, Terry Clark also helped me continue to work on it.

“I throw it like a cutter, but it moves like a slider. I don’t get around it and make it flat. I don’t really know why [it moves like a slider]. Maybe I am gripping a slider, but I have to think cutter and keep my hand through it, and on top of it, in order to get the shape that I want. I like having some depth on it.

“I’ve asked other guys how they hold their cutters and their sliders, and again, I think it’s held more like a slider than a cutter. It’s a bit more turned in my hand than guys who throw true cutters. I don’t really try to manipulate it. I just set my wrist and let it rip.”

We hoped you liked reading Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 14 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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