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.


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.”

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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