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.
Justin Anderson (Angels) on His Spiked Slider
“Some people might think it’s a curveball, but it’s a slider. It kind of has the same plane as my fastball. That’s the idea. You want one pitch going one way, and one going the other. My thought process is to throw it as hard as I can and try to get break on it with my wrist flipping.
“It’s not a traditional slider grip by any means. It’s a grip I was always curious about. There’s a guy we’d always watch in the minor leagues — I played against him coming up — and we were like, ‘This guy has one of the best sliders ever.’ His name is Dean Deetz. I stole it from him. I finally saw his grip on a picture, on Twitter, last October or maybe in November. I was like, ‘OK, so this is how the guy throws it. I’m going to give it a go.’ That’s what I did. I ran with it.
“I took it into spring training. In my first spring-training outing, funny enough, it was working really well in the bullpen. I had some good feel. Then, when I went into the game, I didn’t have any feel for it, so I switched my grip to something else just to get through the inning. But I kept working with it throughout the spring, and it is what it is today.
“I’d worked on it all offseason. You could ask my fiancee; I’d sit at home with a baseball in my hand, holding it with that grip all the time. Some nights I’d be watching TV, Netflix or whatever, and she would be, ‘Are you going to let that thing go? The dog is going to think you’re going to throw it, or something.’ But that’s what I did to get that comfortable feeling with it, and here were are.”
Archie Bradley (Diamondbacks) on His Knuckle Curve
“I started throwing it when I was nine. Adrian Houser is with the Milwaukee Brewers, and his dad, Mike Houser, taught us how to throw our knuckle curveballs. Adrian and I grew up together. We weren’t on the same high-school team, but we’ve played with and against each other since we were eight years old.
“Everyone was throwing curveballs and turning their hands over, and Adrian’s dad wanted us to be able to throw one without putting our arms in as much danger at a young age. He had us throw a knuckle curve so that we could stay behind it and not have to snap the hand over.
“It took a while for me to figure out how to push it out and throw it at the same time, but I learned it pretty fast. Within the first couple of weeks, it was pretty good. I still throw it the same way now. I stay behind the pitch the whole time and am never turning my wrist over or having to snap my arm. It’s just about having a feel of when to let it go.”
Brent Suter (Brewers) on His Cut Fastball
“The cut on my fastball just naturally happened. The first time I picked up a professional baseball, it started cutting. I don’t know if it was the lower seams or whatever, but I’ve been finding ways to accentuate that. I kind of lean over a little more in my delivery and kind of close myself off a little bit to get that cut on it. Really, it’s been a professional ball thing.
“The seams on any professional ball are significantly lower than the college ball. Something about throwing it… I don’t know what happened, but as soon as I reported to Rookie ball it started cutting. I talked to my pitching coach [Elvin Nina] and we were like, ‘Hey, it’s cutting so let’s not fight it, let’s just use it — especially to righties.’ Up in the zone, it can kind of ride a little bit and cut and miss a barrel, so I kept working on it. I worked on command, especially arm side, getting it to still cut down and away to righties. The arm-side fastball is a big pitch for me.
“The next year, or maybe the year after, our pitching coordinator [Rick Tomlin] tried to get me throwing more of a true cutter off of that pitch. It was funny, every time I’d throw the cutter it would be, ‘Ah, no.’ But then when I’d go just fastball, he’d be, ‘Oh, that was the cutter. That was it.’ I’d say, ‘That was just my normal fastball.’ He was like, ‘OK, let’s stick with that.’ When I tried to throw a cutter it behaved more like a slider, but when I just threw a fastball it was more of a cutter.”
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.