Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 17

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 seventeenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Matt Barnes, Cam Bedrosian, and Jesse Chavez — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.


Matt Barnes (Red Sox) on His Curveball

“I was in Double-A (Portland) with Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo, and I think we were in Trenton, playing the Yankees at their place. I’d just pitched the day before and my curveball wasn’t good. They were like, ‘Try using a spiked grip.’ I was like, ‘I’ve never done it before.’ They said, ‘We both use it,’ and the rest is history. We started playing catch with it and I’ve had that grip ever since.

“Why did it work better for me than a conventional grip? I don’t know. There are little things in baseball. People could be saying the same thing to you, but one verbiage just latches on and allows you to understand it. The grip just felt natural to me. It felt easier to spin the baseball. What you’re trying to do is spin it as fast as you can, downward, to create the action, yet still be able to command it. I wasn’t able to do that with the grip I had before that, and what they showed me worked.

“I guess I have moved it around a little from when I was first throwing it. I was using it with the seams, with the horseshoe, and now I’m kind of across the horseshoe. But it’s been the same the last couple of years.”

Cam Bedrosian (Angels) on His Curveball

“My dad actually threw a slider when he played. He taught me the slider grip, probably when I was 12 or 13. As time went on, I kind of learned how to throw it a little differently out of my hand, and it turned into more of a curveball.

“It’s the same grip as his slider, but the way I turn my hand… instead of being on top of the ball, I kind of get on the side and pull down. It kind of creates a different motion. That’s why I get a little more slurve action to it.

“The pitch has sort of evolved. When I got to pro ball I messed around with a couple different grips. I’d say I went back to throwing it with that motion two or three years ago. I’d thrown it that way in high school, and after messing with a few things in the minors I decided I wanted to get back to the grip I’d had when I was younger. That’s how I throw it now.”

Jesse Chavez (Rangers) on His Cutter

“It’s better now, but my cutter wasn’t working earlier in the year. It was either big or it was backing up on me. I’m not one to delve into video, or hash over the… not the analytics part, but reading too much into it. But I finally got to where I looked at one picture, and it clicked for me.

“The picture I came across was from when I was in Oakland. I was like, hmmm. My fingers have been spread out too far, compared to where they used to be. That’s why I wasn’t getting that life, that snap, I was used to, and need for my own well being. So I grabbed a ball to see what happens, and sure enough, that was the adjustment I needed to make.

“I originally learned my cutter by just playing around with it when I was in the minor leagues with Pittsburgh. No one really taught it to me. I actually just used it get back on track with my slider. My slider was… I basically grabbed a two-seamer and put one finger up, and just threw it. Kind of a finger pressure thing. That’s kind of when I started really learning about finger pressure. That’s when I really grasped that.”

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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