Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 18

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 eighteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Trevor Bauer, Joe Biagini, and Noe Ramirez — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.


Trevor Bauer (Indians) on His Slider

“I wanted to add a Kluber-esque lateral breaking pitch, so I studied everything about it — spin axis, spin rate, trajectory, movement — and tried to copy it. I’ve done a pretty good job so far.

“It doesn’t come out of my hand the same way Kluber’s does or Stroman’s does, but I’m able to generate the same movement profile on it, because… it’s an iterative process. OK, this is happening and it’s not exactly what I want, so let me find a different way to hold it, or a different way to throw it, or a different cue. Let’s look at that at 2,000 frames per second. OK, does that have the desired effect? Yes or no.

“I learned this offseason how I can shift the axis, the plane that’s parallel to the ground. I can shift it from a gyroball to more like a curveball. That came pretty easily, but I hadn’t figured out the control factor of the variables shifted in the vertical plane. What you really need is the perfect gyroscopic spin, but shifted up 30 to 45 degrees to get the lateral movement — preferably shifted all the way to polar axis to maximum lateral movement, but that’s not realistic for my arm angle.

“As the season progressed and I got more and more film of it in game situations, I was able to identify what exactly was going on. I was able to compare it to Stroman’s slider — slurvy-slider-curveball thing, the bigger breaking ball. I put mine next to Clevinger’s, Stroman’s, and Kluber’s, and looked at the different ways it came it out of our hands. I have the control variables now for the vertical plane, so I can shift the axis up and down, left and right, pretty much at will. That allows me to manipulate the movements on it.

“It’s not super consistent yet, because I haven’t thrown it for five, 10, 15 years like I’ve thrown my curveball, but it’s getting there. Not this past start against the Yankees, but the start before I averaged 10 inches of lateral movement on it and basically zero vertical movement, which is… I was actually shooting for seven inches lateral and zero vertical, so I exceeded what I was hoping to get on it.”

Joe Biagini (Blue Jays) on His Cutter

“I had a dream about it. Something came to me. It was a big baseball-looking face, and it said, ‘If you want me to cut this way, throw me like this.’ So I did that. It might have been one of my drug trips that I was on. This was back in the 1980s. Or maybe it was a couple of years ago.

“A side story to that is how my pitches basically take me a long time. I’m still struggling with my changeup a little bit. The curveball took me a long time to get. The mechanics to produce my fastball are different than they used to be. And my cutter… it’s funny. I always tried to learn a slider, and I could never get it. I would always throw a spinner, or this big, slurvy-curveball type thing. So we talked about throwing a cutter. My dad would look up pictures of Mariano Rivera. I heard he had a decent one.

“I went through a few different phases of trying to grab a seam, finger pressure, pull down, and all that stuff. It just didn’t work. One day it was like, ‘Why don’t you just try holding a four-seam fastball; that’s kind of similar to what Rivera does.’ He’s got this special wrist thing that helped him, or whatever.

“I’d tried the Brian Wilson one, because I was a Giants fan growing up in that area. He just kind of turned his wrist. Anyway, my dad said to get a four-seam grip and just make it supinate. I think this is pronate and this is supinate? Anyway, he said to turn my wrist about 30 degrees and just throw a fastball. So I threw the first one, and it darted just like that. I threw about 10 of them and they darted. That was right before the season started, my first year. It’s the pitch I had by far the least experience with, and it’s been the biggest pitch for me.

“It was almost an ignorance-is-bliss thing. Because I didn’t have a past history with it, I didn’t have any reason not to trust it, or to doubt what it was going to do. It was simply, ‘Just do this.’ Then I’d throw it. I wouldn’t try to manufacture it, I’d just throw the baseball. So yeah, it was a combination of that and the drug dream.”

Noe Ramirez (Angels) on His Changeup

“When I got to [Cal State] Fullerton, Ricky Romero was there. He was playing with the Blue Jays already, but he came back one day. Our coach at the time loved changeups — he was a big fastball-changeup guy — so I asked Ricky, ‘Hey, man, I’m trying to learn this new changeup. Yours is great. What have you got?’

“What he told me is, ‘Circle-change grip. That’s the one I go with. Just throw it as hard as you can from 90 feet. When you play your catch and come to 90 feet, just throw it. It doesn’t matter where it’s going, just throw it as hard as you can.’ After like two weeks, man, I felt I had a changeup already.

The circle change Noe Ramirez learned from Ricky Romero.

“From there I kept adjusting, pretty much. My arm angle kind dropped a little bit over time and I had to adjust to that. It’s all about release point, pretty much, really getting out in front of the changeup. It’s all the same from up here to down here. I just need to get out there and throw it like a fastball. I’m not really pinpointing location. I’m just trying to throw it low in the zone with some action.”

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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5 years ago

Wow, you couldn’t possibly get more contrast than Bauer’s ultra technical scientific iterative approach and Biagini’s “I dropped acid and a coyote with the voice of Johnny Cash told me how to throw a cutter.”