Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 19

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 nineteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Marco Estrada, Brad Hand, and Jake Odorizzi — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.


Marco Estrada (Blue Jays) on His Changeup

“I never really threw a changeup in high school or college. When I got to High-A, I met a kid named Clint Everts who threw a really good changeup, so I asked him how he held his. It was a pretty simple grip. I grabbed it and threw it a couple of times, and it came out pretty good. I actually took it into a game two or three days after that, and got a lot of swings and misses on it. That’s basically where it began.

“The way I hold it has been the same ever since, although I feel the action on it has been a little different lately — last year and this year. There’s a lot of talk about the balls being different and whatnot, and maybe that’s affecting it a little bit? But I just don’t feel that it’s been what it was. There are days where I throw a good one and kind of tell myself, “What did I do different?’ It felt the exact same, so, is it the ball? I don’t know what it could be.

Marco Estrada’s changeup grip.

“It seems like the ball doesn’t pause like it used to. I used to get that from hitters all the time: ‘Man, it looks like it stops in mid-air. It just never gets to you.’ I haven’t been hearing that lately.”

Brad Hand (Indians) on His Slider

“I started throwing my slider in the middle of the season in 2015. I started playing around with a bunch of different grips — the conventional grips — and eventually found something that was comfortable. I throw it almost the same as my two-seam fastball, I just kind of manipulate it a little bit.

“One of my catchers, Jeff Mathis, knew I’d been playing catch with it. I was pitching in a game, and he called for it. I was like, ‘Well, I haven’t thrown it in a game yet.’ But I threw it, and it was kind of good, so I kept throwing it.

“The game was actually against San Diego, when I was in Miami. The first batter I threw it to was Alexi Amarista, and I think it was a swing and miss. My pitching coach knew I’d been working on the pitch, but he didn’t know that this was the game where I’d bring it out. I had to get it into a game eventually, so when Mathis called for it, I just threw it. Over time I became more consistent with it, and t’s become one of my better pitches.”

Jake Odorizzi (Twins) on His Split-Change

“In spring training of 2014, I was looking for a changeup. I’d experimented with one a lot when I in Kansas City, but I could never take enough off. Anyway, I was in Port Charlotte, and Alex Cobb threw a split, so I asked him how he held his and what his thought process was. I thought it was something I could replicate pretty well, and lo and behold, I was right. It works for me because it’s more of a movement pitch than a speed-differential pitch.

“After he showed me the grip, I started throwing the heck out of it, day in and day out. We were catch partners, so when I’d throw it he could give me feedback. Working on it was a low-risk play in that I knew I needed something like to that to propel me in my career. Thankfully, I figured it out pretty quickly.

“I’m not worried about arm speed, I’m not worried about grip. It’s just about getting a little extra split to my fingers. There are so many different types of changeups. There are circles, there are guys making things up as they go — whatever works for you, basically — and this is a completely different mindset. Rather than trying to take speed off the ball, I’m trying to get movement on the ball. I can let the grip make the movement instead of being concerned with taking 10 mph off, which is the golden rule. Again, I could never get that subtraction I wanted to from a conventional grip, anyway.

“I had toyed around with a split when I was younger, but it more just for fun and not in a competitive situation. There are different split grips as well. I wanted to know how Alex did it. I wanted direct knowledge from somebody — this is how he holds it, this is how he throws it — and we were on the same staff, so he was the guy to go to. We’re also friends, which also makes it easier to chit chat about something on a daily basis.”

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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Jetsy Extrano
Jetsy Extrano

It surprises me how fast these guys seem to go sometimes from “tried a grip” to “threw it in a game”. If I could do that I think I’d always be working on one new pitch just to mess with hitters.