Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 21

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 twenty-first installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Patrick Corbin, Zach Eflin, and Sonny Gray — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.


Patrick Corbin (D-backs) on His Slider

“My slider. When I was really young, I asked my father how to throw a breaking ball, and he showed me this grip. It’s something I’ve stuck with throughout the minor leagues and the big leagues. It’s been my best pitch, and it’s kind of neat that my father showed me the grip.

“I can’t remember exactly when it was, but probably around 10 years old, maybe the first couple of times I played catch with my father. He always used to say he loved throwing it at the left-handed batter’s hip and having him freeze, only to have the ball break over the plate. That’s something I’ve always remembered and taken with me.

“Nothing’s really changed with it. It’s the same exact grip that I’ve had my whole life. Again, it’s pretty special to have learned it how I did, at such a young age, and then staying really comfortable with it all these years.”

Zach Eflin (Phillies) on His Four-Seam Fastball

“Prior to double knee surgery I was really short with my stride, so my four-seam fastball didn’t play up that much. I typically only used it in two-strike counts. After the surgery — that was about a year and a half ago — I was able to use more of my legs to extend my stride and get more extension on the baseball. That allowed me to backspin a four-seam better — to have a better spin rate on it — which has resulted in a lot more swings-and-misses. It’s given me a strikeout pitch.

“I also moved over on the third-base side of rubber. [Pitching coach] Rick Kranitz helped me a lot. Dave Lundquist, down in Triple-A, helped me out a lot. Rafael Chaves, our pitching coordinator, helped me out a lot. Those three guys all wanted me to go to the third-base side of the rubber. On the left side of the rubber I’d always kind of been a sinker-changeup guy. They wanted me to be more of a power, four-seam, and slider, guy.

“It’s a different angle on the third-base side. When you’re a right-handed hitter facing a guy who is kind of lined up directly from where you are, and the ball is coming in from there, there’s a little more deception. And it forces me… if I’m going low and away with a fastball, I have to get extended as far as I can to reach that. If I don’t, I’m flying open and I’m going to cut the baseball. So really, it’s about being able to lengthen my stride and getting more spin on my four-seamer. I don’t have a clue as to what the spin actually is, but I know it’s better.”

Sonny Gray (Yankees) on His Curveball

“I played with Craig Gullickson, whose father, Bill Gullickson, pitched in the big leagues for a long time. This is when were around 12 years old and playing in a place called Music City, in Nashville, Tennessee. My dad was a coach, as was Craig’s dad. I used to throw my curveball a certain way, and it wasn’t all that great. One day [Bill Gullickson] said to me, ‘Instead of holding it on that seam, grip this side of the horseshoe. Just move your finger from this seam to this seam.’ That’s all it was. I held it the same, just one seam over.

Sonny Gray’s old curveball grip.

“Over time, I’ve kind of changed the way I’ll manipulate my wrist, but it’s the same grip from when I was a kid. To this day, I throw it like he showed me.”

And the new one.

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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