Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 4

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 slider 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 fourth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Andrew Cashner, Drew Pomeranz, and CC Sabathia — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.


Andrew Cashner (Orioles) on His Sinker

“I got cut with a knife in 2013, in the offseason. I cut the flexor tendon in my right thumb. That was when I really learned a sinker. After I got cut, I had to learn a new pitch.

“My slider wasn’t the same pitch after that. I had a hard time getting extension with it, getting out front. The cut healed, but the tendon was tight. I think it just took time for the tendon to lengthen. It’s a feel pitch and it just never felt the same. It took a long time, but I’ve got [the slider] back now.

“The good thing is that I gained another pitch. And the sinker isn’t just arm-side run. Once you can learn to locate it back-door, it’s almost like a reverse slider for s lefty. You throw it at the hip and it comes back.”

Drew Pomeranz (Red Sox) on his Curveball

“It would have to be my curveball. Everybody I play with is like, ‘How the hell do you throw that?’ That’s because I flick it forward. I don’t turn my wrist like a normal person does.

“My dad taught me and my brother when we were young. I was probably nine or 10 and my brother was 13 or 14. It’s a pitch to put less pressure on your elbow, because you’re not twisting like on a normal curveball. You just throw it like a fastball and use your finger to flick it forward. It’s a spiked curveball, but a real spike. A lot of guys spike it like I do, and they turn it.

“I’ve talked to [Red Sox VP, Pitching Development] Brian Bannister about it and it breaks as much as any other lefty who has a big curveball — and it’s a late break — but my spin is a lot lower. That’s probably because I throw it differently. My spin rate is way down from guys who have similar curveballs. For instance, [Clayton] Kershaw has a higher spin rate, but we get almost the same break. It’s weird. I have a high four-seam spin rate and very low curveball spin. “

CC Sabathia (Yankees) on His Slider

“It would be my slider. I learned it in 2005. Carl Willis was the pitching coach in Cleveland at the time, and he wanted me to start throwing a cutter so I’d have something to get in on righties. He showed me a grip, we started throwing it in the bullpen, and it turned into my slider. I had only thrown a curveball and a changeup to that point.

“I threw it in the bullpen that day and then took it into my very next start. It was 83, like a good slider, and I was throwing it well. I had something like six strikeouts on it. Ichiro took it deep twice, though, so I had both good and bad results.

“Why [did it end up being a slider]? It’s just the way I throw it. That was just me… What’s weird is that, in my head and my mind, I still call it a cutter. And I throw a traditional cutter now, too — I started throwing that in 2014 — so I kind of throw two cutters.”

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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This is a really cool series. Thanks for doing it.