Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 6

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 fifth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Danny Duffy, David Price, and Sergio Romo — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.


Danny Duffy (Royals) on His Changeup

“My changeup used to be a two-seam circle. It was a really good pitch in the minor leagues because of the difference in velocity — I could get away with lack of movement — but, up here, it was starting to get ineffective.

“I watched Edinson Volquez in a super slo-mo , how he gripped his, and I was like, ‘That looks pretty good.’ He was gripping it four-seam. He had the pinky on the equator of the ball — right between the two seams that are closest together — and he turned it over a little bit. I don’t pronate, but I gripped it like that and made sure that my pinky was the last finger to touch it. I kind of buried it in my palm.

“It had that dead-fish action where it’s kind of diving off, arm side and down. It worked for me, so I ran with it. This was two years ago, in midseason. My changeup had been garbage and now it’s my best pitch, so a shout out to Volky.”

David Price (Red Sox) on His Cutter

“I’ll go with my cutter. When I first came up, I was four-seam fastball and slider, and I only threw my slider to the glove side of the plate, inside to righties. Being in Tampa with James Shields — being a teammate with him for so long — I watched him throwing his cutter to lefties and then front-door it to a righty. That was a pitch I wanted to learn how to throw.

“Facing Cliff Lee as many times as I did, being in the same division with Roy Halladay — watching how they manipulated the baseball… Again, that was something I wanted to learn how to throw. Playing catch with Shields every day, learning how to throw it arm side, throwing it back door to a righty… that really opened up a lot of the plate for me.

“I learned my changeup from Shields, as well, and I still hold it the way he taught me. I’d gone through a bunch of different changeup grips, and he had one of the best changeups in baseball at that time. I played catch with him every day and got feedback from him.

“His grip is on the horseshoe with the fingers spread pretty far apart. I don’t think it’s very conventional. It’s more of a two-seam changeup, but when you throw it right it has four-seam spin. It’s different. I’m hooking the seam and pulling down. It looks like a four-seam fastball, so it’s really deceiving to a hitter.”

Sergio Romo (Rays) on His Slider

“My senior year of college, I went to school in Grand Junction, Colorado. The thin air and altitude there made my breaking ball really inconsistent, so when I came home for Christmas break, I talked to my dad and grandpa about it. They both played ball in Mexico. I was playing catch with them and my grandpa said, ‘Hey, how about if you grab it like this?’ My dad was like, ‘Yeah, grab it like that and think this’ — certain concepts about it — and I started to throw it that way. It was pretty decent, so I was like, ‘Hey, all right.’

“The one I had been throwing came out like a slurve. It was right in between — I couldn’t tell you if it was a slider or a curve — but it was kind of loopy. Playing in Colorado, it would just kind of float in there. The new grip allowed me to get more revolutions on the ball, and the thin air didn’t really affect it. Even when I go to Colorado now, to play the Rockies, it doesn’t really change.

“I’ve been told that I get a different rotation on the ball, a different spin, and that you can’t see the dot on it. But it’s a pitch I throw a lot — it’s my 95 mph fastball — so the league started to adjust. I had to refine it, so that I wasn’t throwing the same slider every time. I learned to throw the short harder one, and thought, ‘Man, if I can add, I wonder if I can subtract?’ So I learned to subtract, and all of a sudden it started going down. Now I have the short hard one, the one that goes down, and a big loopy 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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Love this series, thank you again.