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 this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers — Rich Hill, Ross Stripling, and Alex Wood — on how they learned and developed an important pitch in their repertoire.
Rich Hill on His Curveball
“I remember learning how to grip and spin a breaking ball from my brother, Lloyd, who had a really good curveball when he was pitching. From there it’s just developed over the decades. I changed the grip after talking to Clayton [Kershaw] when I came here from Oakland. I believe that the spin got a little bit tighter, but it’s really more how the ball comes out of my hand. It mimics my fastball, then has that late break to it.
“I placed the horseshoe in a different position in my fingers. It’s how the seams get closer on a baseball, as opposed to having your fingertip on the outer half of the seam, the larger part of the seam.
“Talking to Clayton and understanding how great his spin rate is, and how great his breaking ball is, I wanted to give that a try. Mine was already pretty good, but I’m still trying to be creative with it and understand it better. That’s a great thing about baseball. You’re taking a ball and trying to see what you can do with it. You’re seeing how you can make it spin, seeing how you can make it break, seeing how you can change the spin and the velocity on it.”
Ross Stripling on His Cutter
“The curveball has kind of always been there, even though I didn’t start pitching until I was 18, so I can’t really talk about that one. What I would talk about is my cutter. From my real-high arm angle, I’ve always had a hard time making things go left to right. That’s just never been a natural movement for me. I was always just fastball-curveball, and when I got to pro ball, that just wasn’t getting it done. I was doing OK, but I wasn’t killing it.
“De Jon Watson was our minor-league coordinator at the time, and he said I needed something that was more horizontal. That’s where I basically settled on a cutter. I essentially just grip a four-seam fastball, and with my arm angle I can just put my fingers together, move them slightly sideways, and throw a fastball. And it cuts. That’s my cutter.
“If I want a little bit more depth on it, I kind of get on top of it and it’s more of a slider. But the cutter has been a game-changer for me. It’s a pitch I can throw in to lefties to get off the barrel, especially in counts like 2-1 and 1-0.
“I started using it when I got to Double-A. That would have been Zach Lee a little bit — the Zach Lee era. He was kind of working on the same thing. We would spend tons of time in the outfield playing catch, throwing it back and forth to each other, being like, ‘What did that one look like?’ So I’d give him some credit for me learning a cutter. Another guy would be our pitching coordinator at the time, Rafael Chaves. He helped me, as well. But at the end of the day, it was mostly blood and sweat, throwing it against a wall dozens and dozen of times, every day, until I got it right.”
Alex Wood on His Changeup
“I’ve thrown a changeup since I was 12 or 13 years old. Greg Simmons, who coaches at Charlotte Christian — he coached Daniel Bard and Luke Bard — taught me my changeup grip. I’ve literally thrown the same one ever since. That’s kind of cool.
“The grip is kind of like a circle change, but with a split. It’s kind of a hybrid. A lot of guys will throw a Vulcan changeup, where they’ll place the ball between the middle and ring fingers. Mine is basically the same thing, but with a circle change added into it.
“My hands were obviously smaller than they are now at the time I learned it, so I had to grip the ball pretty tight. That turned out to be beneficial to me, because there are two types of changeups. There are the ones that are more for late movement, and there the ones that are more for a change of velocity. I’ve always thought the first is the better one to have, the one with movement.
“If you look across the game, changeups are kind of each to his own. A guy like Zack Greinke has one three or four mph slower than his fastball. A guy like Fernando Rodney has one that’s 15 mph slower than his fastball. Mine is probably six to eight, depending on the day.”
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.