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.
Ryan Borucki, Blue Jays
“When I was 12, I hurt my arm. I had ‘Little League elbow’ from throwing too many curveballs at a young age. Because my elbow didn’t feel so good, my dad canned my curveball. He was like, ‘Alright. You’re just going to throw a fastball and a changeup.’
“My dad played professional baseball — he was a third baseman who batted righty — and he always had trouble against lefties with changeups. I’m obviously a lefty, so he knew that was a good pitch for me to learn. It took a bit of time to get the feel for it. I played with a lot of grips when I was in high school,. My changeup is just three fingers. I remember my pitching coach back home saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you try that?’ and the first time I threw it, it was coming out exactly how I wanted. From there it just kind of blossomed into the pitch it is now.
“There are so many different ways to grip a baseball. I talk to so many guys about how they throw certain pitches. When I throw my changeup, I really just focus on pronating and getting over the ball, and I end up getting that late tumble. I’ve thrown it so many times — I have so many reps with it — that’s it’s become a pitch I can throw any time. It feels just like my fastball.
“I get fade on it — a tumbling fade — although this past offseason I learned how to cut it a little bit, too, so that I have a changeup to throw to lefties. Sometimes I end up cutting it not on purpose. That frustrates me a little bit. I’m kind of a perfectionist when it comes to my changeup. I expect it to be really good, because that’s always how it’s been.
“As for why it works… there’s arm angle, hand action, arm speed. There are a lot of things. When you’re comfortable with a pitch, you just feel it. And a lot of it is confidence. You’re throwing it with a mindset of, ‘I know this is going to be a really good pitch.’ The hitters notice that.”
Jacob deGrom, Mets
“My changeup. I was new to pitching and… I ended up getting Tommy John surgery shortly after I got drafted. Coming back, the whole thing was about trying to get my arm slot up a little bit. We wanted to get my elbow above my shoulder. I didn’t have good secondary stuff at the time.
“I was playing catch one day with Johan Santana, who was also rehabbing. I ended up talking to him about his changeup. We sat in the trainer’s office for pretty much a whole Gulf Coast League game. He explained to me how he held his, what his mindset was throwing it, and kind of how he developed it.
“He said he would play long toss with his changeup, so I went out and tried to do that. At first I could make it the whole way, however far out I was. I could get it there from 200 feet. Then, as I really started to get a feel for the grip I wanted, it would kind of die before getting there. It wouldn’t make it to my catch partner. Same arm speed as a fastball, but it just doesn’t get there. That’s how [Santana] described how he got his to be what it was at.
“It’s a two-seam grip. I try to stay behind it and pronate at the end. It’s a little different from how [Santana] held his. I try to keep my finger, the tip of my ring finger, off the ball and really stay inside of it. But when you’re playing long toss you’re letting the ball go. You’re throwing it, and that’s how I developed my changeup.”
Yefry Ramirez, Orioles
“My older brother [Luis Ramirez] was the one who taught me my changeup. He has a really good one, so I wanted to learn it from him. That was two years ago, after I’d first started pitching in 2012 [after signing as an infielder]. Right now I feel very mature with the changeup. I feel like it has improved 90%.
“It’s the same grip from the first time I learned it. I haven’t modified it whatsoever. It’s three fingers around the ball. None of them are on the seams, and I choke it just a little bit. Sometimes I try to change the shape of the pitch a little by moving my finger a little bit to the right or a little bit to the left. I get fade on it for the most part, but I can also make it sink.
“My brother played [in the minors] for Cleveland, Arizona, and Colorado, and now he’s in Japan. My changeup is the same as his. Same grip, same everything. Whose is better? Both of ours are good.”
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.