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.
Seth Lugo, Mets
“I’ve pretty much developed my pitches through repetition, especially my breaking pitches. My sinker, as well. I didn’t have them coming out of high school. I didn’t learn my sinker until Low-A. All of my pitches really came after that season.
“Again, it’s mostly been repetition, although I did adjust my slider in 2016 after I got called up and was working with Dan Warthen, who was my pitching coach at the time. He helped me out a lot. Ever since he fixed my grip, it’s probably been my second-best pitch.
“I guess I had been holding it too loose. He put it deep in my hand and moved my thumb up a little bit. From there, I just throw it like a fastball and it comes out hard. He basically reset me. Before, I was trying to create spin, and now I just grip it, throw it, and it slides. You have to let the grip do the work. Once you have that down, you just let it go and it does the rest. No worries.”
Collin McHugh, Astros
“I used to throw a slider in college, but it was kind of a downer slider, more of a cutter-slider hybrid. It was a little bit harder with a little less sweep. I had trouble with it. Basically, I was having a hard time differentiating between that and my curveball, which was always my No. 1 offspeed pitch.
“When I got to pro ball, I did away with the slider and went curveball. Then I started to develop a little cutter, kind of halfway through my minor-league career. As I was rehabbing last year… I’d talked to Brad Peacock about a slider at the end of 2015 and in spring training of 2016. He throws more of a sweeper, kind of a frisbee-style slider with a lower arm angle like I have. I felt like that was probably an easier pitch for me to throw. I started to develop that over my rehab, and now it’s probably one of the more effective pitches that I throw.
“The one I have now is slower. It’s a different grip, a different release point. My hand placement is more on the side and less on the top. I’m pulling it down, kind of like a curveball, but trying to throw it first, then pull it. With a slider, you’re really just getting on the side of the ball. You’re trying to sweep it across — get your fingers to the side of the ball, and then to the front, instead from top to bottom.
“I’m trying to see more of a horizontal sweep with less depth. I have my cutter, which I can kind of play like a short slider if I need to, with a little bit of depth and a little bit of sweep. And harder. This one is slower and kind of in between my curveball and my cutter.
“Mine isn’t exactly the same as Peacock’s. It comes out of our hands a little differently, but it functions a lot the same way — more sweep, less depth, more of a weapon to righties.”
Ryan Meisinger, Orioles
“I started throwing a breaking ball when I was around 13-14 years old. Once I got to high school, I started to develop it a little more. When I was a freshman in college [at Radford] is when it really took off. It was kind of curveball-ish in high school, but once I got into college it became more of a slider.
“I had a pitching coach named Brian Anderson. He’d played at UVA and was a coach for a while at Radford before going to Penn State. He helped me with my slider a lot my freshman year. In my sophomore year, I had a different pitching coach, Mark McQueen, who helped me be more aggressive with the pitch. Another pitching coach, Justin Willard, helped me throw it harder and more aggressive in the zone. Junior year was probably the last time I kind of altered it.
“I have two fingers on a seam, kind of offsetting the top seam. I feel I have ore control that way. I tried doing the one-finger thing that most people do and didn’t have as much control with it. So I have the seam pretty much between the index and the middle finger. Then I move my thumb to a seam, so I have three fingers touching a seam. It’s kind of resting there, but with enough pressure that I can feel it off my fingertips.”
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.