Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 16

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 sixteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Clay Buchholz, Matt Moore, and Tyler Skaggs — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Clay Buchholz (D-backs) on His Split-Change

“I don’t throw it a lot, but there’s the split-change I’ll use against lefties. The first time I threw it was in 2012. We were in Tampa. I was in the bullpen warming up for a game and I couldn’t throw a changeup for a strike, so I went into the dugout and asked Josh Beckett how he held his little split-change. He showed me, I gripped it, and it felt good, so I brought it out to the mound.

“I think I threw six or seven innings, and struck out something like six or seven guys on that one pitch. There was nothing in my head. There were no expectations, it was just grip it, throw it, and see if it works. I was going through a grip episode with my changeup, and I figured that was better than bouncing changeups and throwing them over hitters’ heads. I literally took it from the dugout into the game.

“The only person who knew I was going to do it was my catcher. I think Kelly Shoppach caught me that day. I told him, ‘I’m going to do this thing, and it might be a little harder. I don’t know.’ I think I threw one to the first batter I faced, and like I said, I struck out a handful of guys with it that day. It was kind of cool. Pitching is hard enough as it is, and having lost my changeup that day I was able to take something else out there. And it worked.”

Matt Moore (Rangers) on His Knuckle Curve

“When I was 16, Jordan Pacheco was a sophomore at the University of Mexico. My brother was playing there too, and I was kind of around those guys. I remembered that when Jordan was a pitcher in high school, he had a really big curveball, a really nice one. We ended up talking about grips and I asked him how he held it. I’d never seen a spiked curveball before. That’s what he threw. He would spike that knuckle curve.

“I started fooling around with it and it didn’t take very long to feel like the type of curveball I could throw. Really, it went from throwing a curveball off my index finger to throwing it off my middle finger. So the middle finger has really taken over for me. If I go back and try to throw a traditional one, it really isn’t quite the same.

“It’s probably the same grip that a lot of guys throw these days. I just hadn’t seen anything like that, and it clicked right away for me. I still throw it the same way. Nobody has really ever tried to tweak it too much. It’s just a four-seam knuckle curve.”

Tyler Skaggs (Angels) on His Curveball

“I probably learned how to throw a curveball when I was 10 or 11 years old. I wouldn’t suggest that for a lot of young people — it was pretty early on — but I’ve thrown it the same way ever since, and I guess my arm got used to it.

“My step dad kind of taught me, but also, my mom gave me this poster with all of these pitch grips. Randy Johnson was kind of my idol growing up, so I was interested in his. I hold it under the horseshoe and just kind of get on top of it, so it’s close to a four-seam grip, with just a different kind of wrist action.

“Originally, when I got into pro ball — I signed with the Angels — a coach told me, ‘That curveball will never play; it’s too slow.’ I was like, ‘Excuse me sir, that’s about the best pitch I’ve got.’

“I kept throwing it, throwing it, throwing it, and now there are times when I can throw it hard and there are times where I can throw it soft. Once I got a feel for learning how to pitch, I started realizing, like, 0-0 I’ll throw it slow, and 0-2 I’ll throw it hard. When I throw it hard it’s not as loopy, and not as much 12-6. It’s more 11-10/4-5.

“I find that I get a pretty high ground-ball rate on my curveball, so if I’m ever in doubt, or in need, I can always go to it. I like to think my curveball is good enough to where even if a hitter sees curveballs well… I just feel that mine is one of the best. It literally comes out of the same tunnel as my fastball. I throw it a lot. It’s a big part of the way I pitch.”

We hoped you liked reading Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 16 by David Laurila!

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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 February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Sultan of Say
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Sultan of Say

You always hear about how much time goes into developing a pitch. It’s refreshing to hear Bucholz’ story of just going out there and winging it.