Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 3

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 third installment of this series, we’ll hear from four pitchers — Anthony Bass, Matt Andriese, and Bobby Poyner — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Anthony Bass (Cubs) on His Splitter

“I learned a split from my friend Matt Shoemaker, who is with the Angels. That’s his out pitch. I picked it up from him, and then when I was overseas in Japan [in 2016], I watched the way they threw their splits and started incorporating that into the way I use mine. It’s started becoming a swing-and-miss pitch for me.

“A lot of guys there throw splits, and they hold them a little bit differently than I do. I hold it with the horseshoe and they throw it against the horseshoe of the seams. The biggest thing for me is having it look like a fastball as long as possible, until 10 feet out in front of the plate, and then the action of the pitch is a sudden drop, down and away to a lefty. I tried it the Japanese way, but it just went straight; it didn’t have much bottom to it. It was like a straight changeup.

“I think it’s more of a comfort thing for me. I guess it’s more like a forkball when you’re throwing it with the horseshoe, versus against, which would be more of a true split. I do call mine a split, though.

“In Japan, they’re all about the pressure of the thumb underneath, or on the side of, the baseball. Then, depending on the count, they’ll throw it harder or softer. They’ll try to get a chase for a swing and miss or they’ll ease up on it to throw it for a strike.”

Matt Andriese (Rays) on His Four-Seamer

“I was a sinker/slider guy coming up through the San Diego system. I thought my sinker was a good pitch — I was having success with it — but when I came to the Rays in 2014, the data we had showed that my four-seam was actually better. As a result, I kind of stopped throwing the two-seam. I was in Triple-A at that time.

“I started working more vertical, up and down instead of east and west. That helped me use my other pitches — my changeup, my curveball, and my slider — with more depth, instead of working side to side. Since that time, it’s mostly been a matter of fine-tuning things. It’s not like I was learning a new pitch, because the four-seamer is something I already had.

“The data we have now, the spin rate and all that stuff, shows that it works better in the top half of the zone, or above the zone. That’s if I want a swing and miss or a pop up. I don’t know what my spin rate is off the top of my head, but I’ve been told it’s pretty good. [So far this season Andriese’s four-seam has averaged 2,425 rpm.]

“In 2014, I was working with Neil Allen. Then, in 2015, Kyle Snyder was in Triple-A as pitching coach. That was the year I kind of fine-tuned my repertoire. I stuck with a good plan and started seeing more consistent results.”

Bobby Poyner (Red Sox) on His Changeup

“I threw a traditional straight changeup in college and in Low-A. When I got to High-A, the pitching coach there, Paul Abbott, changed my grip from my traditional to an offset circle changeup. I started working on it in 2016, I continued to work on it in the offseason, and when I went back to High-A [in 2017] I kind of finished refining it.

“I throw a lot of four-seam fastballs, and this is more of a four-seam changeup. It’s going to look more similar out of the hand. I kind of pronate inside of it and create that four-seam spin. It also has more movement — it’s more vertical, arm side — because my hand is more off the baseball.

“There’s a difference [between the old and the new changeups] analytically, but I couldn’t tell you exactly what the difference in drop is. I just know that analytically it became a better pitch.”

We hoped you liked reading Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 3 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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