Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 7

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 seventh installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Jakob Junis, Kyle Ryan, and Chase Whitley — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Jakob Junis (Royals) on His Slider

“It’s technically a slider, although sometimes it has more of a curveball break because of the way I release it. I’ve always looked at it as a slider, because I also throw a curveball — a traditional type of curveball — with a different grip. The grip I came up with for my slider is fairly new.

“I started throwing a slider in Double-A, and it really wasn’t a very good one. It was with a standard, trying-to-learn grip. That offseason I went home and said, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ I knew that I needed a new grip to get more shape and to throw it a little firmer.

“In spring training [of 2017], I was fumbling around with a ball, trying to get something with good feel in my hand, and I came across kind of a little different, untraditional grip. I don’t know of anybody else who throws it this way. When guys ask me about it, I’ll show them and they’ll say, ‘I never would have guessed you throw it that way.’

“The ball… you have the two horseshoes running on top, like a two-seamer, and I move it over onto that one seam and put my fingers on top of the ball. Usually, a slider is thrown from the bottom of the horseshoe, not up on top. I try not to manipulate the hand too much. I just try to grip it and rip it, really. I throw it hard and let the spin to the work.

“Nobody really taught it to me. Again, it’s just something I felt out on my own. I started playing catch with it and guys were saying, ‘Oh, man, that’s pretty nasty.’ I took it to a mound in bullpens, and eventually into games, and it kind of took off for me. It’s become my go-to pitch.”

Kyle Ryan (Cubs) on His Cutter/Slider

“In my opinion, the pitch that got me to the big leagues was my cutter, which is now more or less a slider. It started as a cutter — a very horizontal pitch — and now it’s got a little depth to it.

“The process began with looking at video of Drew Smyly. That’s back when we were both in the Tigers system. The cutter helped him get to the big leagues, and he got there fast. After seeing that, I started messing around with one.

“I fiddled with it on the side, and then before I introduced it to a game, I talked to Mike Maroth, who coached me in High-A Lakeland and again in Triple-A. It was nice having a let-handed pitching coach. He’d thrown that pitch, too, and was able to help me refine it.

“But again, I’ve added depth to it. The cutter is a good pitch — don’t get me wrong — but when you add depth it’s even better. That was prompted by the Tigers. They liked the cutter — the tight, short action — but they wanted me to add depth and not just be horizontal.”

Chase Whitley (Braves) on His Changeup

“I’ve had a pretty good changeup, and the story behind it is that I threw the ball with three fingers for a long time growing up. When I was young, that’s how I threw to first base from shortstop, because my hands were so small. I didn’t throw it with two fingers like you normally do.

“As my hands grew a little bit, I started fiddling around with the changeup. In a way I kind of already had the grip — all I had to do was move my [pointer and pinky fingers] off to the side of the ball. It’s a circle change.

“One way it got better over time was with long toss. For pretty much my whole career, I would long toss with a changeup grip, having it come out with the same arm speed as my fastball. If I was just doing normal long toss it would be around 180-200 feet, and with the changeup grip I’m throwing it around 90-100 feet, maybe up to 105.”

We hoped you liked reading Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 7 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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Jim
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Jim

Hey, David, where was your Sunday notes column? My day had a huge void in it. Hope all is well with you.

Jetsy Extrano
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Jetsy Extrano

I hope you were just taking a week off. And it reminds me, thanks for making my Sundays for so long.