Case Study (Sean Hard): How to Throw a Changeup

sean hard

Rapsodo pitching cameras measure critical data points for instantaneous feedback. At RPP, we utilize this technology to further the development of the pitchers that train at our facility. Out of the numerous metrics Rapsodo measures, we specifically focus on three topics:

    • Spin Axis
    • Horizontal Movement
    • Vertical Movement

These metrics allow us to get a feel for how well a pitcher is able to manipulate the baseball and create movement among the different pitches in his arsenal.

In this article, we will go over the process we used to help one of the athletes at our facility, Sean Hard. Sean was a participant in our pitch design program during the fall.  He attends St. Joseph’s Regional High School (NJ) and has already committed to  play for Boston College. As part of an in-depth breakdown of Sean’s progression and pitch arsenal, below is a chart that examines some of the metrics we tracked from his initial assessment.

Using Rapsodo and slow-motion cameras we are able to get a better understanding of how his arsenal actually behaves. From the chart above, you can quickly conclude that what he believes to be his “changeup” requires a deeper analysis. A RHP getting a 10:48 spin axis on a changeup, combined with a low spin efficiency and extremely low spin rate definitely jumps out.

From there we can understand how each pitch behaves and what we would like each pitch to ultimately end up doing. This is supplemented by creating a movement chart to get a visual representation of his overall movement pattern.

How to Throw a Changeup

When looking at the characteristics of Sean’s changeup (green dot) in the diagram above you can quickly conclude this is not a typical changeup.  Normally, we would want a changeup for a right-handed pitcher to fall within the green circle above. As you can see, because of his unusual changeup “movement”, he lacked a pitch within the desired area. Understanding what is occurring is important but understanding the why is even more critical.  A closer look with high speed camera can be extremely valuable.

(Front View)

(Release Point)

Sean’s initial changeup is roughly a traditional grip you see on most changeups. However, you see at release point that something nontraditional happens. Instead of his fingers being behind the ball or on the left side to get arm-side run, Sean’s middle, ring, and pinky fingers were on the right side of the ball, while his index finger was on the left side. Essentially, Sean was throwing a Split-Change with all five fingers on the ball. This gave his  pitch the cutting movement pattern we’re seeing in the diagram above. You can take a closer look at this release from the video below.

Original Changeup Release Point

It is important to note that we did not wish to alter Sean’s Split-Change.  Having a pitch with an unusual movement pattern is an advantage.  Instead, we wished to create a true changeup that fell within the green circle to have a spin axis closer to 2:30.

By identifying the cause of Sean’s Split-Change characteristics, we were able to use progressive drill work to develop a more traditional changeup. Over the next few weeks, Sean used back-shaping drills to get the feel for his new changeup. This progression consisted of three phases, Phase 1 was catch play, Phase 2 was 70% intensity from flat ground, and Phase 3 was full intensity off the mound. Following four weeks of drill work and pitch design sessions, we retested his arsenal. The differences in release points can be seen below.

(Split-Change at Release Point)

(New Changeup at Release Point)

The video below shows the changes that Sean was able to make during the program. In the picture above, Sean’s fingers are moved more towards the left side of the baseball, whereas the picture on top represents Sean’s original changeup. The transition to getting his fingers to the other side of the ball at release is a gradual transition, and while there is still room for improvement it is important to understand that Sean has only been throwing this new pitch for a few weeks.

New Changeup Release Point

Although this pitch is still in its early stages of development, Sean’s updated movement chart shows that he now covers every area he possibly can with his arsenal and arm slot.

To conclude, the next step for Sean is to continue the hard work he has been putting in during his pitch design sessions. Repetition, repetition, and more repetition. The more comfortable Sean gets with his new pitch, the more consistent he will be throwing it.

It is one thing to feel comfortable throwing a newly created pitch in a tunnel in the end of October, it’s another thing to be able to execute that pitch in a game situation during the season. For Sean, continuing to work on his new changeup over the coming weeks and months, will help him get to where he wants to be, come springtime.

By Eddie Lehr (Data Analytics Intern at RPP, Babson BS ’19) with assistance from Bahram Shirazi (BSEE, MBA, Co-Owner RPP)

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