Pitch Design with Seton Hall’s O’Neill… How to Turn Good into Great

By Michael Lembo (BS, Pitching Coordinator at RPP)

Pitch development is a big part of the overall training culture here at RPP. Once athletes have developed a good base of body awareness in the weight room as well as throwing volume it’s time to steer the focus on getting guys out. In other words, getting pitches to move while throwing strikes.

Seton Hall’s Brennan O’Neill came to us this July, during the summer unlike anything any of us have ever experienced before.  However, even with a shortened period of time we managed to get a lot done.

For Brennan’s pitch design sessions, we spent the majority of our time period together working on the movement of his off-speed pitches. In Brennan’s case, his pitches moved well enough to compete at the Division 1 level. However, there is always ways to improve movement.  His pitch design sessions involved 3 main points of focus:

    • Increasing spin efficiency on his curveball
    • Increasing horizontal break on his change-up
    • Adding a fourth pitch (after 4S, CB and CH)

Even with our summer college program being cut a month and a half short, Brennan’s strong work ethic allowed him to be able to dive into these goals in a limited amount of time. Let’s take a look.

Curveball

For his curveball, Brennan’s spin efficiency was the main issue. Spin efficiency is essentially how well a pitcher is able to generate either topspin or backspin on a particular pitch. A pitcher who throws a curveball with a lower spin efficiency is add a decent amount of gyro spin into the pitch, compromising the amount of top spin and thus creating less vertical break. Brennan was around 50-54% spin efficiency when he started out.

My first recommendation when creating more spin efficiency on a curveball is to adjust where the thumb is placed. In some cases, when a pitcher throws a curveball with their thumb on a seam, they affect the ball by adding some side-spin to the pitch.  Brennan’s spin efficiency now sits around the 60-65% range, which is Rapsodo’s bottom value that they see in the MLB pitchers. It is a very good start.

Step 2 was to place Brennan’s hand in a position that would allow for more topspin. A cue that I have used with success was to “keep your palm facing towards the sky”. This hand position allows the middle and index fingers to have more control over the ball and allows for proper rotation out of the hand. Here is Rich Hill demonstrating this cue.

After the grip alteration and learning to re-tension his throw, Brennan was able to achieve a consistent spin efficiency in the mid 60%-70% range. This was a 10-15% increase in spin efficiency. Creating a curveball with a higher spin efficiency allows Brennan to achieve more depth as seen below. The pitch on the right ( with a SE of 74%) was Brennan’s best curveball that he threw during our sessions and stands as a mark that he should strive to continue working towards.

Change-up

Our plan with his change-up involved adjusting his spin direction to allow for more side-spin. Adding more tilt to his change-up allows the ball to have more horizontal break and less vertical break. The goal was simple, go from an average of 1:30 spin direction to an average spin direction around 2:00.

It took Brennan one session to figure this out and this pitch dramatically changed. He was able to push past the 2:00 goal that I had given him and started throwing his change-up in the 2:10-2:20 range. The picture on the left is the change-up from his baseline pen and the picture on the right is the best change-up that he threw on his last bullpen session.  His tilt axis on this particular change was 2:22, which is excellent.

4-Seam and 2-Seam

My approach to adding another pitch into someone’s arsenal is that they must first improve the pitches that they throw during their baseline pitch design assessment prior to adding anything else. Once I felt that Brennan had made appropriate alterations to his curveball and change-up, we began experimenting with a 2-seam fastball.

Brennan’s 4-seam fastball has a decent amount of vertical break. We decided that adding a 2-seam with an adequate amount of run would be very complimentary to his 4-seam fastball and change-up with increased horizontal movement.

His first couple of 2-seams began at the 1:30 spin direction mark. Although this provides enough separation from his 4-seam fastball to be effective, I want the spin direction closer to 1:40-1:50 to create greater separation on the movement chart.

This 2-seam fastball that Brennan threw was his best one in terms of movement separation from his 4-seam fastball. Going forward, the 1:50 mark is where Brennan will try to spin his 2-seam fastball.

Summary

In the chart below, you can see the difference in movement that we were able to generate within a one-month period. For our pitchers, we typically recommend that they spend at least two months when doing a pitch design session. However, Brennan was able to make considerable changes in a much-shortened period of time.

At this point, Brennan is well aware of the metrics that he is looking for.  The chart below demonstrates a very good  movement pattern and a great starting point as he continues to strive to get to those numbers on a more consistent basis back at Seton Hall.

If you’d like to be placed on our email list please enter your email address below!