Pitch Development and Design… Change-ups – Part 3

By Bahram Shirazi (BSEE, MBA, Co-Owner RPP)
Robbie Aviles (Pitching Lab Coach)

When you log over 5,000 pitches through the Rapsodo camera and spend countless hours crunching data you begin to have a pretty good understanding of ball movement and behavior on a pitch-by-pitch basis.  Today we’re going to review change-ups, the slower fastball, in great detail (click here for Part 3 on 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs).  First, let’s get this straight.  There seems to be no shortage of how pitchers grip their change-ups.  Consequently, you see a great deal of variation in change-ups’ movement from pitcher to pitcher.  But a decent change-up generally features the following:

    1. First and above all else, creates an illusion with an identical fastball arm speed
    2. Velo reduction of 8-12 mph
    3. A combination of arm-side and sinking movement
    4. Lower spin rate than fastballs
    5. Movement differentiation from the fastball

The end goal of the change-up is to disrupt the hitter’s timing and create a swing and miss pitch, and a good one will maintain fastball arm speed but arrive at the plate with lower velocity. We can generally do this by placing the ball deeper into our hands (think palm ball) and minimizing our leg drive a little bit by dragging the back foot slightly to reduce forward momentum and velocity.  To put the change-up in some context, here is a summary of 2017 MLB data.  Total Spin and Velo is lower by approximately 21% and 8 mph, respectively.

Change-up Development

The direction of movement of any pitch is directly related to its spin axis and the change-up is no different.  A pitcher’s change-up movement / break can be extremely individualized and much of this is undoubtedly in the grip and final release.

(Aviles – Pitcher E in the charts below)

With its many potential grips, the change-up may behave differently from pitcher to pitcher and generate movement along a larger area on the movement chart, with tilt axes ranging from that near a 4-seam all the way past a 2-seam.  The following 2 diagrams chart 5 pitchers and their change-ups with velo drops ranging from 8-12 mph vs. their 4-seam:

(4-Seams)

(Change-ups)

As the spin axis (listed next to each pitcher in the diagram above) tilts farther and farther from near 00:00 towards 03:00, the vertical drop is replaced by horizontal drop. There is no wrong or right here with a change-up, just three basic requirements:

    • Is it slower by at 8-12 mph vs. the fastball?
    • Is it creating enough deception with fastball arm speed?
    • Is it creating sufficient movement differentiation vs. the pitcher’s fastball?

Here is a good comparison between Pitcher E’s 4-seam and change-up from the images above:

Below is the high-speed video of the same change-up.

(Rear View – Change-up)

There are three takeaways from this video:

    • Without the horizontal left to right movement this ball would have missed the strike zone by approximately 1½ ft on the left side
    • Spin-axis is directly correlated with direction of movement
    • Spin-axis is being highly influenced by the final point of contact with the ball, in this case the ring finger. If you didn’t notice it in the video, take a closer look at the video below.  The ring finger at the final moment shapes this change-up and its significant horizontal movement

Here is high-speed footage on the change-up from the front.  Do you see the ring finger at the final point of release?

(Front View – Change-up)

Knowing what makes a good change-up is one thing, but actually delivering on it is a whole other thing. As mentioned earlier, the primary objective is to create an illusion with an identical fastball arm speed. But if you understand what creates the degree and amount of movement, then it can be further developed in many ways including grip, finger pressure, arm slot and small movements at the final point of release.  And finally, knowing how different pitchers react to different cues through trial and error is where the art comes in.

Please stay tuned for Part 4 where we cover breaking balls…

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