Welcome to Part 3 of our “How to Throw” series! If you’ve read the previous blogs, we bet you’re excited to begin learning about off-speed and breaking pitches. This post teaches how to throw the changeup—most pitchers’ go-to off-speed pitch.
We’ll provide you with the core information on what a changeup is, as well as walk you through grips and cues so you can learn to throw one for yourself.
Overview of a Changeup
A changeup is an off-speed pitch that is frequently used to pair off a pitcher’s fastball. As it travels to the plate, a changeup will typically mirror the same trajectory as a heater and mislead the hitter into anticipating a pitch that may be anywhere between 8-12 mph slower than expected. This gap in velocity causes a timing differential, which throws hitters off-balance and can result in soft-contact or swings and misses.
Things to Consider
How your changeup plays off the fastball is critical. Still, it is additionally important to consider other components—such as your arm slot and the rest of your arsenal to determine how the pitch suits you. Changeups can vary by pitcher depending on the type of break they have.
Some changeups may have lethal movement that fades arm side, while others are more comparable to a “slower fastball” with very little movement. One thing to keep in mind—the greater the sidespin imparted upon the changeup, the more horizontal run it will produce. Creating sidespin is especially key for pitchers with lower arm slots, as it’s easier to throw a horizontally moving pitch from an already low release point.
The ability to maximize this component of your pitch will likely increase its effectiveness because we want to create a separation in movement from the fastball. The greater the separation, the more we can create two pitches that move differently to throw off opposing hitters. This can give you an added edge, rather than solely relying on a velocity difference.
Gripping a Changeup
As we navigate our grip tracker database, we noticed there tends to be a wide variety of preference among grip types. This means there is not one grip type that predominantly stands out among the pack. For the sake of this blog, we’ll look at the grip that is most frequently used (35% of changeups) in-house by our athletes: “CH 2.”
CH 2 sticks out to us initially because it is thrown similar to a two-seam fastball or sinker (“FT 1”) with a two-seam orientation, but the main difference comes in utilizing the non-dominant side of our hand. The middle and ring fingers are placed on both seams to leverage the ball for spin and rotation at release.
It is worthwhile to use the non-dominant side of our hand and remove the index finger to the side of the ball, as it brings about slower velocity and helps generate side spin. This will help you land in the range of anywhere from 8 to 12 mph off your fastball and maximize horizontal movement. Place the index finger on the side of the ball, comparable to the placement of the pinky on the opposite end. Both fingers will help stabilize the ball as it is being carried up from the glove to release.
Lastly, the thumb is positioned underneath the ball for control. The position shown in the video can be modified based on comfort. Some may look to place the ball directly underneath rather than off to the side, as a preference.
Furthermore, you should hold the ball firmly in your hand. We recommend that your grip is not so loose that the ball would slip out, or too tight, which could limit the amount of sidespin you can generate at release.
How to Throw a Changeup
As mentioned earlier, our goal is to generate as much side spin as possible to increase the amount of movement arm side and maximize separation off the fastball. To do this, we often cue athletes to “roll over the ball with your hand” or “swipe the inside of the ball.” Don’t be afraid to exaggerate those cues upon release. It may feel as if the ball might slip out, but comfort should come with practice.
Most right-handed pitchers will have a changeup that falls anywhere between a 1:30 and 2:30 spin direction. Greater side spin will come with a lower spin direction, and it may even inch towards 3:00+. This will be a critical factor in determining the shape and movement profile of your changeup.
Analyzing Changeup Movement
Post testing out your changeup in a bullpen session with a Rapsodo, we’d expect this pitch to land slightly below fastballs (red baseballs) vertically and have greater horizontal movement. The changeups are highlighted in purple but depending on your arm slot their location on this plot may vary. Changeups for a left-handed pitcher would be mirrored across the vertical axis.
In sum, we’d expect a good changeup to have a distinct difference from your fastball and the greater separation between the two to lead to a more lethal pairing.
Additional Changeup Grips and Cues
Lastly, we’ve provided additional changeup grips that are common amongst our athletes in the gym.
While holding the ball with a two-seam orientation is the most popular, we also see a four-seam grip used as well. In CH 1, the pitcher holds the ball similarly to a four-seam fastball and places his ring and middle finger on the seams.
Some players will also try to move the ball further onto the non-dominant side of their hand. In other words, the ring finger will move closer to the center of the baseball. We usually see this with athletes who are looking to create an increase in side spin and have large enough hands to do so comfortably.
Placing the fingers on-seam or off-seam is another variable to consider. Most athletes will find that leveraging both fingers on the seams enables them to produce greater feel or control of the pitch. As shown in “CH 3” and “CH 4”, this is not always the case. There are exceptions where an athlete may have greater success with placing their fingers off the seam. Each of these grips can be altered as they are slightly different.
In “CH 5” you’ll notice a completely different type of grip. It’s essentially a splitter and possesses a wide grip where the index and middle fingers are placed at positions stretched across the top of the baseball. This is common for athletes who have larger hands and wedge the ball comfortably between their fingers.
We’d expect this grip type on average to produce significantly less spin and horizontal movement compared to other changeup grips. Thus, this pitch would drop or die out over the plate instead of fading arm side.
A splitter can be lethal when thrown correctly. While it is a difficult pitch to master, it can be a great alternative to a changeup, especially if you throw from a higher arm slot and find it tough to generate side spin or separation off the fastball. Remember, the biggest goal for splitters is to kill as much spin as possible. The less spin will lead to more dive or drop, thus creating vertical separation off the fastball and leading to hitters swinging over the top of it.
Additional cues: “Roll over the ball,” “Throw it with your ring finger”, “Pronate sooner”, “Swipe inside of the ball”, “Think about having a flexible wrist.”
Standard Four-Seam “CH 1”
Off-Seam Four-Seam “CH 3”
Off-Seam Two-Seam “CH 4”
Split Hybrid “CH 5”
Each individual will have to feel out the differing grips for themselves and decide if they should play a role in their repertoire. Athletes should use a grip that enables them to manipulate the ball and its movement to their desire. That will determine the grip that is best for you. Moving forward, we’ll continue to monitor the results of differing grips from our in-house athletes—and report back.
By Mike Tampellini