How to throw a change up Philosophy
All young pitchers should learn how to throw a change up. One could argue a great change up is the most difficult pitches to hit. I recall a few major league baseball pitchers I faced who could have told me they were throwing the changeup and I still would not have hit it. A terrific change up pitch is an optical illusion to the batter, as the ball appears to be in the hitting zone and it just seems to stop in midair. Some of the most awkward swings come on the pitch. Until one tries to hit it, they cannot imagine how difficult it can be. Like all things baseball, to perfect the pitch, it takes many years of trial and error.
In recent years, a few of the big league pitchers with unbelievable change ups include Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Trevor Hoffman and Tim Lincecum. Except for the latter player, it does not take a lot of research to realize that each of those guys is in the MLB Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and for a good reason. Lincecum was dominant and the best pitcher in baseball for a couple of years. Learning to command the pitch along with knowing when to use it takes experience. The best part of the pitch is it sets up all the other pitches because batters must keep the possibility of the slow option in their mind. If one researched all the pitchers in Cooperstown, you would probably find all had a pretty good change of pace change.
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One of the best things to know about many of the best pitchers with great careers and change ups is that many of them were not hard throwers. Guys like Chicago White Sox ace Mark Buehrle and Trevor Hoffman had average major league fastballs but made their fastball so much better because of the changeup.
As with learning any of the baseball fundamentals, learning how to throw a change-up is a process, and it begins with understanding precisely what it is and isn’t. Most young ballplayers think a changeup merely is a slower pitch to throw off the batter’s timing. They are right to a degree, but what makes the change up work is throwing it with the same arm speed as one throws the fastball. The second thing pitchers and coaches should understand is one of the main reasons for the changeup, along with disrupting the hitter’s timing, is to make the pitcher’s fastball appear faster than it is. After seeing a slower ball, the next fastball, even though the same speed as before the slower pitch, seems much faster to the batter. Once young pitchers realize pitching is upsetting the hitter’s timing and not throwing each pitch as hard as they can, they are on their way to success.
At the little league level of baseball and younger, any slower pitch can be useful for two reasons. First, it often takes better hitting mechanics to hit a slow pitch because it is dropping in the hitting zone like an overhand major league curveball. Second, most youth players have difficulty waiting on the ball because of over-aggressiveness. However, just because the pitcher throws a slow ball, and that is a good plan, it does not constitute an exact change up. As mentioned, a real change up pitch comes with the same body motion, arm speed, and delivery as the fastball.
How to Throw a Change up Process
- As with everything pitching, solid throwing fundamentals should come first. When kids fail to have a fluid arm action when playing catch, pitching will prove difficult. Likewise, learning a repeatable delivery and balanced body movements and sequence is crucial for throwing the ball over the plate and avoiding arm injury. Once players are somewhat efficient with those actions, they can begin to work on the change-up. As mentioned, no age is too young as long as kids have decent throwing fundamentals to begin.
- The process of teaching a young ballplayer how to throw a change up begins with having them grab a bat. During batting practice, I will throw different speed pitches to the pitchers to help them understand the difficulty of hitting various speeds. At some point further on in batting practice, I will throw some good change of speed pitches with the same arm speed as the other pitches. Most youth hitters will be fooled, swing early and give me a look like, what the heck was that. Bingo! That realization is the beginning of them understanding the value of the change and the point of keeping a fast arm, even though the ball does not follow suit with the same speed as the arm.
- The second part of the process is teaching them the various baseball grips that make the ball come out slower. This phase is crucial because without finding a comfortable grip, the pitcher will alter their arm speed and possibly their throwing motion, too. The possible grips include a circle change-up with the ball set either buried in the palm or out in the fingers, a three-finger grip, and a palm ball positioning. Kids should stay away from a split-fingered fastball, which is another change up. Coaches should have players experiment with each grip until they find the one that is comfortable and at the same time, the one they can maintain the most arm speed. Control of the ball will only come after time so that should not be regarded in choosing the grip to employ at first.
- After finding the grip, coaches should have players try the pitch in practice by having them alternate it with the fastball or after two fastballs in a row. In this manner, players will have the best chance at maintaining their arm speed when they throw the off-speed pitch. The goal is to keep the same arm angle, release point and arm speed with the changeup as they do with their fastball. Once again, at the younger levels of baseball, any speed changes can be useful, but as players advance up the baseball ladder, disguising the speed with the same arm speed as the fastball pitch is crucial for success.
- From many years of experience with kids, the circle change in the fingers is the easiest to teach and learn and probably the one that will serve them best in their futures. The thing they have to get used to is allowing the pitch to feel as though it slips out of the fingers on release, but it is the best one for maintaining arm speed. Whenever kids set balls deep in hand and in the palm, they seem to lose arm speed and or control.
- There is no exact speed differential from the fastball to the changeup but the larger the difference while maintaining arm speed is the best. Striving for at least 7 miles an hour differential is excellent for youth pitchers. Major league pitchers like to have them about ten miles apart.
- When pitchers start to have confidence, they can get the changeup under control; they can begin trying it in games. Although the pitch is best used against the best hitters on the opposing team, at first, they should work it on the weaker hitters in the lineup. In that way, they do not get hurt as much if they happen to hang one in the strike zone. Once pitchers can change speeds with control, they should use the change-up against the best hitters because the better hitters will time the fastball if that is the only speed thrown.
- Pitchers should have the goal of keeping the off-speed pitch down in the strike zone and over the plate. The lower the ball will allow gravity to work and the ball will drop below the strike zone but be enticing enough to get batters to offer at it. Teaching pitchers to attack hitters in an up and down manner, high fastballs and low changeups can be an effective way of changing their eye level and getting outs.
- A considerable advantage to the change up pitch is there is no twisting of the arm or wrist as with a curveball, so there is little wear and tear in the arm. Although a curve may not produce more damage to the arm, a never-ending debate in baseball circles, smaller hands have a hard time keeping their fingers on top of the ball with curves. Therefore, players can use the change up much more often in games without the risk of injury.
As mentioned, finding the best grip and arm speed is a continual work in progress, but once one has a valid change of speeds, they will see the results with strikeouts and outs.