Image credit: Jared Jones (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
A pitcher’s job is to get hitters out, and the most effective way to accomplish this is to disrupt hitters’ timing. A well-thrown changeup does that job best. The changeup is an underutilized weapon that isn’t taught early or often enough, but our Baseball Factory instructors are trying to change that.
In our opinion, the changeup should be the first secondary pitch that a young pitcher begins to throw. Certainly, fastball command is still king, but once a repeatable delivery and arm stroke that leads to fastball strikes is learned—the changeup is next.
There appears to be less chance of an arm injury at an early age with the changeup, because it does not require any alteration to the way the arm works when throwing a fastball. The grip is the only adjustment.
There are several ways to throw a changeup, and we encourage young pitchers to experiment with the circle, three-finger, Vulcan and other grips to see what works and feels best for them.
The goal is to throw the pitch with the same arm speed and from the same slot as the fastball. It should look identical to the fastball out of the hand and be slower by roughly 8-12 mph, depending on the pitcher’s fastball velocity.
While this can be a swing-and-miss pitch for some of the best pitchers, it is more often used to induce weak contact. Good changeups generate lots of weak ground balls, and when the pitch doesn’t produce an out it still has the added bonus of making the pitcher’s next fastball appear to have more velocity to the hitter.
To gain comfort with the pitch, play catch with different grips to get the feel of it coming out of the hand consistently and occasionally play long toss using the changeup grip. This will encourage maintaining maximum arm speed with that pitch.
Young pitchers should find a changeup that they have confidence in and throw it in games against both righthanded and lefthanded hitters. With practice, there is a good chance it will become their most effective weapon to get opposing hitters out.