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Building a Pitching Arsenal: Changeup

With the fastball and curveball profiles set for our pitcher, they now have weapons to attack the top and bottom of the zone. Between the two pitches, our pitcher covers almost three feet of vertical break (35.4 inches, to be exact) and 17.7 inches of horizontal break.

Since the fastball-curveball pairing is meant to work north-south, the next step to increasing the overall break area for our pitcher is to establish an off-speed pitch that has depth off the fastball as well as arm-side movement to create a fading effect.

Generally speaking, pitchers who are able to generate above average lift or better on their fastballs will benefit most from either a straight changeup or a circle changeup. The former will rely most on velocity and vertical break separation from the fastball, while the latter’s more pronounced fading action can be used to add a horizontal component to the pitcher’s break chart. 

The two pitches we’ve highlighted so far for our pitcher both live predominantly in the vertical plane of our movement matrix, so it would be wise to incorporate some additional horizontal movement with this pitch. 

Here is a bullpen sample of our pitcher’s current changeup: 

Pitch # Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (mph) Spin Direction (hh:mm) Spin Efficiency (%) Release Height (ft.) Release Side (ft.) Vertical Break (in.) Horizontal Break (in.) 
81.5 1725 1:32 99.2 5.6 2.2 12.6 13.4 
80.1 1757 1:24 94.0 5.9 2.3 12.8 12.7 
80.3 1658 1:32 91.0 5.7 2.4 10.7 12.3 
83.0 1785 1:22 94.1 5.8 2.4 13.0 12.2 
81.3 1704 1:26 93.6 5.6 2.1 12.4 12.1 
Average 81.2 1726 1:27 94.4 5.7 2.3 12.3 12.5 

For any pitcher, the main goal with this pitch is to kill vertical break as much as possible while also incorporating more arm-side horizontal break than the fastball. Our pitcher can accomplish this by adjusting their spin direction closer to 2:00 and without much of a change to their average spin efficiency, though reducing it will aid in vertical break separation. 

The development track taken for this pitch will totally depend on the pitcher’s feel for whichever adjustment is made (spin direction only vs. spin direction + spin efficiency). 

Moving spin direction closer to 2:00 would tilt the ball more horizontally out of the hand. If spin efficiency remained in the 90s, vertical break would go down, but the greatest gain would be seen in arm-side horizontal break. We can see an example of this with this pitch from our same pitcher: 

Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (rpm) Spin Direction (hh:mm) Spin Efficiency (%) Release Height Release Side Vertical Break (in.) Horizontal Break (in.) 
79.2 1960 1:46 96.0 5.6 2.1 11.1 15.4 

Reducing spin efficiency will add more bullet spin to the ball, allowing natural forces to act more strongly against it and give our pitcher the desired vertical break separation we’re looking for. Keep in mind the horizontal break numbers may not significantly improve due to the decrease in spin-induced movement. Our pitcher once again was able to provide an example of this particular change: 

Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (rpm) Spin Direction (hh:mm) Spin Efficiency (%) Release Height Release Side Vertical Break (in.) Horizontal Break (in.) 
76.8 1735 1:40 86.0 5.7 2.4 10.0 13.0 

Throughout this series, we’ve focused on using the fastball break profile as the measuring stick with which to compare other pitch types in a given pitcher’s repertoire. We have also investigated the data points to be aware of while attempting to fit and develop a particular pitch type to that pitcher’s natural ability.

While there is merit to discussing adding a fourth pitch, properly developing a three-pitch mix is much more important than just trying to add to a pitcher’s bag of tricks.

If any readers wish to discuss what I would suggest for our pitcher in question, or if you have questions regarding pitchers whose fastballs fall into the two-seam/sinker category, please email me directly at justin@rapsodo.com.