If you want to learn how to throw a changeup, you're going to love this article.
In this step-by-step guide, I'll show you how to grip a changeup with pictures and descriptions from MLB pitchers.
I'll also share some of my favorite changeup tips, tricks and techniques that I picked up along the way in the Chicago Cubs organization.
What is a changeup?
A changeup is one of the slowest pitches thrown in baseball, and it is predicated on deception.
The changeup is a common off-speed pitch, and almost every starting pitcher owns a changeup as part of his arsenal. (A larger number of relief pitchers do not, because they typically only face hitters once and therefore have less of a need for deception.)
A good changeup will cause a hitter to start his swing well before the pitch arrives, resulting in either a swing and miss or very weak contact.
But when a hitter is able to identify the changeup, the pitch is among the easiest to hit because of its low velocity. That's why it's so important for pitchers to maintain "fastball arm speed" when throwing this pitch; you don't want to slow down your pitching delivery and tip off what you're throwing.
Average speed of a changeup
Average pitch speed for a changeup in Major League Baseball
MLB average velocity difference from fastball: 7.5 MPH
MLB average spin rate of changeup: 1746 rpm
MLB average strike percentage: 60.9%
What does a changeup look like?
How do you throw a changeup?
A three-finger changeup is a useful off-speed pitch for younger baseball pitchers and for pitchers who do not have large hands.
- Step 1: Center your ring finger, middle finger, and index finger on top of the baseball.
- Step 2: Place your thumb and pinky finger on the smooth leather directly under the baseball.
- Step 3: "Touching" your pinky finger and thumb when gripping this pitch helps to develop a tangible “feel” for the pitch. which is important since the changeup is a finesse pitch.
- Step 4: OK, now that you’ve got your grip, hold the baseball deep in the palm of your hand to maximize friction and to ‘de-centralize’ the force of the baseball when the pitch is released which will reduce speed.
FOUR-FINGER CHANGEUP (YOUTH)
The four-finger changeup is a variation of the three-finger changeup. This pitch is often thrown by younger pitchers because their hands are not big enough to throw a three-finger or circle changeup. But some MLB pitchers including Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman have successfully thrown the four-finger changeup.
- Step 1: The pitcher makes an “OK” sign around the ball and pronates the pitch inward (thumb down) as the ball is released.
- Step 2: Grip the ball by pinching the seam between your thumb and index finger, near the printed baseball logo.
- Step 3: Apply pressure with your thumb and allow the ball to settle into the palm of your hand, resting on the ball of the hand below your fingers.
- Step 4: To throw this pitch successfully, it takes some soft touch in the hand, but, the full arm action of a fastball.
The most common off-speed pitching grip is some variation of the “circle change,” in which the thumb and forefinger touch to create a circle on the side of the ball. The ball sits back close to the palm while the remaining fingers are spread around the ball. This pitch helps control bat speed.
- Step 1: Use your thumb and index fingers to create a circle or an “OK” on the ball.
- Step 2: Center the baseball between your three other fingers (as shown in the middle picture above right). The baseball should be tucked comfortably against the circle.
- Step 3: Throw this pitch with the same arm speed and body mechanics as a fastball. The one variation is to slightly turn the ball over by throwing the circle to the target. This is called pronating your hand. The gesture mimics giving someone a “thumbs down” sign with your throwing hand.
- Step 4: The fading movement to your throwing-arm side of the plate reduces speed.
The fosh changeup is a variation of the circle change-up, the three-finger change-up and the palm ball that works like an off-speed splitter.
- Step 1: The fosh is gripped in a pitcher’s hand between the middle finger and ring finger.
- Step 2: The index finger and ring finger are placed on either side of the baseball for balance.
- Step 3: The thumb is positioned directly below the baseball.
- Step 4: At the release point, a pitcher may try to pronate or turn his hand over to give his catcher or throwing partner the “thumbs down” sign. The “thumbs down” will enable a baseball pitcher to manipulate the downward and inward movement that makes the pitch effective.
- Step 5: A righty should be throwing this pitch to the low inside part of the strike zone to right handed hitters. A lefty can try to turn the ball over slightly at the release point and aim for the low, outside part of the pitching zone when facing right handed hitters.
The vulcan changeup is a variation of the changeup, characterized by its "Star Trek" Vulcan famous grip! Former MLB closer Eric Gagne threw it.
- Step 1: Split the baseball between your middle finger and ring finger, forming a “V.”
- Step 2: Throw it with fastball arm speed, but, pronate it slightly to produce a downward spin on it.
- Step 3: It’s essential to keep the “V” shape of the fingers pointing toward the catcher when the pitch is released.
The pitchfork changeup is a variation of the three-finger changeup.
- Step 1: The fingers are spread evenly around the ball, without the "thumb & forefinger circle" characteristic of a circle changeup.
- Step 2: Throw the ball with fastball arm speed, but, pronate it slightly to get downward spin.
The cut changeup is a variation of a cutter and has "cutter-like" movement in that it moves in the opposite direction of a regular changeup. Kyle Hendricks throws a great cut changeup that backs up and inon left-handed hitters.
- Step 1: Grip this pitch like you would a cut fastball, yet spread your fingers wider and place them along the horseshoe seams on the side of the baseball.
- Step 2: Choke the ball deeper in your hand using your middle finger to apply pressure to the seam it rests upon.
- Step 3: Throw the pitch with fastball arm speed.
Five keys to developing a great changeup
- The arm action is just like the fast ball until the pitcher comes into the acceleration phase, then:
- Bring the hand in closer to the head which causes the elbow to lead longer.
- Start an early pronation of the wrist.
- Upon release, the fingers are lifted off the ball, the ball rolls up the fingers.
- The wrist and hand are pronated a little early which stops the wrist from popping forward. This takes velocity off the ball and creates movement.
- On the follow through, collapse the body slightly. Don't try to get too much backside drive and hip rotation into the pitch.
- Work for full arm extension to the plate on the follow through just like on the fastball.
How to be more consistent with the changeup?
The following chart identifies some of the most common problems associated with locating the changeup and provides suggestions for how to make adjustments.
|Control problems high||Slowed arm speed, lifts fingers too early, low cocked position, arm slot too wide||Normal FB arm speed, relax fingers at release, get to normal high cocked position, stay on top of the ball|
|Control problems inside||Arm slot too wide, poor hip and trunk rotation, early pronation of hand||Stay on top of ball, square body off to plate, pronation upon release|
|Too much velocity||too much backside drive, grip too firm, too much wrist flexion forward, arm slot too wide||Collapse body upon release, don't brace lead leg, loose grip, lift fingers, pronate hand or stiff wrist, move arm slot in towards head|
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When to throw a changeup in games
The best times to change speeds are:
- The next pitch after any fastball
- To big swingers
- To aggressive hitters
- When the hitter is ahead in count: 1-0, 2-1, or 2-0
- When a hitter is trying to pull the ball
- When a hitter fouls off the previous pitch and pulled it
- When a hitter is out in front of pitches, especially the fastball
Remember, the changeup isn't so much a strikeout pitch, as it is a pitch that is "miss timed," causing weak contact.
I've found that if a pitcher can develop a good changeup, his fastball will appear faster and hitters will be less aggressive. Even changeups out of the strikezone can be effective because hitters can't sit on the fastball.
Lastly, I've found that changeup is most effective in college and pro baseball because the hitters are stronger, more aggressive and can handle a good fastball. In Little League and even high school, pitchers need to be careful not to throw too many changeups to weak hitters who can't catch up with the fastball.
Of all the secondary pitches a pitcher can learn once he’s mastered the fastball, the change up should be next.
Zack Greinke certainly knows something about this.
He’s got one of the best change ups in baseball right now.
Check out Greinke’s change up here:
One of the reason’s he got such a great change-up is because it’s a pitch he learned very early in his career.
I was fortunate enough to learn and develop a good three-finger change up by the time I was in high school. That pitch served as the foundation for a circle change up in college and pro ball, when my hands were a little bigger and I could grip it correctly.
In fact, I didn’t even add a third pitch (a 12-6 curveball) until college; I only threw fastballs and change ups in high school and Little League.
Here are five reasons why every pitcher should develop a good change up before high school:
- Change ups are arguably the easiest pitch to learn because they’re thrown like fastballs. Throwing a change up uses the same arm speed, same arm action and same arm slot of a fastball—except for the grip. These factors help to decrease the learning curve.
- Change ups look like fastballs. Most Big League pitchers throw the fastball upwards of 70% of the time. So why wouldn’t a pitcher want to have an off-speed pitch that looks nearly identical to the pitch they throw most of the time? Curve balls, sliders, splitters all have different spins that can be picked up early by a hitter’s eye, but none is as deceptive as the change up.
- Change ups thrown correctly place no added stress on the arm.Because the pitch is thrown just like a fastball, the change up doesn’t put any added stress on a pitcher’s arm like most breaking pitches do. It’s especially a good option when teaching a young pitcher his first off-speed pitch.
- Change ups generate a lot of ground ball outs. A well placed change up is one of the best pitches for inducing cherished ground balls. Greg Maddux knew a thing of two about this. The pitch drops down at the last moment, making it difficult for hitters to adjust in time. And if a hitter does make contact, it’s usually underneath the barrel of his bat. This leads to a lot of ground-ball outs, quick innings, and inning-ending double plays.
- Change ups are essential in college and professional baseball. Have you ever read a high school pitcher prospect report before the MLB draft? For pitchers especially at the high school level, the most common development note from pro scouts is that the pitcher needs to develop a change up. This is because it is usually one of the last pitches a pitcher adds to his arsenal. Instead, challenge your pitchers to develop this pitch early on in their careers so they can start working on it now.
Throwing your pitches at one speed usually won't cut it in the Major Leagues. You need to constantly change speeds -- up and down -- to keep hitters off balance and guessing. I first learned a lot about changing speeds as a hitter. I would be out in front of a pitch, and then when I finally thought that I had the pitcher timed, he would add another two or three miles per hour on his fastball and all of a sudden and it would be right by me. So I guess you could say I became a better pitcher because of my frustrations as a hitter. I learned by taking what was used effectively against me and applying it when I got out on the mound. By changing speeds, it ensures that hitters will have more trouble guessing on a particular pitch. If they do guess, they are very susceptible to another pitch. I throw four different pitches. The average speed of my fastball is 87 or 88; my slider is about 77-78; my curve is about 70; and my slow curve is about 65. Location is still the most important aspect for a pitcher. There's no question about that. Say you throw 80 mph but you want to throw a 77-78 mph pitch. You have to be able to control it and spot it. If you can barely control it while trying to take off that two or three mph, you're better off sticking with whatever's more comfortable. I feel most comfortable with an 86 mph fastball but batters will hit that pitch if I miss my spot by even a little bit. So every so often I have to get it up to 90 mph, just to get hitters a little off on their timing. Guys who throw slower usually get the most credit for changing speeds well, but I've seen some power pitchers like Bartolo Colon and Jason Schmidt mix it up well, too. Those guys will be throwing like 91 or 92, then they get it up to 95 or 96 and you realize they're turning it up a notch. But because they're labeled "power pitchers," they don't get the credit they deserve for their ability to change speeds. A pitcher won't be effective unless he's comfortable, though, so it's important to find out what's best for you. I found myself not being comfortable throwing as hard as I could every pitch, so I decided to settle into a range that was most comfortable for me.
What do you think?
Now it's time to hear from you:
How do you throw a changeup? Can you share a pic of your changeup grip?
Or maybe you have an idea of how I can make this article even better.
Either way, leave a comment below and let me know.