Unless you throw a 100 MPH fastball, changing speeds as a pitcher is critical. It is amazing how many major league pitchers now throw over 96 MPH, but that is not the point of this article! Hitting is all about balance and pitching is all about unbalancing a hitter. The best way to unbalance a hitter is to change speeds. You can make your 80 MPH high school fastball look 85 MPH if you effectively change speeds. When you unbalance a hitter you will get a lot of swing and misses over the top of the ball and a lot of rolling their wrists, which usually means weak ground balls. Now changing speeds as a pitcher seems like an easy concept, but it is a very difficult skill to master. Repetition is the key to success in developing a good changeup.
The key to changing speeds as a pitcher is to make sure you are not “giving the pitch away”. This means your mechanics, arm speed, arm slot, delivery, and all appearances look the same on the fastball and the changeup. If a pitcher slows down their delivery the hitter will notice the difference and will adjust to the off-speed pitch. Now when you throw your 70 MPH high school changeup and the hitter knows it is coming the chances are very good it will be hit hard.
I always take the approach of looking for a visible change in the above mentioned items when a changeup is thrown by standing near the batters box and getting the hitter’s point of view. I will stand there and specifically watch the pitcher’s mechanics and try to guess what the pitch was. If I see a sign of things changing I will have the pitcher work on that specifically.
The most common changes made by a pitcher from a fastball to a changeup are: 1) slowing down the delivery. 2) changing the arm slot between the two pitches. 3) slowing down the arm speed. The ball going slower in a changeup is all accomplished by the grip. I am not going to get into changeup grips in this article and there are numerous ones and they all need to be explored until you find the right one for you.
Where the Pocket Radar comes in is by clocking the speeds on the fastball and changeup and making sure they are different speeds. This is done after you have made sure the pitcher is not “giving away” the pitch through any of the items described above. A good rule of thumb is the changeup should be 7-10 MPH slower than the fastball. If there is not enough differential adjusting the grip is suggested. It is very important the correct speed differential is achieved. This 7-10 MPH differential accomplishes getting the hitter unbalanced.
I believe the changeup can be the most effective pitch in your arsenal. Having a good changeup is nearly impossible to detect and when it is undetectable they will almost surely be off balance. The changeup is not as hard on the arm either and should be to taught at a very young age, as it is a difficult pitch to master. The extremely portable Pocket Radar system is the perfect item to take to my son’s games and make sure he is getting his speed differential!