The First Rule of Changeups
Whether you have seen the movie or not, I think most people have heard that the first rule of Fight Club is that you never talk about fight club.
This quote came to mind a few days ago while I was working with a new student on developing her changeup. As I watched her it hit me: the first rule of changeups is that they can never LOOK like changeups – at least until you release the ball. After that, they’d better!
What do I mean by they can never look like changeups? Basically, you don’t want to have to do anything with your approach, your body, or anything else to make a changeup work.
The changeup should always look like it’s going to be a fastball until the ball is on its way, when suddenly the hitter realizes (hopefully too late) that the pitch they thought was coming is not the pitch that’s actually coming.
Yet people teach crazy and self-defeating stuff about the changeup all the time. So to help those of you who are just getting into it, here are some things you definitely don’t want or need to do to make a changeup work.
Using Strange Grips
This is something I see all the time. I’ll ask a new student who says she throws a changeup to show it to me, and the first thing she does is start tucking a knuckle or two, or go into a “circle change” grip where you hold the ball with the middle through little fingers while the thumb and first finger make a circle.
All of that is not only unnecessary but it’s actually counter-productive. What makes a changeup work is that it surprises the hitter.
If you go into some crazy grip that is easily spotted from the coaching box, or worse yet from the batter’s box, the only surprise that’s going to happen is you being surprised at how quickly that pitch leaves the ballpark.
If you really want to disguise the change you should be able to use your fastball grip to throw the changeup. Because, and I will say it loud for the people in the back, it’s not the grip that makes a pitch work; it’s how the pitch is thrown.
If you have a well-designed changeup you’ll be able to use your fastball grip, maybe with a slight modification such as sliding the thumb over a little, and still take the right amount of speed off.
Slowing Down Your Arm or Body
This is another one that is pretty obvious to the hitter, the coaching staff, the players on the bench, and even people just cutting through the park to get to the pickleball courts.
If you have to slow your arm down to throw a changeup, you’re not throwing a changeup. You’re throwing a weak fastball.
Think of a changeup as being the polar opposite of most people’s experiences hitting off a pitching machine fed by a human. The human slowly brings the ball down to the chute to put it in, maybe fumbles with it a bit, then the ball shoots out at 65 mph or whatever speed the coach thinks will help hitters hit better. (Spoiler alert: setting the machine too high actually hurts your hitters.)
The reason machines are so hard to hit off of is that the visual cues of the arm don’t match the speed of the pitch. Because if you actually threw the ball with that arm motion it would go about three feet away at a speed of 5 mph.
A great changeup turns that model on its head. The arm and body speed indicate a pitch coming in at whatever the pitcher’s top speed has been.
But because of the way it’s released, the ball itself actually comes out much slower. The mismatch between the arm speed and ball speed upset the hitter’s timing and either gets her to swing way too early (and perhaps screw herself into the ground) or freezes her in place while her brain tries to figure out the discrepancy,
Either way, the hitter is left wondering what happened – and now has something new to worry about at the plate because she doesn’t want to be fooled again.
Making a Face or Changing Body Language
This is something that often happens prior to the pitch.
Maybe the pitcher has developed a habit of sticking her tongue out before she throws a change. Maybe she changes where she stands on the pitching rubber or does a different glove snap or alters their windup or has some other little “cheat” that helps her throw the pitch.
All of these things can send a SnapChat to the hitter that a changeup is about to happen.
Smart pitchers will video themselves throwing fastballs and changeups , especially in-game, to see if anything they’re doing is giving away the pitch that’s about to be thrown. If there isn’t, great.
But if there is, they need to work at it until they’re not giving it away anymore. The pitcher’s chief weapon when throwing a changeup is the element of surprise.
They need to make sure they’re maintaining it until the ball is actually on its way.
Keep the Secret
A changeup that everyone knows is coming is not going to be very effective. And given today’s hot bats it can be downright dangerous for the pitcher.
Remember that the first rule of throwing a changeup is that it can’t look like you’re going to throw a changeup and y