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What Makes a Good Changeup?

Devin Williams pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers; CC by License 2.0

Changeups are one of the most misunderstood pitches across baseball today. In today's game, it seems all anyone cares about is how fast a pitcher can throw or how much their breaking ball moves. However, the changeup is still a great and important pitch to a pitcher's arsenal. In order to throw a good changeup there are a lot of different factors that go into it and it is extremely important to understand these when throwing an effective changeup.

History of the changeup:

The concept of the changeup is one of the oldest in baseball history. The idea of the changeup was making a pitch that was slower than the fastball without slowing down the arm or body in any way. Back in the 1800s when breaking pitches were illegal to throw; pitchers would try to mix the speeds of their fastball in order to fool the better. Hence the changeup being born. The main method of throwing one at this time was simply a palmball grip and that would often take enough speed off it. The changeup continued to be a part of the game for decades to come and went through many different grips. The 70s-80s brought the circle change which is the most used version of it today. Tom Glavine in the 1990s introduced his own changeup grip that helped him earn HOF honors. Recently the split change has become extremely popular due to guys like Kevin Gausman turning it into one of the best pitches in baseball. Over time, the different grips and ways to throw a changeup have evolved to make the pitch into what it is today. There are no right or wrong grips when throwing a changeup. The main thing with it is to make sure it's comfortable with the pitcher and most importantly that the pitch is effective.


Velocity is one of the most important metrics to look at when determining an effective changeup, especially at lower levels of baseballs. The original concept of the changeup, as said above, is to have a pitch that is slower than your fastball to keep the hitter off balance. Nowadays, the changeup has developed a long way from this and there are many other essential aspects to changeup. However, a velocity difference is still a very important part of having a good changeup. So what does it mean when you have an effective velocity on your changeup? It means a changeup should be around 7-10 MPH slower than the fastball. This is typically the accepted difference for a changeup to be effective. The reason it is important to have a slower changeup is that it typically has a similar spin and movement to the fastball so the pitcher wants to slow it up in order to throw off the timing of the batter. For example, Tom Glavine in his prime threw his fastball around 89-92 and his changeup around 80-83, and Pedro Martinez, who is known for having a dominant changeup, threw his changeup 10-12 MPH slower than his fastball. Now does this mean you can not throw a changeup at a similar velo to your fastball? Not necessarily, as there are many different examples of pitchers throwing changeups at similar velocities to their fastball. However, it takes a very certain type of changeup and pitcher in order to do this correctly. For most pitchers, it is very important and key to have an 8-10 velo difference between fastballs and changeups.


Another very important aspect of an effective changeup is the movement of the pitch. The movement of the changeup often goes hand and hand with the velocity of the pitch as well. The movement of the change up very often runs arm side and drops. Over the past couple of years, we have seen a lot more pitchers trying to get elite horizontal movement of the changeup, and instead of tunneling the changeup off the fastball it is being used as the primary pitch. The most important aspect of movement on a changeup is making it different from the fastball. This is where the horizontal movement comes in extremely important as it can often lead to a substantial difference in the movement between the fastball and change. For pitchers who have a traditional 4-seam fastball that does not have a lot of horizontal movement to the arm side and for pitchers who throw a cutter or cut fastball, this movement difference is typically not a big issue. This is due to both 4-seamers and cutters having different movement profiles from changeups making it easy to have a bigger difference. The pitchers who typically have issues with this are sinkerball/2-seam fastball pitchers. This is because it has a similar movement with the changeup. It is important that these pitchers have a legitimate and substantial difference in movement in these two pitches. The main way to do this is to have more vertical movement and let the sinker have a little more true horizontal.

Spin direction:

A very new school way of evaluating the change up is the spin direction. A quick explanation of spin direction is important before getting into its impact on changeups. Every ball thrown spins a certain way and the direction of the spin along a certain axis helps show us information about the ball. The direction a ball spins is on a 360-degree plane and is often put on a clock scale to easily show the difference. The graphs below help explain spin direction and what a spin direction looks like on each pitch.

So why does this matter with changeups? Pitchers do not want their changeups and fastballs to have the same spin direction as it can lead to very similar movements which makes it easier to pick up one. A very solid and accepted difference is 45 minutes to an hour as a big difference between the two. Anything closer than this is considered way to close in the movement profile. This is an easy way to create even more of a difference between the fastball and the changeup. In today's game with metrics becoming more and more a part of the game, information and data like this are becoming more important. This stat does not matter as much in the lower levels of baseball when first developing the change, but as pitchers progress throughout baseball they will encounter this and need to make sure to have a distinct difference.


One of the first things a pitcher hears when first learning a changeup is to throw it like your fastball. Almost every coach in every level has known this phrase and every pitcher has likely heard it at some point. The fact of the matter is that they are right and this is very important. As well as having the same arm speed it is extremely important to keep the same arm slot and try not to do anything different in your delivery. Most of this goes for all pitches but it all applies to changeups as well. Keeping the same delivery, arm speed, and arm slot is a must for an effective changeup and keeping the deception of the pitch intact.


The last component of the changeup is location. All of the stuff above can be perfect but if a pitcher can not locate it then it will still not be an effective pitch. The changeup is best when located low in the zone and even out of the zone altogether. This can be especially tough for changeups with insane horizontal breaks like we see today. The insane movement often makes it tough to locate and can lead to the pitch not being as effective as it should be. This also applies to all other pitches but is worth mentioning due to how it can affect the changeup.

Best changeup of today: Devin Williams

Williams is known for having the best changeup in today's game as it is primary pitch and he uses it to be one of the best relievers in the game today. Williams throws his change with a circle grip and throws it an unbelievable 57% of the time. He averages 83.9 velocity on it while he is up to 94 on his fastball. This shows his distinct velo difference that was mentioned earlier. He gets 41 inches of drop and 19 inches of horizontal movement on his changeup. This places his changeup as the most horizontal movement in the MLB and helps lead to his .098 BA against his change. He also has a 2 hour difference between his change and fastball which is nearly unheard of. Williams also pounded his change low in the zone which helped create a lot of whiffs and helped him not get hit hard at all. In a world where the sliders and the sweepers, as well as the 102 MPH heaters that get all the craze, Williams and his “airbender” changeup are dominating more than almost any of these pitches.


Baseball Savant


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