Changeups Confuse Batters, But Don’t Harm Young Pitchers Arms

By Christopher Gumina,

There are nine field positions in the game of baseball, but perhaps none is more important than the pitcher. Every great pitcher has a wide selection of pitches to choose from in his arsenal – a few different arrows in his quiver, so to speak – which can all be used to confuse and trick the hitter. While there are various types of pitches one can choose to learn, a solid changeup is often a staple of many great pitchers’ repertoires. Coaches Adam Virant and Angel Reyes of Bulldog Baseball Club share some insight about why the changeup might be the most important pitch for young hurlers to master, and one that is safer than a curveball.

Both coaches believe in learning the changeup at a young age, not only due to its devastating effectiveness, but also because it is much safer on young arms than other breaking pitches such as the curveball and slider. In fact, Coach Reyes believes the pitch is absolutely vital to any young pitcher’s success. “Young pitchers, normally they try to learn how to throw sliders and curveballs, but I think the more effective pitch for the young age is the changeup. The changeup is the best secondary pitch of a pitcher. The changeup helps you a lot. If you don’t have a changeup…you cannot be a starting pitcher,” claims Reyes.

Coach Virant wholeheartedly agrees: “I think that as soon as a young pitcher can throw consistent strikes with their fastball they should start learning how to throw a changeup…The changeup is a safe pitch for players of all ages to learn because it’s merely just a change of the grip. It’s not like a curve. It’s not like a slider or some of these other pitches that really affect the pitcher’s arm. The changeup is a safe, effective pitch to throw.”

The changeup is an “off-speed” pitch, but it is one that operates much like a fastball. In fact, a pitcher uses the same arm speed to throw both a changeup and a fastball, but the changeup will have less velocity as it reaches the plate. This is achieved by the pitcher holding the ball farther back in his hand, making sure the ball has less contact with the fingers at the release point. “The changeup is an effective off-speed pitch because it will come out of the pitcher’s hand looking like a fastball, but it’ll be slower, considerably slower, and there will be a little bit of movement downward,” says Coach Virant.

The two aspects of the changeup Virant touches upon – its downward movement and slower speed – both make it incredibly difficult on the batter. While the slight dip in direction does present a challenge for the batter, the hardest part of hitting a changeup is its noticeable difference in velocity compared to a fastball. Coach Reyes, who also spent some time as a minor-league pitcher in the Colorado Rockies farm system, believes that the best aspect of the changeup is the element of surprise and that the best time to throw one is when a hitter is expecting a fastball. As a hitter, imagine seeing what first looks like a straight heater coming out of the pitcher’s hand, only to realize – often too late – that the pitch is actually coming in far slower than expected. Chances are that a batter will most likely end up being ahead of the pitch, swinging a bit too early and missing the ball entirely.

So, while a fastball typically gets all the glory, its cousin, the changeup, should get a bit more respect. It is both safe and easy to learn, and it can quickly elevate the skill level of any pitcher, young or old. After all, a juicy filet mignon is not as enjoyable without the compliment of a savory side dish, and the changeup is the missing roasted garlic mashed potato that all young hurlers should be adding to their plate this season.

Chris Gumina is a member of our team of junior journalists. He is an 8th grader at The Dalton School in Manhattan.

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