How to Coach: The Change Up
The information following below is copyright’d material from Dan Keller’s, Coaching the Beginning Pitcher. Available for purchase here , this is from Chapter 1: Pitch Types and Theory:
As a pitcher advances into more competitive baseball, high school, and beyond, changing speeds is a necessity for success. The change-up, thrown with the release and mannerisms of delivering a fastball, is the first of these off-speed pitches. It is a deception pitch intended to disrupt a hitter’s timing and rhythm, and the unique grip of the change-up results in less velocity and subsequently more movement than with a fastball. Because the palm faces home plate and there is little wrist movement, the change-up is safe and can be taught at an early age.
The purpose of the change-up is to make the batter think that he sees a fastball. As the batter times his swing to the pace of a fastball, he will swing before the pitch has entered the strike zone. Now out in front of the pitch, a batter will either slow his bat down to make contact or swing and miss altogether. The most important point to emphasize when teaching the change-up is to maintain full arm speed. A change-up’s effective deception is established by throwing the pitch with the arm speed, delivery, and release nearly identical to those for a fastball. Pitchers should not slow down their arms when throwing a change-up. Instead, they should have confidence that the change-up grip will ensure that the pitch comes out with less velocity than a fastball (off speed!). Additionally, young pitchers should be steered away from accelerating their wind-up in an effort to deceive the batter. While this will work for 8-year olds, it’s a sure give-away for ages 10 and above.
The change-up is an effective complement to the fastball because of the similar arm action and speed. A good fastball is necessary for a change-up to work, while a solid change-up can help a fastball appear faster. Whereas the most important ingredient in the success of a change-up is speed, movement may become a factor in the change-up of a more advanced pitcher as well. The desired action of a change-up is similar to that of a two-seam fastball: down and in on a right handed batter. Young pitchers, however, should focus first on the speed and location of the change-up and allow the movement to happen naturally.
Change-Up Grip and Release
Teach the athlete to understand the idea of taking power off of the baseball by moving the fastball fingers inside the baseball (from the fastball grip… to the three-finger change-up grip… to the four-finger or circle change grip). The baseball is compared to a power knob, and the fingers move inside the baseball, in a movement we call “turning down the power.” Starting with a fastball grip, the first and most basic change-up grip reached is the three-finger grip. This is the easiest grip to control, especially for athletes with smaller hands and shorter fingers. Being careful to keep the baseball from moving, the circle change grip is reached next by continuing to turn down the power so that the index finger connects with the thumb and the rest of the fingers move even farther inside the baseball.
Another helpful concept is to count the number of fingers throwing the pitch. Fastball uses two fingers… three-finger uses three… and circle-change uses four. When the time comes to teach the circle-change, it is recommended to use the name Four-Finger Change. Problems arise when pitchers with small hands become enamored with the sexy circle. The result: an athlete forms the circle with the index finger and thumb, and then attempts to grip the baseball. With small hands trying to maintain a circle, the inevitable result is a palm full of baseball. This is a grip that will be difficult to consistently control.
Three-Finger Change-Up Grip
The three-finger grip is the easiest to control, regardless of the size of a pitcher’s hand. The first three fingers (index, middle and ring) are placed on top of the ball and spread out evenly. Both the thumb and the pinkie are in contact with the ball, tucked underneath. The change-up is held farther back in the hand — away from the fingertips – than for the fastball grip, in a position that is called “choking” the ball. The ball is pressed firmly back into the pads of the open hand, with care taken to avoid pressing the ball directly against the palm. (The pads help maintain touch with the off-speed pitch.) There should be space between the bottom of the palm and the baseball, and the fingers on top of the ball should be well spread out.
If the pitcher starts with a fastball grip, the fastball fingers (“power fingers”) move to the inside of the ball, taking velocity off of the pitch. The index finger moves to the inside of the baseball, the middle finger moves to the top of the baseball, and the ring finger moves to the outside of the baseball (up from underneath the baseball). The three-finger change-up grip is an easy adjustment from either the four-seam or two-seam fastball grip. When the change-up is thrown from a four-seam grip, the three-finger change has a long seam (the side of the “horseshoe”) pressing directly into the pads of the hand, and the three power fingers all reach across the opposite seam. When it is thrown off of a two-seam grip, the fingers are evenly distributed around the “railroad tracks.” Looking down at the three-finger change across a two-seam grip, the pitcher should see, from right to left, the ring finger, seam, middle finger, seam, and index finger. Push the baseball back into the pads and spread those fingers out – but not to the point of pain!
Four-Finger Change-Up Grip
As a pitcher matures and the size of his hand increases, it may be necessary to take more velocity off of his three-finger change-up. The four-finger change (commonly called the Circle-Change) is a natural next step from the three- finger grip. It is reached by moving the power fingers even farther inside the baseball. To review, the index and middle fingers move inside the baseball on a three-finger change so that the index finger is on the inside of the ball and the middle finger is directly behind and on top. The ring finger moves up from underneath the baseball and lies on the outside of the ball. In essence, the power fingers have moved inside the baseball one “click” in an effort to turn down the velocity of the pitch.
The circle change grip is reached by moving inside the baseball another click or by “turning down the power” once again. It is called a circle change because the index finger moves completely to the inside of the baseball and may form a circle by connecting to the thumb. The middle finger moves inside the baseball, while the ring finger moves up near the top of the baseball. Even the pinkie adjusts, moving up along the baseball so that it now rests on the outside of the baseball.
The coach’s verbal cue to help the pitcher with this grip is, “Inside, seam, seam, outside,” summarizing what the pitcher sees as he looks down at the circle-change grip across a two-seam position:
- The index finger is inside the baseball, or closest to the body or head during release
- The middle finger rests along a seam
- The ring finger rests along the other seam
- The pinkie is outside the baseball
Because the power fingers are so far inside the baseball, the velocity of the four-finger change should be less than that of a three-finger, and the movement should increase down and away from a left-handed hitter.
Teaching the Change-Up
When working with young athletes, the first goal is to achieve a decrease in speed – throw the ball with full effort and it comes out with a noticeably change in speed. Make this point clear: Change-up keyword is SPEED. Specifically, a decrease in speed.
How is that change of speed obtained? There are two main variables to understanding the art of teaching the change up: Grip and Release.
Grip – If adjusted correctly, the grip ALONE should slow the baseball down. Move from 2 —> 3 —> 4 fingers… and from behind the baseball —> to inside the baseball (three-finger grip) —> to further inside the baseball (four-finger change). Challenge the athlete’s to achieve a difference in speed with no other change besides the grip.
Release – If, for some reason, the athlete has a hard time slowing the ball down, the other teaching variable is the release. Essentially, this is working “inside” the baseball at release. It’s almost like throwing what would have been called a screwball were we 12 and playing on the sandlot! The hand turns in, working the inside, and top-half of, the baseball at release. Older athletes can focus on the “release” as needed and appropriate. Regardless, achieving a change of speed by focusing exclusively on the grip adjustment, is a great way to keep the principle of full arm speed true when throwing the change up.
A big key to a change-up is keeping the arm motion, arm angle, and release as similar as possible to those of the fastball delivery. “Set the change-up grip, and think fastball!” is good advice. Because the ball is “choked” into the pads of the pitcher’s hands, there will naturally be much less of a wrist/finger snap than there is with a fastball. As a result, a change-up will naturally have less rotation and less velocity, and a young pitcher will not have to overthink the delivery. Encourage the athlete to throw his change-up — as much as possible — the way he throws his fastball. Trust the grip to slow the ball down, and instruct the pitcher with encouragement such as, “Don’t think too much… just throw it!” Specific actions for the release point can be incorporated later in the pitcher’s career.
Change-ups are thrown to offset the hitter’s vision of a fastball. A common sequence involving a change-up is (for a right-handed pitcher facing left-handed hitter) first a fastball inside, then a change-up outside. (The coach’s verbal cue for this is, “Hard in… soft away.”) This sequence opens the hitter’s eyes to high velocity inside and makes the change-up on the outside corner a very difficult pitch to hit. Both the location and speed of the pitch have been altered. Change-ups are also tremendously effective in fastball counts. For example, if the batter is expecting a fastball and is thrown a change-up, he will probably be out in front of the pitch. This is because of the similarities between the fastball arm speed and delivery with those of the changeup. Examples of counts when the change-up is particularly effective are 1-0, 2- 1, and 3-2, especially after the pitcher just misses with his fastball.
Start by teaching the three-finger grip and move to the circle change as necessary for either increased movement or decreased velocity. Establish keyword SPEED and the initial goal of a decrease in speed. Over time, the athlete will learn to what it takes to locate this pitch – assuming that the decreased speed is held constant. The two variables used to achieve this decrease of speed are GRIP and RELEASE. Because the arm action on a change-up is very similar to that on a fastball, there are no real age restrictions on when to learn and throw the pitch. Throwing a change-up does not increase the chance for physical injury. However, a young pitcher’s first goal is to develop and master the fastball. Even though this may come at the expense of some hits and runs, it is very important that a pitcher is comfortable with the fastball before learning and incorporating a change-up. A pitcher can learn a changeup as early as age 8 or 9, depending on the size of his hands. Once instructed, a pitcher should involve change-up repetitions into regular catch play. Any warm up game of catch means a minimum of five change-ups.
- START WITH 3-FINGER GRIP
- THEN 4-FINGER
- CIRCLE CHANGE ONLY IF LARGE HANDS OR NECESSARY
- GOAL #1 - DECREASE IN SPEED
- GOAL #2 - LEARN TO LOCATE
- KEYWORD: "SPEED"
- VARIABLES: "GRIP" & "RELEASE"
- FASTBALL ARM SPEED (FULL)
- TURN DOWN THE VOLUME
- Baseball Buckets1
- Home Plate1
- Pitching Rubbers1