When used correctly, the changeup can be the most effective pitch in baseball. It keeps batters off balance, had deceptive movement and can move on both a horizontal and vertical axis. Major League Pitchers like Johan Santana and Mark Buehrle have made a living off of their changeups and with a little bit of work, you as a young pitcher can make it your most dangerous and effective “out pitch.”
For the purposes of this article, I will be teaching you how to throw what is called the “Circle Change.” Let’s dive in.
Circle Change Physics
The circle change is designed to mimic everything that a four seam fastball does, only much sloooooowwwwwweeeeeerrrr. The arm angle and arm speed should be identical to that of your fastball, which means that the main difference in the pitches is going to come as a result of the grip. An effective changeup relies on friction, not only from the surrounding air, but from the pitcher’s hand as well. Knowing how to maximize this friction will allow you to baffle hitters at nearly every level of competition.
The friction from increased contact points on the pitchers hand and a slower rotation coming out of his hand, all lead to a significantly slower speed as the pitch approaches home plate. Because it is thrown in essentially the same manner as a four seam fastball, it will remain straight on the horizontal axis, but will dip considerably on the vertical axis. An effective changeup can be as much as 20 MPH slower than a fastball, thrown with the same arm angle and velocity. This is what makes it so confusing for hitter.
How to Properly Grip a Circle Changeup
Why is it called a circle changeup? Well that’s simply because you make a circle with your thumb and index fingers. Remember, the pitch is all about maximizing friction so it is imperative that the ball makes contact with your hand at as many points as possible. You hold the seams the same way you do for a four seam fastball, but instead of your index and middle fingers over the seams, you use your middle, ring and pinky fingers, and at the same time, tuck the ball as deep into your palm as possible.
Every time the ball makes contact with your hand on the way out, it loses what is called potential energy. Since it is making contact with all of your fingers, not to mention parts of your palm, the changeup’s potential energy is relatively low, causing it to reach the batter much slower than other pitches.
Setting up the Pitch
A changeup is called a “changeup” because it is a change of pace from a pitcher’s normal fastball. For this reason, a changeup will only be effective if partnered with a fastball or some other pitch with a greater velocity. Also, because the changeup is one of the slowest and straightest pitches, it should almost never be thrown in the strike zone. Depending on slight variations in the grip (that you can mess around with down in the bullpen), the ball will most definitely dip down, but can also move side to side depending on how much pressure is applied with the grip.
Also, because of the slow speed, the changeup should almost always be thrown “away” from the hitter; never inside. The pitch will be most effective if the bat has already cleared the zone by the time the pitch crosses the plate, which is almost impossible to do for something thrown inside. The pitch should start out at the batter’s thigh, and ideally on the outer third of the plate. That way, once the pitch has completed its movement, it will almost be entirely out of the strike zone. The batter, thinking that the pitch is a fastball due to your arm speed will have already committed to his swing, and will be able to do nothing but flail at a ball that is well out of reach.
Again, there is nothing particularly glamorous about a changeup, but when combined with an effective four seam fastball, it makes for a devastating pitch. The changeup will take some time to master, particularly all of the nuances of the grip, but make use of your bullpen sessions to work on the grip and arm speed. By applying different pressure with other fingers, you can make the ball move from side to side slightly, so make sure you take that into account when throwing the pitch. Start it out as a strike, but make sure that it has enough movement to end up out of the zone. A changeup thrown in the strike zone can be a recipe for disaster.