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Change Up – The Forgotten Softball Pitch

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

softballchangeupToday’s topic was actually suggested by member Rex Wooten. He was looking for somebody — anybody — to address this topic.

I’m guess like many of us he sees a lack of changeups being used at the high school and below level. That doesn’t seem right to him, as his email suggests:

“Watched Jenna Caira and Sarah Hamilton pitch winning games this weekend.
Guess what pitch they threw the majority of the time (probably 60-80 %)?
YES – CHANGE-UP !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The changeup as the forgotten pitch is particularly interesting because it’s almost always the second pitch a pitcher learns, after the basic fastball. And it can be devastating. After all, hitting is about timing, and pitching is about upsetting timing. What better way to do that than throw a pitch that looks like it will be fast but comes in slow?

Yet it seems as youngsters either develop more speed or gain other pitches, they no longer have interest in the change. I’ve seen it a lot with “power pitchers” at the high school level.

They fall in love with their speed, and the fact that they can use it to make opposing hitters sweat. What they forget is as the game goes on those pitches look less and less fast (and maybe become less and less fast if the pitcher tires), at which point they become a lot more hittable.

Mixing in a steady supply of changeups, though, solves that issue. You can’t zone in on one speed when there’s another one lurking around the corner. And no hitter wants to be made to look bad by swinging early through a changeup, so it has to be on her mind. Right there the pitcher gains a huge advantage in that one-on-one confrontation.

There’s also the perception factor. A well-thrown changeup, even if it’s not thrown for a strike, makes the fastball (or other fast pitch) look even faster by comparison.

Sometimes hitters see the changeup as it comes in and have time to reset. But that rarely yields a great hit. It tends to yield more of an arm swing, which results in ground balls and pop-ups — both acceptable outcomes for the pitcher.

These reasons and more are why the change is such a powerful pitch at the collegiate level. Entire championships have been won with them — think Taryne Mowatt and Arizona a few years ago. Her go-to pitch against Tennessee was the change, and she went to it a lot.

The only caveat is to be careful about going to the well too often, or in a pattern. If you’re throwing at least one change to every hitter, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out a strategy. A smart hitter will say “Throw your power stuff all you want; I’ll just sit on the change and drive it into tomorrow.”

The funny thing is most pitchers work on the change all the time. I had a student once who threw a real good one, but she’d never throw it in a game. I think she was afraid of throwing it for a ball, which was interesting because she didn’t stop throwing her fastball when she threw it for a ball.

I went out to watch her pitch and didn’t see a one in a seven-inning game. So I told her that I would PAY her $10 if she’d throw one in her next game. She did, it worked, and it became her favorite pitch. And yes, I paid that debt. Funny how sometimes you have to bribe people to do what’s good for them.

It’s great to have a nice array of pitches at your disposal. But don’t forget about the change. The curve may not break, the rise may not get called (umpires seem to be going to the MLB strike zone these days), the drop may start too low and the screw may not screw. But a good change will always do you good. Just ask Sheryl Crow.

Anyway, that’s the way I see it.

photo credit: batter

Comments on Change Up – The Forgotten Softball Pitch »

March 24, 2012

Sean Schultheis @ 7:41 am

My 10 yr old daughter and I met Jenna Caira 2 weeks ago.  We watched her pitch 5 or 6 games and were both amazed how many changeups she threw and how bad she made hitters look by constantly keeping them off balance.  It really made my daughter realize how effective it could be.  Jenna doesnt have amazing speed but is rediculously accurate and her changeup is awesome.  It looks great to blow a fastball by a swinging hitter, but to watch a hitter flail away at a change and not even come close is a lot prettier. 

Wanna make a hitter look dumb?  Throw the change!!!


Clearwater FL

August 21, 2013

gw @ 8:56 am

My daughter is a collegiate catcher and has more fun calling for a well placed change than any other pitch.

Charles N. Thompson @ 12:19 pm

Right on! A good change up makes a big difference. But, even more effective the ability to throw variable speed changeups. Let's say your fastball is smoking at around 65 mph and your change up is 45 mph. Those two work well off each other. Now add a 55 mph change of speed thrown with the same motion and the batter can't “sit” on the change up.
An article on spinning the change up would be useful. I used an exaggerated roll drop motion for my variable speed change ups and the spin promoted a faster drop. Thrown so the drop happens just as the ball gets to the plate and it's virtually unhittable

Edgar @ 8:19 pm

I love the change-up! I think it's the best pitch. I've seen girls get fooled badly and several girls just freeze on change-ups…right down the pipe too. My daughter has the same problem, she has a decent change but will not throw it in a game because she says she can't throw strikes with it. Maybe I should try that $10 proposal.

August 22, 2013

Pat "Rockers" @ 6:08 am

A common reason here in the NY area that girls stay away from the change, is Coaches say to often don't miss high or over the plate. Keep it down or otherwise its gonna get crushed. Pitchers get scared due to that thought process. Its just like any other pitch. If you miss it a little high and over the plate chances are its gonna get hit hard, but could be a foul ball or deep fly ball caught. Just use it. I actually teach the change with a modified resistant band that seems to be the ticket. With the way I use it, it seems to work very well on keeping the ball at the bottom of the zone through muscle memory training. Also works great on throwing Risers on different planes.

[…] say you’re a softball pitcher working on a change-up. When you throw one that makes you happy or confident, perform some physical action. I’ve seen […]

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