Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Twins and the circle change

A digression from Monday's print column:

The Twins have had no shortage of success with pitchers relying on the circle change (seen above).

Frank Viola won the World Series MVP in 1987 and the Cy Young in 1988 with the circle change as his out pitch. Johan Santana won two Cy Young awards, in 2004 and 2006, with the circle change as his out pitch. (Should have won the Cy in 2005 as well.) Brad Radke never got a Cy Young (nor did he deserve to), but his 148 career wins are third most for a Twins pitcher.

Combined, those three went 353-276 as Twins.

That kind of success breeds imitators. The Twins are known today for a pitching staff modeled on Radke: unimpressive fastballs, but good to great command of that pitch — and the willingness to change speeds on it. And the first change up the minor leaguers are taught is almost certainly the circle change.

It has certain advantages over other change ups. Perhaps most important, it has a reverse curve break. (As mentioned in the Monday print column, Warren Spahn's "screwball" was probably the circle change.) So it not only messes with the hitter's timing, it's moving on multiple planes as well.

Not that it works for everybody. Eddie Guardado, for example, uses a palmball, or four-finger change. It was a very good change up, strong enough to make a top-flight closer out of a guy with subpar fastball velocity.

Carlos Silva tried a number of different change ups and, by the end of his Twins career, appeared to have settled on a splitter/forkball.

Silva's pitch went through a variety of names. When he broke it out in training camp 2007, he was calling it a split-fingered fastball. Then it became a forkball, then simply a change. I suspect that was because the Twins organization frowns on the splitter, fearing elbow injuries, and didn't want minor league pitchers arguing Silva throws it, why can't I. (It's worth noting, too, that Silva, who had been quite durable with the Twins, has broken down physically each of the last two seasons since adding the splitter.)

Almost all change up grips start with the idea of holding the ball deeper in the hand. Fastballs and curves are gripped between the thumb and the first two fingers, with the ring and little fingers tucked out of the way. Whether the change is a circle change, a palmball, a forkball or some other variation, it's held deeper, and often brings a third or fourth finger into play.

There have been a number of legendary change-up artists — guys who threw almost nothing but change ups, guys known for changing speeds on their change ups. Jean Dubuc. Eddie Lopat. Stu Miller. Doug Jones. Allan Anderson, who won the AL ERA title with the Twins in 1988 and followed with a 17-10 season the next year. Jamie Moyer. I suspect a number of them mastered multiple change ups. A circle change here, a palmball there, maybe Paul Richards' "slip pitch" — a variation of the palmball — and suddenly one has an entire repertoire of pitches not thrown hard enough to bruise a peach.

No comments:

Post a Comment