An easy split finger / change-up
One of the challenges that young pitchers have is how to get the ball to move. When I say move, I don’t mean velocity. I’m talking about getting the ball to “tail,” “run,” and/or “sink.” A pitch with movement is almost always harder to hit than a straight pitch. I know. My fastball was basically straight as an arrow which is why my Bio Page doesn’t include “former Major Leaguer” in the description.
When young players get enough velocity to make the ball move (10-12 yrs old-ish?), there are some easy ways to develop other pitches beyond the fastball that show the batter something different. Unfortunately, most young pitchers think that “something different” means a curve ball or slider. Too many young arms pay the price for that decision.
An easier way to develop some movement is to just vary the finger and thumb placement on the ball. This photo shows what I mean.
The photo is of the new Japanese pitcher who was just signed by the Yankees. Notice that his two fingers on top of the ball are a little wider than a normal fastball grip. Also notice that his thumb is on the side of the ball instead of underneath. In the photo he is about to throw a split-finger fastball.
One major mistake young pitchers make on a split-finger is that they spread their fingers apart too far and may even jam the ball in between their index and middle fingers. That is a forkball not a split-finger. In my opinion, the forkball should be avoided just like sliders and curveballs at the younger ages. Just moving (splitting) the two fingers apart more can help get some movement. Moving the thumb from under the ball to the side can help also.
For some pitchers, the result of this split-finger grip is a pitch that drops somewhat like a curveball. For others, the pitch doesn’t drop much but it does slow down the ball similar to a change-up. If it breaks downward, use it as a breaking pitch. If it just takes some velocity off, use it as a change-up.
Throwing a curveball takes a lot of work and, of course, it isn’t too safe for young kids. Throwing a change-up, especially a circle change, can be tough for young players with smaller hands. Throwing both by just altering the two fingers and thumb position can be a safer option and may even be more effective.
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