This article was originally published on Pirates Prospects on February 20, 2017. It’s part of our Greatest Hits archives from over a decade of posts on the original site.
BRADENTON, Fla. – At some point, people were going to write about Tyler Glasnow’s changeup. It was a huge topic last year in terms of his development, and a big focus for him this year and going forward in his quest to reach his upside. So it was inevitable that he’d get some questions about the pitch.
What wasn’t inevitable was the knowledge that he had a new changeup grip. There were only two ways that information would come out. Number one was that he would volunteer the information later in camp when he started getting questions about the pitch, and this isn’t guaranteed. Number two is that you have someone who has studied his changeup dating back to the point when most people didn’t know who Tyler Glasnow was. That person would need to take photos of Glasnow pitching, then go through and study those photos. He would need to have the background on Glasnow to instantly recognize a new grip, and then would need to track Glasnow down and ask him about said grip.
That person was me, earlier this week. I stood in the dugout at the side of the bullpen, taking photos of Glasnow’s pitches, hoping to notice a difference. I wasn’t looking for the changeup. I just take photos of every pitcher, then study those photos for possible changes, so I know what to ask about. Sometimes this leads to a dead-end where I notice something I didn’t notice before. But that wasn’t possible in this case. I’ve been covering Glasnow since he was drafted, and I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had with him over the years about the changeup. So when I saw he had the new grip, and I saw he was actually throwing a changeup in the first place, I knew there was a story.
Of course, I later had to apologize to Glasnow. The day after my story ran, he started getting several interview requests about his “new changeup”, which I’m guessing was just coincidental. Meanwhile, I wanted to talk more about the pitch as well, while also expanding on the topic.
My favorite articles to write, and the best ones that I write, are the ones where I do a timeline of the changes a player undergoes, finishing off with the final change that could bring everything together. I did this two years ago by detailing The Evolution of Jameson Taillon’s Delivery. I did this last year by breaking down Josh Bell’s swing changes, and showing why he could add more power in 2016. I’ve done this in many other cases as well. We cover these guys constantly from the day they enter the system. That’s our advantage that no other outlet has. These articles put that advantage to full use, providing information and background that you can’t find anywhere else.
I’ve had countless conversations about Glasnow’s changeup over the years with Glasnow himself, his pitching coach Justin Meccage, and his pitching coordinator Scott Mitchell. After discovering this new changeup grip, I felt it was only appropriate to see how we got here, and show why this one is different. And so I give you The Evolution of Tyler Glasnow’s Changeup.
The History of Glasnow’s Changeup
There’s a lot that goes into throwing a good changeup, or even a decent changeup. I could write an entire other article on the subject (Spoiler Alert: that article is already in the works), but the cliff notes version is that you need to be comfortable with the grip, you need to have velocity separation from your fastball, you need some late movement, and you need the arm speed and arm slot to match the fastball, in order to add deception.
When Glasnow came to the Pirates, he threw a split finger changeup. That was taken away from him, as the Pirates don’t allow young pitchers to throw splits due to the strain this places on a pitcher’s forearm, and the injury risk this causes. So Glasnow received a new changeup grip from day one.
Glasnow also had a two-seam fastball in high school, but the Pirates also took this away. They wanted him focusing on commanding the four-seam fastball, and showing better control. The best way to do this was focusing on only one fastball. Again, this is a common approach with their younger pitchers.
Since Glasnow was throwing a four-seam fastball, the Pirates had him throwing a four-seam changeup, so that the grips would match and be more comfortable. But that didn’t work for Glasnow, due to a unique reason.
“With his fingers as big as [his] are, that wasn’t working,” Scott Mitchell said. “So we went to a two-seam grip, which we generally don’t do. If a guy throws a four seam, we want him throwing a four seam changeup. If he’s a two-seam guy, we want a two-seam changeup. But he showed some comfort with the two-seam grip, but still wouldn’t trust it enough to throw it during the game.”
Glasnow was more comfortable with the two-seam grip on the changeup, but that didn’t mean he was comfortable with the pitch. And that brings us to the first big thing that was holding him back from having a changeup.
Finding a Comfortable Grip
The biggest difference I noticed when talking to Glasnow about his new changeup earlier in the week was how excited he was about the new pitch. He was excited about the movement. He was excited about how comfortable the grip was. He was excited to eventually throw it in games. I was very skeptical about that. But then I watched his two inning live BP, and he ended up throwing eight changeups.
Let me put that in perspective for you. Glasnow made seven appearances and four starts in the majors last year. He pitched 23.1 innings. He only threw seven changeups in that entire time. That is how little comfort he had in that pitch. He threw more changeups in Saturday’s live BP than he did in his entire MLB debut.
“I made sure to throw a good amount yesterday, just to get a feel for it against the hitters,” Glasnow told me on Sunday afternoon. “I have a lot of confidence in it too, which is different. I never was confident with my changeup. It feels like a fastball. I just throw it.”
Glasnow has finally found a changeup he’s comfortable with, and that is a huge first step.
“Watching him over the last three or four years, with the size of his hands, something comfortable is the key,” Mitchell said. “Looking at the grip that he currently had, simply just rolled the ball up into his fingers, put the seams on his two middle fingers. A guy with big hands like that, and big fingers, having something to feel sometimes works. There was instant comfort with it, and feel. As he’s throwing it more, he’s becoming more comfortable with it and trusting the ball.”
Let’s put what Mitchell said into picture form to explain it better. Here is Glasnow’s old grip:
It’s kind of a circle change grip, and the middle two fingers are perpendicular to the seams, giving him a four seam grip. The difference is that a four seam grip for the fastball is held with the first two fingers running across the seams. The changeup uses the middle two fingers, which helps to take some velocity off the pitch and add some movement.
The problem here was that Glasnow’s hands are too big, and his fingers were too close together. He wasn’t able to get a good grip on the ball, which was the root of his problems. So Mitchell decided to widen his fingers and utilize his big hands with the new grip, shown below.
Here is the grip on the mound:
The big change here is that we now have a two-seam grip, which runs across the seams. This leads to Glasnow spreading his fingers wider, which he can do because of his big hands. The seams give him something to grip, keeping the ball firm in his hand. He still has the circle changeup, but spreads his fingers out a bit more, tucking his thumb below the ball. That part is kind of similar to A.J. Schugel’s changeup, pictured below:
I don’t know what the hell is going on with the rest of Schugel’s grip, but his changeup is pure magic, and definitely will be the source of a future article. I will point out that this shows how big Glasnow’s fingers are. Schugel has the thumb underneath, but the rest of his fingers are kind of behind the ball, hitting all four corners for support. Glasnow rolled the ball up his fingers into his hand, allowing his large fingers to engulf the ball. At this point, if you skipped ahead to this paragraph, you might think I’m writing an erotic novel. I would just argue there’s no better fitting way to write about a good changeup.
The end result is that Glasnow went from bunching his fingers closer together, to now spreading them out and getting a stronger grip on the ball, while also adding more comfort. Adding the two-seam fastball back, which I reported on back in January, helps this cause as well, since it gets Glasnow more comfortable with using a two-seam grip more often.
“The bottom line, the pitcher has got to be comfortable with it,” Mitchell said of the changeup grip. “They’ve got to trust it. It’s got to feel good in their hand.”
As for Glasnow’s grip, Mitchell noticed the comfort right away, even if the development wasn’t completely smooth.
“Giving him the grip, he threw it in the throwing program, threw it in the pen, and the results weren’t great, but he still threw it,” Mitchell said. “That was huge for me to know this is a grip that he likes. He feels good with it. The results weren’t there. And he still threw it. Next day, throwing program, he threw it, loved it. He got better with it in his next pen. I didn’t get to see the live BP, but I heard good things about it. And throwing it to righties, that’s going to be a huge pitch for him.”
A Better Mentality
When I’ve talked to Glasnow over the years, I’ve written a lot about his nerves. I hesitate to write anything about a player’s nerves, or what might be going on in their head. Usually when that happens, people take it and run with it, and before long, the player is turned into a character who breaks down in tears when an opposing hitter looks at him funny. But in this case, I wrote so much about Glasnow’s nerves because of all of the conversations where Glasnow himself would mention the impact they had. His pitching coach from 2014-2015, Justin Meccage, would echo similar thoughts.
Last year, toward the end of the year, Glasnow was in a bad place mentally. He was being asked to throw a changeup that he wasn’t comfortable throwing. He didn’t need to throw the changeup to get Triple-A hitters out, but found out in the majors that you do need a third pitch.
“It’s something that he was encouraged to do, and something he’ll be continued to encouraged to do,” Clint Hurdle said. “For him now, walking away from that experience, you realize if you want to start in the big league, three pitches is a legitimate desire and a legitimate goal to work on.”
The thing about the changeup grip is that practice might not make a grip more comfortable. It might not make a grip more effective. But if you don’t practice it, you guarantee that you won’t see improvements. Glasnow wasn’t practicing the pitch, and went starts where he barely threw it. He was forced by the Pirates to throw it X amount of times per game, but even abandoned that. And he found himself struggling toward the end of the year, even though his pure stuff hid that in the stats. He looked visibly frustrated after games, and did not seem to enjoy talking about the subject of the changeup.
Glasnow is in a much better place this year. He’s calm and relaxed. He’s showing enthusiasm and drive to work on the changeup, even before this new grip. In the past, he’d talk about the changeup as if it was something he needed to work on, like eating your vegetables. Now? He talks about it like it’s something he wants to work on.
Perhaps no one is better qualified to elaborate on the difference than Meccage. Glasnow did some of his best development under Meccage in 2014 and 2015. The two have such a good relationship that the Pirates sent Glasnow to rehab in Double-A last year, just to get him working with Meccage while he was struggling. And on Saturday, when Glasnow faced live hitters with his changeup for the first time, Meccage was standing right behind him, watching and giving feedback and advice. Meccage also noticed the change in Glasnow’s mentality.
“I thought he came into camp in really good shape, physically,” Meccage said. “Both the body and delivery-wise. Mentality-wise, which is the biggest thing for me. I thought he was in a good spot mentally. I think he learned a lot from last year, and I think he’s going to take it into camp this year. I thought for his first live BP, he handled it really well.”
Meccage said that the big league experience probably helped Glasnow learn what he needed to do going forward, and how important the changeup was. This led to a new focus on the pitch, even before Mitchell added the new grip.
“He spent a lot of time in the offseason on the changeup,” Meccage said. “The other grip, but he threw it a lot. I think that also, on top of the new grip, I think throwing it more this offseason, getting that pitch ready, and understanding how important it is for a starting pitcher in the big leagues to have that. … I think he learned that it’s something that he wants to get better at, and he needs it. I think it’s just selling out to the fact that he needs to use it, and it’s an important pitch for him to be a successful Major League pitcher.”
I talked with Glasnow about the impact Meccage has played in his development over the years, and Glasnow had high praise, while also displaying confidence in who he is now on the mound.
“That was awhile ago, and I was still figuring myself out,” Glasnow said of the earlier development. “At this point, I know who I am as a pitcher. It was great to have him, because I liked his intensity. He wasn’t afraid to get on me if I wasn’t throwing hard, or if I was just out of whack. He was really good at noticing, and he was really good with adjustments with me. We played together for so long, it was good. I just enjoyed going to the field and being around him. He’s a good friend of mine, and I consider him a really good coach.”
Glasnow is visibly in a much better place this year, which is going to help him in many areas. The big one in this case is that he finally realized the importance of the changeup, and embraced the work, regardless of the grip. It’s just a huge bonus that he then found a grip he liked.
The Velocity and Movement
We’ve covered having a comfortable grip and Glasnow getting to a good point where he embraces the changeup. But none of that matters if you have a pitch that is close to your fastball in velocity, or without movement. In Glasnow’s case, the movement is more important, since a slower pitch with no movement acts like a really slow fastball, which is a huge advantage for opposing hitters. This was the problem with his old changeup.
“It was 92 and didn’t move at all,” Glasnow said of the old pitch. “So if I threw it, it would be a bad fastball. Now we’re playing it off the two-seam too, and it has better movement, so it’s just more comfortable.”
Glasnow said that the old changeup didn’t have much movement and was inconsistent: “There were some games I’d get it down to 87 [MPH], but it would be like a conscious slow down, rather than just throwing it that way.”
The best part about the new pitch is that Glasnow is throwing it exactly like a fastball, giving him the same arm speed as the fastball, and the deception needed out of the hand. He’s not trying to slow his arm down to make the pitch go slower, which is a big problem pitchers run into with the changeup. Instead, he’s just throwing natural, and letting the grip do the work.
“That’s what’s rare. I was never able to do that before. So now I can throw it like a fastball.”
There aren’t any velocity readings yet, but the movement is there. Glasnow said the goal is to have both.
“I want a little bit of both, but as long as it’s different than my fastball,” Glasnow said. “It’s something else that hitters can see, and it changes timing up, and I’m confident in it with my curveball. I know I can throw that for strikes. So it’s just another third pitch I can have to just kind of screw with their timing.”
So far, the feedback he has received has been positive, especially after the first live BP session with the feedback he got from Meccage and opposing hitters.
“I talked to Mess, and asked him how did that move, and he told me,” Glasnow said. “I talked to some of the hitters. Some of them said on one or two it might have been hard, the ones I tried to throw. It would have still been a good difference from my fastball. So I’m just trying to find where to place it in my hand to get that velo difference.”
Meccage shared with me his opinion of the pitch after seeing it against live hitters for the first time: “I thought that was a really good changeup. It’s got a little bit of action to it. I’ve seen times of it being good, but that was probably the most consistent that I’ve seen it. It looks like he’s comfortable throwing it. He was calling those on his own. Against right-handers even, and that shows you where they’re at with their changeup. I think he likes where he’s at with it, and I like what I saw with it.”
Don’t think that Glasnow is done with his work though. It’s a new pitch, which means he needs to get consistent with it. And even though it has movement, there can be such a thing as too much movement.
“We’ve warned Glass that if [he’s] seeing it move, chances are the hitter is going to see it move,” Mitchell said. “So let the hitter’s swing [and] how they’re taking it show you how it’s moving. Don’t get caught up with having a big moving pitch, because if you’re able to see it move on the mound, the hitter is going to be able to see it at the plate.”
That said, Mitchell also praised the movement on the pitch, saying there was some late fade to the new changeup, and that it’s a weapon within a weapon.
“With power pitchers — and I wasn’t a power pitcher so I don’t know what that feels like — but these guys who throw hard, to throw something softer, they’re hesitant,” Mitchell said. “It’s normal, and I get that. So to have something that’s moving, it’s another weapon within a weapon. It gives them comfort knowing that the pitch is going to move. So it does have a little late fade, a little late sink.”
Glasnow said that his old changeup wouldn’t feel right in his hand, leading him to throw harder, get on the side of the ball, and cut the pitch. This resulted in a 92 MPH cutter with no control that he couldn’t throw for a strike. And when he wasn’t trying to manipulate movement, the ball was flat and a bad fastball. Now, no matter how hard he throws the pitch, he’s getting on top of the ball. If he does miss, it’s left-right and down, rather than up and all over the zone. That’s very preferred, and means that Glasnow won’t pay for a lot of mistakes by leaving pitches up while he’s learning the new changeup.
“I’ve been throwing it a ton in the throwing program, getting more and more comfortable with it,” Glasnow said. “I’m excited.”
The Evolution of Tyler Glasnow’s Changeup
When I wrote about Jameson Taillon’s delivery, or Josh Bell’s swing, they were pretty much finished products. They detailed adjustments over the years, and a finished result that looked like it would lead to favorable results. It’s too early to say that Glasnow’s changeup will lead to results, but the signs right now are encouraging.
Glasnow is comfortable with the grip. He’s in a good place with his mentality, and finally realizes the importance of the pitch. He’s finally getting movement on the pitch without having to manipulate it, and he’s getting more consistency with the pitch, while missing low when he does throw a bad one. All of these things are good signs, and good indicators that Glasnow has finally found the changeup that will work for him, and that will help him reach his upside. That changeup is also the key to him winning a rotation spot out of camp, or the guide to how soon he will be in Pittsburgh this year.
“He’s got one that will play, he just needs to throw it,” Hurdle said. “He’s got to find the confidence in Spring Training — still trying to compete and make the club — to use it. To use it appropriately, to throw it whenever he can in the pen, to throw it on the side, to throw it flat ground, to throw it. The curve will play. The fastball command, let it eat. It doesn’t need to be in the middle of the plate. We want him to be aggressive. We want him to have that closer mentality, one inning at a time. And that seems to be the way he’s coming into camp, one inning at a time.”