new changes: Bondo reaches pitching puberty


illustration by Samara Pearlstein

Ah, that special time in any young man’s life. A time when he goes through CHANGES. Changes that may be a little bit confusing, maybe a little scary because they’re so new, but a mature young man will try to understand these changes and master them so that he can become a Grown Up Man. Oftentimes he will enlist in the aid of an older man who has already mastered the changes and who can tell the young man all about them and how to best control and utilize them.

Jeremy Bonderman is at that tender transitional age. He is poised on the brink…. OF GREATNESS! On this we all agree. But first he needs to MASTER THE CHANGES. Specifically, the changeup.

We’ve all seen how Bondo can shut hitters down, but when he does get hit, he tends to get hit like any power pitcher… that is to say, the ball travels out of the park just as hard and fast as it traveled torwards the batter in the first place. The longer Bondo’s in the league, the better hitters are going to be able to predict when his fastball’s coming, and the worse this effect is going to get. Every so often, that’s something we have to live with, given the type of pitcher that he is; when he misses, he’s not exactly inducing ground balls out there. But if it starts happening with greater frequency, Bondo’s never going to get himself out of ERA mediocrity.

Lucky, then, that he still has his pitching puberty to go through, right? He has yet to master the new, mature, desirable changes… but he has veterans around who can tell him how to do it. How about some wily old pitcher like Todd Jones, or Kenny Rogers, or…

Justin Verlander?

Oh, Bondo. How embarrassing. It’s the pitching equivalent of getting advice on how to sex up the ladies from your baby brother.

Bondo’s always had a hard fastball and a slider, but his changeup hasn’t been very good. Verlander suggested that Bondo try out a different grip. I don’t know what Bondo was using before, but apparently Verlander proposed the circle change grip that he himself uses.

The point of an effective change, for Bondo, would be that it’s thrown with the same arm motion as his fastball, just a different grip (which can theoretically be hidden from the batter up until the very last moment) and different amount of ‘effort’ put behind the pitch (which is tough for a batter to judge). You can see the different grips in the graphic up top there.

If Bondo can control his changeup, and keep it unpredictable, the difference in speed should be significant enough to throw batters way the heck off. He could also benefit from the optical illusion that creates the rising fastball, when a slower ball is thrown right after a faster ball that came out of the same motion.

Probably the two biggest things Bondo has to perfect in order to become the dominant pitcher he secretly already is are his control and his ability to set up his fastball with a bloody good changeup. I don’t know what he’s doing to shore up his control, but if something as simple as a change in grip (which doesn’t change HOW he throws, and which thus poses no additional risk to his arm) can help him out, that’s a very good thing. I know I’ve said that before, but it bears repeating.

Man, but he had to go to Verlander to get help? On a lot of teams Bondo would be the youngest guy on the staff, but here he had to find the ONE player younger than him, and had to face the indignity of learning about the changes he has to come to terms with in himself from a baby Tiger. Oh, the personal shame of it all.

It’s better to get advice from your baseball equivalent of a kid brother, though, than stumbling awkwardly through your pitching puberty when you could be walking semi-suavely. Hopefully Bondo will swallow his pride (of course he already has, JUST GO WITH IT) enough to take Justin’s counsel to heart, and soon he’ll be a real man.

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