Ben Brown Working to Incorporate Hard Changeup into Narrow Repertoire

For all intents and purposes, Ben Brown has relied on just two pitches so far this season. His 97 mph fastball makes up 63.7% of his repertoire while his 87 mph spike curve accounts for another 34.5%, and that combo has led to very strong results if we remove his MLB debut in Arlington. If Brown is going to stick as a starter or even a long reliever, however, he probably needs to develop another option.

Statcast says he’s thrown two sweepers this season, but he ditched that pitch this past offseason so it’s likely just a misclassification of curves that got too slurvy. Then there are another six or seven pitches that might not be mistakes. While it’s possible he’s simply misfired on a few fastballs and lost both spin and velocity, he is actually working to re-incorporate his changeup.

Former Cubs Insider contributor Tommy Cook made note of an interview with Brown during Sunday’s pregame show in which the big righty discussed his offspeed pitch. Though he was probably being a bit too modest in saying he “can’t manipulate the ball at all,” Brown admitted that he felt the same way about his breaking balls when he first started throwing them.

The solution for finding his feel for the curve came when he went with a spike grip and just tried to throw it as hard as possible. Brown discussed that and other pitching topics with Marquee’s Lance Brozdowski back in Mesa during spring training.

“I throw the crap out of it,” Brown said about his curve. “When I don’t throw it hard, it stinks. So if I throw it as hard as I can with conviction, odds are it’s gonna have a better chance of being in the zone.”

Brozdowski also noted that their conversation included Brown “bringing back his changeup,” though it’s been more of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pitch so far. That’s probably more about not trying to fix something that isn’t broken, not to mention Brown has worked in a swing role and may not feel like trying to ramp up the usage of a new-ish pitch on the fly.

“We started throwing the changeup last year,” Brown said prior to the season. “Before my oblique injury, I probably threw it 10% of the time, maybe a little bit less. I’m happy where it’s at, I’m throwing the same grip now. I want the usage to tick up a little, but I also don’t want to throw wasteful pitches.

“So it’s gonna be in situations, you know, maybe a 1-1 count to a lefty, a 1-1 count to a righty as well — I can throw left and right — but I’m not gonna throw a changeup on a 2-1 or a 1-0 unless I can feel really confident getting it in the zone. But I’m not gonna mess around with getting ahead because I know that my fastball and my curveball are good enough.”

Sure enough, five of the six changeups Statcast credits Brown with throwing have come in a 1-1 count and the other was on 0-1. Even though he said he was comfortable throwing it to right-handed hitters, all six have been against lefties. The results haven’t been great so far with four called balls (three low, one way outside), a called strike, and a hanger that was tagged for an RBI single, but the potential is there.

Brown throws his changeup at around 91 mph and it can touch 93, putting it well above the average speed for similar pitches. Combining that type of velocity with good movement would be a nasty complement to his heater and breaking ball. As you can see from the image above, he uses sort of a Vulcan grip with his fingers offset to the right side of the seams. That should produce both depth and arm-side fade, making it an excellent weapon against hitters from either side.

The real concern for Brown at this point is reducing that .277 average and .382 OBP by opposing lefty batters, hence all of his changeups coming against them. It’s also interesting that all of the offspeed pitches he’s thrown have come in either his first or second inning of work. Maybe that’s just a matter of gauging his feel for it and the results have led to him scrapping it, though I’d think it would make for a nice wrinkle after turning the order over.

It’s just a matter of finding the same level of conviction he developed with the curve, a feat much easier said than done. In an effort to continue honing his confidence, Brown told Marquee he’s studying Minnesota’s Griffin Jax (92 mph change) and Marlins pitchers. He may have also had an eye on Freddy Peralta, whose firm change was on display Sunday as the Cubs clinched a series win over the Brewers.

We don’t often get a chance to see a pitch develop in real-time, and we may not end up getting one with Brown, but this is most definitely something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Back to top button