Hitting is all about timing. Of course, there are other components, but if you're on time with a pitch, you have a good chance of doing some damage even if your swing isn't perfect. As a pitcher, our goal is to disrupt the timing of the hitter and produce weak contact or swings and misses. Sure we have other goals: movement, location, etc. but changing speeds is the easiest way to disrupt timing, and a change-up gives you a more drastic speed change than simply locating a fastball at different parts of the zone. Yes, fastballs and other pitches located in different zones can change a hitter's timing as well. For more on this, check out this article on Effective Velocity.
So, how can you effectively change speeds? Let's look first at a few of the best change-ups and off-speed pitches in the game of softball right now.
What do you notice about the locations of these three pitches? Are they all perfectly located? I would say no, as two out of the three are thrown over the middle of the plate, but what you should notice is that each pitch is located at or below the knees. Don't get me wrong, I think it's important to locate your change-up, but it's also important to understand the intention or goal of the pitch.
In my article on quality pitches, I mentioned that counts can also dictate the quality of a pitch. Each pitch location above directly corresponds with the count the pitch was thrown in. If the pitcher needed a strike, they threw their change-up over the plate, if they needed a chase, it was below the knees. Despite two of the pitches being thrown over the middle, the height of each pitch made up for their location on the plate. Two out of the three pitches also demonstrated quality movement, another aspect of a quality pitch.
Along with a change of speed and proper location, a change-up must also display deception. First, you MUST sell your change-up. As a pitcher, you've probably heard this 1000 times, but I feel it's still often overlooked at a young age. As you grow older, any tells in your change-up (shortening your stride, slowing down your finish, different grip, etc.) will not go unnoticed, specifically at the college level.
For true deception, it's also helpful to have your change-up move in a similar pattern to another pitch. For example, let's look at a comparison of G. Juarez' change-up and curveball.
It's very easy to see that these two pitches are similar, especially when placed side-by-side. Now let's look at the overlay of her curve and off-speed to truly understand how similar Juarez keeps her pitching motion while throwing these two pitches.
Clearly, Juarez knows a thing or two about deception. Her body positioning stays exactly the same on both pitches, and both pitches move in a similar direction, to a similar location. As a hitter, it's nearly impossible to recognize the 10 mph change of speed until it's too late.
If you watch a great deal of college softball or softball in general, you'll notice there are a variety of change-ups and offspeed pitches. Different pitchers throw different change-ups at various speeds. As I've grown through the game, I have certainly seen change-ups that are "too slow". Personally, some may have considered my change-up (backhand flip) too slow. At times it would come in 15-18 mph slower than my fastball.
I agree that most of the time a 15+ mph difference is too slow; however, I also threw two other offspeed pitches. My curveball and my rise ball were offspeed (50-54 mph) while my change-up was (40-44) and my fastball/drop ball (60-64). I would aim for a 10-12 mph difference in your fastball and change-up, but if you already have a change-up that you can command that's a bit "too slow" it's worth developing an offspeed. For more on offspeed pitches:
A great change-up takes time to develop, so don't give up on it if the pitch isn't perfect right away. Try a few different grips and types of change-ups if you're struggling to create the right speed change. Once you master your change of speed, work on throwing this pitch in any count for both a strike and a chase.
Look out for more information on different types of change-ups and a few drills to help you perfect your change-up next Friday.