All-Time NCAA Save Leader
Had Nearly Unhittable “Fish”
This article originally appeared in the March 11, 2005 edition.
By Lou Pavlovich Jr.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball Newspaper
TEMPE, Ariz. — Nobody in the history of college baseball threw a changeup like Jack Krawczyk.
Known as one of the top relief pitchers in the history of college baseball, he set the NCAA record with 49 saves during his college career at the University of Southern California from 1995-1998.
He also holds the USC, Pac-10 Conference and NCAA single-season saves record with 23 during the Trojans’ 1998 national championship season.
His 23rd and final save that broke the NCAA career mark came in a 21-14 win over Arizona State to win the national championship.
Ironically, Krawczyk is now in his first season as pitching coach for the Sun Devils and is teaching pitchers the finer nuances of the pitch that made him famous.
“When I pitched for SC, my changeup was called the ‘Fish,’ ” said Krawczyk.
“It would move away from right-handed hitters. But to left-handed hitters, it went away from them. And to this day, I have no idea how I got the pitch to move like this and whether it was different arm angles, finger pressures or what. But it was sure effective.”
Krawczyk was asked if he could explain how to throw this devastating pitch.
“The first thing you must keep in mind is that a changeup must be thrown with the same arm speed as a fastball. The grip and finger pressure slows the baseball down. The sole thought in my mind when I was throwing this pitch was fastball, fastball, fastball.
“Coaches battle this problem all the time when instructing a player to throw a changeup. But it is crucial if you are going to throw this as an effective pitch. Ideally, the changeup should also be 8-12 mph slower than your fastball.”
Krawczyk said he utilized a modified circle change grip with the only exception being that the index finger did not quite complete the circle.
“My index finger stuck more straight out than have a full bend like a typical circle change. The index finger and pinky, although on the sides of the ball, were placed so they were in the middle of each side where the most surface area of the ball was. In theory, this should allow for the most resistance and most drag.
“You are almost having the sensation of pulling backward with these two fingers at release point to create less velocity while not slowing your arm down at all.”
Krawczyk said that the middle fingers are places over the ball as if it were a 4-seam fastball.
“Even though the middle fingers are only guides with very little pressure on them, this position has allowed my changeup to have the most control rather than placing the fingers on the ball as if you were throwing a 2-seam fastball.
“That doesn’t mean that gripping it as a 2-seam fastball is wrong. Some pitchers on my staff prefer to throw it like this because they want more movement. But when I was throwing it, the 4-seam grip allowed me more control.
“One other important point is having the thumb on a seam which creates the last little bit of drag and resistance.”
As far as finger pressure, Krawczyk said only three fingers have pressure on them (thumb, index and pinkie).
“As I said earlier, the other two fingers are just guides. There is hardly any pressure put on them. You could even take those two fingers off the ball. But the problem with that is other teams would pick up on that and know precisely when the changeup would be coming.”
Krawczyk said when throwing this pitch, you lead with the circle and stiff wrist and pull through the release. He said that you want extension similar to throwing a fastball but not quite as much.
“When pitchers try to throw this pitch for the first time, the ball goes straight into the dirt. I tell pitchers they must have the target higher to compensate.”
As far as training to throw this pitch, he said throwing at about 50 feet away on flat ground or off the mound will work to refine the pitch. Once the pitcher has the feel for throwing it, he can throw off the mound at the regulation distance.
Krawczyk was asked how much he threw his changeup when he was at USC.
“When I was a junior and senior, I probably threw the changeup 95 percent of the time. Players made fun of me and my pitch. They called it the ‘Fish.’ On a good day, my fastball was probably 82-84 mph. My changeup was 74-76 mph. It wasn’t an ideal speed (8-12 mph slower than fastball), but it worked great.”
The first-year pitching coach for Arizona State said that he refined his changeup by throwing batting practice at USC.
“I red shirted my first year and threw batting practice all the time. I still threw batting practice up to the seventh game of my second year. Then I actually got into a game because some of the great hitters on that team such as Geoff Jenkins and Gabe Alvarez couldn’t hit me.
“I was never a strikeout pitcher. I realized there were seven guys behind me and one guy in front of me and let them do their work. My biggest asset was throwing strikes. Throwing all those batting practices allowed me to gain control and confidence.
“You see all these pitchers today who throw 93 mph and are high draft picks but can’t throw strikes.”
Krawczyk said that during his junior year during regional action, he threw 50 pitches and 48 were changeups.
“People don’t realize it, but off speed pitches take a lot out of the arm. So you must build your arm up so that it is stronger than normal. I am a firm believer in the Alan Jaeger throwing and mental program. His program really prepares pitchers for the rigors ahead.”
Krawczyk also said that a pitcher must have a mind set to throw this pitch.
“Many pitchers are afraid to throw a changeup. But think about it. When you throw a changeup, the batter must create his own power. If you throw a 93 mph fastball, the pitcher supplies the power. Like any pitch, you must have fun with it, be relentless and have conviction in throwing it.”