My son is 13 and he has been pitching since age 9. He currently throws a 2 seam and 4 seam fastball, and has a decent slider. He has excellent control and goes deep into games while keeping his pitch count down (75-85 pitches). His change-up is only about 3-4 mph off of his fastball, therefore, not too effective. Is he old enough to learn to throw a splitter?
A lot depends on how big his hand is and how long his fingers are.
The splitter is a cousin to the forkball, and both these pitches demand a huge paw and long fingers because of the grip, which is pretty much the same for both. Because of that grip—especially for the forkball—a lot of strain is placed on the arm and shoulder, and if a pitcher’s hand isn’t large enough he could risk injury. For the forkball you grip the ball in such a way as to actually grip it between the index and middle fingers; the grip for the splitter is somewhat less extreme but the risk is still there. If the kid’s hand isn’t big enough he should stay away from those two pitches; there are several pitches that can produce the same results but that are much easier on the arm. For example, the knuckle-curve, which comes in there looking like a fast ball but which suddenly drops like a stone.
As for the changeup—one thing he has to remember is that you have to throw that pitch, whatever it is, with the same arm motion and the same arm speed as you do a fast ball. I remember my pitching coach telling me once that just about any pitch can be turned into a nice changeup, and there are quite a few you can do this with. There is, for example, the palm ball—you grip the ball with all four fingers on top and the thumb underneath, way back in the palm of the hand (hence the name)—a firm but comfortable grip; you DON"T want to squeeze the juice out of the ball! And you throw it like a fast ball. Then there’s the circle change, a nice little pitch—you grip that one with the thumb and index finger on one side of the ball forming a circle, like the “OK” sign and the other three fingers resting lightly on top of the ball; if you’re having trouble with the “OK” sign you can use a half-circle, like a backwards “c”. My pitching coach also told me that I could move the middle and ring fingers closer together, creating a sort of off-speed grip the way I used the index and middle fingers for the slider. And you throw that one like a fast ball.
Just remember—you DO NOT slow down your arm speed! I remember when I was pitching, many moons ago, and we were facing a team with a starting pitcher who had a beautiful slow curve—and he was telegraphing it. He had a way of wiggling his elbow when he was going to throw it, and he also slowed down his arm speed—a no-no in any pitcher’s book. I alerted my teammates, and we belted this guy from here to Timbuktu and back because we knew that slow curve was coming and we sat on it. And the poor fish never learned! So it behooves you to avoid it.
And don’t forget to complete your pitches! 8)