Watching a baseball game can be deceiving. The viewer can’t see the catcher’s hand signals, nor do they know what type of pitch from the pitcher’s arsenal will be thrown until later. While we can try to predict what the pitcher will throw next, such as a 4-seam fastball, changeup, slider, or curveball, we’re not 100% certain until the pitcher has released the ball. Afterwards we can analyze and see why he chose that particular pitch, and if it was effective.
Knowing how well (or poorly) batters hit different types of pitches, then it’s easier to decide what to throw. If a certain batter has a .100 average against right-handed pitchers who throw changeups, it’s likely that a well-informed manager will inform this player of that fact.
The more variety a high school pitcher has in his arsenal, the more effective he’ll be against hitters, regardless of batting average. Here are the types of pitches commonly thrown by high school players, how they move, and how difficult it is to hit them when pitchers perfect their technique.
Four seam fastball
A fastball is the highest speed pitch a player can throw to home plate. Ranging in speed from 85 to over 100 miles per hour, most players learn to throw a fastball before learning how to throw other types of pitches Although a well-pitched fastball is challenging for hitters’ eyes to follow and make contact with, they’re easier to hit than other kinds of pitches.
To throw a fastball, the fingers are placed across the four seams on the baseball. When released, the pitcher applies backspin on the ball so it doesn’t drop in air on its way to the plate.
Fastballs appear to fight gravity by traveling straight ahead and not moving downward. This is due to the Magnus Effect, a property of physics which states that when backspin is applied to a spherical object like a baseball, the spin produces an upward force that makes the ball stay up without moving down. Fastballs with backspin applied will travel in a straight line.
One of the best and most effective fastball pitchers in the history of the game is three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2014 Kershaw ended the season with an incredible 1.77 ERA, pitching 239 strikeouts and a whopping .875 win-loss percentage. He finished the 2014 season with 21 wins and only 3 losses.
A slider is a combination of a fastball and a curveball and at a speed of 80-90 miles per hour, it travels a little slower than a fastball does. Sliders are very effective in confusing a hitter’s timing.
Sliders are thrown a lot like fastballs too. The pitcher puts his index and middle fingers together against the seam of the ball and makes his middle finger give the ball its thrust when delivering a pitch.
Pitchers try to impart vertical movement in their sliders so the ball slants downward, making it hard for hitters to follow. A slider with good vertical movement causes the bat to swing over the ball, missing it completely.
Because the pitcher comes through the outside of the ball to throw a slider, the pitch varies from pitcher to pitcher. How a baseball moves can be best visualized as numbers on a clock. For example, the Frisbee slider moves from the 3 position on the clock to 9 position. Other cut fastballs go from 12 to 9 or 12 to 10, with the “O” ball spin on top.
Randy Johnson is considered one of the best slider pitchers who ever played the game. A lifetime record of 303 wins and averaging over 10 strikeouts per game, Johnson’s slider was hard, often near impossible to hit, and earning him five Cy Young Awards and inclusion into the Hall of Fame.
Sliders are much more difficult to track and hit than 4-seam fastballs. In 1999, David Cone of the New York Mets threw a perfect game, mostly using a very sharp and nasty slider.
A well-thrown curveball will do just that – it “curves” or “breaks”, veering downward on its way to the plate. In physics, the property which acts on a curveball is called “drag,” and the ball’s movement is created when the ball is spinning. The faster flowing air under the ball creates less pressure, forcing the ball to dive or break. Curveball speeds average between 70-80 miles per hour. The curveball’s movement starts at the 12 position and ends down at 6.
Curveballs are thrown with the index and middle fingers next to each other, along one of the baseball seams. The best curveball action is made when the pitcher’s fingers lead the way, so the back of his hand ends up facing the catcher.
Average curveballs that don’t have this 12-6 movement are as easy to hit as fastballs. However, they are some of the most difficult to connect with the bat when the ball drops all the way from a high to a very low position, sometimes making it virtually impossible to hit.
Sandy Koufax is one of the most well-known pitchers in the game, and known for his astounding 12-6 curveball. Although he retired at age 30, the LA Dodgers pitcher recorded 2400 strikeouts and won three Cy Young pitching awards in his comparatively short career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame at just 34 years old.
A more recent player known for his curveball movement is Dwight Gooden, who played for the New York Mets and helped them to win the 1986 World Series. Gooden’s curveball and fastball helped him attain an incredibly low 1.53 ERA in 1985, earning him the Cy Young Award that year, at only 20 years old.
More common than a curveball, a slurve is a mix of both a slider and a curveball, but is closer to the speed of a curveball than a slider, clocking between 70 and 80 miles per hour.
The ball is gripped by the seams with the second and third fingers and thumb underneath. However, the index finger only grips the ball lightly while most of the pressure on the ball exerted by the longer middle finger.
When the slurve is pitched, the two fingers gripping the ball start on the outside by the pitcher’s head and at the end of the delivery, the back of his hand is toward home plate. The arm follows through and ends at the outside at the back of the pitcher’s knee.
The throwing action is almost identical to the curveball, but is thrown hard like a slider. The slurve pitch starts at the 11 position on the clock and ends down at 5. It appears big and loopy on its way to home plate.
Bert Blyleven had a renowned curveball and slurve pitch, and threw a record 3700 strikeouts in his 22 year pitching career. His throws were over the top in terms of velocity.
Split Finger Fastball
To batters, a split finger fastball looks like just any other fastball on its way to the plate. But, just at the last second, the ball sinks. Similar to a forkball, the main difference is the speed a split fingered fastball attains.
The pitch is thrown with a standard fastball motion. But when quick wrist action is applied, it gives the ball a drop even though it comes in at very high speeds.
The throw is made gripping the baseball seams with the second and third fingers, separating them from each other in order to grip the seams. During the windup, it’s important to keep the throwing hand in the glove so the batter isn’t tipped off that he’ll be pitched a split-fingered fastball.
The ball is thrown about 3 miles per hour slower than a fastball. The batter thinks he sees a fastball approaching the plate, unaware that at the last moment the ball is going to drop, causing him to swing right over it.
The hitter is deceived because the ball looks like it’s in the strike zone as he watches it approach. However, when it drops it usually ends up below the knees, sometimes even in the dirt in front of the catcher.
The split fingered throw is used mostly when there are two strikes against the batter. At this strike count, hitters are eager to get a hit, and avoid striking out. If they see a pitch coming off the mound that looks like an easy to hit fastball, they will swing at it, unaware that the ball is going to tumble down and end up below their knees.
When a split fingered fastball is thrown fast and controlled by the pitcher, it is formidable, nearly impossible to hit. The best batters know which pitchers throw with split fingers, and try to identify the difference between their standard fastball pitch and the split fingered fastball. It is difficult because the pitcher’s delivery is almost identical to his fastball.
Roger Clemens was a Hall of Fame and Cy Young Award winning pitcher who added the split fingered fastball to his pitches late in his career, and was tremendously effective for him when used it to strike out batters with two strikes against them.
2 Seam Fastball
The 2 seam fastball is a sinking fastball that is gripped differently than a 4 seam fastball, in that the fingers grip by the seams instead of across them. The 2 seamer has more movement than the 4 seamer and tends to go inside on right handed batters, when the pitcher is right handed.
When thrown, the ball sinks, unlike a straight fastball that conforms to the Magnus Effect. The pitcher grips along the seams with his index and middle finger at the place on the ball where the seams are closest together, resembling a horseshoe.
He places his thumb directly below the leather with the rear of his thumb just touching the bottom near seam. The pitcher’s throwing arm looks exactly the same as when he throws a fastball, but his hand moves slightly different.
If the pitcher holds the baseball deeper and close to the palm of his hand, his throw will have more movement. The ball comes out of his hand spinning and away from him, much like the way the ball spins in a changeup pitch.
The two seam fastball is introduced to players at a very young age, and is one of the first that is taught because of how natural it is to throw. Its use is widespread and is great for younger players who don’t have a lot of speed in their throwing arms.
The cutter is in the fastball family, with pitches at a speed of 85 to 95 miles per hour. The spin on the ball is looser than a slider and has a similar action to the slider but with less movement. It is faster than a slider by about 6 miles per hour.
It’s believed the cut fastball is one of the hardest pitches to hit, and a lot of batters are unable to track it as it careens to the plate. Other hitters study the pitchers they’re going to face, and watch how the ball travels in air, then devising ways to hit or look when it’s pitched to them.
”Cutting the ball” refers to throwing through the ball just slightly off-center. The cutter is not the only way to cut the pitch, though. The “Sailer,” for example, is thrown glove side like a cutter, but with less movement. The “Runner,” on the other hand, is more of a sidearm pitch.
To pitch a good cut fastball, pitchers throw a fastball but get a light amount of side spin, making the ball move in or out of its path by a few inches. By moving your fastball grip (like the 4-seam grip for fastballs), and bringing the thumb slightly up the inside of the ball, and the index finger slightly towards the outside, the pitch will become a slider fastball, moving like a very tight slider.
Young pitchers tend to turn their hand too much to the slider position, and throwing in a way similar to turning a doorknob. However, this strains the elbow, so high school pitchers should leave their thumb directly under the ball and only move their fingers slightly left or right (depending on which way they want the ball to cut). When releasing the ball, think “fastball” and then spin the ball hard with the middle and index fingers just like a fastball.
One of the most effective relief pitchers ever in baseball was Mariano Rivera. The purpose of relief pitchers is to save a game from being lost, or when their team is ahead and they need to prevent opponents from scoring. Relief pitchers have thrown memorable saves, pulling out victories in the most unlikely situations.
Mariano Rivera perfected the cut fastball and used it over and over again as a reliever, saving one game after the next. Batters studied his cut fastball, vainly trying to understand its movement and attempting to find ways to hit it, or wait for it to pass.
Rivera simply dominated hitters, and his entrance late into a game to produce a save was dreaded by opposing teams. His cut fastball produced a record 652 saves and a low, low career ERA of jut 2.21.
The changeup is referred to as an off-speed pitch, and when thrown looks like a fastball. Yet it arrives at the plate later than a fastball, and a good changeup pitch makes hitters swing early.
It is also meant to be thrown the same as a fastball is, but it starts farther back in the hand. This results in the changeup being released much slower while still appearing to be a fastball.
Changeup pitches are usually thrown about 8-12 miles per hour slower than a fastball. The human eye cannot discern that the ball is coming towards them at a significantly slower speed, until it is halfway to the plate. The batter, unaware, swings at a changeup as if it were a 90 mile an hour fastball, though it is actually moving at 75 mph, a much slower speed. This causes them to swing early, their bat not making any contact with the ball.
When pitching a changeup, players bring their hand closer to their head, causing their elbow to lead longer. They rotate their wrist so that it faces backwards and down a little (pronated).
When releasing the ball, the fingers are lifted off the ball, making the ball roll up to the fingers. The hands and wrists pronate a little early. This prevents their wrist from popping forward, and also takes velocity off the ball and creates movement.
On the follow-through, the pitcher collapses his body slightly, trying not to let too much backside drive and hip rotation get into the pitch. The arms fully extends to the plate in the final follow-through, just like it would when throwing a fastball.
Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants is a modern pitcher known for his effective changeup pitch. Winner of two Cy Young Awards, the 27-year-old helped the Giants win a World Series championship and has been a three time All Star Game selection.
His windup is well known for being segmented into several steps, confusing batters time and again. His motion is sometimes described as “violent” when pitching his fastball, but confusing when the fastball is really a changeup pitch.