When it comes to skills to learn in baseball, how to pitch has to be up there as one of the most useful skills to have. If pitching wins baseball games, what are the best pitches to master?
A good pitcher can retire half a team before they even have a chance to make it to first base, making him probably THE most important player when it comes to a defending team.
So, needless to say, it’s an important skill to learn when playing baseball.
With a sport that has been around for over a hundred years, you’re going to start to see a few techniques be developed, and the same is true for pitchers in baseball too.
As the sport has developed, so too has the method of pitching that can be utilized by a pitcher, with each one utilizing a different method of trying to get past a batsman’s bat.
With so many pitches out there, it is very difficult to master all of them (as incredible as that would be), so many players will often opt to learn a few pitching methods skillfully, then be mediocre at all of them.
This is why we have collected some of what we think are the best pitches you can learn as a pitcher-in-training, from the fastball to the knuckle-curve.
Now, this isn’t to say that our list is definitive and that any other methods you come across or try to learn aren’t worth your time. This list is just made up of our humble opinion.
Different baseball players will find that they excel at many different pitching techniques, so feel free to experiment a little when finding a pitching method that works for you and may catch a batter off guard.
However, in terms of having a reliable repertoire that you can rely on in a baseball game as a pitcher, we think these techniques will cover your bases nicely.
The 4-Seam Fastball
This is a pitching throw that every pitcher will have at least heard of, if not mastered themselves.
Also sometimes known as a rising fastball, this particular pitch is meant to do one thing, and one thing alone:
The point of using a 4-seam pitch is to make the baseball move as fast as possible. Not just in the pure speed that it travels through the air but also in the number of rotations it is doing.
The name for this pitch comes from the fact that when it is thrown right, you will see four seams of the ball come into view with every rotation.
The pitcher holds the ball for this pitching move by holding the bottom of the ball with their thumb, then having the index and middle fingers set across the horseshoe-shaped seam of the baseball.
With the ball thrown overarm, the thumb of the pitcher leaves the ball first, followed by the fingers at the top of the balling, rolling down the back as it leaves their hand, creating a spinning effect at the same time it leaves the hand.
(Get used to seeing spinning effects in pitches, it is not the last that we’ve seen of them.)
As we’ve already mentioned, this is one of the fastest pitches you can do in baseball, with some Major League pitchers exceeding a velocity of over 100 miles per hour!
However, it is also a pitch that is relatively easy to control, making it a very popular pitch to learn for many players of all experience levels.
Plus, it is a great pitch to challenge a batter to see what their reaction time is like.
The 2-Seam Fastball
Next to the 4-seam fastball, we have a very similar type of pitch, the 2-seam fastball.
As a fastball, speed is still important in throwing the baseball here.
However, the aim of this fastball isn’t just to do what the same suggests but also to move around a lot more too as it travels, at least in terms of the direction it is going.
Generally speaking, the grip is also quite similar to a 4-seam, but some slight changes add up to big differences when thrown.
The index and middle fingers used are usually placed along the seams that are moving towards each other at the top of the ball, while the thumb holds the ball below, just touching the seam closest to it.
When thrown, the pitcher can apply more pressure at the fingertips to help the ball spin off-center from the pitcher when it is launched.
Alternatively, the pitcher holds the ball deeper in hand to get a similar result as they throw it.
This pitch combines both the speed of the 4-seam fastball (albeit not quite as fast) with extra movement that other pitches, such as a changeup pitch, can achieve (more on that later), making it harder for the hitter to make contact with it.
However, this does make it a more difficult pitch to control, and can easily go wide if not handled correctly.
However, that one-two combo of speed creates movement that will be tough to beat as a batter!
When it comes to movement and misdirection, nothing works quite like a curveball in baseball.
A curveball pitch, instead of using speed to bamboozle or throw off a hitter, tricks the batter into thinking that the ball will be in one location when they want to hit it, only for it to be in another place when they have started swinging.
The most common way that this pitch is achieved is done by holding the thumb under the bottom of the ball, with the thumb running across the seam as it curves at the horseshoe, and the first two fingers of the hand are held close together at the top, with the third finger used to keep it in place.
When the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, this allows the index and first middle finger to apply more pressure as it leaves the hand, creating that extra spin that the curveball is known for.
A well-executed curveball ball will move both laterally and downwards, making it tricky for a hitter to estimate where it is going.
And, thanks to the velocity at which the ball is thrown, there is little time for a batsman to adjust accordingly, too.
When performed right, it can go from directly aiming at the hitter to down to the plate in a split second.
Very similar to the curveball, the slider is also a pitch that uses spin to misdirect a batter.
Only this time, with even more speed.
The slider is often considered an in-between between the slower curveball pitch and the much faster fastball pitch.
Most pitches that are either fastballs or sliders will fall somewhere in between these two, with the main difference being overall speed
- A cut fastball would be considered very similar to a fastball, only a few miles per hour slower but with slightly more spin.
- A hard slider would be noticeably slower than a fastball, at least 5 to 7 miles per hour slower than a fastball.
- And sliders which can be anywhere from 7 to 9 miles per hour slower.
However, from the perspective of a hitter, these differences are very hard to pick up, meaning that a well-pitched slider will often look like a fastball when first leaving the hand, before veering slightly through a batter.
Of course, when you’re trying to through a batter off, messing with their rhythm and timing are incredibly useful tools to utilize. Swinging a bat isn’t as easy as it looks for hitters, after all!
So, when it comes to messing with a batter’s internal rhythm, you can’t go wrong with a changeup pitch.
Well, you can; you can mess up the pitch.
But a well-executed changeup is a great way to get a batter to swing at the wrong time.
The finger position for a good changeup will involve your fingers being spread across the ball at roughly equal distance. However, the middle finger should be in roughly a similar place to where you would keep it for a fastball pitch.
That last aspect is key to the success of this pitch.
The trick with a good changeup is to trick the batter into thinking you are throwing your best fastball when in reality, you will be pitching at a much slower speed.
If fooled, a hitter will often either swing too early or not swing at all, causing a foul ball to be called.
Combine that with more movement than a batter could predict, and they’re going to have a hard time making contact even if they do see it is a changeup pitch!
The Backdoor Slider
As we’ve already demonstrated with the several varieties of fastball, there are quite a few versions of many iconic pitches out there.
This one, as the name suggests, is very similar to the slider pitch that we’ve already covered.
Only in this pitch’s case, the goal is to trick the batter into believing that the ball is going wide when in reality, it is still subtly going for the base.
In other words, it is coming to the base through the back door, so to speak (or at least, that’s how we like to think of it).
The pitch itself is very similar in terms of hand position, but the ball will leave the hand traveling further upwards, tricking the batter into thinking that the ball will travel over the strike zone before lowering to the plate.
It’s a classic ball misdirect, and while tricky to get right, will be a great tool in your arsenal.
The Eephus Pitch
Now, if you want to learn a trick pitch, then nothing is quite as bewildering for a baseball batter as giving them an eephus pitch (although there are many names for this maneuver, including the blooper ball, the parachute, and the Bugs Bunny curve.
Two main details set this pitch apart from the others we have covered so far.
For one, the arc of the ball is much higher than any of the others that we have covered.
Although the pitch is thrown overhand in the same way as many other methods, the pitcher instead throws it much higher.
Not only that, but the velocity at which it is thrown is also much slower.
When compared to the much faster 70 to 100 miles per hour that fastballs have, the eephus pitch trails at just 55 miles per hour at most, completely catching a batter off-guard.
As you can see, many of these pitches have some very clever techniques and tactics behind them, even the fastball in some regard.
With a lot of practice, you’ll be able to use these techniques like a pro too.
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