It’s safe to say that the pitch is perhaps one of the most coveted elements of the ball game, so much so that there is a ceremonial first pitch typically thrown by a guest. With all eyes on the pitcher, it’s time to play ball!
The goal of the pitch is quite simply to defeat the batter. However, achieving this is not as simple, as pitchers often use varying combinations of complex pitching techniques.
There are a number of different types of pitching styles that can vary with respect to ball grip, pitch length, movement and release point.
There are about a dozen different pitching styles (including both legal and illegal pitches) . It is important for both pitchers and batters to have a good understanding of these different styles in order to effectively determine ball movements. For batters, it is critical to be able to readily recognize, identify and understand the different types of pitches and their movements so they can quickly respond and adapt to the incoming ball.
How to identify pitches
Because the pitch essentially defines the events to follow, it is important for a batter to effectively identify pitches. Below are a few tips that may be useful to help with this:
- Find the pitcher’s release point: The release point is the angle and position from which the pitcher throws the ball. This will be different for each pitcher i.e. some may raise their arm and throw the ball from more ‘over the top’, while others may throw from more of a side angle. To determine the pitcher’s release point, you should watch the pitcher during pre-game warm-up to see what types of pitches the pitcher uses, how hard they throw the ball, how far they get the ball over the plate and importantly, determine the pitcher’s release point.
- Focus on the release point during the pitch: People often wonder what and where they should be looking when they’re up to bat. The best advice is to concentrate on the pitcher’s release point (which you should have figured out pre-game) by outlining an imaginary ‘window’ at that point. Also do not be tense and instead, have a soft focus that transitions into a hard focus at the release point, but only when the pitcher begins movement.
- Priming your vision: To help your eyes become accustomed to the field of view containing the incoming ball, it helps to train and prime your vision. You can do this by first looking at something far away such as the score board, and then shifting focus to something close up such as the sticker on your bat. This will help your eyes track objects with respect to changing distances, including the incoming ball at the plate. You can also practice hitting small objects such as pinto beans or rocks, which are difficult to hit. Hitting these small objects will help build your focus and after training with them, it will be easier to hit the larger baseball.
So the take home message here is to watch, study and track the release point of the pitcher, in addition to training your vision to objects that are rapidly changing distances. This will help you determine what type of baseball pitch is being used and where the ball is coming from so you can get a good crack at it!
Types of Baseball Pitches Explained
Each pitch has distinctive features with respect to various things such as grip, movement and position. Outlined here are the 12 most common pitches and their descriptions:
Baseball Pitch Type #1: How-to Throw a Slider
This video outlines the technique for a slider pitch:
This is a breaking pitch that breaks sharply at high speed. The slider aims to deceive the hitter by throwing the ball with a wrist snap and spin.
The grip involves using the index and middle finger to grip the ball (at the top), balanced by the thumb at the bottom or on the side depending on your preference.
It is seen to be between a cutter and a curveball. It involves pushing the ball with the fingers towards the front to give the ball a forward spin and then turning it sideways for a bullet spin – this leads to a mixed-type spin leading to a break. The slider is more about the spin than the grip.
Baseball Pitch Type #2: How-to Throw a Curveball
This video outlines the technique for a curveball pitch:
The curveball is one of the most commonly thrown pitches in baseball, with the universally popular signal for a curveball being a catcher putting down two fingers because of the two fingers used in the grip and technique of the pitch. Similar to the slider, it is a breaking pitch used to deceive and throw off the hitter by using a wrist snap and spin, with movement away from a pitcher’s arm side.
The most important part of the curveball is the grip. The pitch is primarily performed with the thumb and middle finger across the laces of the ball, with the index finger resting beside the middle finger. The motion of your arm while throwing should be kept at your natural arm slot or motion (i.e. don’t curve your arm while throwing), and you should maintain the same arm speed.
Your wrist and fingers should be loose and relaxed, with the wrist automatically snapping as you throw the ball.
Baseball Pitch Type #3: How-to Throw a Changeup
This video outlines techniques for a changeup pitch:
Similar to the slider, curveball and fastball, a changeup is also used to perform a deception towards the hitter. However unlike these pitches, the changeup is one of the slowest pitches in baseball.
Despite this, the arm speed should be kept the same as a fastball because this is what will deceive the hitter (i.e. thinking that you’re throwing a fastball and not a changeup).
There can be several different grips used for a changeup, with the common feature being that the ball rests further back in the hand, and can lay as far back as the palm. In the ‘palm grip’ your four fingers are placed directly on top of the ball and you hold the ball in a tight grip.
For a ‘circle change grip’, the fingers are also on top of the ball but the thumb and pointer (index) finger come together to make a circle. When throwing the ball, it’s important to keep your wrist stiff and pull down your arm (like you’re pulling down a window or lamp shade).
Baseball Pitch Type #4: How-to Throw a Cutter
This video outlines techniques for a cutter pitch:
A cutter is a type of fastball that involves slight movement away from the pitcher’s arm-side as it reaches home plate. It is a deceptive pitch that prevents the hitter from being able to hit the pitch directly.
A well-executed cutter can travel deep inside to hit the lower end/handle area of the bat and in doing so, can actually break it.
The grip involves placing the index and middle fingers positioned in the middle on top of the ball. It involves tilting the wrist slightly, but not snapping it like in a slider or curveball, and essentially throwing it like an American football.
Baseball Pitch Type #5: How-to Throw a Forkball
This video outlines techniques for a forkball pitch:
The forkball is perhaps one of the most uncommon pitches in baseball. Its characteristic feature is a sharp downward break as the ball approaches the plate.
This is achieved by the grip which literally involves jamming the baseball between the index and middle fingers and releasing with a downward snap of the wrist. It is a lethal pitch that is quite the challenge to throw.
Baseball Pitch Type #6: How-to Throw a Two-Seam Fastball
This video outlines techniques for a two-seam fastball pitch:
A two-seam fastball is amongst one of the most frequently thrown, and fastest pitches in baseball. It is however a bit slower than a four-seam fastball but has more movement than it.
In a two-seamer, the ball moves in the same direction as the arm that is used to throw it (i.e. a right-handed pitcher produces rightward movement). The most common grip used to throw a two-seamer involves placing two fingers directly on top of the ball where the seams are closest together.
Finger pressure plays a large role in determining pitch movement. For example if a two-seam fastball is thrown with the same finger pressure as a four-seamer, the two can look similar.
Baseball Pitch Type #7: How-to Throw a Four-Seam Fastball
This video outlines techniques for a four-seam fastball pitch:
A four-seam fastball is usually the fastest and straightest pitch that a pitcher can throw, which is why it tends to be the most frequently used pitch in baseball.
There is not a lot of movement on the pitch but its high speed leads the ball to reach the strike zone faster than a hitter can anticipate, overpowering the hitter and causing a swing and a miss, or weak contact. The pitch is named based on the fact that the four seams on the ball are visible with each rotation.
The grip involves placing two fingers across the open space between the seams with the edges of the fingers a bit over the seam. Throwing the ball in this way creates an extremely straight plane.
Baseball Pitch Type #8: How-to Throw a Knuckleball
This video outlines techniques for a knuckleball pitch:
Knuckleballs are unique in that they lack almost any spin, causing the ball to reach the plate in an erratic and fluttering way at slow speed.
It is an uncommon pitch but pitchers who do throw it use it pretty exclusively. Because of the unpredictability of the pitch, it is one of the most difficult pitches to hit, as well as catch.
The grip of this pitch involves placing the knuckles on either side of the ball, or they could be perched just over it with the fingernails pushing into the surface of the ball. The pitch is fairly easy to throw as it doesn’t cause any strain on the wrist.
Baseball Pitch Type #9: How-to Throw a Knuckle-curve
This video outlines techniques for a knuckle-curve pitch:
As the name suggests, the knuckle-curve is a combination of the curveball and knuckleball. Specifically, it blends the spin of the curveball break (at a slower speed) with the unpredictable fluttering movement of the knuckleball.
It’s a deceptive pitch that is not very commonly used but can be a powerful pitch in a pitcher’s arsenal. The grip involves bending at least one finger so that the knuckle is on the ball when holding it (hence the name knuckleball), while executing the wrist snap of the curveball technique.
A knuckle-curve is essentially a variation of the knuckleball that simply spins more and moves faster.
Baseball Pitch Type #10: How-to Throw a Screwball
This video outlines techniques for a screwball pitch:
A screwball is a very rare pitch in baseball, likely because it involves moving the ball in the opposite direction compared to almost all other breaking pitches, which causes significant strain on a pitcher’s arm.
The throw involves the pitcher snapping their wrist into the pitch in a manner that causes the palm to face away from the glove side (in contrast, sliders and curveballs have the palm facing the glove side).
It can basically be seen as a curveball that breaks in the opposite direction.
Baseball Pitch Type #11: How-to Throw a Sinker
This video outlines techniques for a sinker pitch:
The sinker involves creating a ground ball as it involves pitching the ball in a sharp, strong downward movement. It is based more on ball movement than its grip.
Therefore different grips can be applied including a two-seamer for example. It is effective in eliciting amongst the weakest of bat contacts from the hitter, significantly preventing home runs.
Baseball Pitch Type #12: How-to Throw a Splitter
This video outlines techniques for a splitter pitch:
A splitter pitch involves gripping the ball with the index and middle fingers ‘split’ across opposite sides of the ball. The gap between the fingers can vary.
The grip is similar to that of a forkball, with the fingers being higher up and has less force in the grip. If thrown like a fast ball, it will hit the ground sharply, but at a lower speed than a fastball.
The splitter involves minimal wrist action like the fastball. The lower velocity and sharp drop together create a deceptive pitch for the hitter.
Types of Baseball Pitches: The Illegal ones…
While balks are illegal pitching actions and movements committed by the pitcher while there are runners on base, the same actions lead to an illegal pitch when there are no runners on base. Some other illegal pitches include improper foot position and lack of contact of the pitcher’s pivot foot with the rubber at the pitcher’s plate (at the beginning of the pitch motion), or delivery of a pitch when the batter is not set and ready for the pitch.
In addition, there are various actions that are deemed to be illegal when the pitcher is on the pitcher’s plate. Some of these include that the pitcher not:
- Touch the mouth or lips while in contact with the pitcher’s plate
- Touch the mouth or lips and then touch the ball while on the mound
- Spit on the ball, glove or hand
- Rub the ball on the glove, clothing or anywhere on the body
- Apply any kind of foreign substance to the ball
- Deface the ball (i.e. cut, scratch) in any way to alter it
- Deliver a pitch with an altered ball (could be altered by the catcher or anyone else in the game)
- Have any foreign substance in possession
- Intentionally delay the game
- Intentionally pitch at a batter
Types of Baseball Pitches: In Summary
As we’ve seen, there are a number of rules that specifically govern the play of the pitcher. To summarize:
- Pitching actions and movements that intentionally deceive the hitter with runners on base are called balks
- Apart from specific pitching related actions, there are specific rules and guidelines that if violated, result in a balk
- There are about 12 different pitching types that vary largely with respect to speed and spin
- Apart from balks, there are a number of other rules that if the pitcher violates, leads to an illegal pitch.