The Art of Pitching

PITCHING

Pitching a baseball is not the same as throwing one.  Pitching is an art and a science.   Baseball is played—and understood by fans—primarily between the ears.   It is largely a mental game that appears to be mainly a physical contest.   By using different grips on the baseball, pitchers alter the speed and motion on each pitch, thrown to the hitter in the batters box from 60' 6' away.  There is a vast assortment of motions, deliveries, and arm angles used by pitchers. The most extreme are the sidearm or submarine delivery.  The basic idea is to move the location of where the ball arrives to the batters hitting space, the strike zone, to keep the batters eyes, and his bat, moving to different physical spaces.   And more importantly, to change the speeds and movements of the ball, to keep the hitter's timing off balance in the hopes of producing weak contact with the swing of his bat.   Sometimes there are "purpose pitches", where a pitcher throws far inside to knock the batter off the plate.  This strategy might make the hitter back up slightly before the next pitch, or at least not lean in over home plate, reducing his plate coverage.  It is often followed with a pitch outside, just out of reach to hit or to make solid contact with.  Occasionally pitches are thrown at his feet, to throw him off balance.   The altitude of the stadium, atmospheric pressure, and humidity effect the movement of the ball.

DELIVERY BY BASEBALL PITCHER
DELIVERY BY BASEBALL PITCHER

FASTBALL

The first pitch in the arsenal of a baseball pitcher is the fastball, so named because it is thrown fairly straight and is therefore the pitch with the most velocity. It appears to the eye of batters and spectators to rise slightly, because our eye and brain expects any thrown object to sink more than a hard thrown fastball does. A Major League pitcher's fastball may be between 88 and 104 miles an hour, reaching the batter in half a second. This pitch is also called a "four-seamer." It is gripped lightly to reduce friction, with two fingers across the seams.


FASTBALL GRIP
FASTBALL GRIP

SINKERS & CUTTERS

There are also two types of "two-seam" fastballs, gripped by the pitcher where the seams come together (with the seams), that will be a few miles per hour slower but have some movement. These are harder for a pitcher to learn to pitch effectively. With a straight arm motion the ball will have a slight sideways movement in the batters box. This pitch is called a cutter. Utilizing the same finger position but gripping the ball more tightly, with the thumb under the ball, and thrown with more of a downward motion, the ball will drop maybe 7 or 8 inches as it nears the plate. This is called a sinker and produces a lot of ground balls, which are easy for the defending infielders to handle and throw the batter out.

SINKER OR CUTTER GRIP
SINKER OR CUTTER GRIP

CURVEBALL

The curveball is produced by a particular grip and hand movement—a snapping of the wrist at the release point with a slightly shorter follow through of the pitcher's motion—that produces a diagonal spin on the baseball, changing its aerodynamics.  This pitch will drop, move sideways, and arrive at home plate much slower than a fastball, typically at 71 to 85 miles per hour.  This pitch is difficult to hit unless the batter is expecting it.  But if the pitcher makes a mistake and the curveball hangs up in the strike zone—those balls are usually hit hard by major league hitters.

CURVEBALL GRIP
CURVEBALL GRIP

SLIDER

A slider is halfway between a fastball and a curveball; faster than the latter, with more break than the former.  It requires pulling your fingers down on the ball as it is released, with slight pressure from the thumb side of your index finger. 

SLIDER GRIP
SLIDER GRIP

CHANGEUP

The changeup is thrown using the same arm speed as a fastball , but a special grip, using three fingers instead of two and held closer to the palm to increase friction with the hand.  This causes the ball to greatly lose velocity as it nears the plate in order to fool the batter and induce him to swing too soon. Similar pitches include the screwball and the palm ball, though they are rarely seen. 

CHANGEUP GRIP
CHANGEUP GRIP

SPLIT FINGER & FORKBALL

The split-finger fastball is thrown with the fingers split apart and not touching any seams.  The forkball is held more tightly, and with a more exaggerated split between the fingers  than the split-finger fastball.  Both pitches cause a sudden, dramatic drop in speed (and therefore altitude) just as it approaches the batter.  The forkball is a bit slower and produces more movement.  It requires a pitcher with big hands.

SPLITTER OR FORKBALL GRIP
SPLITTER OR FORKBALL GRIP
KNUCKLEBALL GRIP
KNUCKLEBALL GRIP

KNUCKLEBALL

A knuckleball is the strangest pitch of all.   It is produced by holding the ball with one's knuckles,  or digging your fingertips into the ball.  This is pitch does not have the normal spin of the ball.  It  is hard to master—only a few have—and hard to control.  It is also hard to hit.  And hard to catch.  Nobody knows where it is going—not even the pitcher—due to vortices affected the seams of the ball, making it appear to be blowing in the wind.  Generally, a knuckleball pitcher will only use that one pitch.  He can have a longer career than most pitchers because the pitch is not thrown hard, so the arm is less strained. 

PITCH TRAJECTORIES
PITCH TRAJECTORIES

STARTERS & RELIEVERS

An average of 145 pitches are made by each team in a regulation length game. Therefore, each baseball team will have starting pitchers and relief pitchers. Teams carry five starters and usually six or seven relievers. The starters pitch in a rotation, so they only start every 5th game, resting in between. Relievers sometimes pitch as often as every other game the team plays. On average, the starter pitches 6 innings and throws 96 pitches. The relievers can pitch more often because they average only one inning per appearance. They are also more specialized, brought in by the manager to face particular hitters who are due to bat next in the batting order. Batters and pitchers have various success against each other based on their individual characteristics and styles. The relievers in aggregate are known as the bullpen. A fan will observe that the most trusted relievers come into the game when their team is ahead in a close game, or the score is tied. When way ahead, or way behind, the lesser lights trot out to the mound. Because of all this, a reliever need only have excellent command of two different types of pitches. They will only face each batter once. A starter may face each hitter several times in the game and therefore must have three of four quality pitches he can throw.


STRIKE ZONE
STRIKE ZONE
BATTING AVERAGES BASED ON PITCH LOCATION OF STRIKES ONLY.  OBVIOUSLY, BATTERS ALSO SWING AT PITCHES OUTSIDE THE STRIKE ZONE SOMETIMES.
BATTING AVERAGES BASED ON PITCH LOCATION OF STRIKES ONLY. OBVIOUSLY, BATTERS ALSO SWING AT PITCHES OUTSIDE THE STRIKE ZONE SOMETIMES.

SUMMARY OF THE ART OF PITCHING

The most important aspects of pitching are these two: do not throw the ball down the middle and throw strike one. The last graph here shows what happens when a pitcher inadvertently throws the ball right down the middle to a major league hitter.

A batter has a "count." This is how many balls—pitches not swung at out of the strike zone—and strikes—pitches swung at and missed, or hit foul; and pitches not swung at but called in the strike zone by the umpire. The battle between the pitcher and the batter is a battle within a battle to get ahead in the count.

For a pitcher this means to have more strikes than balls in the count, enabling him to nibble around the edges of the strike zone (shown in the penultimate graphic) and throw trick pitches, knowing the hitter is on the defensive.

For a hitter, it means to have more balls in the count putting the pressure on the pitcher to lay one in there as to not walk the batter by throwing ball four—the last thing the manager wants because it is a free pass to first base.

The importance of the count is demonstrated by the batting averages of major league hitters in various counts:

2 (balls)-1(strikes) .330; 2-0 .326; 3-1 .318; 1-0 .314; 1-1 .310; 3-0 .307; 0-0 (first pitch) .305; 0-1 .302; 3-2 .223; 2-2 .193; 1-2 .176; 0-2 .168.


More by this Author

  • Best Baseball Pitchers Ever
    152

    The Best Baseball Pitchers of all time includes pictures & brief bios on Jim Palmer, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Pedro Martinez, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Greg Maddox, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens.

  • Best Baseball Hitters of All Time
    87

    The Best Baseball Hitters listed in this article do not include Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Mike Schmidt, Joe Morgan, Honus Wagner, or Johnny Bench. These eight men were written about already in my...

  • Women of Fox News
    259

    Laura Ingraham, whom I met once, appears often on Fox News as a political commentator. She is a breast cancer survivor. Laura Ingraham is a bestselling author and the sixth most popular radio talk show host in...


Comments 65 comments

msorensson profile image

msorensson 7 years ago

I simply love the way you present your thoughts! So streamlined. And the pictures are nice. What kind of camera do you use? I learned something so thank you!!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

msorensson— I use an old Canon EOS—not even digital! :D

Thank you for being my first visitor. This may not be such a popular topic, but I find it very interesting. I appreciate your kind remarks.


quicksand profile image

quicksand 7 years ago

LOL! I know nothing about baseball. We play a game called cricket. It is somewhat similar, and a serious international game called a "test" match lasts 5 days. :)


advisor4qb profile image

advisor4qb 7 years ago from On New Footing

I never knew all the background stuff! I figure they hit the ball and run around the bases, and as long as no one catches the ball, they're home free! Wow, I don't know if I can remember all that!


jolinarodriguez profile image

jolinarodriguez 7 years ago from virgin island US

thanks for sharing, love to read and I learned a lot


R Burow profile image

R Burow 7 years ago from Florida, United States

Fun topic. Good hub! Thanks.


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

I think Baseball is more similar to our childhood game of Rounders than Cricket but it is a very basic game. Nice info James


Douglas 7 years ago

Thumbs up, James!


Ross 7 years ago

James,

You are a wealth of information. Who would have known al that. You can tell very easily that you love the game. Keep on fighting the good fight my friend.

Ross


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

quicksand— Yes, I am somewhat familiar with Cricket. Baseball might be derived from Cricket. Well, I appeciate you stopping in and leaving your comment.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

advisor4qb— Unless you intend to become a pitcher, there is no need to remember all of it. My hope is that the next baseball game you watch, you may gain a deeper enjoyment of this great game. Your comments do represent what happens. They are indeed home free. A nice place to be. :D

Thanks for your comments.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

joilinarodriguez— You are welcome. I am glad you took the time to read my article. There have been Major League players from the Virgin Islands. There are two right now: Callix Crabbe and Midre Cummings.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

R Burow— I am pleased that you enjoyed it. You are welcome and thank you.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

ethel smith— I'll have to check out "Rounders." That is interesting. It is always a pleasure when you visit, Ethel. Thanks for coming.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

Douglas— Thank you very much, my much esteemed friend.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

Ross— It's nice to hear from you, my Brother. I do love the game. I played the game a long time ago. Thank you for your kind remarks.


John B 7 years ago

As intricate and as deceptive as a good pitcher must be, imagine him trying this ball placement with 300 pound vicious men trying to physically flatten him every pitch in the hope he's not able to throw the ball again. Also imagine the catcher is not stationary but running with an equally athletic person (or 2 or 3)draped all over him trying to deflect the ball before it reaches it's target in which the margin for error is also a matter in inches. Additionally, once a play starts in football, the catcher of "the pitch" also changes directions according to the angles and moves of defensive players so the throwing speed and trajectory must be recalculated on the fly before the ball is released. It's also thrown a distance of anywhere between two feet and sixty or seventy yards through or around a group of 6'5' people, half trying to protect him/half trying to knock down the ball (or him) . A pitcher must sometime be aware of a few base-runners, but a quarterback has eleven defenders as well as his teamates repositioning before the snap. The pitcher has a handful of different pitches he should throw when instructed while a quarterback has a few hundred plays to run when instructed. They can both change the options at their disgression when warranted.Also know that this must be done in pouring rain or even driving snow. Gripping a baseball in perfect weather as opposed to a pigskin in adverse conditions is not exactly apples to apples either.My intent here is not to belittle a big league pitcher's ability, which is a terrific thing which can only be done effectively by a rare person indeed, but to include as "skillful throwing" the NFL quarterback, who's a marked man once a week, as that's all human bodies can withstand ( the quarterback as well as most other football positions).Pro football is a brutal game that leaves most retirees partially crippled and I would not want anyone close to me to be a participant. I'd rather them play baseball, or even better, be a golfer or tennis star. Too bad more can't be successful at these endeavors as thousands have the desire but, like becoming a rock star, there can only be a few at the top, regardless of ones skill.And we all know that's right !


febriedethan profile image

febriedethan 7 years ago from Indonesia

You're really great in presenting this topic, baseball is not so popular sport in my country (Indonesia people really love football and badminton) but the way you present it make it very interesting. Really enjoy reading it, thank's James.


vlkinpa profile image

vlkinpa 7 years ago from South central Pennsylvania

Yesterday afternoon my husband and I watched "The Rookie" on television, a story about Jim Morris who made it to the major leagues. He was in his mid-thirties before he followed his dream. He was a pitcher and played major league baseball for only two years. I'm sure the film had a lot of "dramatic license", but I find it interesting that I watched a movie about baseball one day and woke up to find you'd written about the subject the next day.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

John B— I was at one time a huge football fan, from high school to the NFL.  I also closely followed basketball at all levels, and was very much up on hockey, tennis, golf, Olympic sports.  Eventually my life became more demanding and I only had time for one.  I chose baseball.  Something about the rhythm of it, and the strategies employed in this particular game, make it especially suited to me.  Not that it is better.  Just different. 

You are correct in all you said.  Football holds fascinations on many levels and it is very manly.  I appreciate your perspective and that you offered it here.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

febriedethan— I thank you for taking the time to read it and leaving your thoughtful comments.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

vlkinpa— I really liked that movie.  There are lot of great baseball movies—"Field of Dreams" "Bang the Drum Slowly" and my favorite: "The Natural."

Thanks for visiting and leaving your remarks.  What a coincidence?


Steve Rensch profile image

Steve Rensch 7 years ago

Great hub.  Great game. 

My team has been in last place virtually all year, but I haven't missed more than 4 or 5 games on the tube.  Something about the long season, and the fact that you can actually see their faces, makes one very attached to his baseball team.

My vote, by the way, is for "Bull Durham".

The injury distinction between football and basketball will always be substantial, but it is less than it used to be because baseball players in general have hit the weights so hard, which increases their productivity but also increases their vulnerability to injury.

I was a pitcher, but all we had were fastball, change and curve.  (Some guys' natural arm motion created a screwball.)  The knuckler was a fun pitch, but no one used it seriously.  Boy, am I dating myself with these comments!!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

Steve— Thank you, coach. Is your team the Padres? I have only missed a few Cubs games this year myself. It's nice to hear from you, as always. Especially since you played and coach the game. Your comments have added to the page. I appreciate you for posting them.


Hunter Fitch 7 years ago

Great Hub.

The majority of my fondest childhood memores happened on the baseball diamond.

Often the most overlooked aspect of pitching, is catching. For those who've experienced the kind of relationship that a pitcher and catcher develop during a game and a season, it's truly... existential. A good pitcher/catcher combination will soon find themselves reading each other's minds... knowing ahead of time what the other intends to throw or do. The best way it can be described... yeah, I'll go there... it's like having sex.


Camping Dan profile image

Camping Dan 7 years ago

Great hub! My nephew is 10 and really wants to pitch in big time ball one day. I sent a link of this to him to check out. The photos of how to hold the ball are a great addition.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

Hunter Fitch— Thank you.  Catching is the most demanding position on the field.  And the telepathy that goes on between catchers and pitchers is magical.  Maybe I'll do an article about catching.  It is an art that is underappreciated. I caught some games in Babe Ruth.

I appreciate the knowledge you have added to this thread.  Thanks for visiting.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

Camping Dan— Thank you! And thanks for sending the link to your nephew. Any boy who wants to play ball should be encouraged IMO. I appreciate you for reading my article.


Steve Rensch profile image

Steve Rensch 7 years ago

I'm afraid the Padres only just recently took last place away from my team, which has held it all year . . . the DBacks.


eovery profile image

eovery 7 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

As I coach a little youth baseball and softball, I will study this well to get nire yo ti speed on pitching.

Thanks


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

Steve Rensch— They are a disappointment. I thought they had a lot of talent when the season began.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

eovery— I doubt their speeds approach the ones I mentioned. :D Thanks for reading. You are welcome.


quietnessandtrust profile image

quietnessandtrust 7 years ago from Carbon Canyon, California

Good hub James....Do you remember "THE BIG JEW?"....the windup that "touched the ground first".....when he let go of the ball I think he was a mere 52 feet away, given the stretch he had and the length of his arm, and at over a hundred miles an hour...I think that is 3 tenths of a second to swing the bat....LOL

I quite playing baseball when Lenny Dykstra and I parted ways a long time ago...we were friends from childhood...I use to be his quarterback too, he was half back and brother Brian was full back.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

quietnessandtrust— You were friends with Lenny Dykstra?!  He was a real ballplayer!  I do remember the Eephus. 

Thanks for reading, my Brother in Arms.  And your comments are most welcome.


Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada

Wish I had all this information when I was younger. I played softball and was the pitcher. I agree, it is an art and it takes practice and confidence to pull it off. I left my final season with no games lost and no hits!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

Beth100— WOW! No hits surrendered for a whole season! I don't think you needed this information. :D An undefeated season is a dream in any sport. Congratulations! You must be a heck of a player.

When my baseball days were over, I played a lot of softball in local leagues, but it was not fast pitch, like you played. But it was fun!

Thanks for reading and leaving your words behind.


Beth100 profile image

Beth100 7 years ago from Canada

Thanks James! I'm sure that your information will help a lot of players out there!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

Beth100— You're welcome. I do hope it may be helpful. Thanks.


muley84 profile image

muley84 7 years ago from Miami,FL

As a long time baseball fan I find your hub to be very informative, and of course well written. Love the pictures, I feel I could go out and start throwing for my beloved SF Giants.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

muley84— I suppose you can tell I am a big baseball fan, too. The Giants look great this year. I think they hold open tryouts in the spring. :D

Thanks for your comments.


quietnessandtrust profile image

quietnessandtrust 7 years ago from Carbon Canyon, California

"THE BIG JEW?".

Do you know who I meant?


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

quietnessandtrust— uh . . . Sandy Koufax? Just guessing.


underhiswings profile image

underhiswings 7 years ago from Still small Voice

nice hub man....like the content


quietnessandtrust profile image

quietnessandtrust 7 years ago from Carbon Canyon, California

yep that's what they called him, to bad they wore him out.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

underhiswings— I appreciate you saying so very much.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

quietnessandtust— During his "run" he may have been the best. He retired young.


Jenny30 profile image

Jenny30 7 years ago from Canada

I love baseball! However I never knew there were so many pitching techniques!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

Jenny30— I love it, too! Those pitchers are crafty alright. I am glad you came to visit and left a comment. Welcome to the Hub Pages Community.


estopher profile image

estopher 7 years ago from Bainbridge, Ohio

The only thing I would disagree with is the change-up grip. Most pros now use the circle change grip and release it with the palm facing outward or coming over the top to create friction drop and movement away from a lefty and in on a righty.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

estopher— You are right. The circle change is more and more in vogue. Thanks for your insight. I appreciate you for adding to the conversation.


Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 7 years ago

Who knew there was so much strategy behind the game. My little grandson is being groomed to become a pro (by his parents- he's only two) but now i can put my two cents in.

Nice Hub !


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago Author

Bail Up!— If he's two he has a long way to go. But hey, nothing wrong with starting him early! Thank you very much.


GBeckhamfan 6 years ago

Great detail on what it takes to pitch. Great Hub!!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago Author

GBeckhamfan— Thank you for the compliments!


stars439 profile image

stars439 6 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

Dear James : I love baseball , but it looks a lot easier than it really is. Love those hot dogs and chilly too. Yummy yum yum. God Bless You.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago Author

stars439— I love baseball, too! It is a tough game—I was once a baseball player. God Bless You Brother!


bogerk profile image

bogerk 6 years ago from Midwest

Excellent Hub! I'm a huge baseball fan and this was great.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago Author

bogerk— Thank you! Thank you very much. Welcome to the Hub Pages Community.


SportsInfo247 profile image

SportsInfo247 5 years ago from Arizona

James, very good hub. Your explainations are concise and clear, and you did a great job with the photos showing the proper grip. I look forward to reading more of your hubs.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

Sportsinfo247— Thank you! I am well pleased to meet your approval. I appreciate your kind comments. Welcome to the Hub Pages Community!


Benmox19 profile image

Benmox19 5 years ago from Oneonta

Good Tips and info. Thanks


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago Author

Benmox19— You are welcome. Thank you for reading my Hub. I appreciate the compliment. Welcome to the Hub Pages Community!


stars439 profile image

stars439 4 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

Wonderful hub James. As usual you often bring your studies to us by examining facts , and information to a destination of a science. God Bless You, and your precious loved ones.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 4 years ago from Chicago Author

stars439— Thank you! I am glad you came over to check out this little Hub of mine. I so appreciate your ongoing encouragement, brother. God Bless You!


James King 32 16 months ago from Madison, WI.

James,

I have coached mens Baseball since 1977, in a little town north of Chicago, then just over the Wisconsin line in a place called Twin Lakes, WI.. I appreciate the topic and enjoyed the comments. We are truly kindred spirits as I look over your work. I have just joined and wrote a hub on the Proper Mechanics of Hitting. Stop by, would love your insight.

JamesKing32

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working