Monday, April 4, 2011

How to Pitch Like a Big Leaguer Wannabe

I spent several hours watching baseball this weekend. It seemed like it was on every channel and I couldn't have been happier. Over the past year, I've become very interested in pitching. I was thinking about all the different types of pitches and how useful each one is.

The Fastball

Ubaldo launching a 2-seamer
This is the most basic pitch. There are two different grips for the fastball. There's the 2-seam fastball and the 4-seam fastball. The idea behind the fastball is that it's fast. Both fingers are on top of the ball so they are both used to give the ball a strong spin and to whip the ball. When throwing the fastball, the rotation of the ball is such that there is low air pressure on the top, but there is high air pressure on the bottom because of the direction of the spin. The 2-seam fastball is gripped such that only two seams pass per rotation. The 4-seam fastball is gripped so that four seams pass per rotation. The force on the bottom side of the ball for the 4-seam fastball causes the ball to not drop much as the ball approaches the plate. If you're really good, you can even get the ball to lift as it moves forward. The 2-seam fastball has less force on the bottom, so it drops faster than the 4-seam.
  • A variation on the fastball is the split finger fastball. The fingers are split much further apart that on a normal fastball. The grip makes it so you just can't throw it as fast as a normal fastball. Your fingers slip more and they just don't whip the ball as well when they're spread far apart. So the result is an off-speed pitch. The batter thinks a fastball is coming, because the throwing motion is the same, but it doesn't go as fast as a normal fastball, so the batter gets ahead of the ball and misses it.
The Curveball
This pitch is thrown with a forward or diagonally forward spin. The forward spin causes a downward force on the ball, so it sinks like crazy. The diagonally forward spin causes a force down and to the left (for a righty), so you get sinking and curving. The delivery of this pitch looks very different from a fastball, though, so it's easy for the batter to see that it's coming.

The Slider
The slider is an awesome pitch. It has a sideways spin, so that the right side of the ball is moving downward and the left side of the ball is moving upward (for a righty). It's thrown just like a fastball, except at the very end, where the pitcher flicks the ball to give it the sideways spin. While the ball still has a lot of speed, it doesn't move around very much, but as it starts dropping, there is a leftward force, because of the spin, that pushes the ball to the left. I think it's such a great pitch because it changes what it does as it moves forward. No movement at first, then at the last second it slides away from the batter.

The Knuckleball
In my very limited experience, this pitch is incredibly hard to throw, so there are not very many pitchers that actually use it. It's a great pitch, though, if you know how to throw it. It's gripped with the knuckles instead of the bottom side of the fingers. Because of the grip, a good knuckleball has no spin. The result is a pitch that seems to move in completely random directions. The strange pattern of the stitches causes forces in all kinds of different spots, causing the ball to move back and forth in a very unpredictable way. The delivery of this pitch is really easy to distinguish from other pitches, so it's easy to see it coming, just hard to track.

I'm going to start looking into different kinds of slow-pitch softball pitches, so my softball team this summer can pwn everyone else. Forget that "just play for fun" nonsense. I want to win!

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