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Baseball 101: Pitching Basics

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Baseball 101 is an ongoing series from The Good Phight’s Allie Foster that breaks down some of the multifaceted aspects of baseball for those fans who might not be as familiar with the ins and outs of the game. In this tenth edition, she explains the five most common pitches seen in major league baseball. You can read other entries here.

One of the hardest things about watching baseball, to the untrained eye, is determining exactly which pitch a pitcher is throwing. The first thing, when trying to determine what pitches a certain player is throwing, is to know what pitches that player has in his arsenal. For example, if Aaron Nola throws an off-speed pitch that has a lot of movement, it was most likely a curveball because that’s what he throws. On the other hand, if it’s Chris Sale throwing an off-speed pitch with a lot of movement, it’s probably a slider because that’s his specialty.

Here is a basic breakdown of the five most common pitches seen throughout baseball.

Four-Seam Fastball:

The four-seam fastball is the most frequently used pitch in baseball. It’s the fastest and straightest pitch to throw. The most important thing about a four-seam fastball is that its lack of movement makes it easy to place, which is why pitchers often opt to use it to establish their position within the strike zone. But velocity is key to the success of this pitch. When you see someone hit 100+ MPH on a pitch, it’s almost guaranteed a four-seam fastball.

Players to watch: Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Carlos Martinez

Two-Seam Fastball:

The two-seam fastball, like the four-seam, is generally one of a pitcher’s fastest pitches. Though it has less velocity than a four-seam fastball, it tends to have more movement. This is an often-used pitch. One of the defining factors of a two-seam fastball is that the ball moves in the same direction as whichever arm is being used to throw it. So a right-hander gets rightward movement and left-hander gets leftward movement. Two-seam fastballs are usually 90+ MPH, though some pitchers, like Jamie Moyer, have been known to have success throwing fastballs much slower than that.

Players to watch: Zack Wheeler, Brad Keller, Walker Buehler

Changeup:

The changeup is one of the slower pitches, but next to the fastball is the most commonly thrown. Changeup speeds are generally in the mid or low 80s, though the success of a changeup depends on the success of a pitcher’s fastball. For the changeup, deception is key. The purpose is to get hitters expecting a 90+ MPH fastball to swing before the pitch arrives. However, its lack of velocity makes it one of the easiest to hit if a batter identifies it. There are multiple grips that can be used to throw a changeup.

Players to watch: Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Kenta Maeda

Three Finger Changeup:

Circle Changeup:

Palmball (four-finger changeup):

Curveball:

Next to the changeup, the curveball is one of the most popular off-speed pitches. It’s a breaking pitch, which means that when it’s thrown correctly it creates a sharp downward change in movement. Most pitchers have either a curve or a slider, though some have both. The difference is that a curveball has more break than a slider. A curveball is also typically slower than a slider, averaging in the upper-70s to low-80s. With a curveball, when executed correctly, batters expecting a fastball will swing too early and over the top of the pitch.

Players to watch: Aaron Nola, Blake Snell, Justin Verlander

Knuckle Curveball:

Slider:

A slider is similar to a curveball in that it’s an off-speed breaking pitch that’s designed to have a sharp change in movement. It’s faster and has less movement than a curveball, but breaks more sharply. Its speed is generally in the low- to mid-80s. A higher velocity than the other off-speed pitches and similar spin to a fastball make it deceptive when thrown correctly.

Player to watch: It’s the top of the 9th in game 5 of the 2008 World Series. There are two outs. Eric Hinske is up to bat with two strikes. Brad Lidge throws a slider and the rest is history.

(Current players to watch: Dylan Bundy, Trevor Bauer, Will Smith)