Teaching Fastball Variations to Youth Pitchers
For all the great, bizzare, and unique pitches that have come and gone over the years, only one has remained largely unaltered - the fastball. Don’t let the name fool you. There is much more to mastering the art of the fastball than simply bringing the heat.
A great fastball must always be delivered with command. The best fastball throwers in the world mix velocity, command, and a multitude of fastball variations to keep hitters off balance and headed back to the dugout. Of course, this is all ignoring advanced metrics like spin rate, arm angle, and so forth, which can take fastball analysis to an entirely different level.
Today, we will be identifying some of the primary fastball variations, how they are thrown, and how they behave.
Learning the Four Seam Fastball
Baseball’s bread and butter pitch for over a hundred years has remained the four-seam fastball. This pitch allows pitchers to throw as fast and as accurately as possible. This is the only fastball which has no inherent movement besides that of gravity (more on that in a moment). The four-seam fastball is the most thrown pitch in all of baseball by a wide margin.
The grip for the four-seam fastball is the same grip fielders should take in the field - two fingers across the large space of the baseball so that they are directly perpendicular to four seams. When we think of throwing the heat, we think four-seam fastball.
This pitch is also sometimes referred to as a “rising fastball”. The rising fastball is actually a myth perpetuated by perplexed hitters. When a four-seam fastball is thrown with unusually high velocity, it gives the illusion of rising because most pitches would end lower in the zone. If you have some time and the desire to have your mind blown, read more details about the rising fastball here.
Two Seam Fastball Grip and Technique
Two-seam fastballs are the second most popular type of fastball in baseball. Sometimes referred to as a “running fastball”, the two-seam fastball is the second hardest pitch in baseball, with a little extra english on it.
Two-seam fastballs are gripped right on top of the two, parallel running seams where they are closest together. Some pitchers will put their fingers slightly to the outside of the seams while still in contact with the seams, but the ball movement remains largely the same.
Two-seam fastballs will run towards the throwing arm of the pitcher. So a right handed pitcher throwing to a right handed batter will have a two seamer that runs away from the hitter, while a right handed pitcher’s two seamer will run in on a lefty.
Sinkers, Cut Fastballs, and Getting Movement on the Fastball
Beyond the four-seam and two-seam fastball variations, there are a few forms of cut fastballs or sinkers that pitchers can use to get more movement on their fastballs. This brings up another key concept of throwing the fastball: how tightly the pitcher grips the ball.
Generally speaking, the tighter the grip, the more movement will be produced. The more the pitch moves with a tighter grip, the more velocity will be lost. Mariano Rivera had the best cutter in all of baseball for a decade, and has said he only moved his fingers slightly from his standard fastball grip. He threw his cutter approximately 85 percent of the time.
Sinkers are a ground ball pitcher’s best friend. Sinking fastballs are generally similar in velocity to the cutter, but with a biting downward movement.
Other Fastball Variations
Split-finger fastballs (splitters) required the pitcher to split his or her fingers wide, generally along the fat part of the seams. This allows for the ball to come out of the hand differently, spin differently, and confuse hitters. A variation of the forkball, splitters look like fastballs out of the hand, and act somewhere in between a four-seamer and a change-up.
Sidearm deliveries are another way to change the way your fastball moves in on hitters. Some pitchers choose to adopt sidearm for every pitch, while others are comfortable changing their arm slot throughout the game.
Change-ups are not fastballs. However, they are one of the few non-fastball pitches to use the same fundamental arm motion and ball rotation. The primary advantage of a quality change-up is keeping the hitter off balance. Much like a splitter, change-ups look like a fastball coming out of the hand. By the time the hitter realizes this is a change-up, they are already way out in front.
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