The fastball is the first pitch that a young pitcher must learn. A pitcher should not learn another pitch until a fastball has been mastered. With mastering a fastball, the pitcher should be able to locate this pitch with confidence and consistency. A good indication of mastery is being able to throw this pitch for a strike 80% of the time. The pitcher should focus on getting correct spin on this pitch after location has been developed. A commonly misunderstood theme of the fastball is that it should have no movement. However, a pitcher’s goal for the fastball is to spin the ball with “12 to 6 spin”, or downward spin. Thus, if the ball has downward spin and because the ball moves in the direction of its spin, then the pitch should theoretically have downward movement. The pitcher may adjust her release point which may affect the downward movement of the fastball. For example, if the pitcher releases the ball earlier, the pitch will be located lower in the zone. The lower location combined with the downward spin enables more movement on the pitch due to the fact that it has gravity working in its favor. On the other hand, if the pitcher has a later release on the ball, the pitch will end up higher in the zone. Even with the correct 12 to 6 spin on the ball, because the release point forced the pitch to be higher, the pitch will not have as sharp of downward movement because gravity is not working in the pitch’s favor. In conclusion, the difference between the fastball and the drop ball is not in its spin, but at what point the pitcher releases the pitch that ultimately affects its movement.
The changeup is the second most important pitch for a young pitcher to learn due to its ability to throw off a hitters’ timing. Although there are dozens of ways to throw a changeup, and no way is right or wrong, all changeups should have two things in common:
1. There must be a significant (8-12mph) speed differential between the changeup and the fastball.
2. The pitcher must be deceptive when throwing a changeup so that the hitter does not know when the pitcher is throwing it; i.e. the pitcher’s motion should look exactly the same when throwing a changeup as it does for her faster pitches.
There are also two different ways a pitcher can take speed off of her pitch in order to throw a changeup:
1. Changing her grip by having less “pressure points” on the ball typically used as leverage to put more speed and/or spin on the ball. For example, gripping the ball deeper into her hand, or tucking a finger and using one or more knuckles to throw the pitch.
2. At release point, having the pitcher’s hand more on the side of the ball rather than completely behind the ball. This allows less force to be behind the pitch at release.
The rise ball is one of the more difficult pitches to master and should only be intently developed after a pitcher has mastered a fastball and a changeup. Because we want the rise ball to move in the direction opposite of the drop ball, i.e., up through the zone rather than down, the rise ball spin is exactly opposite of the fastball and drop ball. Therefore, when looking at a clock, the rise ball should spin from 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock. In order for a pitcher to get correct spin on this pitch, her hand position at release point should be different than the fastball. Instead of the hand placed behind the ball and fingertips pointing down toward the ground at release, the hand at release must be directly underneath the ball with fingertips pointing up and away from the body at release. For this pitch, it is paramount for the pitcher to lead with her pinky at release in order to get the correct spin on the ball. The tightness of the spin will depend on how quick the pitcher is able to release the ball combined with the leverage she can get from her grip, i.e. how much pressure there is between the ball and her pointer finger so that the ball can “spring” out of her hand.
The curveball and screwball are great alternatives to the rise ball for a young pitcher to have some up-spinning pitch in her arsenal. Both of these pitches have upward spin which means, in order to throw them, the pitcher must have her hand underneath the ball at release point. The grip used for these pitches should be the same grip used for the rise ball as all three will have upward spin. With the curveball, the hand is underneath the ball while tilted slightly inward toward the belly button at release. This will ensure that the pitch does not have straight backspin like the rise ball, but instead spins sideways allowing the pitch to move west through the strike zone. For the screwball, the pitcher’s hand is also underneath the ball, but the pitcher instead finishes her hand away from her body, opposite of the curveball. This release generates a “corkscrew” spin on the ball allowing the pitch to move east through the strike zone. There are many nonbelievers, mainly in the men’s fast pitch game, who do not believe in these pitches as they acknowledge the difficulty a hitter faces when a pitcher is able to move the ball north and south. On the other hand, a hitter is able to more easily change their bat path to hit pitches that move east and west. For this reason, it is more suggested for a pitcher to master the drop ball, changeup, and rise ball before developing these pitches.
Fastball: 2 seam vs. 4 seam
Rise Ball explanation from one of our students
Great curveball drill to practice and see the break on the pitch