Pitch classification is obviously an important part of what I do at 60ft6in.com. So how do I decide what a pitcher is throwing?
It’s taken a couple years to get to it, but I finally sat down and defined the pitch types that I use on this site. I believe that all pitches break down into these categories: Fastballs, Breaking Balls, and Offspeed, with the knuckleball being it’s own separate oddity.
The quest to define a repertoire is often a battle between trying to keep things simple and trying to differentiate one pitcher from another. In reality, pitching is a simple thing. As one friend of mine likes to say, “it’s either fastball, spin, or changeup, it’s that simple”. He’s right, to a degree. Just about every pitcher owns a fastball, spin, changeup repertoire. And every pitcher uses some mix of these three basic pitches to get outs. However, I believe more detail is necessary to try and understand how each pitcher is different.
Most pitchers use some type of fastball as their primary pitch. The fastball can be best described as a relatively straight pitch thrown at a high velocity. Most major league fastballs are thrown between 87-95 mph. The fastball is typically the easiest pitch to command.
There are many variations of fastballs. In my scouting reports I will use the following fastball types if I believe a pitcher is using a specific fastball variation.
The 2-seamer is intended to get some movement on the fastball. A typical 2-seamer will have sinking and tailing action towards the arm side of the pitcher. The pitch is gripped by placing the index and middle fingers on top of, and with the seams, at the point where the seams come closest together on the baseball, with the thumb tucked underneath. While flying, the ball will be rotating in such a way that two seams will cross over and over again, hence, 2-seam fastball.
The 4-seam fastball will typically get the highest velocity of any pitch. The 4-seamer flies very straight and because of this it is normally commanded better than any other pitch. The pitch is gripped by placing the index and middle fingers across the seams, and the point where the seams are furthest apart on the baseball, with the thumb tucked underneath. While flying, the ball will be rotating in such a way that four seams will cross over and over again, hence, 4-seam fastball. With four seams grabbing the air, the ball tends to stay very straight during its flight.
Does the cut fastball truly exist? I use the terms “cut fastball” and “cutter” on this site, and I do this intentionally so that they are differentiated. I save the cut fastball for certain pitchers that are able to throw a pitch that moves towards their glove side with the same velocity that they throw their standard fastball. A cut fastball is gripped like a 4-seamer, however, the pitcher will slightly slide his grip to the side of the baseball to create a spin as it’s released. I believe a true cut fastball is thrown by only a handful of pitchers. I classify the more often used “cutter” as a breaking ball.
The legendary sinker is basically a 2-seam fastball. I will list “sinker” in a pitcher’s repertoire only if I believe he gets abnormal sinking action.
I classify a sidearm fastball as any fastball delivered with the arm parallel to the ground to lower. This arm angle can create dramatic sinking and running action towards the arm side. The sidearm fastball isn’t necessarily a different pitch, just a different release point. I only use this in order to designate someone as a sidearm pitcher.
A breaking ball is any pitch thrown with forward spin, which makes the ball break downward and/or toward the pitcher’s glove side as it approaches home plate. I classify breaking balls as curveballs, sliders, or cutters. Velocities of each type of breaking ball can vary dramatically between pitchers, so it is usually the action of the pitch that determines its type.
Because of the awkward wrist angle needed to throw a curveball, it is slowest of the breaking pitches. It is released with the middle finger pulling down the front of the baseball, in order to create a forward spin that is aimed straight down. This causes a 12 to 6, or 11 to 7 clock face type break from a right-handed pitcher. The curveball gets more movement than any other pitch in the game. A typical major league curveball travels between 70-80 mph.
The slider is intended to appear as a fastball, before breaking away from the batter as he begins his swing. Sliders are gripped similar to the curveball, but released with a similar wrist angle to the fastball. When the pitcher snaps his wrist to create the spin, the slider will get good lateral movement to the pitcher’s glove side, as well as some downward break. This will appear like an 11 to 7, or 2 to 8 clock face type break from a right-handed pitcher. Sliders will have more velocity than curveballs, with the average being somewhere around 78-87 mph.
The cutter is just a breaking ball. It is similar to a slider, and the two pitch classifications can often be interchanged. I will use “cutter” to describe a pitch that gets a very short 2 to 8 break from a right-hander (10 to 4 from a left-hander) and appears to be purposefully spun like a breaking ball. Do not confuse my definition of a cutter with a cut fastball.
A knuckle curve flies the same as a standard curveball. However, the grip of the knuckle curve has the index finger folded such that the finger nail is resting flat against the baseball, or the tip of the index finger is resting (or spiked) on the baseball. This grip is intended to minimize the drag of the index finger and create a tighter spin.
A slurve is basically a slow version of a slider. I will call a pitch a slurve only in rare occasions.
An offspeed pitch can best be described as a relatively straight pitch thrown about 10 mph slower than the fastball. Most pitchers have some type of offspeed pitch in their repertoire. A typical offspeed pitch will be thrown between 77-87 mph. Offspeed pitches are normally intended to fool hitters by appearing to be a fastball.
The changeup is the most common offspeed pitch. El cambio is one of the most difficult pitches to master, and there are many different grips employed. Some of the different changeup grips are the circle change, palmball, straight changeup, and vulcan changeup. The circle change is known to create dramatic movement similar to a 2-seam fastball.
Basically, the goal of any pitcher is to create as much drag as possible when releasing the changeup. The ball will be buried deep into the pitcher’s hand to create the drag, but thrown with the same arm action as the fastball to create deception.
As of now, I do not differentiate between the different types of changeups in my repertoires.
The splitter is often erroneously classified as a fastball. In reality, it is designed to look like a fastball, but be something completely different. A properly thrown splitter will fly towards home plate looking like a fastball, before diving towards the ground as it nears the batter. A splitter will also be 5-10 mph slower than the fastball. The grip is simple, the execution is not. Pitchers hold a 2-seam fastball, then spread the index and middle fingers until they are nearly halfway down the sides of the ball. When released, the idea is to create some forward spin, which will make the ball tumble towards home plate. The thumb is kept underneath the baseball to try and stop any backspin while the split fingers are pulling down the front of the ball.
The action on a splitter will often vary between pitchers. Some pitchers get dramatic movement on it, while others use it like a straight changeup. I will use the terms “splitter” and “split-finger” interchangeably.
The forkball is a version of the splitter. However, the forkball gets very little rotation, making it slowly tumble towards home plate like a knuckleball. To grip a forkball, a pitcher will stuff the baseball deep between his index and middle fingers. Jose Contreras owns the best example of a true forkball in today’s game.
The screwball is basically a circle changeup. It is thrown with a hard pronation of the arm, which creates arm side run and sink. I will only use the term “screwball” for pitchers that throw two different changeups.
The knuck-piece. It’s a pitch that simply has no rotation. It appears frozen in air, with the seams resting in place. Eventually, this lack of rotation makes the ball move unpredictably. The knuckleball is thrown softly, with the emphasis being on proper release, allowing for the lack of spin. Pitchers who throw the knuckleball will usually use it as their only pitch, mixing in a fastball only when necessary.
Myths and Legends
By now I’ve watched plenty of video of this pitch and I think I have an idea of what it’s supposed to be. It’s thrown like a football, so instead of having back spin or front spin, it has side spin. Basically, it sounds like a poorly thrown slider to me. If this pitch works, it’s because batters see the spin, they swing for a breaking ball, but the pitch either doesn’t move or sinks under their hands. Conclusion: it’s an intentional backup slider.
The old lob ball. It’s a gimmick that looks like something out of a slow-pitch softball game. The eephus pitch is said to be invented by Rip Sewell.