Pitchers are magicians with baseballs. Each pitch type has its own unique qualities as well as a unique grip on the baseball. Let’s take a look at the different types of baseball pitches, what each pitch does, and how to throw each pitch.
Many of the best pitchers in the world will know several different types of pitches but only have mastered two or three. It is far more beneficial to be a master of two to three different pitches than to be mediocre at five or six. Pitches and how to throw them are covered below.
The four-seam fastball is the basic fastball also known as a four-seamer or a cross-seamer. It is the most common pitch in the game. The four-seam fastball is also the fastest pitch in baseball. It averages between 85 to 100 mph in the big leagues. This pitch is straight and hard. It is the hardest pitch of the fastballs.
Fastball Pitch Grip
The baseball is held so that the index and middle finger are placed across the top of the laces or seams of the ball and the “horseshoe” seam is positioned away from the pitcher. The thumb is placed on the bottom of the ball directly underneath the gap between the middle and index fingers.
A four-seam fastball is thrown with backspin, which keeps the ball straight. A baseball that is spinning in this way will resist the pull of gravity for a longer period of time.
Justin Verlander, 96mph Four Seam Fastball (grip/release/spin axis). pic.twitter.com/EhEuBTuuDA
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 11, 2018
Two-Seam Fastball / Sinker
The two-seam fastball, also known a sinker, is a modified version of the four-seam fastball with a different grip. The two-seamer is held at the seams rather than across the ball. It is slightly slower than the four-seam fastball with an average speed between 80 to 90 mph and has a downward arc rather than traveling straight.
When thrown, the four-seamer and the two-seamer look remarkably similar, they are hard and fast, but the biggest difference is in the way they move.
Two-Seam Fastball Pitch Grip
The two-seam fastball is different from the four-seamer because it is held with the index and middle fingers going with the seams to the horseshoe. When this pitch is thrown it has two seams cutting through the air, which creates more run and downward movement, but it is a bit slower than the four-seam.
Cut Fastball / Cutter
The cutter is another type of fastball that is different from the two and four-seam fastballs in the direction it moves. Cutters make a horizontal ‘cutting’ movement. From a right-handed pitcher the ball will cut from right to left and from a lefty, the ball cuts left to right. The cutter also moves slower than the four-seam fastball with an average speed between 85 to 95 mph.
Cut Fastball Pitch Grip
To start with a cut fastball, hold the baseball in your hand like a four-seamer or a two-seamer (there are various grip options), but then move both fingers slightly off-center towards the seams. You’ll want to throw this pitch exactly like a fastball so it has the same rotation, but the cutting action takes place in the last foot and cuts in towards a right-handed batter as a lefty pitcher and vice versa for a righty.
Max Scherzer describing his Cutter grip and release.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) January 27, 2018
Split-Finger Fastball / Splitter
The splitter is considered by some to be the most devastating pitch in all of baseball. The splitter is known for late, sharp movement where the balls suddenly breaks downward before reaching the plate. Straight off the pitcher’s arm it looks like a fastball traveling between 80 and 90 mph, but the ball drops once it reaches the plate. This extreme movement makes this pitch unpredictable for batters and often results in a swing-and-miss.
Split-Finger Fastball Pitch Grip
The grip is like a two-seam fastball but with the fingers split on opposite sides of the laces.
The forkball is like a splitter but with a less dramatic movement. The downward movement of a forkball is more gradual. It is the slowest of the fastballs traveling between 75 and 85 mph. Because of the torque involved in throwing a forkball it is quite taxing on pitchers and is one of the rarest pitches in baseball.
Forkball Pitch Grip
The forkball grip is like that of the splitter but held deeper in the hand and often with the fingers farther apart. On release, the pitcher will snap the ball downward.
Ben McDonald explaining his split grip/Forkball vs Mize’s Splitter/Split Change. pic.twitter.com/5ZuxI7tlW5
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 25, 2018
Who does not love watching a good curveball? When pitched perfectly, it is easily one of the most aesthetically pleasing pitches to watch. This breaking pitch has more movement than just about any other pitch. When a pitcher tunnels a curveball correctly after throwing the fastball, a batter may be expecting a fastball and will usually swinging over the top of the curveball. The curveball is one of the most thrown pitches throughout the history of baseball.
The 12 to 6 curveball gets its name from the 12 and the 6 on the clock. The curveball generally moves in a North to South direction or from 12 to 6 on a clock.
The 12-6 curveball is one of the slowest pitches in baseball. It is usually thrown about 15 or more mph slower than a fastball, averaging between 70 and 80 mph. A curveball will have dramatic downward movement and should be thrown low in the strike zone. A properly thrown curveball creates topspin that results in the late dropping action.
12-6 Curveball Pitch Grip
To throw a curveball, position the baseball in your in the palm of your hand so that the seams are parallel with your middle finger and your index finger is placed on the leather right next to the middle finger. The thumb is placed on the opposite side of the ball. Some major league pitchers have a variation of this grip where they will keep the index finger pointed and not touching the ball.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) December 26, 2015
Knuckle-Curve Pitch Grip
A knuckle curveball is like a curveball with a different grip. There are different variations of this grip. The first involves curling or tucking the index finger completely in and resting the knuckle against the ball. The second version is referred to as the “spike” grip. The spike grip is the more common variant where the index finger is not fully curled and instead of resting the knuckle on the ball, the point of the index finger is resting against the ball.
The eephus is the rarest pitch in major league baseball. It is a slowball with an extremely high arc. The slow speed of this pitch means gravity takes effect very quickly and creates the glorious arc of the eephus. Imagine the eephus like a pitching lob, it looks like an underhanded slow softball pitch, but it is thrown overhand with a baseball.
Throwing an eephus pitch is not easy because many pitchers have trouble slowing their arm and body down enough to throw an eephus properly. The same goes for hitters. An eephus pitch is easy to recognize because of its high arc but harder to hit.
There is not a standard grip for the eephus. Some pitchers may hold the ball just like a curveball, others will rest three fingers across the top of the ball, and others will hold it with all fingers gripping the ball like a changeup but not as deep in the hand.
Pitching Ninja considers Greinke’s eephus pitch a slow curve.
Greinke Slow Curve release. pic.twitter.com/CHIop4gCM4
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 1, 2019
The slider is another type of breaking pitch that is usually thrown faster and with less overall movement than a curveball. Slider pitches average between 80 and 90 mph. With a slider, the ball has spin that more closely resembles a fastball making it a bit more deceptive than a curveball.
Slider Pitch Grip
The slider grip is held with the fingers between the inner seam. The middle finger is directly on or touching the seam while the index finger is on the leather. The thumb is placed on the opposite side of the ball, just off-center. Both the index and the middle finger are used at release to create the movement required for a proper slider pitch. The ball is not fully tucked into the palm of the hand as it is with the curveball.
Bob Gibson’s Slider grip pic.twitter.com/axzuQOvMcV
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) November 8, 2019
A slurve pitch provides solid horizontal movement. This pitch is somewhere between a slider and a curveball hence the name, slurve. Instead of traveling from 12 to 6 on a clock, a slurve will travel 11 to 5 or 10 to 4.
Slurve Pitch Grip
To throw a slurve, the ball is generally held like a four-seam fastball but with the fingers closer together. The middle finger should be placed on the right seam or just outside of the right seam. The index finger rests beside the middle finger so that the two are touching. The thumb will go on the left seam of the opposite side of your middle and index fingers. The thumb should be straight and not bent.
The screwball is like a reverse curveball and is sometimes referred to as a reverse curveball. It moves in the opposite direction of a slurve. Instead of moving from 11 to 5, a screwball will move from 1 to 7 on the face of a clock. Historically, the screwball has not been an effective pitch. This pitch is also very taxing on the pitcher and is rare in today’s game.
One unique fact about the screwball is the way the pitcher’s arm turns towards the outside upon release of the ball. This movement is what creates the “reverse” curve.
Screwball Pitch Grip
Because a true screwball is not a common pitch in today’s game, there are several different versions of the grip. A pitcher may use a two-seamer grip, a circle change grip or something in between and pronate upon release of the ball.
Jharel Cotton, Changeup/Screwball Grip/Release/Spin. Scratchreel. pic.twitter.com/3lW6PCIZQ4
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 11, 2017
The average changeup is 70-85 mph making it one of the slowest pitches in baseball. It is slower than a fastball but is supposed to have the same spin. The primary goal of a changeup is to deceive the batter. It looks like a fastball but usually 10 or more mph slower than a fastball. A well thrown changeup causes the batter to swing before the ball arrives. A changeup will usually result in a swing-and-miss or weak contact with the ball.
Traditional Changeup Pitch Grip
With the most common changeup grip, the ball rests between all the fingers. The middle and ringer fingers are placed on top of the ball. The pointer and pinky fingers rest on the left and right side of the ball. The thumb is bent towards the pointer finger. The ball rests deeper in the hand and is thrown with a near-identical motion to that of a fastball creating the intended deception.
Sixto Sánchez’s Changeup grip and his release slowed down.
Of all of Sixto’s filthy and overpowering stuff, this is what he calls his best pitch. And I’m not arguing…which is why he’s #1 in the Top 5.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 29, 2020
Palmball Pitch Grip
The palmball is just like the changeup but with a different grip. The palmball is sometimes referred to as a four-finger changeup. The fingers are usually placed just like a changeup but with the ball deep in the palm of your hand. Just like the changeup, the ball is thrown just like that of a fastball.
Circle Changeup Pitch Grip
To grip the ball for a circle changeup, your index and thumb fingers will make a circle or an “OK” hand gesture on the side of the baseball. The ball is then centered between your middle, ring, and pinky fingers. The baseball should be tucked against the circle made by the thumb and index fingers. Like the other changeup variations, the ball is thrown like a fastball.
How to Identify Pitches
Both the pitcher and the batter need to know the different types of pitches and what they look like. A batter can increase their quality of contact by learning each pitch type, how the pitch is thrown, and what the pitch looks like.
When it comes to identifying pitches, you need to watch for three main things:
- Speed or Velocity – the speed the baseball is traveling
- Movement or Trajectory – the path or direction the ball is traveling from pitcher to batter
- Break – an abrupt shift in the direction the ball is traveling
Other things that may help you identify a pitch type include the rotation of the baseball, the point of release from the pitcher, and the grip of the ball.
How to Pitch a Baseball
There are five basic steps to properly pitch a baseball that are outlined below:
- Set-up – standing properly on the mound with your feet, glove, and chin all properly positioned
- Grip – finding the proper grip on the baseball for the type of pitch being thrown
- Wind up – facing the batter, taking a small step, bringing your knee up and drawing your arm back
- Release – letting go of the ball at the proper height and with the proper movement for the type of pitch being thrown
- Follow-through – maintaining control of the leg and body after release
In this brief overview, we have covered 14 different types of baseball pitches and how to throw them. Hopefully, this reference is helpful for understanding what types of pitches exist, what each one is used for, and how each is thrown.