What Makes Baseball Pitches So Different?

February 3, 2016

What makes baseball pitches so different from each other? Most baseball fans know that the type of pitch depends on the grip and the release of the pitcher. It takes years for a pitcher to properly learn and perfectly execute a pitch and most pitchers end up learning 3 or 4 pitches maximum during their baseball careers.

Essentially, the difference between baseball pitches relies completely on physics. Baseballs have seams on them and combined with the grip and the release method, each pitch can result in a completely different trajectory for the ball.

Boston Red Sox Pitcher David Price, seen during his career with the Tampa Bay Rays, about to release his pitch off the mound. (Photo Credit: J. Meric)[/caption]

The most famous pitch is the fastball. Fastballs, especially 4-seamers, will generally stay in a straight line and might even give the illusion that they are rising (when in fact they are simply not dropping down as fast). The objective of the fastball is to overpower the batter with speed, ultimately causing him to swing too late and miss on hitting the ball. Some of the best pitchers in baseball record the highest speeds on radars. Top fastball pitchers in the MLB regularly reach the mid and upper 90's. One of the fastest pitches ever seen was by Aroldis Chapman as it reached 106 mph (Watch It HERE). Whether it's David Price, Justin Verlander, Josh Beckett or Fernando Rodney, the list containing fastest pitches on record is filled with elite MLB pitchers.

Baseball pitches, and their different trajectories, rely mostly on the Magnus Effect. The grip and the release are basically ways that the pitcher manipulates the ball, and its spin direction, to allow for different trajectories to happen. One exception to this rule is the Knuckleball. The Knuckleball is one of the most fascinating pitches in baseball because it is extremely unpredictable. Location heatmaps for regular pitches are fairly consistent. Fastballs are usually up and away, curveballs are low and inside, even sliders, changeups or sinkers follow a consistent pattern. Knuckleballs, however, are all over the place. Their unpredictability stems from the low number of spins. Fastballs will spin 8 times on average before reaching the plate. Good knuckleball pitches will usually do 1 - 1 1/2 spins. This affects the trajectory of the ball because the wake wave it leaves behind keeps rotating from top spin to backspin, usually resulting in an almost impossible to predict trajectory.

In addition, while fastballs will usually crack the 90s, knuckleballs are almost the opposite. Great knuckleballs will hover around 63 mph or so. The most famous knuckleballer of course, is R.A. Dickey who has revived his career after inching towards retirement by adopting the knuckleball and reaching the amazing potential he had all along, eventually wining the Cy Young Award for Best Pitcher in 2012.

Watch the video below for more information about the different baseball pitches:

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