Pitching a baseball is both an art and a science. This is not a tutorial on pitching mechanics; I'm not good enough to provide one. This is not canon; this is not in-depth knowledge; this is an introduction to the theory of how to strike batters out. Take it for what it's worth.

I'm going to presume that as an aspiring young pitcher (or at least someone with an interest in the subject), you know basic baseball terminology, and will understand me when I discuss a fastball, sinker, splitter, changeup, curveball, and slider in the rest of this writeup. If you don't, you probably want to read those first and come back here.

The first rule of pitching is simple: throw strikes. If you don't, the batter doesn't have to work. Since you, as a pitcher, have to work regardless, you might as well make the folks standing in the batter's box earn their living too. Don't be afraid to put the ball in the strike zone. I'll also go against the current conventional wisdom and tell you the following: All batted balls that stay in the ballpark are more or less created equal. There is not a significant difference among major league pitchers' ability to prevent hits on balls that their defense has a chance to field. This means that you shouldn't be upset at allowing batters to make contact, but you should recognize that keeping the ball out of play (through strikeouts) is the best way to improve your results on the mound.

Let's stop and examine the problem that confronts a hitter as he faces you. He needs to know where and when the ball will appear somewhere that he can make contact, and he needs to have some idea how it's spinning so that he can take advantage of that. If he can predict all of these, and the pitch is in the strike zone, he'll probably make solid contact (assuming that he has the skill necessary to take advantage of his knowledge). Logically, your goal is to deny him some part of that knowledge: where, when, or how the ball will reach the hitting zone. Now it's simply a matter of knowing how to achieve that.

Fastball: The most important weapon in your arsenal as a pitcher is your fastball. It's been said before, and it's true. The better your fastball is, the more success you will have as a pitcher. However, a "good" fastball is not necessarily one that will break 100 mph on a radar gun. Movement and control are, if anything, more important, as is the ability to change speeds. Assuming that you're not competing against hitters who have a significant disadvantage, they will be able to catch up to your fastball, no matter how hard you throw it. As long as there's some mystery about when, where, and how it will appear, even after they recognize it's a fastball, you'll be able to rely on it to get outs. The fastball is best utilized all around the edges of the strike zone. If you throw a four-seam (rising) fastball, it tends to be more effective when located up in the zone; if you prefer a two-seam (sinking) fastball, then by all means throw it low. Don't limit yourself, though; as long as it's a good fastball, you can throw it anywhere the hitter's not looking and be effective.

No matter how good your fastball is--even if you're Nolan Ryan--you'll need something that travels at a significantly different speed to keep the hitters honest if you're going to be pitching more than an inning or two. Changing speeds on the fastball helps, but an off-speed pitch of some sort will be necessary. I don't care what you use from a strategic standpoint; if you're still a teenager, I must recommend the changeup over the curveball, slider, and splitter for the purpose of reducing your chances of injury. We'll go over how to set up each of these pitches, and how to use them to make hitters look silly, in turn.

Curveball: This is the grandfather of all breaking pitches. If you have a good one, it should be significantly slower than your fastball and have a significant downward break. You set up a curveball by throwing high fastballs by the batter. They should be gearing up their bat speed to hit fastballs and looking at anything that starts up in the zone as a likely strike. In fact, they should be ready to turn on your next high fastball and knock it out of the park. You throw a curveball, it looks like a mistake right down the middle, and it bounces in the dirt as the batter swings and misses. Of course, if you have good control of your curve, you can use it to set up your fastball as well--throw a curve for strike one or strike two, and then spot a fastball a little below the top of the zone and look for a called strike three.

Slider: This is my favorite out of the breaking and off-speed pitches. There's a lot of things you can do with this pitch. Against a same-handed batter, it works much like a curve, except that your pitches should move the hitter's vision across the strike zone, rather than vertically along it. Concretely, you should throw fastballs both inside and outside, up and down, as you would ordinarily, but ensure that your sliders move up and down on the outside part of the plate. They should be borderline strikes at best under most circumstances. Against an opposite-handed batter, though, the slider truly shines. The natural place to locate it is starting over the middle of the plate and breaking inside onto the batter's hands. This will generate lots of broken bats and lots of swinging strikes. However, you can also throw the slider along the entire bottom edge of the strike zone, and you can spot it along the outside edge of the zone for a backdoor slider. The slider can be used to set up a sinker to devastating effect, as well. If you can throw backdoor sliders for strikes, then in a later at-bat, you should be able to throw a sinker that's aimed at the same spot initially. The natural movement on a sinker will make it tail away from the hitter, they will swing because you've thrown sliders to that spot for strikes, and their timing and location will be wrong.

Splitter: This pitch, when thrown right, is unfair. It's not a difficult concept: throw fastballs for strikes, and throw splitters to a zone that's shifted down by the amount that your splitter breaks. Generally, you'll want to stay in the bottom half of that zone. Lots of groundballs, lots of swinging strikes, lots of embarrassed hitters. Enjoy.

Changeup: There is more art to using this pitch correctly than all of the previous pitches put together. Its purpose is to look exactly like a fastball, only significantly slower. When hitters are expecting that, they call it batting practice. Your job is to ensure that they don't expect it. You can't be afraid to throw this pitch, but you also can't rely on it too heavily. What does this mean? Well, you have to learn how to read hitters. Did he just pull your best fastball foul? Consider a changeup to keep him honest. Is he starting to reliably make contact with your curve? Throw a changeup, low in the strike zone, and watch him take it for a strike. I can't tell you how to read the specific hitters you'll face. I can tell you that the secret to a good changeup is, moreso than with any other pitch, throwing it when the batter isn't expecting it.

The executive summary: Work fast, throw strikes, upset the hitter's timing, make him guess what you're up to, and keep the ball in the ballpark. Good luck.

Pitching a softball uses many of the same principles as pitching a baseball, but there are some key differences. In fastpitch softball, the pitcher uses a 360-degree underhand pitch known as a windmill. In most leagues, she must begin with both feet on the pitcher's plate; her right foot is in front if she is right-handed, and her left foot is in front if she is a southpaw. (For the sake of this writeup, we will assume that the pitcher is right-handed.)

She begins with the ball in her right hand and covers it with her glove. She draws the ball and glove toward her right hip, simultaneously stepping backward with her left foot. This is sometimes known as "cocking." She then draws her glove to the left and begins the windmill motion with her right hand, leaping forward on with left foot. As she leaps forward, her right arm completes the windmill and her right foot is dragged behind her, usually in a slight curve to the left. While she leaps, she "opens up" her hips so that her body faces third base. As she finishes the pitch, her hips "close" again, and she faces home plate. She should release the ball when her hand is adjacent to her hip, but her hand should "follow through" with the windmill motion, bending at the elbow until her hand is almost touching her right shoulder.

For moving pitches, you probably need to vary your grip on the ball. For me, this was a matter of trial and error. I would tell you how I ended up holding the ball, but that's next to impossible to convey in words. Like I said, trial and error.

To throw a curve ball, you simply add a slight twist of the wrist when you release. Some pitchers have a natural curve ball, much to the consternation of their catchers. I never figured out a way to get rid of my natural curve ball.

To throw a drop, you "screw" your wrist into the ground. In other words, you follow through low while twisting your wrist counter-clockwise. This will definitely make your forearm sore the first time you try it.

To throw a rise ball, you follow through high while twisting your wrist clockwise. This is one of the hardest pitches to master, but once you have a good riser in your arsenal, you'll be tough to hit.

There are many different schools of thought when it comes to the change-up. Some pitchers just slow down their pitch, but this advertises your move to the batter. My favorite was to go through the motions of a normal fastball and then stop my hand suddenly at my hip. This gave the ball a sort of rise-and-fall motion that makes it even harder to hit.

I am the only softball pitcher I know who actually used a knuckleball in games. It's hard on the hands, but it's worth it. Your thumb is extended as normal, but your four fingers grip the ball by your knuckles. The size of the softball may be prohibitive for people with small or weak hands. You throw the ball like a fastball, but your catcher had better be prepared for the ball to jump like mad.

It's worth your while to invest some money in a decent pitching coach. No two coaches will agree on everything, but you can learn something from each of them. I went through about half a dozen pitching coaches in my career. The nice thing about pitching underhand is that it's kinder on the arm that overhand, as it's a more natural, less jerky motion. Once you get your endurance up, you can theoretically pitch a whole weekend tournament on your own. The most important thing a pitcher can have, however, is a good catcher. Curves and drops and risers become a hazard if your catcher can't stop them at the plate.
As a successful baseball pitcher up to the high school level and a voracious student of the game, for the most part I am in agreement with WRW. His description of the pitches couldn't be better. But strategically, I have a bone or two to pick.

The importance of the strikeout: There are plenty of successful pitchers, major league or otherwise, who do not record a high number of strikeouts. I could toss off names such as Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux, but this guy might be the best example of all: Kirk Rueter of the San Francisco Giants. In 11 seasons, Rueter has only finished with a losing record once, and last season compiled a very respectable 14-8 record and 3.23 earned run average. Rueter also struck out 76 batters in 203 innings, an average of only 2.3 strikeouts per game. How does he do it? I have no idea, and most of the batters who hit weak grounders off of him have no idea either. My guess would be pinpoint control (only 54 walks in 2002), deceptive late motion on his assortment of off-speed slop, and two other things: Brains and composure. Back to those later.

Another reason the strikeout is overrated is the current emphasis on pitch counts. Most major league starters are removed after throwing 100-120 pitches. While the pitch count is to some extent a crutch for the manager to not have to think particularly hard about pitching changes, there are very few major league pitchers who are effective past 140 or 150 pitches. And strikeouts push the pitch counts sky-high. Even Randy Johnson has altered his pitching style to reflect this. Therefore, the pitcher's ideal outcome is a weakly batted ball in play, early in the count-- in most situations. With the bases loaded and none out, you'll want strikeouts. In a double play situation, you'll want a ground ball hit hard to the middle infield. Brains and composure come back into the equation again-- the pitcher must recognize what he wants out of each situation, and throw the pitch most likely to achieve it.

An example of the lack of brains and composure would be the New York Mets closer, Armando Benitez. Benitez throws a fastball close to 100 mph, and complements it with a devastating splitter. But his fastball runs a little too straight, and he also melts down, time and again, in critical situations. There are many big-league closers who were better as eighth-inning pitchers, where there's a lot less pressure. Physically, Benitez is nearly a perfect specimen as a pitcher, but in the clutch, Kirk Rueter gets it done, and Armando doesn't.

Most successful major-league starters seem to throw three-to-five pitches. Relievers usually have two or three, and some guys can get by on basically one pitch, for example John Franco's forkball (a less drastic splitter). Franco is another interesting example. Despite a fastball that hasn't reached 90 mph in years, Franco has saved some 422 major-league games. He almost never throws a strike, either. Franco, like Maddux or Glavine or Fernando Valenzuela, specializes in pitches that appear to be strikes. Franco's forkball seems to be headed for the outside corner at the knees, then ends up two feet off the corner at the shoetops. It looks soft and slow and crushable, but Franco makes a lot of hitters look foolish with it. And the pitch is almost never a strike.

In conclusion, my two bits of pitching advice are these:

1-- Brains and composure. There are plenty of guys with tremendous "stuff" who can't get out the other team's best hitter with the tying run on base. There are plenty of guys who throw junkballs who can.

2-- Be left-handed. Most of the examples I've used are left-handed pitchers. It's like being seven feet tall in pro basketball-- if you aren't completely hopeless, some team will want you.

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