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.