Browse Lessons
Assign Lesson

Help Teaching subscribers can assign lessons to their students to review online!

Assign Lesson to Students

Share/Like This Page

Baseball Pitches: The Fastball

Baseball Pitches: The Fastball

Of all the pitches thrown in the major leagues, the fastball remains the most effective at getting batters out.  Pitchers can deliver curves, change ups and spitballs all they want, but it’s the screamin’ fastball that fans cry for in the late innings of a close game.

By far, the fastest and straightest pitch is the four-seam fastball, and it is the one most often used.  The four-seamer can reach speeds of 100 mph and above.  In fact, the fastest-ever recorded pitch in Major League Baseball history was a four-seamer thrown by Aroldis Chapman at 105.1 mph (and he did it twice – in 2010 and 2016).  It should be noted, however, that when adjusted to today’s measuring standards, a rocket thrown 100.9 mph by Nolan Ryan in 1974 actually reached 108.5 mph.

The four-seamer is one of the easiest throws for a pitcher to place because of the lack of movement on the pitch. Often used to overpower hitters, the pitch is intended to get through the strike zone faster than the hitter can handle.  The batter swings and misses or, at best, makes weak contact because of a late swing.  The pitch gets its name because, upon release, the ball rotates in such a way that there are four seams rotating in the air.

To throw a four-seamer, the pitcher grips the ball with two fingers across the open space between seams and the edges of his fingers slightly over the seam. This produces the straightest plane.

One of the most frequently thrown pitches in baseball is the two-seam fastball.  It’s generally one of a pitcher's fastest pitches, second only to higher velocity four-seam fastball.  Whatever effectiveness a two-seamer loses in speed, it regains with more movement.  A two-seamer moves in the same direction as whichever arm is being used to throw it.  In other words, a right-handed pitcher gets slight movement to the right when throwing a two-seamer.

Although there are several grips used to throw two-seamers, the most common is when the pitcher puts two fingers directly on top of the part of the ball where the seams are closest together.  The two-seam fastball is especially useful for pitchers who lack the raw speed to blow a pitch by a hitter.

A cutter is a version of the fastball.  It is designed to move slightly away from the pitcher's arm-side as it reaches home plate.  A pitcher with a good cutter can break many bats.  When thrown from a right-handed pitcher to a left-handed hitter, or vice versa, a cutter will quickly move in toward a hitter's hands.  If the hitter swings, he often hits the ball on the handle of the bat, causing it to break.  The pitch’s position on the bat robs the batter of the ability to hit the ball with power.

Deception is the key to the cutter’s success.  Batters are used to facing either straight four-seam fastballs or two-seam fastballs that break toward the pitcher's arm side.  (When a pitch does not travel straight as it approaches the batter, it is said to “break.”  It will have sideways or downward motion on it.)  The fastball cutter breaks in the opposite direction of a two-seamer and does so late in its trip to the plate.  This movement is designed to prevent the batter from hitting the pitch squarely. The cut fastball was used most effectively by the famous Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera.

Another type of fastball is the splitter.  A pitcher throws a splitter by gripping the ball with his two fingers "split" on opposite sides of the ball.  This pitch, also called the “split fastball” will drop sharply as it nears home plate.  Though also referred to as "split-finger fastballs," they don't hold much in common with a typical fastball because of lower velocity. A splitter is generally only slightly faster than a changeup, but due to its deceptively slower speed and sharp drop, a splitter is designed to get the hitter's bat ahead of the pitch to induce weak contact.

The splitter evolved from the forkball, another split-fingered pitch.  The two pitches are gripped in almost the same way, the difference being a splitter is held more easily and the ball is placed toward the top of the fingers.  Splitters are also thrown with minimal wrist action, unlike the wrist-snap used for a forkball.  Hall of Fame reliever Bruce Sutter threw the splitter with regularity.

The forkball is one of the rarest pitches in baseball, known for its severe downward breaking action as it approaches home plate.  Because of the effort involved with snapping off a forkball, it can be one of the more taxing pitches to make.  To throw a forkball, a pitcher jams the baseball between his index and middle fingers before releasing the pitch with a downward snap of the wrist.

The forkball was invented by “Bullet” Joe Bush, a righty who pitched from 1912-28 primarily for the Philadelphia A’s, the Red Sox and the Yankees.  Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, winner of the Cy Young Award in both leagues, was perhaps the greatest forkball thrower.