The Best Pitches for Youth Baseball Pitchers to Throw
Coming up as a pitcher, you’ve heard in your early years all about pitching to corners, developing the proper arm circle, and maintaining balance throughout the throwing motion. Now that you look the part, you’re ready to learn the pitches that baffle batters without the added stress to the elbow and shoulder.
What follows is an in-depth review of 5 pitches: three versions of the fastball and two types of changeups. What about the curveball, slider and splitter you may ask? These are all great pitches, but throwing these pitches before high school is both risky and counterproductive to development.
Most doctors and athletic trainers believe that young pitchers should wait until they finish puberty. Again, the concern is over damage to growth plates. Many coaches recommend that a pitcher waits until at least eighth grade before learning a curve or slider. When the pitcher reaches puberty or enters the eighth grade, he can start to learn the pitch from a trained pitching instructor or coach and practice the pitch in a controlled bullpen environment.
Throwing the breaking pitch in a game can wait until the pitch is mastered (correct spin and elbow placement). It should also be noted that several high school pitchers have advanced to play Division I baseball, even professional baseball, with just throwing a fastball, changeup and cut fastball.
There really is no ‘safe’ curveball. Even if the pitcher is taught a breaking pitch, which “puts minimal strain on the arm,” he is likely to try to get more action – when in the heat of competition – by twisting his wrist or throwing from a harmful arm slot. The risk of damaging the arm is not worth the reward of winning a league championship or an All-Star game.
Young pitchers do need more than just a fastball to be successful. To keep hitters off-balance, a pitcher must throw an unpredictable mix of fastballs and changeups. The ability to throw either pitch, in any count, will get results at the youth level. Developing the fastball and changeup exclusively is the best progression for a young pitcher before learning how to throw an “out pitch” such as the curveball, slider or splitter. As the saying goes, “You must learn to crawl before you walk,” and a curveball or slider is like a sprint.
The “express”, “heater”, “smoke” – all words are commonly used for the fastball. Just as there are many nicknames for the fastball, there are multiple grips that a pitcher can use to vary velocity and movement.
The four-seam grip results in the fastest and straightest pitch. The four-seam grip comes off the fingers with a 6-to-12 o’clock rotation. When the pitch is thrown correctly (index and middle finger stay centered at release) there are four seams spinning toward the plate. The consistent rotation helps the pitch maintain its flight path, thus the ball stays straight.
Best Times to Use:
* Blowing the heat by a hitter (he was late on your two-seam fastball)
* Throwing the ball up in the zone (0-2 waste pitch under the hands)
* When you are struggling to throw a strike
* All position players on every throw
The two-seam fastball gets the most movement with a slight sacrifice in velocity. When the ball is gripped “”with the seams””, only two seams cut through the air as the ball travels toward the plate. The pitch moves slightly down and in (righty vs. righty) due to the ball rotation after release.
Best Times to Use:
* The sinking action of the pitch induces more ground balls (double-play situations)
* The hitter was ahead of your four-seam fastball
* You just threw a fastball up in the zone (to change the hitter’s focus/eye level)
TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE, INCLUDING AN IN-DEPTH REVIEW OF:
* Cut Fastball
* Straight Changeup
* Circle Change
This article is an excerpt taken from the September/October 2011 issue of Junior Baseball.