Baseball is a sport characterised by the duel between batter and pitcher and the thrower’s biggest weapon is the range of different pitches he has at his disposal.
The fastball is a pitcher’s go-to and is split into two categories, the two-seam and the four-seam.
A four-seam is designed to be thrown for velocity and typically does not have that much movement on it. The hardest throwers in baseball can hit speeds of over 100mph. The typical reaction time at that pace for a batter to hit it is 200 milliseconds or around two blinks of an eye. Years of practice are required to be able to keep up with such a delivery.
The two-seam fastball uses a slightly different grip to its four-seam relative and as a result will spin more, often producing late movement, though it may lack in velocity somewhat as a result.
Around 55% of pitches were fastballs as recently as 2015 but pitchers have started to vary their approaches more in recent years and use more of their off-speed stuff.
Changeups are an integral part of a pitcher’s repertoire, it is thrown to look like a fastball but arrives much slower to the plate to throw the batter’s timing off.
A changeup is thrown from the back of the hand rather than the front so it seems to a batter as though it is a fastball but is typically coming in at around 10mph slower.
This effect makes it a useful pitch to disrupt a batter’s swing. A changeup does not typically move dramatically, unlike breaking balls.
The curveball is probably the most well known of the family of off-speed pitches known as breaking balls.
Breaking balls are designed to move sidewards or downwards to confuse a batter. A curveball will typically move downwards, with a 12-6 curveball named as it travels in the direction of those two respective times on a clock.
Sliders are a breaking ball which tails across and down through the hitting zone. It is known as a slider as this movement makes it appear as though it is sliding away from a right handed hitter.
A slider is typically a quicker speed than a curveball but not as fast as a fastball.
While almost all pitches in a player’s arsenal have various different grips associated with them to produce a certain type of spin, a rare and difficult type of pitch aims to add no spin at all.
The knuckleball is known as such as it is typically thrown with the knuckles rather than the fingers touching the ball last so that the ball doesn’t spin as it leaves the hand.
The knuckle then moves erratically and unpredictably towards the batter making it one of the hardest types of pitches to hit.
However it is also one of the hardest pitches to control and consistently throw, so is rarely seen.
The last full time proponent of the knuckleball to get success was R A Dickey, who won the Cy Young award for best National League pitcher in 2012. He and Steven Wright have been the only two players to use the pitch regularly in recent years and both are now retired.