Wesley, asked “What are the three most important pitches a young pitcher should work on developing”
This is a terrific question. First, it is important to note that each pitcher must have a solid base in her technique before even thinking about learning pitches! If she has a fundamental flaw in her technique, it can be difficult to achieve the correct spin or movement in a pitch. For example, if a pitcher commonly throws with her weight forward on her front foot at release, she will have a problem throwing a rise ball in the future due to the proper body position required to get a good upward movement on the pitch.
Assuming a pitcher has a pretty good base with no major flaws, you can break each pitch down into a few areas: Body Position, Hand Position, and Spin. Mastering each of these three areas will give the best opportunity for the pitch to move. These three areas work hand in hand: your body must be in the correct position for your hand to fall in the correct position, and the spin cannot be in the right direction unless your hand is in the correct position. By beginning your focus on the body position, you can gradually work in the hand position and the spin to reduce the amount of bad habits created when learning the new pitch.
With these three areas in mind, the following are the three pitches that a young pitcher should develop:
Why? Change-Ups can be your most dangerous weapon as a pitcher simply because of the change of speeds. Change-Ups should be somewhere between 12 and 15 miles per hour slower than a fastball. A good change-up can keep a batter off balance enough to prevent a solid hit. It can also make a fastball look quicker if speed is not a strong point.
Developing a Good Change-Up:
Figure 1. Wrist Movement Descriptions
Body Position: The body position should be the same on your change-up as your fastball. This is the only pitch were this is the case. Hand Position: Hand position is the most important part of this pitch. No matter what change-up grip, the common requirement is to ensure that your hand does not snap with the same wrist snap as your fastball. A proper wrist snap for a fastball is from an extension to flexion movement (shown in Figure 1). A change-up should be released along an ulnar deviation to radial deviation movement (a circle change, for example), or opposite a fastball-a flexion to extension movement (like a backhand or flip change). Once the hand is placed in a position to use either of these wrist movements, the pitcher must work to reduce the “push” forward. In other words, speed should be reduced by stopping the arm at release, not slowing the arm circle throughout the delivery.
Spin: A change-up can have many different spins. The key is to have a quick backspin on the ball. The quicker the backspin, the slower the pitch, assuming your hand position is correct. The spin is not necessarily a determining factor of a good change-up; rather, the hand position and ability to stop the arm at release will give you your most effective change.
Why? The release on a curve ball is often the most natural release for a pitcher and therefore one of the easier pitches to learn. As the pitcher begins to tweak their basic technique, it can be easier to focus on a pitch that may come more naturally.
Developing a good Curve Ball:
Body Position: Body Position is one of the most important parts of a curve. The momentum of the body should drive exactly opposite the direction of the pitch. For a right handed pitcher, a curve should spin away from a right handed batter. Therefore, the pitcher should drive her body momentum directly to the inside corner (to a righty batter). This is commonly referred to as crossing over. Be careful not to overdo it—the drive to the inside corner should be subtle, around 6 inches from your power line.
Hand position: A curve spin should spin with directly from the right to the left for a right-handed pitcher. Therefore, your hand has to be in a position to achieve this spin. If you were to draw a line slicing the ball in half (top to bottom), the pads of your fingers should lie along the cross-section (See Figure 2). Your thumb should touch the same cross-section on the opposite side of the ball.
Once this grip is established, your hand should be positioned below the ball so that the palm of the hand is facing directly upward. In order to maintain this hand position, the pitcher should lead with their pinky finger and elbow with the rest of their hand trailing behind the pitch. From this position, a proper spin can be created.
Spin: The spin of this pitch comes almost completely from the push on the fingers, not the snap of the wrist. Your pinky and ring fingers should push against the ball first across the ball in the direction of the spin (see spin direction in figure 2), followed by your middle finger and index finger. Your thumb should support on the opposite side of the ball and push against the ball in the same direction as the rest of your fingers.
3. Drop Ball
Why? Once you master the ability to feel your hand position in a more natural pitch such as the curve, one of the best things a pitcher can do is develop a pitch that changes the planes of the strike zone. Pitches like a curve and a screw ball stay on the same horizontal plane. Therefore, a good batter can still make contact if she swings along that same plane. By creating vertical movement in either a rise ball or drop ball, a pitcher can increase her ability to get a batter to swing and miss, thus increasing her strikeout percentage. It is my personal preference to teach a drop ball first because the increased stress on the elbow from a rise ball is not always appropriate for a young pitcher.
Body Position: This is the only pitch where it is permitted to get your body weight forward on your front foot. The goal is to place your body in a position that will support the direction of the ball in a downward position. Therefore, when the pitcher begins to drive forward, she can begin to bring her shoulders a bit more forward than she typically would on a fastball, landing harder on the front foot.
Hand Position: Whether you choose to throw a peel drop or a turnover drop, it is imperative that your hand position is directly behind the ball (see figure 3). If a pitcher has proper fastball technique, her hand will be in this position already.
Spin: The spin, along with body position, is the most important part of this pitch. Often pitchers with good technique may see a slight drop on their fastball (often referred to as a “heavy fastball”). The drop movement on the ball can be improved by increasing the revolutions per second (RPS) on the ball, which often comes from a “curl” in the fingers. In other words, the pitcher should pull upward on the ball with her fingers without pushing the ball forward. Her ability to do this will increase the spin.
No matter what pitch a pitcher may choose to develop, it is important to stress the correct habits. Make sure you are taking pitching lessons from a qualified pitching instructor that has a good track record for teaching as well as personal success either in college or at a higher level. Learning the wrong spin can have lasting effects on how good the pitch may be in the future. Enforce the right habits from the beginning and you will be on your way to success!
| Jennie Ritter is an American former All-American right-handed softball pitcher from Dexter, Michigan. She is a Women's College Series National Champion withe Michigan Wolverines, whom she played for from 2003-2006.
Jennie played on the USA National Team for 3 years. She also played in Japan.
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