Deconstructing the Fastball, the Most Powerful Pitch in a Pitcher's Arsenal
The Heater, The Number One, The Cheese, Smoke, Gas.
Fastballs go by many names, but one thing is for certain, when it comes to dominating the game there's nothing quite like a powerful fastball.
In this installment of our "Deconstructing Pitches" series, we'll dive into the world of the fastball, the backbone of any pitcher's arsenal. Aspiring pitchers, whether you're a seasoned player or just starting, this blog is for you. We'll reveal our coaching secrets that professional pitchers use to throw high-velocity fastballs.
Anatomy of the Fastball: For Beginners
In Major League Baseball, it can be difficult to survive without an above-average fastball. Just ask pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Aroldis Chapman and Jordan Hicks who have made their mark with this explosive pitch.
The fastball is known for its sheer velocity and explosive force. It’s often used by pitchers when they want the ball to travel straight toward a specific location in the strike zone. Because it requires no spin or manipulation, pitchers can quickly hurl the ball with maximum force toward the strike zone. The two main goals of a fastball are to overpower hitters with speed, causing late swings and to use precise placement to secure outs.
At its core, the traditional fastball is a four-seam pitch, named for the four seams that run across the ball's circumference. This grip allows pitchers to maximize velocity and maintain better control. The goal is to reduce air resistance and create a straight, explosive path toward home plate.
Shifting Trends for the Fastball
Historically, the fastball is the primary pitch for pitchers and has been since the beginning of baseball. However, fastballs today are now being thrown less than half the time, marking a pivotal change in MLB pitching strategies. While fastballs still remain in the majority of pitches, they declined from 57.7% to 48.8% during the Statcast era (2015-present). Instead Sliders have risen in popularity, climbing from 14.7% to 22.2%. This shift in pitch selection reflects a strategic adjustment by pitchers to capitalize on other equally as effective pitches.
Tips for Throwing Nastier Fastballs
The fastball, often hailed as the backbone of a pitcher's arsenal, demands precision and control. To effectively throw this pitch, pitchers must pay attention to four essential steps:
The grip is the foundation of a successful fastball. While there are various fastball grips that allow for subtle movement to deceive hitters, young pitchers usually begin with a basic grip. In this grip, both the index and middle fingers are positioned on the top of the ball, either across or with the seams, while the thumb rests under the ball. To maximize control, the ball should be held more towards the fingertips, with pressure applied from the thumb and fingertips. See more info about fastball pitch grips below.
As you advance, making adjustments to your grip to enhance the movement on your pitch is a key ingredient to success.
Arm Angle & Movement
The key to an effective fastball lies in finding the most comfortable arm angle and delivery for the pitcher. As the most powerful pitch in a pitcher's repertoire, delivering the fastball with optimal force and control is crucial. Depending on the pitcher, they can choose from a variety of arm angles, ranging from a top-down, 12-6 motion to a three-quarters, all the way down to a sidearm or even lower angle.
Spin and Seam Orientation
To maintain a straight trajectory, the fastball requires rapid backspin. The "Magnus" force, a scientific principle, comes into play when a high-velocity fastball generates strong backspin. The spinning seams of the ball push the air downward behind the ball, creating an equal and opposite force of air that propels the ball upward. The combination of the Magnus force and gravity keeps the fastball on its intended path. Depending on which type of fastball you are attempting to throw, optimizing your vertical attack angle, tilt and seam orientation will also optimize your success with the pitch.
The magic of the fastball's backspin lies in the release of the ball. Regardless of the fastball's grip or the arm's angle, the release is the key to delivering a straight pitch. As the ball leaves the hand, it should roll off the middle and index fingertips. With ample fingertip pressure, the ball gains the necessary backspin for its characteristic speed and movement. This is why spin rate analytics have become more and more popular. A higher spin rate shows the potential for more movement.
Mastering the 4 Types of Fastballs
The fastball is a pitcher's most potent weapon, and within this pitch family, there exists a variety of fastballs, each with its unique characteristics and uses. Let's take a closer look at the different types of fastballs that pitchers employ to keep batters on their toes:
The four-seam fastball, aka the “Heater”, is the classic and most common type of fastball. Pitchers grip the ball with their index and middle fingers placed directly on the four seams, creating a stable grip for maximum velocity and control. This grip allows the pitcher to generate backspin on the ball, reducing air resistance and maintaining a straight trajectory. The four-seam fastball is known for its high velocity and vertical break, making it challenging for batters to catch up to.
Two-Seam Fastball (Sinker)
The two-seam fastball, aka the “Sinker”, is another popular variation. Some pitchers hold the ball with their index and middle fingers aligned along the seams but closer together than in the four-seam grip. This grip, combined with a slight tilt of the wrist, imparts lateral movement to the pitch. As the name suggests, the two-seam fastball tends to sink or tail away from the pitcher's throwing hand side, inducing ground balls and weak contact.
Cutter (Cut Fastball)
The cutter is a fastball with a slight cut or glove-side lateral movement, making it challenging for batters to square up. Pitchers grip the ball similarly to the four-seam fastball but apply a subtle pressure with the index finger, causing it to break slightly inside to same-handed batters or away from opposite-handed batters. The cutter can be a valuable pitch for jamming hitters and inducing weak contact.
Split-Finger Fastball (Splitter)
The splitter is an off-speed variation of the fastball with a split-finger grip. To throw the splitter, pitchers spread their index and middle fingers wide apart, creating a fork-like grip on the ball. The pitch is delivered with fastball arm speed but drops abruptly as it approaches the plate, mimicking the action of a fastball and then diving sharply downward. The splitter is a deceptive pitch that generates swings and misses due to its late movement.
Assess Your Fastball to Accelerate Your Performance with Premier Pitching Performance
From the classic four-seam "Heater" to the elusive cutter and splitter, the fastball family offers a wide array of tools to keep batters guessing. Aspiring pitchers can take inspiration from legends like Nolan Ryan and Aroldis Chapman who have made their mark with the blazing pitch. With precise grip, impeccable arm angle, backspin mastery and a smooth release, pitchers can unleash the fury of the fastball to overpower hitters or finesse their way to precision placement.
At PPP, we understand the significance of a dominant fastball in a pitcher's repertoire. Our experienced coaches are committed to helping you reach your full potential. Book a pitching assessment at our state-of-the-art facility in Wentzville, just outside of St. Louis, MO. Through a comprehensive biomechanical breakdown, we'll identify your strengths and weaknesses, guiding you on the path to becoming a top-tier pitcher.