Glossary of Pitches

The variables of every pitch include at minimum: grip, wrist motion (or lack of it), arm speed, delivery (overhand, 3/4, sidearm, submarine, underhand, etc), and release. Some pitches with different variables have the same general result.

A pitcher gets his power from the extension of his leg, rotation of his hips, rotation of his shoulders, extension of his arm, snap (or rigidity) of his wrist, and his fingers -- in that order. His accuracy and resistance to injury are also closely linked to these things and this order. Height, arm length, hand size, finger length, grip strength, as well as strength and flexibility of each of body part also play an important role.

Pitches generally fall into 4 categories; fastball, breaking pitch, change up, and other. Sometimes different grips give the same effect, so terminology gets jumbled. Simply adding more pressure with one finger at release can drastically change a pitch's trajectory.

A four-seam fastball is faster than a 2-seam fastball, which is faster than a slider, and so on, as follows:

4-seam fastball > 2-seam fastball > sinker > slider > slurve > curveball > changeup > knuckleball

Physics

Before explaining the different pitches in baseball, it may be important to understand what makes a baseball move as it does. The pitcher can apply two types of forces to the ball, the velocity vector and initial spin, plus set its initial point of release. Nature then begins applying forces to it, mainly gravity from the earth and drag from the air. Spin combined with the drag (and amplified by the seams) causes the Magnus Effect, which causes a force to act on the ball perpendicular to the direction of travel. Lack of spin, combined with the seams, causes turbulence, which give the knuckler and spitter their random movement.

  1. Gravity pulls the ball down
  2. Drag slows the ball down
  3. Magnus effect causes ball to move in certain direction
  4. Turbulence causes unpredictable movement

The Magnus Effect is the most difficult to understand, but can be descibed as such here: the ball will move in the direction of spin as seen from the catcher's point of view. Four-seam fastballs do not drop as fast as other pitches because the ball is spinning upward (from the catcher's point of view), thus fighting gravity's pull. Pitches that "sink" do so because the ball is spinning downward, adding a force in the direction of that applied by gravity. Pitches that move to one side or the other do so because the ball is spinning in that direction (from the catcher's point of view).

Pitch Types

This glossary contains the 37 pitches included in the Sports Mogul pitch database. There are variations on these pitches, but all known pitches should fit in one of the following categories.

Note that all pitch description assume they are being thrown by right-handed pitchers.

Changeup (aka ‘Change’, ‘Off-Speed’, 'Straight Change')

The basic changeup is often thrown with 3 fingers on the ball (instead of the two used in a fastball grip) and with the ball set deeper into the palm of the hand. Trajectory similar to the four-seam fastball except that the ball drops more on it's path to the plate because it is in the air longer. The difference in speed between the changeup and the pitcher's fastball is meant to disrupt the batter's timing. Unlike breaking pitches, the changeup is an off-speed pitch that is generally effective against both left-handed and right-handed batters.

Circle Change

A specific change-up grip popularized in the 1990s, the pitcher forms a circle with his thumb and index finger, cradling the ball with his remaining three fingers. This allows him to use the same arm motion as with a fastball, but imparting less velocity on the ball as it rolls off his outer fingers. As this pitch rolls of the outside of the pitcher’s hand, it often includes “screwball” movement – that is, a tendency to ride in on a right-handed batter.

There is evidence that some pitchers were using this grip for their change-up as early as the 1950s, but the pitch didn’t become popularized until forty years later. Frank Viola popularized this pitch and Pedro Martinez is perhaps today's best practitioner of the pitch. Some pitches called screwballs before the 1980s may have in fact been circle changes.

Curveball (Curve, Hammer, Hook, Uncle Charlie, Yakker, Deuce, Bender, Knee Buckler)

A pitch delivered with top-spin, generally by gripping the ball with the index and middle finger on top and rotating the wrist towards the batter upon release.

Some terms related to curveballs

  • Hanging Curve: a curveball that does not break due to lack of spin; often hit for a home run.
  • Backdoor Curve: a curveball that appears to be a ball until it breaks over the plate for a strike.
  • Biting Curve: a curveball with a sharp break.
In Baseball Mogul, the term "curveball" by itself generally refers to the "modern" curveball. This pitch is commonly thrown from a "three-quarter" arm slot, and curves down and away from a right-handed batter. It is most effective against batters that bat from the same side (RHP vs RHB, LHP vs LHB). Pitches that break downward with very little sideways movement are referred to as overhand curves.

Cut Fastball (aka ‘Cutter’, ‘Tailing Fastball’)

A fastball that breaks away from right-handed batters. This is usually caused by the pitcher’s grip, which uses the index and middle fingers to put extra pressure on the outside half of the baseball as it is released.

The unequal pressure applied by fingertips generally creates sharp sideways motion. When thrown inside it can jam the hitter and even break bats. The cutter can be thrown from various grips but the "two-seam fastball" grip is most common. Mariano Rivera has made this pitch famous in recent years; his cutter is arguably the best ever thrown.

Cut fastballs are often confused with ‘hard sliders’, as the grip and motion are similar. In Baseball Mogul, the Cut Fastball falls somewhere between the Fastball and Hard Slider in terms of movement and accuracy.

Drop Ball

Often used before World War II to describe any pitch that dropped sharply as it approached the batter. This term was probably used most often to describe what is now called a "12-6" or "overhand" curve ball.

Dry Spitball

The traditional version of this pitch uses a bit of dry dirt (or another loose dry substance) applied to the fingertips to allow the ball to slip out of hand and not spin. Like the more conventional spitball, this version is banned because it relies on applying a foreign substance to the ball.

The legal version of this pitch requires that the pitcher grips the ball so that none of his fingers touch a seam. This can occasionally create an effect somewhat similar to a knuckleball (although the pitch is thrown with more velocity).

Eephus (aka "Blooper")

The "eephus pitch" was invented by Pirates pitcher Rip Sewell in 1942. In an exhibition with the Detroit Tigers, catcher Al Lopez signalled for a 3-2 changeup. Sewell threw a slow, high lob and the batter swung and missed for the strikeout. Sewell reportedly developed the Eephus in response to a war injury that changed his windup.

Modern-day pitcher Casey Fossum has a version of the Eephus that he calls the 'Fossum Flip'.

Fadeaway

The name used before World War II for a slow breaking pitch that fades away from left-handed batters. This pitch was probably a slower version of the screwball, but may have also been a variation on the circle change. Christy Matthewson is the most famous practioner of the "fade ball".

Fastball (aka 'Cheese', 'Heat')

This describes the basic version of the most common pitch in baseball. Many can throw this pitch around 100 miles-per-hour (mph), but few can control it well enough to be effective. Most pitchers throw their fastball around 88 mph. Players that throw in the mid-90s are considered hard throwers, whereas some are successful with a fastball in the mid-80s.

In Baseball Mogul, "fastball" refers to a standard "four-seam" fastball that is gripped across the seams before throwing. This creates maximum backspin, stabilizing the ball in flight and making it the easiest pitch to control. If a pitcher has multiple fastballs, or if his fastball has a notable amount of "rise" or "hop" when thrown, the pitch will be displayed in the pitcher's Scouting Report as a Rising Fastball.

Fast Knuckleball

A knuckleball thrown hard, probably about the speed of a slider, with fastball arm speed.

Forkball

The forkball is held with the index finger and middle finger spread apart in a 'V'. The grip is similar to the splitter, but held deeper in the palm with the fingers often spread even wider. This grip leads the forkball to be somewhat slower than a splitter, causing it to act both as an effective changeup and a pitch that breaks sharply down as a splitter. Joe Kerrigan was well known for his forkball and is teaching it to players today.

Fosh Change

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Frisbee (aka "Frisbee Slider")

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Gyroball

A breaking pitch thrown at about the same speed as a two-seam fastball (faster than a slider, but slower than a four-seam fastball). The pitch starts out looking like a straight change or hanging curve before making a sharp break directly away from the batter (when thrown by a right-handed pitcher to a right-handed batter).

Some scouts have used the term "pure slider" to refer to the gyroball because the late lateral break contains little or no vertical movement. It's movement is somewhat similar to the slider (away from right-handed batters). But because players are unfamiliar with the pitch, it has so far proven harder to hit than a typical slider. Without the horizontal break typical of a slider, perhaps a comparison to Mariano Rivera's cut fastball is more appropriate.

Although American coaches tend to agree that there is a continuum from 'fastball' to 'cut fastball' to 'slider' (and then on to 'slurve' and 'curve'), there is no consensus as to whether the 'gyroball' has a place on this continuum. Unlike the linear mechanics practiced by American pitchers (building momentum from the legs up through the torso and into the pitching arm and hand), the gyro ball is delivered with a circular motion that puts the pitching hand "inside" the ball upon release. Although hard to describe, many scouts agree that the gyroball (and this method of pitching) constitute a new method of delivering the ball. However at this point it's difficult to know if this pitch and it's mechanics will grow in popularity, or if it will fall out favor due to excessive arm strain or some other weakness.

As of this writing, the only professional pitcher credited with throwing the gyroball is Daisuke Matsuzaka of Japan's Seibu Lions. Matsuzaka throws his fastball in the low 90s. According to reports, his gyroball is thrown probably only a couple of miles per hour slower.

Hard Slider

A hard slider is essentially a cross between a slider and a ‘cut fastball’. See “Slider” for more detail.

In Shoot

This name was used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for a variety of pitches that moved in on the hands of a right-handed pitcher. It probably described a Running Fastball or Fade Ball.

Knuckle Curve

A variation of the Curve Ball thrown with the pinky and/or ring finger tucked in so that the knuckles rest against the ball. For some pitchers, this grip imparts more spin on the ball than the traditional Curve Ball grip. It also tends to create more lateral motion when compared with the Overhand Curve.

Knuckleball ('Knuckler', 'Butterfly', 'Flutterball')

Although it is called the 'knuckleball', most pitchers grip the ball with the finger tips of their index and middle finger. With practice, the pitcher can release the ball with minimal spin, causing the ball to break unpredictably along its path. The ideal knuckler is said to rotate once on its way to the plate. Because most knuckleballs are thrown below 80 MPH, knuckleball pitchers tend to have less arm fatigue that conventional pitchers. This fact helped pitchers like Phil Neikro and Joe Neikro play well in their 40s before retiring.

Out Shoot

(description coming soon -- to submit an entry, please send to cjd at sportsmogul dot com)

Overhand Curve (aka ’12-6 Curve’, ‘Drop Curve’, 'Overhand Drop')

A curveball that drops sharply down, ideally with no lateral movement, that is equally effective against batters from both sides of the plate. The spin is applied by snapping the wrist down very hard at release. Darryl Kile and Tom Gordon are notable modern pitchers with excellent overhand curves.

Palmball (aka '4-finger change')

The term palmball can describe several different grips. But the common denominator seems to be that the ball is held deep in the palm although pressure is still applied with the fingers. All palmballs act as changeups, and most also have some downward break.

Rising Fastball (aka ‘Four-Seam Fastball’, ‘Riser’)

The backspin on a fastball thrown with a grip “across the seams” creates a force that partly counteracts gravity’s pull on the ball. This creates an illusion for the batter than the ball is actually rising or “hopping” as it approaches the plate. This effects makes the rising fastball most effective when thrown above the belt, leading to popups or strikeouts.

Running Fastball (aka ‘Boring Fastball’, ‘Fastball with Screwball Movement’)

A variety of fastball with a tendency to break in on the hands of right-handed batters. This may be due to an intentional part of the pitcher’s grip or release, or may be a natural part of throwing motion. Greg Maddux throws this pitch effectively. Many believe that the pitch referred to in Japan as the 'Shuuto' is a variation of this pitch.

Roundhouse (aka 'Lateral Curve', 'Outcurve', 'Dipsy-Do', 'Rainbow Curve', 'Sweeping Curve')

A curveball that is normally thrown from the three-quarter arm slot. It is slower than a normal curve and has a wide, sweeping break both laterally and down.

Screwball ('Scroogie')

A breaking pitch that breaks away from left-handed batters. As this pitch has the opposite break of a roundhouse curve, it requires the pitcher to roll his fingers over the pitch on the inside of the ball (the side of the ball nearest the pitcher's head as he releases the ball). This has allegedly shortened player careers due to the unnatural arm movement. The most recent successful practitioner of the screwball was Fernando Valenzuela. Carl Hubbell and Mike Cuellar were also well-known for their screwballs.

Scuffball

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Sidearm Curve

A curveball that is thrown sidearm, causing it to curve farther away from the batter than a "modern" curveball, but with less vertical drop. Jesse Orosco is famous for this pitch.

Sinker

The Sinker is simply an extreme form of the two-seam fastball. Thrown with equal pressue on both seams, good sinkers have late downward motion. The sinker should be thrown at the bottom of stike zone to be most effective.

Sinking Change

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Slider (aka “Nickel Curve”, “‘Mr. Snappy”)

A pitch that breaks away from right-handed batters because of pressure and spin put on the outside half of the ball at release. The slider is thrown with more velocity than the curve ball, and less overall break. Depending on velocity, a pitch can fall anywhere on the continuum from ‘Fastball’ to ‘Slider’:

The Slider Continuum

Fastball » Cut Fastball » Hard Slider » Slider » Slurve

In order to achieve more break than is found with the slider, the pitcher needs to switch to a ‘Slurve’ or true ‘Curveball’ delivery. The most notable difference between a slider and curveball is that the curveball delivery includes a downward yank on the ball as it is released, in addition to the lateral spin applied by the slider grip. If the pitcher is snapping his wrist as he throws, and the movement is more downward than sideways, then he is probably throwing a curveball or slurve, and not a true “slider”.

Trivia : “Mr. Snappy” is the name Randy Johnson uses for his slider. It ranks as perhaps the best slider in the history of the game, especially against left-handed batters.

Slow Ball

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Slow Curve

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Slow Knuckler

A knuckleball thrown softly, sometimes as slow as 50-60 mph. Could be attained through slowing arm speed, dragging back foot, or grip.

Slow Spitball

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Slurve (aka “Sharp Curve”, “Short Curve”)

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Spitball (aka "Spitter")

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Splitter (aka "Split-fingered Fastball")

Thrown with the fingers spread wide (like the forkball), this pitch has a sharp downward motion. The splitter is essentially an updated version of the forkball. By throwing with a forkball grip but a fastball arm-motion and delivery, the splitter often appears to be a fastball until the very last moment. When thrown at the bottom of strike zone, the splitter often drops out of the zone with the batter swinging over it for a strike. Bruce Sutter is the pitcher most often credited with successfully pioneering this pitch in the 1970s. Pitching coach Roger Craig popularized it in the 1980s.

Two Seam Fastball

A fastball that is gripped "with the seams" (as opposed to "across the seams"). This grip means that only two seams "grab" the air as the ball travels to home plate. Compared to a standard four-seam fastball, this causes the ball to drop as it appoaches home plate. Some two-seam fastballs also have lateral movement. The two-seam fastball is a bit harder to control than a four-seam fastball, but the ball's movement makes it harder to hit and can induce ground balls.

Vulcan Change

A change-up gripped with the ball held between the ring and middle fingers. The first pitcher known to throw this type of change-up is Randy Tomlin, who pitched from 1990 to 1994 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Eric Gagne is a current pitcher who uses this grip for his change-up; many consider it to be Gagne's best pitch.