By Mike Lembo (BS, RPP Pitching Coordinator)
Having observed hundreds of pitchers on our Rapsodo Pitching camera during the past several years, it’s fair to say that there are a few tendencies that most high school and collegiate pitchers exhibit. While every pitcher is different with their skillset, we generally tend to observe similar opportunities for improvement in pitch movement.
In this first of three articles…
We are going to review how the pitch movement between the 4-seam, 2-seam, and changeup generally tend to be within the same range. This common issue causes the same amount of horizontal and vertical break between these three pitches.
Often when younger athletes are taught how to throw different pitches, there is an assumption that grip alone creates a different pitch movement pattern. Unfortunately, new technology has shown that there is more to creating movement than grip alone. Without adjusting the wrist, hand and / or release position there is a limited amount that simple grip change can do.
The chart below is a movement chart for a 4S, 2S and CH for a pitcher at our facility. As you can see the movement patterns for all three are very similar. This pitcher might think he has 3 different pitches here, but in reality, he only has one (perhaps one and a half since the change-up has a lower velocity).
Here are the specific metrics for the same three pitches from the chart above:
Vertical and Horizontal Breaks are within 1 inch from each other, while their spin directions (axes) are less than 10 minutes apart. One could argue that the change-up has substantially different velocity and therefore represents a different pitch. Nonetheless, we would prefer a differentiated pitch movement pattern. If you can throw a change-up slower and have it move differently, why wouldn’t you!
Below is high speed video at the point of release for these pitches from the Rapsodo Insight Camera. Observe each pitch individually and compare how they are coming off the fingertips. You can see the similarities relatively quickly (4S, 2S and Change-up left to right).
When looking at the photos below at the point of release, you can see how the wrist and fingers are all generally at the same position. When this pitcher releases the ball, unfortunately the spin direction will be relatively the same for each pitch.
Before we discuss how to address these issues, first let’s have a frame of reference. Said differently, what degree of differentiation is appropriate?
Luckily, Rapsodo has posted average MLB data for each pitch type. Not everyone is an MLB pitcher and there is obviously differentiation even among major leaguers. Nonetheless, the information is extremely helpful because you can evaluate on average what leads to success on the mound.
The blue boxes below highlight MLB averages for spin direction (axis) and Horizontal and Vertical Break for these 3 pitch types.
The spin direction continues to increase as the pitch changes from the fastball to 2S and to a CH. Consequently, MLB pitchers are able to create substantial additional Vertical and Horizontal Breaks, as much as 5-6 inches from pitch to pitch. Pitch movement differentiation is huge part of success on the mound.
Now, let’s talk about the FIXES!!
The fix generally begins with adjusting spin direction. We first want to establish a spin direction with the 4-seam fastball that the athlete can consistently replicate. We can then work off this spin direction to determine where the other pitches should land on the movement chart.
In order to do that, we want to control what the middle finger and the wrist are doing on each pitch. Essentially, we are trying to create more tilt on each pitch away from our 4-seam fastball by altering how the ball leaves the middle fingertip and how we set the wrist. Because the middle finger is the dominant finger on a large majority of pitches, it has a lot of influence on how spin is generated and how the ball rotates. If we place the focus on how the ball spins off the middle finger and set up the wrist in a positive position to allow spin, we can generally get the result we are looking for. This approach applies to both the 2-seam and changeup.
Pitchers who successfully manipulate spin can effectively begin to differentiate their pitches.
4S vs. 2S – At least 30 minutes of separation between the 4-seam and 2-seam. This is a great starting point for these two pitches. Progressing past 30 min on Rapsodo’s clock allows for even greater sink and horizontal break for a 2-seam.
4S vs. CH – An hour of separation between the 4-seam and the changeup. This will also put us in a great starting point to create sink and horizontal break away from the fastball.
From these starting points, we then try to manipulate the wrist and middle finger to see how far we can push the spin direction, without changing the arm slot.
Can high school and collegiate pitchers replicate these same metrics? Absolutely! Most can do it if they learn how to manipulate spin direction values. As spin direction increases from 12:30 to 2:30-3:00, the amount of horizontal and vertical movements can change dramatically, and the pitch becomes much better when compared to the fastball.
The following chart is an example of how one of our high school pitchers was able to manipulate spin direction on a 4-seam, 2-seam, and changeup. These three pitches are in the top right quadrant and you can see how each is separate from each other, indicating a change in spin direction, and vertical and horizontal movements.
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