Pitch Development and Design… Fastballs – Part 2

By Bahram Shirazi (BSEE, MBA, Co-Owner RPP)
By Robbie Aviles (RHP Cleveland Indians, Pitching Lab Coach)

In Part of 2 of this series on Pitch Development and Design (click here for Part 1), we’re going to review how we incorporate new tech into evaluating ball movement and help our pitchers improve and further develop their overall delivery (in this case the fastball).  Not long ago, coaches would basically rely on the naked eye to evaluate pitchers.  With Rapsodo and commercially cost effective super slo-mo cameras, it’s now obvious that the eyes only tell part of the story.

For eons, pitching has been evaluated in terms of mechanics.  By aggregating data on pitchers and visually observing a pitcher up close with a high-speed camera, you can now reach quantitative and visual conclusions relatively quickly.  It’s almost like taking your car to the mechanic for a new inspection sticker, but now instead of just checking the engine in 15 minutes you can check everything in regards to the point of release instantly with pretty much 100% certainty.

You can say many positive things about the new tech, but one thing is for sure.  When it comes to pitch development and design, it gives you a pretty clear picture of what’s happening at the “Point of Release”.  While there have been a few articles written on data analytics and spin-rate recently, this article takes it one step further.  Our focus is the end result at the strike zone, the ball movement.  And you are going to read about pitch differentiation.  So, with that said, let’s talk some 4-seam and 2-seam fastball…

Fastball Development and Design

In pitching, everything comes off the fastball and establishing it should be the first thing every pitcher does. It is necessary to establish it early, and make sure that all secondary pitches work away from the fastball and result in different breaks and movement (preferably both horizontally and vertically).

4-Seam – Every pitch is unique.  But the most amazing thing about data is that it doesn’t matter who throws the ball.  Whether it’s a major leaguer or a high school pitcher, at a given velo, spin-efficiency and spin-axis the ball will break a certain way.  Period and end of story.  The following movement chart depicts a few pitches in the 86-89 mph range, with somewhat similar axes and true (useful) spin rates.

The 4-seam fastball is your foundation, so you must get it right.  You can see above how a properly thrown fastball (from righty to righty) is generally up and in.  Here is a quick summary of what we like, and don’t like, to see in a 4-seam:

What we like to see:

    • A spin efficiency over 75% (preferably 80%+)
    • Movement to be arm-side
    • No specific spin axis (because pitchers use different arm slots)
    • Relatively consistent spin axis from pitch-to-pitch
    • Good command around the zone
    • Hardest pitch in your arsenal

What we don’t like to see:

    • Spin efficiency under 75%
    • Getting the “cut action” or glove-side movement
    • Movement too close to the gyroball
    • Somewhat inconsistent spin-axis from pitch-to-pitch
    • Somewhat inconsistent spin-efficiency from pitch-to-pitch (the more inconsistent the spin-axis and spin-efficiency, the more inconsistent the break.  This in turn implies less overall command of the pitch)

Pitchers may think that their fastball is just their fastball.  This may be true to a certain extent but there are always things we can improve, especially as it relates to ball movement.

An extreme example is a pitcher with a fastball in what we call the GYRO-Zone.  We had one this year in one of our programs.  In this instance, with spin efficiency south of 30% on his fastball, the problem was both velo and lack of movement.  After a couple of sessions of working on his grip / release with real-time feedback, the pitcher gained an average of 4-6 mph. The cut on his fastball was reduced, and with improved spin efficiency his velo and movement both improved.  This is an extreme example, but without the data we would have never known the extent of his issues.

2-Seam / Sinker – After the 4-seam, the 2-seam fastball/sinker is the next pitch we would want to develop, and it must be different from the 4-seam.  The 2-seam should have a slightly more tilted axis than a 4-seam (due to the grip) which allows it to fade further in and lower into a righty batter from a righty pitcher.  It’s just pure physics, the tilt and the corresponding Magnus Force will direct the ball in that manner.

If your 2-seam isn’t properly differentiated by its movement vs. your 4-seam, then one of the two pitches isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do.  Generally, a 2-seam should be lower in velo by about 1-4 mph vs. the 4-seam. Anything more than that we are getting to close to change-up territory. We realize that not every kid in high school throws a 2-seam but we are big believers in how effective and easy it is to have one.  Here is a quick summary of what we like, and don’t like to see in a 2-seam:

What we like to see:

    • Pitch is generally 1-4 mph slower than the pitcher’s 4-seam
    • More horizontal and less vertical movement compared to 4-seam
    • More tilt on spin-axis vs. 4-seam
    • Prefer to have more vertical drop than horizontal, but all movement is good
    • Relatively consistent spin axis from pitch-to-pitch
    • Needs to have a different “break path” and/or speed than our 4-seam

What we don’t like to see:

    • A 2-seam that too closely resembles the 4-seam (in terms of movement)
    • Path that stays straight, or cut action on it
    • A spin efficiency and spin rate that is significantly lower than pitcher’s 4-seam

Analyzing data is the best way to evaluate the discrepancies by pitch type.  Everything moves so quickly that without data you’re just guessing.  Below is summary on three different 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs.  Please note commentary at the bottom of each column.

The beauty of all of this data is the real-time instruction we can provide to make little adjustments in grip and corresponding axis and delivery.  The combination of info and coaching cues should ultimately lead to the better movement on any given pitch.

Whether working to improve an existing pitch or developing a new one, trial and error is everything with pitch development and being able to see not only the data but the high speed imagery is equally important.  A super high speed Slo-Mo camera helps visually explain what the data is telling you and with proper coaching cues magic can begin to happen.

(Fastball Point of Release – Slo Mo)

Click here for the remainder of our pitch design articles

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