Summer Throwing Program; A Look at Pitch Design

By Bahram Shirazi (BSEE, MBA, Co-Owner RPP)

Our Summer Throwing Program has many components, including pitch design.  For pitchers looking for more than just velo, we incorporate a Pitch Design component in the program to help improve their overall movement pattern.  The program not only teaches you the science and data analytics that go into pitch design but also how to implement it on the mound.

Every pitcher has a certain way they throw the ball. Some are over the top, some are ¾, some are side-arm guys and on and on.  Each one has a distinct ball movement pattern across his repertoire and in order to get a read we begin by preparing a pitcher’s movement profile by evaluating several metrics, including:

    • Spin Efficiency percentages – The first thing we look at is the SE% numbers across the various pitches.  It represents the percentage of a baseball’s “total” spin rate that contributes to its movement.  A higher SE% is not necessarily better.  Without getting into much detail on how Spin Efficiency is calculated, you should know that each pitch type has different ranges of SE% that would be deemed appropriate.  For example, a fastball could have SE%s approaching 95-100%, while a slider could be in the 20-35% range.
    • Differentiation and Relative Ball Movement – Next up on the list is evaluating the pitcher’s overall movement pattern, by looking for pitch differentiation.  The idea being that pitches should move differently and away from each other.  You’d be surprised how many pitchers’ 4-seams, 2-seams and even change-ups move the same way.  Here is an example of well differentiated movement pattern:

And here is one that isn’t:

    • Holes in the Movement Pattern – Pitching is difficult enough, but if you have mastered several pitches and would like to expand your arsenal there is no better way than working with pitching data and instant feedback.  Here is an example of a pattern with decent differentiation who could benefit from learning how to throw a slider (the red circle).

    • Consistency of Spin Axis by Pitch Type – Rapsodo reports provide data on an average and pitch-by-pitch basis.  Another set of data we like to review is the consistency of spin axis vs. the average (sort of a standard deviation).  As you can imagine, every thrown pitch is different from the prior.  But, with specific pitch types we look to see how well a pitcher is repeating his throw.  One way to look at this is to review the consistency of the spin axis from 4-seam to 4-seam or curveball to curveball.  A professional ball player is going to have a much higher level of consistency on his 4-seam than a high school player.  Nonetheless too much variation could imply mechanical and/or physical issues which are prohibiting the pitcher from repeating this mechanics on a consistent basis.

The general idea behind Pitch Design is to be able to create a selection of pitches that deceive batters.  Once you get past all the noise, Pitch Design is all about the “SPIN AXIS” and creating pitches which behave differently from one another and preferably move away from the norms.

Once you begin to learn how to manipulate the axis, you can begin to create separation among your pitches and more effectively tunnel pitches to deceive batters.

The movement chart above on the left represents our experience with most amateur pitchers with a 3/4 arm slot and the following are our overall suggestions to help them spread out their movement to create a larger pattern.

    • 4-seam – We generally recommend leaving the 4-seam alone. A typical pitcher has thrown that pitch so often that unless we have to, we generally recommend leaving it where it is. If the remainder of your arsenal is differentiated, you can possibly get away with a 4-seam with average movement. Having said that, get stronger, throw harder and your spin rate will likely increase. With that increase you can get more vertical lift on your 4-seam.
    • 2-seam – In order to increase the differentiation from a 4-seam, we highly recommend a sinker over a regular 2-seamer. We suggest you get as much lateral movement on that pitch as possible. Given how movement patterns shift, that will likely kill your 2-seam’s vertical lift, but the pitch should run inside on a righty batter as much as possible.
    • Change-up – Get away from the 4-seam and 2-seam, either laterally or vertically as much as possible (and obviously in velocity as well).
    • Slider – Create as much lateral movement towards glove-side as possible, like what Trevor Bauer did in 2018. If you’d like more info on this please see our article on sliders by clicking here.
    • Cutter – Create as much vertical movement as possible towards glove-side.
    • Curveball – Create as much depth as possible and get outside the norms.

In addition, when necessary we employ high speed video to evaluate ball movement and provide a visual feedback for specific pitches.  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 high speed Slo-Mo camera helps visually explain what the data is telling you and with proper coaching cues magic can begin to happen.  Here is a typical 4-seam in slo-motion:

Here is an example of a cutter with all the relevant Rapsodo data embedded into it.   Nothing gives a pitcher more input than visually observing and matching a video with the data so they can observe how specific pitch-types are supposed to behave.

 

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