As baseball pitchers move up to higher levels, they usually need to expand their repertoire of baseball pitches to keep quality hitters off balance. At younger levels, pitchers normally can get most hitters out with just a good fastball. Even at the highest levels, a well-located quality fastball is probably still the best pitch in the game.
But as hitters get better at adjusting to the speed of a fastball, pitchers need to work in some other quality pitches to keep them guessing. Baseball pitching grips and spins are used to create other pitch types to help keep the batter off balance.
While there have been many professional pitchers that have been successful primarily throwing just one or two types of pitches, many pitchers rely on a combination of pitches to keep hitters off-balance, limiting impact and trying to induce swinging strikes.
Pitchers use velocity, gravity, grip, spin and arm angle to create different movement patterns for the baseball.
In this article, we’ll cover a variety of different baseball pitch types, provide a definition of what they are and what they do, and review how they are typically thrown.
What are the Different Types of Pitches in Baseball?
The two main types of common pitches are fastballs and off-speed pitches. Off-speed pitches can be breaking pitches where the grip and spin applied to the ball makes the ball break instead of travel straight and true.
The fastball is the most basic pitch in baseball and is the first pitch players will learn to throw. The fastball is the fastest pitch a pitcher can throw. There are different ways to throw a fastball which can produce slightly different results depending on what you are looking to do. Below is a breakdown of each of the different types of fastballs.
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This is the basic go-to pitch for most pitchers. It’s designed for velocity and usually has very little movement. The grip involves holding the ball with the index and middle fingers across the “horseshoe” seams at the balls widest point. Fingers should be about a ½ inch apart with your thumb resting under the ball. The ball should not be gripped too tightly, more like holding an egg, and is normally thrown with an overhand swing of the arm. The fingers should roll off the ball when it’s thrown providing backspin.
A four-seam fast ball has the greatest velocity of all pitch types due to the physics of the four-seam backspin rotation being optimal for a baseball thrown through the air.
Other fastball type pitches rely on movement in addition to the fastball’s velocity to challenge hitters. A two-seam fastball pitch is similar to a four-seamer but is gripped a bit differently and is intended to provide some movement on the ball which can make it a little more difficult to control.
The grip is made along the seams, on the part of the ball where the seams come closest together. Your index and middle fingers will grip the seams while your thumb will rest under the ball. When throwing the two-seamer, more movement can be provided by gripping tighter when releasing.
A two-seam fastball will have slightly lower velocity than a standard four-seam fastball due to the physics of the less optimal two-seam backspin applied to the pitch.
One desired effect of the two-seam fastball is to jam a hitter by throwing it in on them, inducing weak contact like a foul ball or a ball of the a non-barrel part of the bat.
Cut Fastball (Cutter)
A cutter is a type of fastball. This is a pitch used more in the major leagues now and can be very effective.
The grip is similar to the four-seam grip but is placed a bit more off center. The thumb will usually come slightly up the inside of the ball and the index and middle fingers slightly to the outside. With this pitch, you are looking for some sidespin that will make the pitch move a few inches.
The ideal cutter will have late movement so it looks like a straight fastball as long as possible and then the movement causes a swing and miss or weak contact. Players refer to good cut-fastballs as buzzsaws when thrown in on them, jamming them and sometimes resulting in a broken bat.
Some pitchers can cut a fastball “both ways” meaning they can utilize different cut fastball grips depending if they want the pitches movement to be more arm-side or glove-side. This is done by moving the fingers and/or thumb to either side of the baseball, creating a spin in that direction.
Thrown well, a cutter will have similar velocity to a two-seam fastball but be slightly slower than a standard four-seam fastball.
The most famous cutter was thrown by Mariano Rivera. He primarily threw cutters and all the batters knew that but it was os hard to hit he ended up the all time saves leader and in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Sinker (Sinking Fastball)
A sinker or sinking fastball is a variety of two-seam fastball that has more lateral movement and vertical drop than a typical fastball. This effect is achieved by creating downward motion by pronating when releasing the baseball. The intention of throwing a sinker is to maintain as much fastball velocity as possible while creating downward sink or drop to induce soft contact and ground balls.
The “splitter” or “split”, formerly referred to as the forkball, is thrown with the middle and index fingers split along the seam at the widest point of the ball. Young pitcher’s hands are normally not large enough to throw this pitch. It is thrown with a fastball motion and will dive directly down if thrown correctly.
It is a difficult pitch to throw and has a reputation for causing arm injuries.
Breaking Balls and Off-Speed Pitches
A pitch that breaks with a slower speed is normally referred to as a breaking ball. It usually has sideways or downward break. Here are a few breaking balls pitchers can use.
A breaking ball that is not well executed can resulting in a pitch with little movement that stays up in the hitting zone instead of breaking with good horizontal or vertical movement. These are referred to as a hanging curveball or a hanging slider and are much easier to hit.
Different breaking balls may look the same to an average baseball fan but you know the difference if you’ve ever tried to hit good ones!
The standard curveball is probably the second pitch learned by most players. The grip usually involves the pitchers middle finger placed up against the inside of the seam or on the seam. The index finger can either be placed next to the middle finger or lifted off the ball. Pitchers will want to use the middle finger to spin the ball on release for the curve action. The top spin applied to the pitch creates downward breaking movement.
A 12-6 curveball features a nearly vertical break with the spin causing a downward motion on the baseball. A good 12-6 curveball is said to “drop off the table”.
A knuckle curve, sometimes called a spike curve is thrown with a curveball grip with one or more fingers, usually the index finger, bent so the knuckle sticks up, hence the name knuckle curve. It has no ball flight movement similarities to the knuckleball.
A sweeping curveball is a curveball thrown with a more three quarter arm slot or side arm arm slot creating more horizontal movement with the topspin.
A backdoor curve will start out of the zone and dip back over home plate at the last instant.
Clayton Kershaw’s curveball is currently one of the best curveballs in Major League Baseball.
A slider is similar to a curveball but with a horizontal movement – more of a sweeping break than the dropping break of a curveball. A good slider is one of the popular pitches to get hitters out with. The grip is similar to a two-seam fastball except held slightly off center. Grip the outer-third of the baseball and cock your wrist slightly. The slider has less break than a curveball but with a tighter spin.
A slider from a right-handed pitcher will break away from a right-handed batter. Ideally, it looks like a strike before diving low and outside the strike zone. A slider from a righty pitcher will break toward a left-handed batter.
A slider from a left-handed pitcher will break away from a left-handed batter and toward a right-handed batter.
It is easier to hit a pitch breaking towards you than away from you that is why you will commonly see pitching changes in the major leagues where they bring in a left-handed pitcher to face a lefty batter or a right-handed pitcher to face a righty batter.
A backdoor slider, similar to a backdoor curveball, will start out of the strike zone and then sweep back over home plate.
Their are a variety of change-up pitches that rely on deception, reduced-velocity and movement to trick the batter into swinging over the ball or swinging too early.
The changeup can be a make or break pitch for a lot of pitchers. It’s thrown with a fastball arm speed but the grip will slow it down and its reduced speed will make it drop more than a fastball would. It’s not necessarily a slow pitch, more of an off-speed pitch.
Some changeups are thrown choked back in their hand creating more depth of grip.
Some pitchers pronate their changeup when they release or release with their thumb pointing downward to create arm-side fade on the pitch.
Variations of Changeup Grips
The three-finger changeup, sometimes referred to as a trophy changeup, is the easiest changeup to learn to throw and an excellent changeup for young pitchers to start with. It is thrown with a similar grip to a four-seam fastball except the ring finger is placed on top of the ball instead of on the side of the ball in a four-seam grip. The added finger on top of the ball will reduce the velocity of the pitch enough to offer an alternative pitch to a four-seam fastball.
A circle changeup grip resembles the “OK” sign with the index finger and thumb forming a circle, and the top two fingers are placed across the baseball seams like a four-seamer. The two-seam changeup has the middle and ring fingers inside the two baseball seams, and throw just like a fastball. A three-finger changeup is best for young players. Throw just like a fastball, loose grip, ball a little deeper in the hand compared to the fastball.
A vulcan changeup is names because the ball is gripped with a space between the middle finger and the ring finger, resembling the vulcan salute on Star Trek. This pitch grip gives the changeup a split finger or fork ball effect with good downward movement.
A palmball is a changeup choked back into the pitcher’s grip and help primarily with the thumb, ring finger and pinky. By choking the ball back in your grip, the palmball grip reduces velocity on the pitch.
Two baseball hall of famers with effective changeups were Pedro Martinez and Trevor Hoffman.
Additional Pitch Types
A slurve is a breaking ball that’s break is in between the typical breaks of curve balls and sliders.
A knuckleball is a pitch thrown where the pitcher tries to eliminate any spin from the pitch, causing the seams of the baseball to catch in the air, making the ball flutter through the air. It is the slowest pitch and difficult to throw and control.
An eephus pitch is an extremely slow pitch thrown much higher than a regular pitch with the intention of throwing off the hitter with its unique trajectory and lack of velocity.
A spitball or spitter is an illegal pitch that is spit on or has another foreign substance applied with the intention of changing the pitches trajectory.
Tips For Pitchers Learning New Pitch Grips
It is recommended that adolescent baseball pitchers do not begin to throw breaking balls until their bodies mature and they have good pitching mechanics. It is best for young pitchers to master throwing fastballs with good command and then adding in changeups when they need to vary the velocity of their pitches.
Experiment with types of grips and different release points to master your own pitches.
As fun as it is to learn how to throw a wicked breaking ball, the best pitch for most pitchers will always be their best fastball. The four-seam fastballs superior velocity and ease of command used at different locations in the strike zone can be enough to keep a batter off-balance.
Pitches can also be varied by changing the spin rate on the baseball.
If you’re locating your pitches, … it doesn’t matter.
Leo Mazzone – former Atlanta Braves Pitching Coach
Tips for Batters Facing Different Types of Pitches
Some times you can figure out what is coming by studying the pitcher and seeing if they have any “tells” which give away the type of pitch that is coming. Common pitcher tells are changes in arm angle, release point, arm velocity and stride length.
Frequently Asked Questions About Different Baseball Pitches
What is the easiest moving pitch (breaking ball) to throw?
A curveball is typically an easier breaking ball to throw than a slider as its movement creates a more vertical break and easier to control that the sweeping break of a slider.
What are some baseball pitches that you should avoid the most that will likely ruin your arm quicker?
Breaking pitches should only be thrown by more mature pitchers who have mastered their pitching mechanics. Ideally, a breaking ball should only be taught by a pitching coach or instructor.
What is pitch movement?
Pitch movement is the break or drop of the baseball cause by gravity or the spin on the baseball.
How does a slider pitch move?
A slider moves from the arm-side of the pitcher to the glove-side of the pitcher with some drop.
Why does a fastball generally go further than a slower pitch?
The spin on a four-seam fast ball and the way the seams on the baseball are affected by the air allow the four seam fastball to travel further with less drop than any other pitch.
How does a pitcher create deception?
Generally, when talking about a pitcher creating deception, it is referring to something a pitcher does that makes it harder for the batter to pick up the ball and identify the pitch type, location and velocity. Some pitchers create this effect by keeping the ball hidden from the batter as long as possible, varying delivery speed or arm angles. The earlier the pitcher lets the hitter see the ball, the easier it is for the hitter to track the pitch and possibly even pickup the pitch grip of the pitch.
If you’d like to learn more about how pitchers can create deception, read our article called Pitchers Creating Deception:
In baseball, what does ‘tipping pitches’ mean?
Tipping pitches means the pitcher does something different when throwing certain pitcher that can be picked up by the batter before the pitch is released. This can be noticeably spinning the baseball in the glove to get the correct grip, varying arm speed, arm angle, release point or other parts of the pitching motion.
What is a brushback pitch?
A brushback pitch is a pitch thrown intentionally inside to batter with the intention of getting them to move further away from home plate. An inside pitch may be used to set up a followup pitch outside.
What are the different variations of pitches?
Different variation of pitches are usually created by changing the grip on the baseball or the balance of the baseball by moving the fingers or the thumb.
Differences Between Types of Pitches in Baseball
What is the difference between a curveball and a slider?
A curveball will have more vertical movement than a slider and less horizontal movement than a slider. This is caused by the pitcher applying topspin to the pitch on release where a pitcher throwing a slider will apply spin ore to the side of the ball. Typically a slider is thrown harder with tighter spin. A curveball is a little slower with more vertical movement.
What is the difference between a curveball and a screwball?
A curveball will have some degree of movement from the pitcher’s arm-side toward the pitchers glove side. A screwball will move in the opposite direction of a curveball.
What is the difference between a cut fastball (cutter) and a slider?
A cutter is a fastball with a modified grip that creates movement on the pitch. A slider’s movement is created by tightly spinning the ball to give it a sweeping break much greater than the movement on a cutter.
What is the difference between the two-seam fastball and a screwball?
A screwball is similar to a curveball with the opposite break. A two-seam fastball is a fast ball with a grip variation to give it some horizontal movement.
What is the difference between a two-seam fastball and a split-finger fastball (splitter)?
The desired effect of a two-seam fastball is to create horizontal movement on a fastball or run. A splitter is a fastball with more downward movement.
What is the difference between a sinker and a breaking ball?
A sinker is usually a two-seam fastball with the pitcher applying more downward movement on release. It is intended to be thrown with as much velocity as possible while maintaining that downward movement or drop. A splitter or a forkball utilizes a gap between the fingers while gripping the baseball which decreases velocity on the pitch causing a similar downward movement to a sinker but with less velocity.
A sinker is a fastball that drops more than a regular fast ball. A breaking ball is not thrown like a fastball, instead it is spun to create movement.
What is the difference between a two-seam fastball and a forkball?
Similar to a split-finger fastball (splitter), the desired movement on a forkball is downward movement
What is the difference between a sinker and a splitter or fork ball?
While all three are fastballs, a sinker grip allows for the greatest velocity because the index finger and middle finger are closer together while splitter and fork ball grips create downward movement on the pitch by creating gaps in the fingers that lessen fingers applying velocity to the pitch.
What is the difference between a changeup and a knuckleball?
A changeup is thrown with the same arm velocity as a fastball but with a grip intended to limit velocity on the pitch. A knuckleball is thrown in a way to try to eliminate all spin from the pitch causing it unpredictable movement once the seams of the baseball hit resistance in the air.
Is a changeup a breaking ball?
While some variations of a changeup do break, a changeup is considered more of an off speed pitch than a breaking ball. Breaking balls movement are created by twisting or spinning the baseball while a changeups movement is created more by grip and gravity.
Is a slider a breaking ball?
A slider is a breaking ball with a tight spin on it that causes horizontal movement.
Is a running fastball the same as a cut fastball? Does it damage your arm in any way like a curve?
Running a fastball is similar to cutting a fastball but the run on the fastball is typically cause by the position of the hand at the release of the ball. Since a fastball is not twisted when released, it is typically safer to throw than a breaking ball.
In baseball, what does it mean to pitch backwards?
Typically, most pitcher will start of an at bat with a fastball. Pitching backwards refers to a more unconventional pitch sequence which may start with a breaking ball and other pitches setting up a fastball as a strikeout pitch.
How does a baseball pitcher decide which pitch to throw?
Depending on the level of baseball, the catcher puts down a sign or signal indicating which pitch the catcher or coach wants the pitcher to throw. The pitcher can decline this pitch by shaking head “no” or “shaking off” that sign. Generally, the type of pitch selected to be thrown is decided on by a combination of what are the pitchers best pitches, the type of batter that is hitting and what they believe that batters weaknesses are, the ball and strike count, the home plate umpires strike zone, number of baserunners and their locations and the game situation overall.
In baseball what is the red dot that batters often refer to when a pitcher releases the ball?
A tight slider spin rotates the baseball in such a way that the movement of the seams creates a blurry red dot that hitters try to identify before starting their swing.
What does a fastball with run mean?
A fastball with run is usually a two-seam fastball that has horizontal movement on it that causes it to run in on or away from a hitter.
Which pitch types cause arm injury?
Breaking balls are usually cited as pitches that cause more arm injuries because of the added strain on the elbow and shoulder from applying top spin or side spin to the pitch on release. Any pitch released with backspin is similar to how a baseball is usually thrown and should not add additional risk for injury. However, and pitch thrown improperly increases the risk of injury and pitchers should train and strengthen their arms to try to avoid injury.
Learn more in our article, Monitoring Pitchers and Arm Safety:
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