Sometimes in sports, all it takes is brute force to overpower your opponent. Sure skill is important, but if you’re bigger and stronger than everyone else, then how much do you really need to worry about technique?
In baseball it seems pretty obvious that the faster a pitcher can throw a ball, the harder it will be to hit, but what makes a fastball so effective? These are the secrets to throwing a great fastball, and it’s not all about how strong you are!
The first thing you’re going to need to focus on is your grip on the ball. You’ll be pitching it shortly, but if you aren’t holding the baseball correctly, there’s a good chance your fastballs are going to go astray. There are two main types of grip used by MLB pitchers when throwing a fastball, they are; 2-seam and 4-seam.
Experienced pitchers can switch between them both depending on what they’re looking for from their fastball. A 2-seam fastball is thought to be more comfortable to throw, easier to command, and comes with some movement toward the pitching side of the plate. Pitchers opting for the 4-seam technique can expect to throw the ball much faster, but at the cost of comfort as it can feel awkward in your hand.
To pitch the 4-seam grip, you must start with your middle and index fingers across the baseball seam where they form a horseshoe shape. Your ring and pinky finger want to be pretty close together while your thumb is resting right below the ball. It’s called the 4-seam grip because all four seams are rotating while the ball is rotating through the air. This is what generates the greater velocity when pitched as the entire ball is rotating.
The 2-seam grip makes throwing the baseball feel more comfortable, but only two of the seams are rotating when thrown. Your fingers will be in the same positions as the 4-seam, except that your index and middle finger will be placed on the ball where the seams are close together. It can be a little unfamiliar at first because most pitchers are taught the 4-seam grip when learning to throw, but there’s plenty of movement once you get it right.
The windup and lunge
One of the most important parts of your entire fastball pitch will be how you wind up and lunge. The majority of the power from your pitch should come from your steps rather than power generated from your arm and shoulders. By lunging toward the plate, you’re going to be adding momentum to the ball, adding the precious speed you need to make your pitch unhittable.
Baseball mounds are elevated for a reason, so that the pitcher has momentum when stepping to toward the plate. All you need to do is practice hitting a spot on the ground with your stepping foot to ensure you aren’t overreaching. Once you’ve nailed this technique, your pitches will start increasing in speed.
Focus on the target
You need to keep your eyes on the prize when pitching a fastball, otherwise you’ll throw hard, but not accurately. To perfect your ‘command,’ you need to throw a lot of baseballs at a target. Point your stepping foot toward either the inside or outside of the plate to make your pitches head in those directions.
Now you’re going to need to throw a lot of balls, and visualize each one going exactly where you want. Once you get a ball to hit the spot you were looking at, remember that muscle memory and continue to repeat the techniques you used. This is something that pitchers in MLB still struggle with, so patience is key to succeeding here.
It’s important not to stop your pitch once you’ve released the ball, and you’ll need to follow through. Imagine your fastball pitch like a golf shot, when the club strikes the ball the club continues on its trajectory until the swing is complete. You pitch is just like a golf shot, and the sooner you stop your movement, the more accuracy and speed you’re going to lose.
When throwing a fastball, your pitching hand should end up near the hip on the opposite side of your body, and if your arm stops before then, you’re losing speed. Try following the natural movement of where your arm wants to go once you’ve released the ball. Throw with your legs and your core.
There is one thing you can do which will help you throw faster that doesn’t involve technique, but does involve a lot of sweating. Getting stronger is always going to help you throw your pitches faster, and we’ve got some areas in the gym you can work on to speed up your throws. For arm strength exercises, you should focus on building up your triceps and forearms.
An exercise that helps the forearms and wrists grow in strength is reverse bell curls, and tricep extensions are always a great shout. The rotator cuff is going to be important in generating the spin from your arm, so shoulder flexions are key to building up strength in that area. Finally, work your core muscles as much as possible as they help with balance and all-around strength when throwing.
If you’re looking to throw fire like Jordan Hicks, Nolan Ryan, or Randy Johnson then give these tips a go. Strength is important when pitching, but these techniques can help to increase your overall velocity.