- Every pitch has three dimensions – velocity, movement and location.
- It’s important to remember that without the movement and location, velocity is meaningless
- Detailed look at different types of baseball pitches and understand why certain pitches should not be thrown until a player reaches a certain age
- Learn about the potential dangers, and recovery processes from injuries to throwing arms
Table of Contents
In the heart of a quaint town, under the warm glow of a setting sun, a young baseball player stands on the mound, his eyes alight with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. The crowd’s murmurs fade into a hush as he grips the baseball, feeling its seams against his fingertips, a reminder of countless hours of practice and dreams. This moment encapsulates the journey of every young pitcher: a journey that begins with the very first pitch they throw.
Every major league star once stood where this young pitcher stands, embarking on a unique path , demanding physical prowess and mental acuity and a deep understanding of the game’s intricate mechanics.
The lively “smack” of a catcher’s mitt receiving a fastball to the deceptive lull of a changeup, the repertoire of pitches in baseball is as diverse as it is complex. Each pitch, a masterpiece of physics and finesse, tells its own story.
The fastball, the quintessential symbol of speed and power, is often the first pitch learned, a foundation upon which young players build their skills. Yet, as they mature, their arsenal expands to include pitches like the slider and curve ball, each requiring its own unique blend of technique and timing.
The physical demands of pitching, the repetitive motion of throwing, bear a risk of injury, especially in the developing arms of young players. The importance of understanding these risks cannot be overstated. It is a delicate balance between nurturing talent and ensuring the long-term health and well-being of these young athletes. Coaches and parents play a pivotal role in this, guiding and educating young players on the proper techniques, the importance of rest, and the signs of overuse.
This article aims to shed light on the art and science of teaching young baseball players how to pitch. We will delve into the ten primary baseball pitches, exploring their mechanics, the appropriate age for their introduction, and the risks associated with each. By understanding the nuances of these pitches and the importance of gradual, age-appropriate skill development, we can guide the next generation of pitchers towards a future that is both bright and sustainable.
It’s crucial to teach young pitchers the correct way to throw baseballs early on, to correct any mechanical issues. Unaddressed flaws can become ingrained habits, potentially increasing injury risk later on.
Many young players begin exploring pitching around the ages of 8 or 9. Without guidance from a parent with high school or college baseball experience, most of them lack formal pitching training.
Pitching mechanics is a complex topic, deserving a dedicated post that will be published later. For now, I recommend an excellent resource for more information, which is one of my favorite sites: 3 Tips for Teaching Little League Pitching Mechanics – Better Pitching
Popular Baseball Pitches
This segment is a deep dive into the diverse arsenal available to pitchers, starting with the foundational four-seam fastball, known for its speed and straightforward trajectory, and progressing through more complex pitches like the deceptive slider, the gravity-defying curveball, and the subtle yet effective changeup.
- Four-seam Fastball: This pitch is the highest speed a player can throw, usually learned first due to its straightforward technique and limited movement.
- Changeup: An off-speed pitch that looks like a fastball but arrives slower, causing the batter to swing early.
- 2 Seam Fastball (Sinker): A sinking fastball with more movement than a four-seam fastball, commonly introduced at a young age.
- Curveball: Known for its downward ‘curve’ movement. It’s thrown with a specific grip and can be challenging to hit when executed correctly.
- Slider: Combines elements of a fastball and a curveball, effective in confusing hitters with its vertical movement.
- Slurve: A mix of slider and curveball, with more lateral movement. It has a unique grip and throwing action.
- Split Finger Fastball (Splitter): Appears as a fastball but sinks just before reaching the plate, deceiving the hitter.
- Cut Fastball (Cutter): Faster than a slider, it’s hard to hit due to its movement and speed variation.
In the next section, we will attempt to break down each pitch, exploring how its unique grip, release, and rotation influence its movement and effectiveness.
Age-Appropriate Baseball Pitches
This section is dedicated to understanding when young baseball players should start learning different types of pitches.
It’s crucial to align the introduction of various pitches with the players’ physical and cognitive development stages. This strategic approach helps in minimizing the risk of injury while maximizing skill development.
- Ages 8 & Under: Focus should be on basic throwing mechanics, with an emphasis on the full grip change-up and four-seam fastball with greater emphasis on general ball control. Complex pitches are not recommended at this stage.
- Ages 9-12: Players can start learning the two-seam fastball (or sinker) alongside the changeup and the four-seam fastball. These pitches are less strenuous on young arms and emphasize control and technique over speed.
- Ages 13-16: Introduction to more complex breaking pitches like the curveball and the slider can be considered. It’s important to ensure that players have developed sufficient arm strength and pitching mechanics before moving on to these pitches.
- Ages 17 and Above: More advanced pitches, including the slurve, splitter, and cutter, can be introduced. At this stage, players typically have a stronger physical foundation and a better understanding of pitching mechanics, reducing the risk of injury.
Each stage of development calls for a careful balance between nurturing skill growth and ensuring the physical safety of young players. Coaches and trainers should always prioritize the long-term well-being of their players, adapting their coaching methods to each individual’s readiness and capabilities.
MLB’s Pitch Smart Guidelines
This resource highlights the biggest risk factor for pitchers as overuse and fatigue. It notes that certain pitching mechanics change as players become fatigued and that excessive pitching can significantly increase the risk of injury.
The guidelines also discuss risks associated with throwing curveballs and sliders at a young age, indicating that while these pitches may cause more elbow or shoulder pain, they haven’t been shown to increase the risk of injury more than fastballs
Risks and Dangers of Certain Pitches
Understanding the potential physical strains and injuries associated with different types of baseball pitches is essential for coaches and players to make informed decisions about training and development.
- Changeup: Though generally considered safer, the changeup still requires proper technique to avoid placing undue stress on the shoulder and elbow, especially when young pitchers try to artificially slow down their arm speed.
- Four-Seam / Two-Seam (Sinker) Fastball: Repeated throwing at high speeds can put significant stress on the shoulder and elbow, leading to overuse injuries.
- Slider: The wrist and forearm action required to impart the necessary spin can strain the elbow, increasing the risk of ligament injuries.
- Curveball: Often debated, the wrist snap and forearm pronation involved in throwing a curveball can put younger pitchers at risk for elbow injuries, especially if their physical development is not yet complete (1)
- Slurve: Combining elements of the slider and curveball, the slurve requires complex wrist and arm movements that can be demanding on a young pitcher’s developing arm, potentially leading to overuse injuries.
- Split Finger Fastball (Splitter): The grip and wrist action in the splitter can put excessive strain on the fingers and forearm, potentially leading to tendon and muscle issues.
- Cut Fastball (Cutter): The off-center grip and release of the cutter can lead to unusual stress on the forearm and elbow, increasing the risk of strains or sprains (2)
Each pitch type, with its unique mechanics and stresses, underscores the importance of proper technique, gradual skill development, and vigilance for signs of overuse or discomfort in young pitchers.
Coaches and players should work together to ensure that pitching practices are safe, age-appropriate, and conducive to long-term arm health.
Recovery and Prevention Strategies
It is very important that we address the pivotal aspects of managing and preventing injuries in young baseball pitchers.
From emphasizing the significance of proper rest and physical therapy to advocating for the adoption of correct pitching mechanics and regular physical conditioning, this section is designed to equip coaches, parents, and young athletes with the knowledge and tools necessary to safeguard against overuse injuries, ensure optimal performance, and foster a sustainable pitching career.
- Rest: Fundamental for recovery, especially after experiencing fatigue or discomfort. Adequate rest allows the body to heal and prevents chronic injuries.
- Physical Therapy: Essential for rehabilitating injuries and strengthening vulnerable areas. Therapies often focus on shoulder and elbow strength, flexibility, and stability.
- Medication: In some cases, anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving medication may be prescribed, but this should always be under medical supervision.
- Proper Mechanics: Emphasizing correct pitching mechanics from an early age reduces undue stress on the arm.
- Pitch Count and Innings Limits: Adhering to guidelines, such as those provided by MLB’s Pitch Smart, helps prevent overuse injuries.
- Regular Breaks: Year-round pitching is discouraged. Regular off-seasons and breaks between pitching outings are crucial.
- Cross-Training: Engaging in different sports can prevent overuse and promote overall athletic development.
- Physical Conditioning: A comprehensive conditioning program that includes strength training, flexibility exercises, and core stability work is key.
- Nutrition and Hydration: Proper nutrition and staying hydrated are vital for performance and recovery.
- Monitoring and Communication: Coaches, parents, and players should be vigilant for signs of fatigue or discomfort. Open communication about how a player is feeling physically is essential.
- Education: Educating players and coaches about the risks associated with certain pitches and the importance of recovery and injury prevention is crucial.
- Warm-Up and Cool-Down Routines: Proper warm-up before pitching and cool-down exercises after games and practices are important to prepare the muscles for stress and aid in recovery.
Reflecting on my 13 years of coaching youth baseball, I’ve witnessed firsthand the eagerness of young pitchers to experiment with advanced pitches like curveballs and sliders before fully mastering the fundamentals of the fastball.
This enthusiasm, while commendable, often leads to a harsh reality: injuries that sideline them for a year or, in some cases, force them to quit pitching altogether.
My experiences underscore the crucial need for a measured, patient approach in developing young pitchers. It’s imperative to prioritize mastering the fastball for accuracy before gradually introducing more complex pitches.
This progression not only nurtures their skillset but also safeguards their physical health, ensuring they can enjoy and contribute to the game for years to come.