Take a Lesson from the “Tortoise and the Hare” When Pitching

Like the story of the tortoise and the hare, sometimes slow is the way to go.

Pitchers can’t all throw at 70 mph.  But if we pitch with intelligence, utilizing all of the tools in our shed, we can be just as effective.

We have expressed in previous posts our belief that a well located fastball, as is the case in major league baseball, is an essential component of any pitcher’s arsenal.  Now, we would like to discuss how change ups and off speed pitches (there is a difference) can make you a much more effective pitcher.

I define a change up as any pitch that has a minimum speed differential of 8 mph (as compared to the pitch/pitches that you most often throw) without any noticeable difference in body movement, hand speed, or path of the ball.  Advanced pitchers may have differentials as great as 15 to 20 mph making it extremely difficult for a batter to adjust and make contact. Many coaches, when faced with an opposing pitcher whose change up is extraordinarily deceptive, will simply instruct their hitters to let the pitch go and hope it is out of the strike zone. This is one of the primary reasons that Fastpitch Power students are taught to throw change ups for strikes.

It should be noted here that, although certainly not the norm, a change up is not necessarily a slow pitch.  One of the most effective pitchers I have ever trained had command of two different 40 to 45 mph pitches which she would throw at any time in any count. These were her best pitches and she would sometimes throw innings where she utilized those two pitches sixty to seventy percent of the time. Just when the hitter would sit on that pitch, she would sneak in a 56 to 57 mph fastball (looking to the batter like 66 to 67 mph) and sit that hitter down. In this particular example, the 56 to 57 mph (fastball)  was actually by definition her change up.  Effectively mixing change ups, whether fast or slow, with your primary speed pitches will make you a much more dangerous pitcher.

So what is an off-speed pitch and how is it different from a change up? I define off-speed as a pitch that has a differential in velocity of between two to four mph, as compared to your most often thrown pitches.  Your off-speed pitches are almost always movement pitches (curve, screw, drop). I have purposely left out rise balls here as I believe that a rise ball is strictly a power pitch that should be thrown with enough spin and velocity to leave the hitter with as little reaction time as possible. The most effective rise balls will often be even faster than your fastball.

For your other movement pitches, speed variation is essential. You never want hitters to see the same speed pitches over and over again. It becomes too easy for a good hitter to time your pitches and take advantage of a movement pitch that fails to move. With speed variation, even a movement pitch that turns out “flat,”  will often keep a hitter off balance enough to prevent her from driving the ball.  From our perspective, well executed fastballs, rise balls, and change ups are your out pitches. Movement pitches with speed variation are primarily designed to keep the opposing hitters off balance, are often thrown out of the strike zone, and will, if thrown with command and control, “set the batter up” for your out pitch.

As pitchers, we need to be precise, we need to be deceptive, and we need to keep opposing hitters guessing; in-out; up-down; fast-slower-slowest. And, yes, sometimes SLOW is the best way to go.

As always we love to hear your comments.

About the author


Phil Schonberg is a co-founder of Fastpitch Power, inc. He teaches all aspects of fastptich softball, specializing in windmill pitching and coaches' training.

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