The fastball is one of the most important pitches in baseball. It’s a fast pitch that is thrown with speed and accuracy. If you want to be a successful pitcher, you need to know how to throw this pitch. In this tutorial, we will teach you how to throw a fastball like a pro. We will also provide some tips on how to improve your pitching skills. So, if you are ready to learn how to throw a fastball, keep reading!
- The fastball is the primary pitch for a pitcher and has been since the beginning of baseball.
- A fastball is a pitch that travels straight toward a specific location in the strike zone. It gets its name from early pitcher James Creighton, who exploited a rule to throw it with more speed than other pitchers at the time.
- The key to throwing a successful fastball is spin movement. The ball should be released from the hand so it rolls off the middle and index fingers with enough pressure to create a backspin.
- Fastballs are hard to hit because they require hitters to swing at locations rather than follow
Meet the fastball
The fastball pitch is the primary weapon a pitcher has. The pitch goes by many names, such as the heater, the number one, smoke, and sometimes it is even called “the cheese.” There are a lot of terms for one pitch, but the history of the fastball goes back to the beginning of baseball itself.
Many have debated who threw the hardest fastball of all time, but everyone can agree that a dominant fastball gives a pitcher a long and successful career if they stay healthy.
What is a fastball?
A fastball is a pitch used by pitchers when they want the ball to travel straight toward a specific location in the strike zone.
The fastball is the fastest pitch in a pitcher’s arsenal because no spin or other manipulation needs to be done with the ball. A pitcher can simply grab the ball and throw it toward the strike zone as hard as they can. The two main goals of a fastball are to overpower hitters by throwing the ball so fast that they swing late or to place the ball in a specific location to get a hitter out.
Why is it called a fastball?
Before the founding of professional baseball in 1871, baseball historians credited amateur pitcher James Creighton around 1860 with throwing a “fast ball.” At that time, pitchers only tossed the ball underhanded with no speed to encourage hitters to swing so fielders could get them out. But Creighton found a way to exploit the rules and began throwing the ball in a straight line with a lot of speed.
Hitters did not know what to do with it, so they refused to swing, leading to the strike zone’s invention in the 1860s. Hitters of the time claimed his pitch was “something entirely new… a low, swift delivery,” as stated by Pete O’Brien, who was a star player at the time.
Throwing a fastball: The 4 steps
The fastball has several grips that allow for slight movement to confuse hitters. But most young pitchers learn the same fastball grip. In a basic grip, both the index and middle fingers are on the top of the ball, either across the seams or with them, and the thumb is under the ball. The ball should be held more towards the fingertips with pressure applied from the thumb and fingertips on the ball.
2. Arm Angle & Movement
When pitchers throw a fastball, the arm angle and motion should be most comfortable for them. The reason behind this is that the fastball is the hardest pitch they throw, so pitchers need to deliver it at an angle that produces the most power and control for them. Fastballs can be thrown in a top-down, 12-6 motion, three-quarters, all the way down to the sidearm, or even lower.
3. Spin Movement
The fastball requires a fast backspin to stay straight. With a high velocity and strong backspin, the ball is subject to what science calls the “Magnus” force. The spinning seams of the ball push the air downward behind the ball, which in turn creates an equal, opposite force of air that pushes the ball upward. It is the Magnus force combined with gravity that makes the fastball travel straight.
The backspin needed for the fastball comes from the release of the ball. No matter the fastball’s grip or the arm’s angle, the release is the key to a straight pitch. As the ball releases from the hand, it should roll off the middle and index fingertips, and with enough fingertip pressure, the ball will have enough backspin.
In the video below, you will see Hall of Fame pitcher and all-time MLB strikeout king Nolan Ryan explain how he grips and delivers his fastball. His fastball was a primary reason he struck out 5,714 hitters in his career.
When to throw a fastball
If a pitcher has an overpowering fastball that hitters have a hard time with, then those pitchers are usually used as closers, meaning they only come in with the intent of getting a few outs at the end of a game. Because closing pitchers do not throw many pitches in a game, they are more likely to throw fastballs clocked at 98 mph or above, with many throwing over 100 mph on a regular basis.
For starting pitchers, the fastball sets up other pitches. If a starting pitcher has a strong fastball, they will throw it regularly during the game. But, if they do not have a lot of velocities, then they need precision placement. For example, Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux had a fastball that only averaged 86 mph, but he was highly successful because he could throw the pitch to any location he wanted.
How does a fastball move?
A fastball is intended to move in a straight line. Because of the easy grip and the spin, fielders use the very same grip pitchers do, so their throws go straight as well. The standard grip of the fastball can be changed to bring slight movement to a pitch, but the primary intention of the fastball is to be a straight pitch that either a hitter cannot catch up to or in a location that a hitter will not be able to reach.
Why is a fastball hard to hit?
A fastball is hard to hit because of its velocity. Hitters only have a quarter of a second to react to a major league pitch, but the harder a pitcher throws, that time gets shorter. A hard fastball forces hitters to swing at a location rather than follow the ball closely. This strategy works for some hitters, but the pitcher wins that matchup most of the time because hitters must guess where the ball will enter the strike zone.
There are a few things that coaches teach young pitchers to do to make their fastballs go faster. One well-known safe tip is to use the body’s rotation during the windup motion to generate more power. Body rotation plays a significant part in transferring the power from the legs to the upper body before the pitch is released.
During the windup, the pitcher turns their belly button sideways, then spins back in a 90-degree rotation to face the batter again as the ball is released. The spin from the torso will generate a few extra mph on the fastball.
In the video compilation below, pay close attention to how each pitcher winds up, delivers, and follows through. Even though they have different styles, their fastball mechanics are what make them so successful.
Who invented the fastball?
While no single person is credited with inventing the fastball, baseball historians credit James Creighton, who played for the Brooklyn Excelsiors from 1860-1862, as the first to throw a fastball. Unfortunately, many agree that Creighton’s poor fastball mechanics gave him a ruptured abdominal hernia that ended up taking his life at age 21.
Who had the fastest fastball?
Because pitch speeds were not universally recorded until 2008, fastballs before that were measured with various tools, including handheld radar guns and even speeding motorcycles back in the 1940s. But, since pitches have been recorded, Aroldis Chapman (then with the Cincinnati Reds) threw a fastball recorded at 105.8 mph in 2011.
However, in 1974, when he was with the Anaheim Angels, Nolan Ryan threw a fastball that was timed at 108.1 mph. That pitch was measured by a doppler laser radar reading, which was common at the time. Even though that technology isn’t as accurate as what we have now, it was still a big step forward.
How many ways are there to grip a fastball?
The most common grips for a fastball are called the 4-seamer and 2-seamer, which refers to the pitcher gripping the ball across the seams or with them. See 4 seam vs 2 seam fastball to learn more about the difference.
Aside from those two grips, fastballs can be gripped on the smooth part of the ball with the cutter, “cut fastball,” or the split-finger fastball. If the grip is strong and the delivery mechanics are solid, then the fastball will travel where it is intended to go.
Power pitchers and the awe they create
Power pitchers with hard fastballs are fan favorites in baseball. The awe from the hissing sound of the ball traveling through the air so quickly and then hitting the catcher’s glove with a pop that fills the sound of a 60,000-seat stadium is something to behold.
Now that you know how to throw a fastball, let’s take a look at other types of pitches!
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