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The fastball is the most common type of pitch in baseball. Some "power pitchers," like Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Troy Percival, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Sam McDowell, Randy Johnson, Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, and J.J. Putz have thrown it 95-105 mph (150-160 km/h), and relied on this speed to prevent the ball from being hit. Others throw more slowly but put movement on the ball or throw it on the outside of the plate where the batter cannot easily reach it. The appearance of a faster pitch to the batter can sometimes be achieved by minimizing the batter's vision of the ball before its release. The result is known as an "exploding fastball": a pitch that seems to arrive at the plate quickly despite its low velocity. Fastballs are usually thrown with backspin, so that the Magnus effect creates an upward force on the ball, causing it to fall less rapidly than might be expected. A pitch on which this effect is most marked is often called a "rising fastball", as the ball appears to rise to the batter. Colloquially, use of the fastball is called throwing heat or putting steam on it, among many other variants.
Gripping the ball with the fingers across the wide part of the seam ("four-seam fastball") so that both the index finger and middle finger are touching two seams perpendicularly produces a straight pitch, gripping it across the narrow part ("two-seam fastball") so that both the index finger and middle finger are along a seam produces a sinking fastball, holding a two-seam fastball off-center ("cut fastball") imparts lateral movement to the fastball, and splitting the fingers along the seams ("split-finger fastball") produces a sinking action with a lateral break.
- Main article: Four-seam fastball
A four-seam fastball is a variant of the fastball.
The four-seam fastball is a pitch that is used often by the pitcher to get ahead in the count or when he needs to throw a strike. The type of fastball is intended to have minimal lateral movement, if any. It is most often the fastest pitch that a pitcher throws, with recorded top speeds in the 100+ mph range. There are two general ways to throw a four-seam fastball.
The first and most traditional way is to find the horseshoe seam area, or the area where the seams are the farthest apart. Keeping those seams parallel to the body, the pitcher places his index and middle fingers perpendicular to them with the pads on the farthest seam from him. The thumb then rests underneath the ball about in the middle of the two fingers. With this grip, the thumb will generally have no seam to rest on.
- Main article: Two-seam fastball
A two-seam fastball, sometimes called a two-seamer, tailing fastball, or sinker is another variant of the straight fastball.
The two-seam fastball is designed to have more movement than a four-seam fastball so that the batter cannot hit hard, but can be more difficult to master and control. Because of the deviation from the straight trajectory, it is sometimes called a moving fastball.
The pitcher grabs a baseball and finds the area on it where the seams are the closest together. Then, the baseball is rotated so that those seams are perpendicular to his body, with the index and middle fingers on each of those seams respectively. A sinker is a similar pitch thrown with almost the same grip, but with thumb directly underneath the ball. Sinkers are also thrown slightly slower than two-seamers.
Each finger should be touching the seam from the pads or tips to almost the ball of each finger. The thumb should rest underneath the ball in the middle of those two fingers, finding the apex of the horseshoe part of the seam. The thumb needs to rest on that seam from the side to the middle of its pad.
This ball will tend to move for the pitcher a little bit depending on velocity, arm slot angle and pressure points of the fingers. Greg Maddux of the San Diego Padres, Derek Lowe of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Pedro Martínez of the New York Mets are known for their particularly effective two-seam fastballs.
Depending on the grip and pressure applied with the fingers, sometimes the two-seam fastball features more sink than lateral movement. Sinkerballers tend to induce a lot of ground ball outs. This is because hitters tend to swing over the ball due to the late downward movement, and thus, often end up beating the ball into the ground. Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona of the Cleveland Indians, Greg Maddux of the San Diego Padres, Brad Penny and Derek Lowe of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Julian Tavarez of the Boston Red Sox, Chien-Ming Wang of the New York Yankees, Aaron Cook of the Colorado Rockies, Brandon Webb of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jon Garland of the Chicago White Sox, and Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays are well known for their sinkers, consistently ranking high in the league in ground ball-to-fly ball ratio.
The rising fastball is an effect perceived by batters, but is known to be a baseball myth. Some batters claim to have seen a "rising" fastball, which starts as a normal fastball, but as it approaches the plate it rises several inches and gains a burst of speed. Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden were often described as the paramount pitchers with this kind of ball action.
Such a pitch is known to be physically impossible, due to restrictions of gravity, conservation of momentum, and air density. It has been explained as an optical illusion. What is really happening is that the pitcher first throws a fastball at one speed, and then, using an identical arm motion, is able to throw another fastball at a higher speed. The higher speed fastball both arrives faster, and sinks less due to its high speed. In fact, the added back-spin from the higher speed further decreases the amount of sink. Thus, as the pitch is thrown the batter expects a fastball at the same speed, yet it arrives more quickly and at a higher level. The batter's eyes and brain perceive it as a fastball which has risen and increased in speed. A switch from a two-seam to a four-seam fastball can further enhance this effect.
This perception is also created by the fact that a hard-throwing pitcher, usually at least six feet tall, is throwing the ball from a higher release point on an elevated mound (the pitcher's rubber is ten inches above the field level). Factoring in the element of depth perception when the hitter watches the pitcher from sixty feet away from the pitcher's mound, and the hitter perceives the pitcher's size and positioning on the mound to be much less elevated than it actually is. Hence, to the hitter an overhand pitch will appear to be thrown at a hitter's shoulder level (or even belt level), as opposed to several inches above the hitter's head, from where the pitch is actually released from the pitcher's hand. This perception enhances the apparent "rising" motion of the fastball when the pitch passes by the hitter at a higher level than where the hitter perceived the pitch to have left the pitcher's hand.
It is possible for a rising fastball to be thrown by a submarine pitcher because of the awkward technique with which they throw the ball. Because they throw almost underhand, with their knuckles near the dirt, the batter perceives the sensation like the ball going upward because of its rarely experienced trajectory. However, this is not the traditional rising fastball batters believe they see. Left-hander Sid Fernandez was known for throwing a rising fastball from a slightly "submarine" motion.
- Main article: Cutter (baseball)
A cut fastball, or "cutter," is similar to a slider, but tends to use a four-seam grip. The pitch, essentially, shifts the grip on a four-seamer (often by slightly rotating the thumb inwards and the two top fingers to the outside) to create more spin. This usually causes the pitch to shift inwards or outwards by a few inches, less than a typical slider, and often very late. A cutter is most effective for pitchers with a strong four-seamer, since the grip and delivery looks virtually identical. The unexpected motion will fool batters into hitting the ball off-center, or missing it altogether. Mariano Rivera, a relief pitcher for the New York Yankees, has perhaps the best known cutter in baseball. Rivera can deliver extremely late motion while still throwing the ball around 95 mph. His cutter is so effective that, despite throwing only a cutter and a four-seamer, Rivera is still one of the most feared and respected relievers of all time. It is with this cutter that Rivera has a tendency to break bats, as with left-handed hitters, his cutter sharply moves toward the inside part of the bat, thereby shattering it. Al Leiter rode his cutter to 162 career wins and a no-hitter. Esteban Loaiza, currently with the Oakland Athletics, effectively used a cutter to help him win 21 games in 2003. Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays also has an effective cut fastball, but claims that overusing it has given him forearm trouble in the past. This may have prematurely ended Halladay's 2006 season due to forearm stiffness, since the grip causes more stress than a standard four-seamer. Yankee Andy Pettitte is the only other current pitcher who has had as much success throwing the cutter. On a June 3, 2007 game against the Boston Red Sox, announcer Joe Morgan estimated that of Pettite's 87 pitches, 83 of them were cutters.
- Main article: Split-finger fastball
The splitfinger fastball or "splitter," is thrown with the same arm motion as a normal fastball, but the adjusted grip causes it to behave quite differently. The ball is gripped tightly with the index and middle finger "split" along the outside of the horseshoe seam. It is also held farther back in the hand than with other pitches, though not so much that the ball touches the webbing of the fingers. A splitter will drop dramatically as it approaches the plate, and break to either the right or left. The splitfinger fastball is often most effective when it is located as a "ball"; the pitch starts in the strike zone and then falls out of it, causing batters to "chase" the pitch. The forkball is a similar pitch, though it is slower and gripped with a more exaggerated split of the fingers. The splitfinger has been used by pitchers such as Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, Roger Clemens and Chien-Ming Wang of the New York Yankees, Jose Contreras of the Chicago White Sox, Jonathan Papelbon and Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox, Jeremy Accardo of the Toronto Blue Jays, J.J. Putz of the Seattle Mariners, John Smoltz of the Atlanta Braves, Jack Morris of the Detroit Tigers, Armando Benitez of the Florida Marlins and former Angel Bryan Harvey.