Pitching speeds and reality

Saw a game last night where a 12 (or probably 13 by now) was clocking speeds in the high 50s, and even a couple of 60s. This was on my own Jugs radar gun, which I keep tuned. The batteries were dying so there’s a chance it might’ve been off, or I might’ve had it pointed at the bat instead of the pitch, but it seemed like it was correct.

That’s pretty amazing, at least to me. I don’t even see many older kids throwing the ball that hard. When I mentioned it to another coach he asked me how a kid that young gets to throw that hard. My answer, based on what I saw, was she picked her parents well.

I didn’t see a lot of extraordinary technique. She seemed to rely mostly on her arm rather than getting her legs into it or attacking the pitch. But she was still zipping the ball. My guess is a lot of it is just raw ability, enhanced by good, solid mechanics that allow the ability to do its thing.

That got me thinking, though. People will bring their daughters to a pitching coach with expectation that the coach will have some magic that gets her to 60, or 65, mph. But there are more factors than just mechanics involved.

To understand, let’s think of another athletic skill in softball — running. Some kids are just naturally faster than others. A big, plodding kid who runs 60 feet in 3.8 seconds is never going to improve that speed to 2.8, no matter how many coaches she sees or how hard she works. Running a 2.8 is pretty extraordinary, which is why it’s valued. If you don’t have the DNA to begin with, you’re not going to get there. The kid who’s running 3.8 can improve on that score and get fast-er. Through maturity, hard work, effort, improved mechanics, etc. she might be able to get to 3.3. But that’s not 2.8. There’s a huge difference.

The same goes for pitchers. Some will never hit 60 mph, because they simply lack the physical capacity to do so. They aren’t strong enough, or they don’t have enough fast twitch muscles, to get there. There are things they can do to improve their pitching speed, but at some point they will have maxed out what their bodies can do. If that wasn’t true, elite pitchers would be throwing 90 mph because they keep working on technique and strength training.

Everyone has a point they can’t get beyond. The reality is it’s lower for some than for others. The good news is pitchers can still be very effective even if they’re not throwing in the 60s if they get good movement, change speeds, and mix their pitches well. And once the hitters catch up to the speed, the 12 year old who throws 60, if she doesn’t keep working to improve her technique and develop other pitches, may very well find herself playing a different position, wondering what happened.

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on June 26, 2008, in Coaching, Pitching. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi Ken,I believe there is natural ability or freakish talent that some individuals have makes them excel faster than others their same age, size etc…With pitchers, it is amazing to me when I hear things such as…. this girl should be a pitcher because she is tall or this girl should not be a pitcher because she is short…Really, I think anyone, any size can learn to pitch. But, there will be those ones that just have natural ability! (The ones we love to see because they simply pick up the motion like they have been doing it for years!) I am a firm believer in fingers being one of the most important factors of speed and movement. I know we use the term wrist snap, but I believe the wrist snap occurs because of our fingers actions. We don’t snap then release, but rather use our fingers to resist against the ball and spin the ball which in turn works in coordination with our wrist. When some girls hear wrist snap, I have seen some not use their fingers but instead are under the ball and release after the wrist snap…. up up and away!!Great articles here and blogs!! Thanks for all the info!

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  2. Heather, I agree that pretty much anyone who is willing can be taught to pitch. Doesn’t mean they’ll all become D1 stars, but but they can certainly become successful in their local league, high school ball, travel ball, etc.I’ve never given the fingers much thought for speed. I tend to think they’re more important for movement. But you’re right about the wrist. The main thing it has going for it is speed and flexibility, not power. If it is allowed to snap quickly, rather than forced to snap slowly, it can give a speed boost. Pitchers who try to force the wrist snap actually lose speed. Thanks for your thoughts, and keep ’em coming.

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