How many pitches should a fastpitch pitcher have?
I know the title sounds like a tongue twister (how much wood can a woodchuck chuck), but the question of how many pitches a fastpitch pitcher should have is an important one. Mostly because it determines how pitchers will be spending their valuable practice time.
The “old school” approach is that a pitcher only needs three pitches – drop, changeup and riseball. And that approach has served many pitchers well for a lot of years.
That may be outdated thinking, however. Over the weekend I again was one of the supporting instructors at the Indiana United Fastpitch Elite clinic, which was led by Rick and Sarah Pauly. On Friday night, Rick presented a PowerPoint talking about the overall mechanics of pitching, and then took questions both during and after the presentation.
One of the questions, from my friend Mike Borelli, was how many pitches should a pitcher have. Rick turned to Sarah, the winningest pitcher in National Pro Fastpitch history, and asked her how many she had.
Her reply wasn’t three. It was seven. As I recall she named drop, change, rise, two curves, backdoor curve and a screwball.
Rick and Sarah then went on to talk about how with today’s hitters you need to have more weapons.
Think about why that is. In the old days in women’s fastpitch, the ball was white, with white seams, and pitchers even at the international level stood 40 feet away. Pitchers put in way more time learning their craft in the off-season than hitters did. That might have been a good thing because what most people were teaching about hitting was pretty bad. Hitters are smarter, too, spending more time studying pitchers and looking for patterns. Also, there is no doubt today’s bats are much hotter than those back in the day.
You put all that together and having more than three ways to attack a hitter starts to make sense. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I have quite a bit of confirmation bias in this way of thinking because I’ve been saying it for years.)
If all you have is three pitches, even if they’re great ones, you become more predictable. And predictability is deadly. Just ask any pitcher who has a coach who likes to favor certain pitches. It’s a lot easier to dig in and hit if you know what’s coming.
Now, no doubt some of your pitches will be better than others. No doubt you will throw them more than others. But if that’s all you throw, it’s easier to prepare to hit against you. Throwing in something a little different, even now and then, keeps hitters off balance and uncomfortable, which is the key to great pitching.
It was great to hear this philosophy confirmed by someone who has been around the women’s game, and played the men’s game, for a long time. If you’ve been restricting yourself/your daughter/your students to three pitches, you might want to give this a little thought. Perhaps it’s time to add a new pitch.
Posted on January 9, 2017, in Instruction, Pitching and tagged fastpitch softball, Indiana United Fastpitch Elite, pitch selection, pitching strategies, Rick Pauly, Sarah Pauly. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.
I agree that the more “tools” one has in their toolbox the better…. However, I’m also of the mindset that they need to almost master a specific pitch before moving onto others.
Stay focused with absolute attention to details when pitching specific spins. Never be satisfied and remember that good enough is never good enough.
As far as aquiring new pitches, I’d like to propose my philosophy. I’m guilty of teaching 3 primary pitches. (Rise, Drop, and Change up) However, it has a twist. Our drop is manipulated by specific finger pressure to alter the balls spin axis. (Like a cutter in baseball) This will create a drop curve or a drop screw action… ball moves on 2 planes.
The rise is similar. Throw a rise with a curve ball release or a screw ball release…. again the axis will tilt, and your result will be a ball moving on 2 planes.
With this approach you will effectively have 7 pitches.
Rise, scrise, curise, drop, crop, scrop, and change up….. Thanks, Coach James
Thanks for the comments, Coach James. You bring up a good point that I forgot to make. Having multiple pitches means really having them, i.e. a drop that drops suddenly, not just angles down, or a curve that truly breaks rather than just angles over. We’ve all see the pitchers who claim to have 9 pitches but really only have a fastball with 9 different grips.
I like your idea about introducing a little east-west movement in your north-south pitches too. I personally don’t spend a lot of time on that, but if a pitcher can use finger pressure to get the ball to do something different it can be very effective. So can other tricks, like rolling the ball off the edge of a finger instead of directly off the fingertips.
The other thing that’s important to me is that every pitch has a purpose. Maybe its only purpose is to set up something else, or keep a hitter from sitting on your go-to pitch, but it needs a purpose. That’s the difference between throwing and pitching!