Spin. Spot. Speed. Everyone involved in fastpitch pitching, whether as a player, parent, coach, instructor, or just interested observer loves to talk about those three attributes.
One of the most common statements you’ll see in Facebook fastpitch group discussions is something to the effect of, “Speed is good. But it’s really your ability to hit your spots and spin the ball that matters.”
In other words, don’t worry about whether you have speed. As long as you can throw movement pitches to the spots coaches call you’ll be fine.
The people who say these kinds of things remind me of this little burst of honesty from the movie “Liar, Liar:”
To me, it’s often the same with the speed discussion. “Speed isn’t that important” is usually something parents of kids who don’t have it say.
The reality is, speed is not only important on its own. It’s a door-opener to opportunities someone who doesn’t have it is less likely to get.
Take the idea of playing in college.
A college coach goes to watch a travel or high school game. The pitcher on one side is hitting her spots but doesn’t throw very hard, roughly in the mid-50s. She is getting people out primarily with weak hits, and maybe 3-4 Ks.
The pitcher on the other side is throwing gas, perhaps in the low to mid- 60s, but clearly has control trouble. Still, despite walking 6 hitters she also strikes out 10-12. Which one is the college coach going to talk to after the game?
If you guessed the girl throwing heat you’re right. The college coach will figure he/she can teach that girl to hit her spots a lot more easily than he/she can teach the other one to throw 65 mph.
The same is true at travel ball, high school, or even rec league tryouts. Coaches are generally going to pick the girl who throws the fastest with less accuracy over the one who is spot-on but has mediocre speed at best.
We really saw that at the 2021 Womens College World Series. In closeup after closeup, the camera showed “rise balls,” “drop balls,” “curve balls,” “screwballs” and whatever other variations there were being thrown with bullet/gyro spin.
That’s a ball that isn’t likely to actually move much at all horizontally or vertically, unless there is some seam-shifted wake action going on.
But those pitches, when thrown at 70 mph, were more than effective because, well, it’s just darned hard to hit a pitch going that fast no matter how much of a direct line it takes from the pitcher’s hand to wherever it ends up by the plate. Even if it’s well out of the strike zone by that time.
Here’s another reality. Take two pitchers who are struggling to get hitters out. One is hitting her spots, but the team’s opponents are crushing her in game after game.
The other is more random, but gets more Ks, swings and misses, or weaker hits because she just flat-out throws harder than the opposing hitters are used to seeing. Which one do you think the head coach is going to give more leeway to, or give more chances to prove herself?
Of course, this is about the time that people say, “But Cat Osterman…” Or baseball fanatics say “But Greg Maddux…”
Yup, I will grant you that, although neither were exactly slow. Cat in her heyday through in the low 60s, which especially at that time was only a few mph under the top speedsters. And Maddux threw around 93 early in his career, which is hardly slow.
So here’s what I’ll on that. IF your pitcher can move the ball like Cat (or Greg), she can probably be pretty successful with just spot and spin. But that’s a pretty big IF.
If not, it will probably be in her best interest to work on adding as much speed as she can, which will make everything else she does more effective.
I’m not saying she has to be Monica Abbott or Yukiko Ueno or Rachel Garcia or any of the other members of the 70 mph club. Those are rare birds.
She may never even hit 60 mph. That’s still kind of a magic number in womens fastpitch softball for a good reason – not everyone can do it, whether due to genetics, training or the desire to work at it.
What I am saying is don’t go thinking if your favorite pitcher is hitting her spots and getting some spin on the ball that the speed of her pitches doesn’t matter. It does.
Keep working at it. Put in the time in mechanics, strength, speed and agility and whatever other training you can find to help her elevate her pitch speeds to the highest level of which she’s capable.
It’s well worth the investment.