Splitter (Split-Fingered Fastball) - Am I Understanding It?

I have come across several discussions in the past month that say that the split-fingered fastball is a dangerous pitch; that throwing it will increase the risk that you will injure yourself.

Given how I understand how the ball is thrown, I don’t see how this is possible, which makes me wonder whether I’m understanding it correctly.

As I understand it, a split-fingered fastball is gripped between the index and middle fingers and is thrown with pretty much a fastball motion (e.g. no twisting of the wrist or forearm). The grip causes the ball to leave the fingers with almost as much velocity but less spin than a fastball. This lack of spin causes the ball to “drop” near the end of its flight.

If this is truly how it’s thrown, then I can’t see how this could cause any problems (other than possibly due to a stretching of the ligaments between the index and middle fingers).

Am I understanding this right?

My split-finger grip has the fingers spread just outside of the seams(but not split as wide as the fork ball). They start at the narrowest area between the seams and spread out to the wide part of the horseshoe (The fingertips are almost at the closed end of the horsehoe).

I throw it the same way as a regular FB (no twisting of the wrist or forearm) and it (when thrown properly) looks like one until the last few feet where it breaks in a downward motion.

For a pitcher just learning, it can take a while to master (obviously the longer the fingers, the easier it is to grip) and requires a lot of BP before bringing it into a game.

Never having had a problem with any of our high school pitchers who’ve used it (and never experiencing any problems when I’ve thrown it myself), I also don’t see the danger in throwing it.


Split your index and middle fingers as wide as possible. Notice the tension you feel in your forearm when you do it. I believe that is the casue for concern regarding the splitty and elbow problems.

I can do this without feeling anything in my forearm (even thought I have small-ish hands and shorter fingers). I just feel tension in my fingers and knuckles.

Maybe that is why I don’t understand the concern.

[quote=“Chris O’Leary”]As I understand it, a split-fingered fastball is gripped between the index and middle fingers and is thrown with pretty much a fastball motion (e.g. no twisting of the wrist or forearm). The grip causes the ball to leave the fingers with almost as much velocity but less spin than a fastball. This lack of spin causes the ball to “drop” near the end of its flight.

A true split-finger fastball (as opposed to a forkball or split-seam fastball) acts much like a slider, though generally thrown closer to fastball velocity. The circle of friction created on the front, pitching-arm side of the ball causes it to move down or down and away. Because the pitch ultimately leaves the middle finger last it tends to spin similarly to a slider, but with forward rotation, and just like a slider causes the wrist to supinate and ulnar flex (a prescription for lateral elbow trouble).

I used to throw the splitter, but I stopped because I was told that it does alot of damage.
When you extend your fingers your also extending a muscle in your forearm (your fingers are controlled by muscles in your forearm). That same muscle also extends when you release the ball on ANY pitch, for eg. Fastball, Curveball etc.
So if you think about it, if that muscle is already extended because you’ve split your fingers apart, imagine what it will do when you release the ball and extend that muscle even more. Sooner or later that muscle is going to tear.
And also the arm action for a splitter is different (that ive been taught). The splitter follows the normal fastball motion but just before releasing the ball you SNAP your arm down creating more movement on the ball. This can also lead to problems and both of those reasons are why I stopped throwing it.

Tom House says that to throw a splitter correctly, you need to make sure your thumb stays centered below the two split fingers. He claims that allowing the thumb to creep up the side of the ball towards the index finger leads to twisting of the wrist and forearm and that is what makes the splitter hard on the arm. He talks about this in his video on throwing change-ups.

House does lots of motion analysis so I’d guess his claims are based on the hours and hours of video he’s analyzed.

Hey chris,

I throw a fastball, curve and splitty!

1stly the grip:
i hold the splitty sorta like a 2 seamer i keep the middle finger on the 2 seamer seam and the index finger i spread a little further towards my thumb, and the thumb is under the index finger (if you drew a line down the ball)…when you are penning try splitting your fingers different amounts apart and see what works best!

Throwing it:
Get the grip that you like and throw it EXACTLY like a FASTBALL, you wana throw this pitch low in the zone so that it will drop out of it

The ball will look like a fastball to the hitter but comes out slower and about 3-6ft before the plate the ball will drop quite sharply and will tail as well, deoending on where you put your thumb will depend on the movement or tail of the ball.

i use this pitch as my changeup

personally i cant see how this could effect your arm.

a true split is where the pitcher has the ball sitting inbetween the index and middle finger, this will cause your forearm to flex before you have pitched which may cause elbow ot ligament damage later in life or if you havnt warmed up properly. <-this can hurt your arm

hope this helps!

I think this is a misconception because it doesn’t make sense anatomically.

it makes perfect sense when you think about it.

when you throw a fastball your arm is relaxed then it suddenly tenses when you throw the ball. When you throw a full split or knuckle your arm is tensed before you throw so when you throw your arm wants to tense further. in some cases the muscle can actually rip off the bone.

The splitter, or split-finger fastball as it’s often called, is actually a first cousin to the forkball—now there is a really dangerous pitch, no matter how you slice it. You grip the forkball between the index and middle fingers, I mean REALLY spread them that wide, and it makes for a lot of tension in the wrist and arm, which could easily lead to injury. The grip for the splitter is much less extreme; you spread those same fingers so they’re just off the seams, and that makes it easier, though not without some risk. The forkball is a true changeup, whereas the splitter can be thrown almost as fast as the fastball or slower if you relax the grip somewhat.
Jim Brosnan, who was a very good relief pitcher for Cincinnati, had a very good forkball which he used in the second half of the 1961 season. Big paw, long fingers. Jose Contreras, who was with several teams including the Yankees, threw both the forkball and the splitter. There have been a few others, but they’re pretty much the exceptions. Unless you have the requisite King Kong-size paw and long fingers, best to avoid those two pitches—there’s other stuff you can use. 8)

I have never understood the concern myself, from the standpoint of a split being thrown the way you described it. But here’s the problem. ASMI says there’s no greater danger in throwing curves than FBs, using the same kind of fundamental understanding. As long as the pitch is executed using narrow parameters, there’s no problem.

The problem is, not everyone throws all spits exactly the same, any more than they throw all curve balls exactly the same. All it takes is a minute change to have the pitch go from a benign pitch that helps a pitcher, to a malignant thing that will eventually ravage a pitcher’s arm somehow.

What’s difficult, is to find people who can tell the difference! Sadly though, in many instances the result is all that’s looked at. If the result is good, no one really cares about any dangers that might exist.

There was a time when my boy was around 15, that he suddenly began having issues in his forearm. After he’d thrown for a while, he began to have pain in his forearm, and the only way to relieve it was to throw different pitches. Luckily we had a friend who was an ex-ML pitching coach, and when I told him about it, he didn’t even blink an eye and came up with the answer. “The boy’s holding the ball too tight”.

As it turned out, it was only happening on his FB, and it only took one pen session to get it corrected. Turned out that little change caused all kinds of things to happen. His velocity picked up, his movement picked up, his control improved, but most of all he was happy to be able to pitch pain free, which lifted his spirits too.

There’s no doubt in my mind that there were and are lots of pitchers out there who suffer similar maladies for similar very simple reasons, but how many of them are as lucky as my son was to have access to someone who could help him? Taking that into consideration, its easy for me to see how throwing a splitter could very well be a major reason for an injury, the same way I can see a curve ball thrown improperly doing the same.

My son had the same problem with his FB. Once corrected the pain went away and he gained velo on the FB.

I’ve never understood why the splitter was problematic.

My understanding is that if the kids hands are too small the act of forcing the fingers apart to hold the ball can put strain on the elbow. Once the kid is old enough to do the split finger comfortably it shouldnt be such a problem…my kid doesnt throw it, but, that was the explaination I was told.

I was told the same thing as fearsome when I was younger and wanted to attempt to throw it.

There’s no doubt that anything like that where the body is asked to do something it wasn’t “designed” to do will cause unnatural strains. But what people sometimes forget is, they shouldn’t try to do things exactly the same as some other pitcher. These things are like food recipes. They’re meant as guidelines, not absolutes.

Someone like Jim Palmer with long fingers and a big hand would find throwing a split a lot different than someone like a Bobby Shantz who was a pretty small fellow in comparison. But, they could both have either a lot of success or failure with it, even though it did different things for each. What I’m saying is, if pitcher “A” needs to have his fingertips 2” apart to make the pitch work, it doesn’t mean pitcher “B” needs to do the same. Maybe the 2” is a strain on one player but no problem at all for another.

Ya just have to adjust the recipe. :wink:

That’s a good point SK, hand size does indeed play a factor into it.