What makes a pitch hard to hit (besides velocity and/or finesse)?


#1

When people describe what makes one pitcher more effective than another, they usually discuss velocity or various aspects of finesse (command, off-speed, pitches that move a lot, etc.). However, I have seen quite a few cases of players with similar velocity and finesse levels where one is much more effective than another at game time. What are the other factors that makes some pitchers harder to hit than others?

To keep the answers a little more focused, I’ll provide examples of kids I observe on my son’s 12u summer team. We are an average AA team in the SF Bay area. We get destroyed by AAA teams but we generally have competitive games against other AA teams.

I bought a radar gun last month and have gunned around 20 different pitchers from many different teams. 12u AA calibur pitchers around here are low to high 50s for the most part though there is typically 1 or 2 outliers per team in terms of velocity. I consider an outlier 12u pitcher one who throws above 60 MPH or below 50 MPH.

Here’s what I observe among our various pitchers, in height order, who I will label with letters. Height is my visual estimate, while velocity is something I got from my pocket pro radar gun:

A: 5’ 7" tall, thin, 65 MPH max velocity. Sidearm delivery. On a good day can throw a knuckle curve for strikes but usually just relies on velocity. Is in the beginning stages of acquiring good command. Has 3rd best results in terms of WHIP and ERA on the team. Usually gets very good results vs AA teams but AAA teams easily hit his 65 MPH fastball and his only chance against them is when he is having a good day with both his command and knuckle curve.

B: 5’ 6" tall, big upper body, probably heaviest guy on the team at maybe 140 lbs. 57 MPH max velocity, does not use legs and lower body very well - surprising how hard he throws give what he’s (not) doing with his lower body. Does nothing but throw hard strikes. 2nd best results on our team. Against most AA teams, the top half of the order gets a couple hits and the bottom half does nothing each time through the lineup. This is they guy I am most curious about - why is he so effective with nothing but 57 MPH fastballs?

C: 5’ 3" tall, lean, athletic, shortstop type of body, 57 MPH Max. His mechanics are a little rough but he mostly throws strikes. Sometimes has good days, sometimes bad days, #5 pitcher on the team in terms of results.

D: 5’ 1" tall, very athletic shortstop type of body, 58 MPH max. Nice looking mechanics. Despite having second highest velocity on the team, it’s like batting practice most times he takes the mound. Lots of quality hits, occasional errors, very few walks as he has a good strike %. Has worst WHIP on the team because of all the hits. This is another one I’m very curious about - why with velocity so similar to B does this guy get hit so much while the other guy does not? Neither one does much with off speed or command.

E: 4’ 11" tall, very skinny, less experienced ball player. 48 MPH and has a changeup he can throw for strikes that’s about 43-44 MPH. Huge arc to the pitches coming in. He gets given very little pitching time. Strikes out very few batters. But mostly he gets great results because hits are weak grounders, weak popups, and gigantic fly balls for the most part - though occasionally does give up hits. He had few enough innings that his results are statistically insignificant but if I included him in the rankings he would have the best WHIP and the best ERA.

F: 4’ 9" tall, 84 lbs thin, 55 MPH fastball. This is my son, and the finesse pitcher on the team. He has unusually good command and a variation of a football curve he invented which comes in much slower and moves a lot (it’s called a crosser because he crosses his index and middle finger). He gets the best results on the team, and is the only pitcher on the team who has much of a chance against a AAA team (though still not too much of a chance).

I know why F is good - even decent 12u batters struggle against good pitch sequencing where speed and location keeps changing. So I don’t need that one explained.

I know why E is good. Though coaches rarely trust their slower throwers, it turns out that most hitters are simply not used to pitches coming in on a big arc so they’re not lining up the bat angle right, and their timing is off (many foul balls) with the slow speed. And this guy even has an even slower speed! Our coaches are coming around to realize they should use this guy more.

I know why A is good. He’s got the highest velocity on the team and a nasty off-speed pitch when he’s able to throw it for a strike.

But what about B, C, and D? They all have very similar velocity. None of them has an off-speed pitch they throw with confidence. Yet B is by far the most effective. D is an average pitcher. While C is batting practice?

What are those other factors besides velocity and finesse?


#2

Other key factors are the mechanics and the level of deception their delivery provides. Another is natural movement on their pitches. But a crucial one is the visual velocity of some pitchers. Two pitchers can be throwing the same speed but if one releases the ball 1 foot closer to home, it looks like a 3mph increase in velocity.


#3

Two pitchers can be throwing the same speed but if one releases the ball 1 foot closer to home, it looks like a 3mph increase in velocity.

Yes - that one I’ve seen as there was a kid on my team 2 years ago with an enormous stride who released the ball nearly 2’ closer to the plate than everyone else.

However - among the B, C, and D players I described, all had similar release points in terms of distance to the plate. If anything, the B player who has the best results had a more distant release because he took a short stride. That B player’s good performance puzzles me.

I will try to watch his natural movement next time I see him pitch to see if there’s a lot of tail. Perhaps that’s the key.


#4

He also might hide the ball better in his delivery allowing it to creep up on the batter. I know years ago, I had a teammate that wasn’t impressive on the radar gun, but was extremely effective due completely to a deceptive delivery


#5

Basically, the answers to your question, that I’ve used as a coach, are degrees of perspectives. I used the word “degrees” because facing batters is a dynamic environment, requiring a set of constants that are general in nature, but leave room for fine tuning and a little customization along the way.

Here’s what I mean by constants that are general in nature:

  • The batting order has a certain logic to it, game after game, inning after inning. A pitcher, pitching coach, fielders and the coaching bench in total, can depend on this batting order logic regardless who they face. This logic usually forms around the first four, the next two, then the last three batters in the order. Hence, batters 1,2,3 and 4 are usually your best hitters. These hitters have varying degrees or quality at bat, but nevertheless, they’re there for a reason(s). Number 1 batter is suppose to be a good quality contact hitter, able to get on base. Then in the order have quality at bat, to advance the runner, again, with quality at bat from contact hitters, to outright sluggers. Batters 5 and 6, are usually power hitters that reach for the lights. As such, their quality at bat should be top notch, but less than your first four. Your last three batters are usually good defensive players, but their place in the batting order is to round out the card. Sometimes, a DH can be slotted in here presenting a real challenge to the pitch selection.
  • Pitch recognition and eye-hand coordination usually goes hand-n-hand with the batting order logic. Hence, the reason for the first, second, third and fourth in the batting order being where they are is simple… they can see the ball quick, make a determination if and when they’re going to swing, and if that decision is “go for it”, their contact quality is normally out in front of their leading hip. So, as we deeper into the batting order, so does the pitch go deeper into the swipe path of the batter. In other words, the middle of the batting order tends to make contact with the ball towards the belt line, with the bottom of the batting order making contact off the back hip.
  • Where the feet are in the box influences the swipe path of the bat. An open stance, a closed stance, and even with a squared stance, how and where the leading part of the batter’s front foot is positioned - facing inward, slightly outward, has a pitch that’s usually a given. For example an open stance usually calls for a pitch low and away on the outside of the plate. Why? Because the open stance does not allow the upper body to swing the bat and reach the outside portion of the plate.
  • Positioning the arms influences the arch of the bat swipe. A batter will position the front arm and elbow that will make some pitches easier to hit than others, while making other pitches almost impossible to make any quality contact.
    For example, a batter that holds the front arm up, just under his chin, will find it almost impossible to make contact with a pitch that’s high and inside, and he will be blinded to the pitch high and outside. Why? Because the high front arm blocks his view, thus his perception is inhibited.
  • Environment can influence hitters. Some hitters have real difficulty with shadows on the field, night games under the lights, very humid and very cold weather. Shadows from the pitcher’s mound out half way, present a perception problem for a lot of batters in the middle and bottom of the batting order, especially fastballs down and away and down and in. Shadows from the plate out half way to the pitcher’s mound present a perception problem for sluggers - 3,4, and sometimes 5 in the batting order, with breaking balls and off-speed stuff. Night games takes away a lot of visual benchmarks that we all take for granted during the day. Shadows are gone, thus comparing time and distance can be a challenge for not only batters but also for outfielders trying to judge fly balls and such.
  • The pitching equation. Pitchers and their coaches are required to plan for a pitching staff with a game plan that allows the staff’s rotation to do a certain job. Facing any batting order requires an understanding of what’s called the “pitcher’s equation.” This equation allows a pitcher to go through an inning facing a certain number of batters, with a certain number of pitch counts, then exit that inning. Why is this so important as an equation? Because if a pitcher does his job, by the last 3 innings, his going to be pretty well spent, the apposing bench has seen everything in his bag of tricks, so a judgement call by the pitching coach/staff should be pretty straight forward - pull him or keep him in. Also, by the fifth and sixth inning, a pitcher may be facing the top of the order again, fatigue will have settled in, and his ability to sustain a quick in-and-out, to get his batting order out there again, can be if-ee.

There are other remarks that I could suggest that are as dynamic and as special-case as it gets. That’s the beauty of is amazing game. A game like no other. In fact, it looks so easy from the bleachers… right up until someone hears … " hey kid, you’re up!"


#6

Good responses received here. Pitch selection and delivery rhythm can upset a batter’s timing. A slow or fast motion with the same velocity is seen differently by the batter. Some pitchers have a pause in leg lift to stride that can mess with a batter, etc.


#7

Nothing new here, just throwing in my votes for making pitches hard to hit:

  1. Deception
  2. Late movement
  3. Position in batter box (some batters forget if they are deep in box they need to be closer to plate to cover front corner vs. breaking stuff, if it croses the front of the plate and you can’t reach it, it’s still a strike)

#8

Movement - A breaking ball is harder to hit than pitch down the pipe.
Location - Put it in the same place every time and someone’s going to take it for a ride.
Velocity - Change speeds to make hitters look silly.

Maybe try to figure out a different way to deliver the baseball. I know a RHP who taught himself at 16 how to pitch from a sidearm slot with pretty good success.