there goes a high, hard one
July 3, 2008 12:07 PM   Subscribe

How do I identify what pitch is which when watching baseball on TV?

I watch baseball every day during the summer (go yanks!), however, I've always wanted to identify the pitches so I can tell what the pitchers are throwing and see how they change it up from batter to batter, etc, etc. Fastballs go straight and drop very little, that i know, but how do I tell the difference between a slider/splitter/curve/sinker/breaking ball? They all look the same to me. Surely there has to be a key way to differentiate pitches. If stupid Michael Kay can do it, I should be able to! What do I look for?
posted by Mach5 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I highty recommend Watching Baseball by NESN color analyst Jerry Remy.
posted by JakeWalker at 12:09 PM on July 3, 2008

Know what pitches a particular pitcher has in his arsenal. Then,


Sinkers sink, sliders break sideways at the end of the pitch, splitters sink, curveballs are usually more looping and will break over the plate at the last minute. Knucklers are slow as hell and all over the place, I think a screwball usually breaks towards the left for a lefty pitcher, and to the right for a righty.


Learn to differentiate speed and you have it all. A changeup is a slow straight pitch (supposed to look just like a fastball), a breaking balls (curves, sliders, sinkers) are also slow. as you might gather, a split fingered fastball is fast.

oh, and let's go mets.
posted by pinto at 12:18 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

It will be tough to do based simply on the expected motion of a pitch. What it also requires is familiarity with the specific pitcher. Lots of pitchers throw a two-seam fastfall which is expected to move kind of like a slider. Greg Maddux's two-seam fastball will probably move as much or more than most guy's sliders. Other cues are how batters take pitches. You know Johan Santana just threw another dirty change-up when the batter has completed his swing before the catcher has the ball. A groundball might mean a sinker pitcher just threw a sinker. A batter whiffing so bad at a pitch in the dirt that he looks like a total asshole probably means a split finger or forkball has just been thrown. Some pitchers throw a loopy, slow curveball that moves 12-6 like on a watch face, other guys throw one that breaks sharply and dives at the feet. Watch your Yankees for a whole season listening to the commentary and by the playoffs (IF you're in them!) you'll probably be able to tell pitches with some accuracy.
posted by vito90 at 12:25 PM on July 3, 2008

If you'll indulge me, I wrote this crap some years ago...

"Imminent Demise"
The curveball breaks your heart
by making a razor thin incision diagonally
across it from top to bottom.

The fastball breaks your heart
by blowing a huge goddamned hole
right through the middle of it
like you got shot at close range
with a shotgun.

The change-up breaks your heart
by making you have a stroke
standing there unexpected, unanticipated, BOO!

The forkball breaks your heart
by making you look like such an asshole trying to hit it
that you go home and kill yourself by dropping
a toaster into the bathtub with you in it.

The knuckleball doesn’t break your heart because
nobody throws a deadly knuckleball.

And your odds from dying from any other pitch are
pretty slim.

No its these four fuckers you got to watch out for.
posted by vito90 at 12:30 PM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

To tell what a pitch is, its a combination of both the speed of the pitch, and the break. Normally you have to look at both before you get a good idea. For instance, a slider will break closely to a 2 seam fastball, but also might look like a curveball. The difference is the curveball is normally 20 or so mph slower than a fastball, where as the slider may be only 5 mph slower.

Watch the pitcher, and listen to the scouting report. He probably only has 3-4 pitches he throws as a starter, and 2-3 as a reliever. Normally it will be a choice of Fastball, Slider, Curveball, Splitter, Sinker or a Knuckleball. Screwball on an odd occasion, but these are rare.

Fastball: Very little break. Fast. Pretty easy to tell when someone throws a fastball.

Slider: Small to Med break. The best will break sharply and late. The best will have a drop as well as a slide to them. Hanging sliders will look like a slower fastball with very little and often early to mid break. Randy Johnson has a pretty famous one, although his can be flat.

Curveball: Med to Large break. More of a gradual break, start higher than a slider, end lower, and are much slower. Good person to watch is Barry Zito, back when he wasn't terrible... My poor Giants :(

Splitter: Normally if a pitcher throws a splitter the camera will always be focusing on his grip. They will show his fingers split really far apart. A good one can be seen towards the end of this vid.

Sinker: Will look a lot like a splitter, but the camera wont always be focusing on the batters fingers etc. It will drop similar to the splitter, but has a different grip.

Knuckleball: Most obvious pitch of all. Tumbles instead of rotates, goes about 50-70 mph, and normally pitchers dedicated to it are the only ones to throw it. See Wakefield GO BOSTON! For one of the best in the game today. You will see the seams in the air, it will flutter all around and will drop a ton.

Screwball: Basically a cureball, but opposite. A righty's will break from left to right as you watch it on the camera. This is a video of an over exaggerated wiffle ball screwball.

Oh and in general, you will hear a lot of "Hanging Curve" or "Hanging Sliders". In my opinion, half the time the announcers are wrong. Normally, you want a breaking ball down in the zone, makes it harder to see. When a knuckleball or curve gets up in the zone its easily visible and will be hammered. A hanger is normally a failed breaking pitch, or that has way less break than normal. If it looks like a ball is spinning a lot, doesn't break much and is in the middle of the plate, its a hanging pitch. If its got the break, but is just up, well thats just a mistake on the pitchers part.

If there is anything else I left out or you want clarified just let me know. Its tough to find videos on youtube of the actual broadcasts so sorry I couldn't provide better vids. And btw... Yankees suck ;)
posted by MaHaGoN at 1:13 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can you have a laptop with you when you're watching? The gamecast (IIRC) gives you some idea of the break of the ball (and might even try to identify the pitches). You could watch the pitch on the screen, then check it on gamecast, and eventually you should get a feel for the different points.
posted by drezdn at 1:21 PM on July 3, 2008

You can't tell from the way the pitcher moves his arm. If you could, the batter could too, and he'd be able to hit the pitch. Pitchers train har to make sure they use the same delivery no matter what pitch they're throwing, so as not to give the batter (or you) any hint.

The only way you can tell is after the pitch, from the way the ball traveled.
posted by Class Goat at 1:27 PM on July 3, 2008

er, ...train hard...
posted by Class Goat at 1:28 PM on July 3, 2008

Here's another good book that covers this (and much more): Watching Baseball Smarter: A Professional Fan's Guide for Beginners, Semi-experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks.
posted by nitsuj at 1:44 PM on July 3, 2008

Knuckleball: Most obvious pitch of all. Tumbles instead of rotates, goes about 50-70 mph, and normally pitchers dedicated to it are the only ones to throw it.... You will see the seams in the air, it will flutter all around and will drop a ton.

Unless, of course, the wind is wrong, or the temperature's too low, or the pitcher's arm is a bit tired, in which case it looks like a home run.
posted by muddgirl at 2:16 PM on July 3, 2008

As others have said, it's impossible to know without context, and even then there will be gray areas. The same motion that one pitcher gets with his sinker could be a screwball from another. The scoreboards in major league parks, as well as many announcers, aren't right on this half the time, either, and you'll often hear them correct themselves on a replay. You have to know the pitcher, as above, and what his various pitches do and don't do. Francisco Rodriguez's slider is unmistakeable, as is Tim Lincecum's curve. With Mariano Rivera, you can sort of close your eyes and say "cut fastball" with 90 percent accuracy. With other pitchers, it's harder to tell.

Even with any one pitcher, though, there are also other variables. There's usually little effective difference between a slow slider and a hard curve. And an off-speed pitch or changeup isn't that unless there's been an established fastball before.

And then there's terminology. A splitter and a split fastball and a hard sinker are probably, but not necessarily, the same pitch, depending on who you ask. Some pitchers call their sinkers cutters, or their cutters sinkers. Some have three different fastballs. Some throw sliders with a fastball grip. A gyroball might be a screwball, or maybe not. These are all nicknames. There are really only fastballs, breaking balls, and off-speed pitches.

(Favorite play by play from a game I wish I could find online... Announcer: "And he opens the game with an off-speed pitch away." Color guy: "Well, that was the first pitch of the game, so it wasn't really off-speed." Announcer: "Good point. Let's call it a slowball.")

And then there's execution: a fastball sometimes sinks, sometimes cuts, and sometimes does neither, often regardless of what the pitcher intended. This isn't a videogame, after all, so there's execution to consider, not just selection. A slider thrown badly is a flat curve. A sinker thrown badly is a fastball. A curve thrown badly is a home run.

I'm saying all this not to dissuade you from figuring it out, but to confirm that it is a complicated, slippery and most of all sloppy business that has no hard and fast rules.
posted by rokusan at 3:14 PM on July 3, 2008

Response by poster: Good answers all, I'll definitely pick up those books. Through MaHaGoN's links, I found this which was great. MaHaGoN, you WOULD'VE gotten best answer but you like Boston, and I can't support that :).
posted by Mach5 at 4:05 PM on July 3, 2008

« Older Help me say goodbye to Pitney Bowes.   |   Help me contribute to the OSS community Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.