What Pitches Should She Learn?

A lot of conventional wisdom says pitchers should learn pitches in a certain order. At one time we went along with that, but sometimes it frustrated students.

After mastering the fastball, most kids proceed to the change-up. The logic is great, but a good change-up is one of the toughest pitches for some kids. We always let pitchers try it, and most get it immediately. However, some kids struggle. No problem. Let’s find a different pitch that comes naturally to her. Once she grasps the concept of changing grips and body position, it is sometimes easier to return to the change-up at a later date. She is maturing and gaining body awareness, so she may be able to master the pitch with less effort in a few months.
Setting the change-up aside, which pitch should she learn next? Again, we do not promote a certain sequence. Normally we test her natural tendencies, running through all of the spins and subtle changes in body position that may be needed with different pitches to see which comes naturally. As she learns to get a bit more weight on the front foot to enhance the drop, the concept of a slight adjustment to the side for a screwball or curve makes more sense. If she learns to attain more resistance for a riseball, understanding the adjustment for a good drop may be easier.
Once we choose a pitch, we may work on it for a few lessons to assure she can consistently pitch it. Maximizing break must be achieved before we work on location. We see a lot of pitchers thinking that a low pitch is a drop, a high pitch is a rise, and an inside pitch is a screw. Their location may be great, but spins are often the very same for every pitch, so they are confusing angles with movement. We use a number of different tools to measure actual movement, but once they see a ball suddenly changing direction, they finally understand that angles and movement are not the same things. One compliments the other, but one without the other isn’t as effective. A great tool for checking for correct spin is the TruSpin ball on our website.
So, which pitches are most effective? We are often asked if side-to-side is better than up-and-down. Again, I do not want to put kids in a cookie cutter. We see both doing well. If she is a lefty, obviously I am going to see if the curve can work simply because it moves very differently from a righty and that can confuse batters. It is no accident that we see the greatest lefties throwing this pitch at the highest levels. If she can easily throw the curve, great. If not, we have many other options.
Sometimes I like up-and-down when it comes easily to a right-handed pitcher. Simply put, the bat is only a few inches thick, so a pitch which jumps or drops unexpectedly doesn’t have to move as far to make a batter miss. However, a great screwball which suddenly gets on the hands of a batter can be a great tool. Batters try to get the “sweet spot” through the zone more quickly, which enhances your change-up dramatically, but can help other pitches as well. The bottom line is that the best pitch for a kid is the one she can throw most consistently, in a healthy fashion, with little effort, and is so good that people immediately think of that pitch when her name is mentioned.
Before we get into breaking pitches, we always want to maximize form on the fastball first. Many kids come to us with terrible form but someone has convinced them they have five breaking pitches. Their speed is slow, control is weak, and trying to make the adjustments for several different pitches only adds to the chaos. Take the time to get everything right before trying to add pitches.
Once she begins throwing moving pitches, search for a “signature pitch”. That is a pitch she throws so well that, even when hitters know it is coming, they can’t handle it. Do not get caught up in thinking she needs 5 pitches. Even the top D-1 colleges tell me they prefer you bring three pitches, besides the fastball, and be able to completely control them. One friend in the SEC grinned and said, “Now when would I ever call a kid’s fourth-best pitch?” My answer, “I guess when you want to give up a homerun”. He said he would always prefer to call a pitch or two that she can work like magic instead of asking her to throw something that is a bit unpredictable. Great point.
If you try to move to new pitches too quickly, you can easily harm one she has just learned. For example, because the hand position on the curve can resemble that of a riseball, trying to move a pitcher from curve to rise too quickly can ruin the curve. Before moving forward, make sure she can throw the first pitch without thinking, be consistent with break, and hit different locations, and can throw it with any count. Take the time to do things right because she is growing up quickly and you don’t usually have the time to do it over.
Do not get caught up in the “more pitches are better” thinking. “Better Pitches are more” every time.