How To Throw Baseball's Nastiest Pitches: Diagrams, Grips And Explanations

By Gregory John "G.J." Vitale on March 5, 2014

*All diagrams are from Lokesh Dhakar and are shown from the catcher’s perspective. Pitches are from right-handed pitchers and trajectories are profile images. All grips are displayed by yours truly.

Two-seam fastball

Two-seam fastball movement and trajectory

Two-seam fastball grip

The two-seam fastball is a fastball thrown along the two-seams running down the middle of the baseball. Pressure applied to the pointer finger causes the ball to move arm-side. This pitch can be used to “jam” hitters of the same orientation (i.e. right-handed pitchers against right-handed hitters) or backdoor on the pitcher’s glove-side of the plate. The two-seamer is thrown by a lot of guys, but it often doesn’t get the praise it should.

Pedro Martinez had a great two-seamer in his day (check it out at 0:59 in this video). Micahel Wacca and Matt Cain have pretty good ones as well.

Cut-fastball (aka cutter)

Cutter movement and trajectory

Cutter grip

The cut-fastball, which is also known as a cutter, is very much like the two-seam fastball, except it moves the other way. So for a right-handed pitcher, it moves slightly to the catcher’s right. It is different from a slider (see below) in its velocity and movement. The cut-fastball is usually a couple miles-per-hour slower than the normal fastball (but significantly quicker than a slider) and its movement does not occur until near the plate.

Mariano Rivera had what most baseball fans consider the best cutter. As was displayed in Game 4 of the 1999 World Series, this pitch can be tough to handle if thrown in on the hands of hitters.

Knuckleball

Knuckeball grip

The knuckleball is probably the hardest pitch to master and implement into a game setting. One of the biggest reasons is the grip. You essentially dig the nails (if you have any) of your fingers into the skin of the ball. The orientation of the ball in your fingers is not essential, but many prefer to dig them into the laces. In the grip I show, I have all my fingertips except my pinkie on the four-seam grip.

When you throw this pitch, you do so in a manner so as to reduce the ball’s rotation. A knuckleball should spin or rotate as little as possible, causing irregular and oftentimes unforeseen dips and turns in its trajectory (perhaps why Mr. Dhakar didn’t make a diagram for it).

Currently, R.A. Dickey is the only pitcher throwing the knuckleball in the MLB. Viewing the pitch up close, it looks like a paper ball thrown on a windy day.

Curveball

Curveball movement and trajectory

Knuckecurve grip

The sorority community has a saying: throw what you know. Well, ever since my sophomore year in high school, my version of the curveball has been the knucklecurve. It is sort of what it sounds like: half curveball, half knuckleball. I assure you, however, it’s not that complicated. You dig the major knuckle of your pointer finger into the ball and rest your middle finger along one of the two-seams. This grip will allow your knuckle to act as a sort of pivot point around which the ball will spin. Throwing the pitch then requires you to pull down on your middle finger as you reach the release point. The pitch should move 12-6 or perhaps 11-5 (in reference to numbers on a clock).

Clayton Kershaw has one of the league’s nastiest curveballs (here he is dropping the hammer on the Giants’ Gregor Blanco).

Slider

Slider movement and trajectory

Slider grip

The slider is sort of a halfway point between a cutter and a curveball. It breaks at a 10-5 or 9-5 angle and is usually 5-10 mph slower than a fastball. The slider is thrown much like a cutter, except the fingers are placed slightly more off-center. The ball’s movement is created by this grip as well as a slight rotation of the pitcher’s wrist.

Randy Johnson used to throw the league’s best slider, one that has seen a doppelganger in young White Sox sensation Chris Sale. The cutter and slider can have pretty much the same grip, but a slight change in pressure on the middle finger can speed up or slow down the velocity of the pitch, changing its trajectory.

Splitter

Splitter movement and trajectory

Splitter grip

The splitter might be the easiest pitch to learn, but the hardest pitch to master. Most other pitches are thrown in a variety of different ways with a variety of different grips. The splitter, however, is pretty universal in its movement and grip.

You essentially “split” your pointer and middle fingers with the two-seams of the ball. You don’t spread them too much (that would be a forkball), but to the point that is seen in the image embedded here. The ball is thrown just like a fastball, that is normally with no spin or wrist turn. The grip alone will slow the velocity and decrease the balls backspin, causing it to drop suddenly as it reaches the plate.

Roger Clemens used the splitter (watch this video, especially the one at 0:50 is nasty) throughout his career as one of the most effective out-pitches baseball has ever seen, helping him acquire 4,672 strikeouts before he retired.

Changeup

Circle change movement and trajectory

Changeup grip

Now, the changeup is perhaps the most personalizable (I know that’s not a word) pitch in baseball. You can throw it a number of different ways and achieve a number of different movement profiles. Personally, I throw/threw a slightly amended version of the circle change.

The true circle change is thrown with the middle and ring finger running along the two-seams while the pointer finger and thumb touch, forming a “circle” on the side of the ball. My grip was similar with the exception that my fingers don’t touch. I felt this grip incorporated my ring finger more and gave the ball more fade to the arm side, much like the embedded diagram shows (1-7).

Matt Harvey has a simply nasty changeup that moves like this. Some other variations of changeups (like the straight change and palmball) move only in the downward plane (12-6). Someone like Mark Buehrle has more of this type of change.

PS – If you consider yourself a baseball fan and a fan of pitching specifically, check out pitchergifs.com … it’s awesome. I got all my pitching gifs from there.

South Florida native. Student and employee at Tufts University. Uloop National Columnist and former Campus Editor. Brother of Sigma Phi Epsilon Mass Zeta. Probably an insomniac. Check out my writing portfolio here - https://gregv.contently.com/ and my personal blog here - http://vitalewrites.blogspot.com

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