Due to the application of Doppler radar technology [the same technology that is used in weather forecasting] to baseball we are getting a new look at what makes pitchers successful—-even if they are not the highest velocity throwers. The importance of fastball spin is a new concept in pitching. It’s always been there but until now it has been difficult to measure. Now that Doppler is in use we are finding out just how important it is. What we are going to prove is the efficacy of spin and show you how to get more spin on your fastballs. To start here are some excerpts from the seminal article about fastball spin.
An average MLB fastball makes 2200 revolutions per minute (RPMs) on its way to home plate. What’s a good fastball spin? As evidenced by the chart below, the spin put on a fastball directly correlates to ground ball rate and swings-and-misses.
|Fastball SpinMLB 2010-2013|
|RPM (00s)||SwStr%||GB %|
|20 – 21||6.1%||43.0%|
|21 – 22||6.8%||40.3%|
|22 – 23||7.7%||38.7%|
|23 – 24||8.7%||37.4%|
|24 – 25||10.4%||36.3%|
Velocity isn’t the only way to get whiffs with the fastball—you can now throw high spin into that equation. “Sneaky” is one of the terms often used to describe a fastball with average to below-average velocity that hitters still swing at and miss at an elevated rate. High spin gives hop or sneak to your fastball. [The] research is now revealing that average fastball spin has a higher correlation to swinging strike rate than average fastball velocity……Boston’s Koji Uehara is a great contemporary example of a pitcher with a high-spin heater.
|Average MLB FB||92||2200|
A ball thrown with true backspin that spins at a high rate will work against gravity [due to the aerodynamic effects of the seams], causing it to sink less quickly than a ball with lower spin. As a result, hitters’ eyes are deceived, because the ball doesn’t sink as much as they expect it to. No one can defy gravity completely and throw a rising fastball, but pitchers can work with and against gravity as a form of deception. Want to test this out? Set up a pitching machine to throw an 80 MPH fastball with 3000 RPMs and see how hard it is to hit. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself swinging through and fouling off pitches. You won’t see this offering in actual games—no current pitcher throws a fastball with 3000 RPMs.[but it will give you an understanding why spin matters so much].
This concept is gradually being taken on in the pros and colleges. If you use these concepts at your level you will be way ahead of the hitters you are facing.
You ask….WSC ……“How do I create backward spin on my fastball?”
Here’s how… The tips of your fingers are key. One of the reasons Pedro Martinez was so effective was his long fingers. He released the ball using the tips of his fingers in a quick, downward motion creating backspin on his 4 seam fastball. You need to learn to do the same. It takes some practice however. The more you do it however you will build up confidence in the delivery. You will also with time build up calluses on the tips of your fingers that will help you get even more spin.
Another way is to throw a cross seam fastball. This where you hold the ball with 2 fingers across the two closest seams. What you do is place the tips of your fingers just beyond the front seam. When you throw you use the front seam as leverage to create downward whip with your fingers and the backspin you want. This grip is not taught these days. I could not even find a picture of it on the web. I do not know why it is not taught because it’s a great way to get backspin on your pitches.
Why are pitches with spin hard to hit? It’s a round bat trying to get square contact with another round, fast rotating object — the ball. If the hitter misses direct, square contact by just a fraction of an inch high or low it will cause a pop up or ground ball. Spin greatly decreases the probability of solid contact by the hitter. Also, if the ball is hit, the bat must first overcome the fast spinning ball to go anywhere. The more spin the harder it is for hitters to hit the ball fair and deep.
One last thing you have to stay with these high spin pitches. You have to follow through to get the downward whip you need. Also keep the pitch either high or low in the strike zone. High because the hitter will swing under it thinking the ball will be lower than it actually is (as the article cites). Low because the hitter will think the pitch will be out of the strike zone when in it actually keep its height and be a low strike.
Pitchers: learn and use spin. The more you use it with your fastballs the more success you will have. Hitters at your level do not see pitches like this.
What we are going to see is spin will soon be an important factor in the evaluation pitchers.
Besides a high spin fastball a lower spin fastball is also important to understand and incorporate into your arsenal. That topic will be in another article.
This is another example of the value of WSC. It not only tells you the whats and whys but also the how tos. The how-to part was left out of the cited article about spin. How to put baseball research into practice is one of our strengths.