7 Baseball Pitching Grips Every Man Should Know

by Brett on May 11, 2010 · 25 comments

in Gamesmanship, Manly Skills

As a Little Leaguer, I spent countless hours learning and mastering several baseball pitching grips. For me, the grips to throw breaking balls or fastballs were akin to the grips of a secret society.  I felt I was taking part in a secret baseball tradition that went back for generations and that by mastering them I would unlock an occult baseball power that would make me unstoppable on the mound. Yeah, I was a nerd.

While I was throwing the ball around with my brother a few weeks ago, I realized that my pitching skills had gotten a little rusty since my younger days. I was having a hard time putting that spin on the curveball and making the splitter sink correctly. So I did some reviewing and figured I’d share with you all what I learned. Whether you’re just wanting to throw the ball around for fun or you want to initiate your son into the secrets of pitching, here are the ins and outs of the 7 baseball pitching grips every man should know.

Four-seam Fastball

This is probably the first baseball pitching grip you learned when you first learned how to throw a baseball. The four-seam fastball is fast, but it also affords pitchers a great amount of control over where they place their pitch.

To grip a four-seam fastball, place your index and middle fingertips across the perpendicular seams of the baseball. Place your thumb directly underneath the ball. Your thumb tip should rest on smooth leather, not on a seam.

When holding the baseball, don’t smother the ball close to your palm. Hold it more by the fingertips so that the ball is as much as an inch away from the palm. This ensures that there’s the least amount of friction between your hand and the ball. Less friction means the ball can leave your hand faster.

Throw the ball at full velocity. When the ball is released, the batter will see four parallel seams spinning towards him, hence the name “four-seam fastball.”

Two-seam Fastball

The two-seam fastball is about 1 to 3 MPH slower than the fastball, and it sinks to some degree (though it’s not a breaking pitch). Because there’s a bit of movement with the two-seam fastball, batters can have a hard time getting a solid hit on it. In addition to the slower speeds, the two-seam fastball offers less control to the pitcher than the four-seam fastball.

To grip a two-seam fastball, place the index and middle fingers directly on top of the narrow seams as shown in the picture above. Place your thumb directly underneath the baseball. Your thumb tip should touch the smooth leather, not the seam.

Unlike the four-seam fastball, you want to hold the ball tighter and closer to your hand with a two-seam fastball.

Throw the ball at full velocity. When you release the ball, the batter will see only one pair of horizontal seams spinning towards him.

Circle Change-up

After you’ve thrown a few heaters at your batter, he’ll start to get a sense of your timing. That’s when you want to throw him off with a change-up pitch. A change-up looks just like a fastball, except when the ball leaves your hand it does so much more slowly. When throwing a change-up, your arm velocity and body mechanics should be exactly the same as when you’re throwing a fastball. The only difference is the baseball pitching grip. Because it looks like you’re throwing a fastball, but the ball is moving slower, the batter will usually swing too early, either missing the ball completely or fouling it off.

There are several change-up grips, but my favorite was the circle change-up. Make a circle with your thumb and index finger like you’re giving someone the “okay!” sign (Note: unless you want to get smacked, don’t make the “okay” sign while visiting Latin America or any of the Mediterranean countries). Place the ball in your palm and hold it with your three other fingers. The ball should fit nice and snug against your circle.

When you pitch the ball use the exact same arm speed and body mechanics as you would with a fastball.  For a change-up to be effective, you need to sell the batter that you’re throwing him another fastball. The grip will slow the ball as it leaves your hand.

Pedro Martinez of the Philadelphia Phillies has a killer circle-change up.

Curveball

The curveball is a great pitch to have in your arsenal in order to throw off and fool batters. A curveball slightly sinks as it reaches the catcher’s glove. Moreover, when thrown correctly, a curveball can appear to be outside the strike zone, but then suddenly break back in towards the plate so that it’s a strike.

How does a curveball make these movements? Well, part of it is an optical illusion. When we look at a curveball with its unique spin in our periphery, the ball appears to curve more than it actually does. This demo explains it nicely.

But the curve of a curveball isn’t all illusion. It does indeed break a bit on its path towards the plate. Unlike fastballs that rotate from bottom to top, curveballs rotate from top to bottom.  In order to get that spin, it starts with the baseball pitching grip. Place your middle finger along the bottom seam of the baseball and put your index finger right next to your middle finger as shown in the picture above. The placement of your middle finger along the seam of the ball will give it a tight rotation so it can break.  Place your thumb on the back seam of the baseball. So, there’s the curveball pitching grip. But that’s only the first part.

The delivery of the curveball is a bit different than the fastball. First, when throwing a curveball, you want to keep your elbow equal with or slightly above your throwing shoulder. This will reduce the amount of stress placed on your arm when you rotate your wrist. Also, try to release the ball closer to your body than you would with a fastball, as this will result in tighter rotation.

When you release the ball, rotate your thumb upwards, and your middle and index fingers downward. To do this, simply rotate your wrist out and down. You want the ball to rotate off your index finger when it leaves your hand. This twist in your wrist will give the ball its forward top-bottom rotation that will make the ball break.

Because of the shortened arm action and the rotation on the ball, curveballs are much slower than fastballs.

The curveball has been around since the 1870s. Historians debate whether Fred Goldsmith or Candy Cummings invented the pitch. Notable curveball pitchers include Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Dwight Gooden, and David Wells.

Slider

Hitting legend Ted Williams once said that “the slider is the best pitch in baseball.” Sliders drive batters batty because they’re faster and break much later than curveballs. When the ball does break, it does so laterally and down.

Position the ball much in the same way as you would position a two-seam fastball, only now place your middle and index fingers next to the right seam as shown in the picture above. Your ring finger should rest on the side of the ball. Place your thumb directly underneath the ball on the smooth leather. Squeeze the ball between your middle finger and thumb.

Arm speed is the same as a fastball. You don’t have to twist your wrist when you throw it because the way you’re holding the ball will create the spin necessary for the ball to break. Just make sure you keep your wrist loose so you can get a nice wrist-snap; this will give the ball more spin when you release it. If you gripped the ball correctly, it should spin off your index finger from the outside of the ball.

John Smoltz had an almost unstoppable slider.

Splitter

The splitter looks like a two-seam fastball but drops right at the last second. The splitter baseball pitching grip looks very much like a two-seam fastball pitching grip, except your middle and index fingers are placed outside the seams as seen in the picture above.

The delivery and release is just like a two-seam fastball pitch. The ball will start dropping during the last 15 feet in flight.

Roger Craig is credited with inventing the pitch. Bruce Sutter, David Cone, and Rich Harden used the splitter effectively during their careers.

Knuckleball

The knuckleball plays mind games with the batter. It has an erratic motion that makes it hard for the batter to hit. From the batter’s point of view the ball looks like it’s floating while making darting movements in different directions. What gives a knuckleball its weird motion is that there’s hardly any spin on the ball. Scientific America actually went into some detail in explaining the physics of a knuckleball. Here’s what they had to say:

For a knuckleball, the important thing is that the ball rotate about an axis so that the seams are on one side of the front of the ball at one instant, whereas a little later they are on the other side of the front of the ball. The ball will then drift in the direction of the leading seam, and then drift back when the seam becomes exposed on the other side. The seams produce turbulence in the air flowing around the ball, disturbing the air layer traveling with the ball and thereby producing a force on the ball. As the ball slowly rotates, this force changes, causing the ball to “flutter” and slowly drift.

Got that? Good, because there will be a test on it.

To grip the knuckleball, position the ball in the same way as you would in the two-seam fastball or the splitter. Now, instead of laying your fingers along the seam of the ball, dig your fingertips into the leather. Don’t touch the seams at all. (See picture above). Place your thumb directly under the ball. Again, don’t touch the seam.

When you release the ball, keep your wrist stiff and extend your fingers as you release the ball. Imagine you’re trying to push the ball to the catcher.

The knuckleball is the slowest pitch, and it’s the most difficult to throw. Because of it’s unpredictable motion, knuckleballs can result in a lot of wild pitches.

Lew “Hicks” Moren is credited with inventing the knuckleball during the 1900s, but Eddie Cicotte is often associated with the pitch mainly because of his fame from the Black Sox Scandal.  There are only two MLB pitchers today who use the knuckleball: Tim Wakefield and Charlie Haeger.

What are your favorite baseball pitching grips? Have any pointers on delivering a killer fastball? Share them with us in the comments section.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chris Mower May 11, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Thanks for the heads up. I’ve always just chucked the ball and watched it zing towards the batter. I’ll have to remember these grips the next time I’m on the field (at some random time in the future) so I can liven it up a bit.

2 Impulse Magazine May 11, 2010 at 10:46 pm

My favorite pitch is the curve ball because I think it is one of the hardest pitches to hit. When I played in little league, I struck out every time trying to hit it

3 jacobyjd May 11, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Interesting–I always gripped 2-seam fastballs perpendicular to the seams–same rotation, so I suppose they’re both the same.

SInce you can get the tips of your fingers right on the edges of the high seam, you can put a lot more power on the throw (and get more of that wonderful movement 2-seam fastballs are known for). YMMV though–I suppose there’s a reason I ended up being a catcher for most of my baseball days :)

4 Chris @ CleverFather May 11, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Good stuff,
I consider it a success when the ball ends up in the general area of the catcher, but then again – I’m not planning on turning pro anytime soon!

5 Ethan C. May 12, 2010 at 1:37 am

I wish there were more knuckleballers in the big leagues today! It’s such an entertaining change of pace to watch a knuckler at work. Of course, part of the problem is finding a catcher who can catch it! The Red Sox have had that problem with Wakefield: not al that many wild pitches, but plenty of passed balls.

I keep saying that that’s what the Royals need to back up Grienke and Gil Meche. If they had one in the rotation right before Grienke, I’m sure the adjustment from night to the next would increase our ace’s performance. Out troubles would be over! Now if only they’d make me GM…

6 Steve G May 12, 2010 at 7:32 am

Being a lefty, I really like to throw the screwball. It is basically a reverse curveball. I hold it somewhat similar to a fastball, but release it by rolling my first two fingers off the right of the ball. This puts the spin in opposite direction of the curve. It travels similar to a fastball, but has a greater break. It works great in combination with a regular curve.

7 Dave May 12, 2010 at 9:54 am

Good article, but what about the exotic pitches. Like the gyro-ball, or the knuckle curve. Most everyone knows the listed types.

8 Adrienne May 12, 2010 at 10:33 am

My 9 year old made up a pitch called the Splitter-Nut. We have no idea what it is, but we love the name! Nothing like sitting in the stands yelling, “Throw the Splitter-Nut!”

9 Tom Gunn May 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Hey Brett,

How about some tips on getting into a good baseball game? Yeah, not softball, baseball.

An unfortunate side effect of the major leagues is that it’s given us all the impression that you have to be extraoridnary athlete to play the game as a grown man. C’mon guys, let’s get a game going!

Any tips on how that might be done would be great.

10 Emil Outzen May 12, 2010 at 5:21 pm

This post should be called: “7 baseball pitching grips every American and Japanese should now abot”

Baseball isn’t that big a sport in most of Europe, and from what I know it is the same situation in most parts of the world. To compare to other amrican sports, Basketball is the only sport to really make an impact in Europe.

Football or, as you guys may know it, soccer is above huge in Europe. Imagine if you took both basketball and (american) football and melted it into one. That is what it is like overhere.

11 Torrey May 12, 2010 at 6:56 pm

I’m not a huge baseball fan but I do love the curveball and the effect it it can have on hitters. Especially when they are expecting one pitch and get the curveball. It really buckles their knees.

12 Blake May 13, 2010 at 12:31 am

The 2-seam can be thrown with seams vertical or horizontal. Vertical seams can run to the left or right depending on the amount of pressure you apply to each each ( pressing harder on one seam causes slight movement lateral movement), When the seams are horizontal, the ball has a slight drop to it.

My favorite pitch in High School was the Palm Ball. IMO much better than the circle change because it gave much more control and because it’s easier to grip, a much more realistic arm motion. To throw it, place the ball as far back into the palm as you can but take the index and middle fingers off the ball and throw like a fastball. Very great pitch when thrown by a true pitcher.

13 Chimneyfish May 13, 2010 at 5:32 am

Cool article. Pedro isn’t on the Phillies though. I’d argue that Lincecum’s got the best changeup of active pitchers. His mechanics aren’t anything that any normal person should try to immitate though.

14 Matt Riordan May 13, 2010 at 8:16 am

I’ve always gripped 2-seam fastballs opposite to the seams, but this is more or less the same

15 Ji Z. May 13, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Actually, Pedro Martinez is no longer playing for the Phillies. He’s currently a free agent.

16 Josh May 13, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Loved the topic. It’s easy to forget how much of an art pitching can be. One note to add. On the circle change a lot of pitchers let the index finger and thumb (the circle) lead or face the hitter through the throw. It leaves less of the hand behind the ball to decrease the velocity without slowing the arm speed. It’s often called “painting the fence” if you could imagine something to your throwing hand side needing a touch up.

17 Molyuk May 14, 2010 at 4:11 am

I agree with Blake about the palm ball’s being easier to control than the circle change.

Lincecum’s change-up is terrific, but I think Johan Santana’s is even better.

“Notable curveball pitchers include Steve Carlton”… Carlton’s out pitch was his slider. Ask any Phillies fan.

18 Jay May 15, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I always loved the circle change. When thrown right it breaks away from opposite handed batters.

19 Jack Howley May 17, 2010 at 12:05 am

Yo, where’s the screwball smart guy? You too good for Carl Hubell, Valenzuela and shit?

20 Steven Kippel May 21, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Not sure why every guy should know these. I’m American and I could care less about baseball. In my circle of friends I know maybe a handful that even remotely care about baseball.

21 Stuart Garrick May 24, 2010 at 1:45 pm

I’m not even American, but baseball is a great game. And maybe a follow up of manliness
would be teaching people how to do a score sheet .
and true manliness fashion i have too swim over a mile to watch the Tigers play .
also how can u have a hall of fame without Pete Rose.

22 Thad May 24, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Grew up catching … and would still be catching if I could afford to play in the local league. Doing that, I have learned to throw a fair number of pitches! For the couple of times when I have actually pitched in a game, it is all two-seam fastballs, split-fingers, and knuckleballs – which I learned how to throw from my dad who at 45 could make 16 to 18 year olds whiff all day long with them.

Cheers!

23 James June 6, 2010 at 2:00 pm

RA Dickey mixes a knuckleball in with the more standard pitches

24 Dylan Badger June 4, 2013 at 11:25 pm

how about showing them the 12-6 curve or otherwise known as the breaking ball all you have to do is switch the 2 seam around

25 Waykno July 27, 2013 at 7:34 pm

I, like Dizzy Dean, just threw’em the ol’ high hard one. Many times I heard that from Diz’s side kick, Pee Wee Reese—and before him—Buddy Blatner.

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