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When I watch Baseball games on TV, I have trouble to identify the pitch that the pitchers are throwing. I know the pitch types but can't tell the difference of a fastball to a slider when watching games on TV.

I usually play baseball video-games, and I can easily identify the pitches when playing. I can tell if it is a slider, fastball, change-up and so on, but I have trouble when watching television.

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In video games, you see the pitches from the batter's perspective, whereas on TV, the angle isn't exactly the same - it'll be harder to pick up the type of pitch. –  JW8 Jul 16 '12 at 16:16

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Here are some things to look for while watching on television:

  • Speed
  • Movement - the general direction the ball is moving
  • Break - a sudden shift in direction

it's also possible sometimes to tell from arm position and angle but most professionals (even those on the bench) are good enough to make every pitch look the same in terms of release angles. However, sometimes when a pitcher loses his feel and the mechanics start to break down.

So 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, Cutter, Splitter, Sinker or a Knuckleball. There are more but these are rare.

Once the pitch has been released and is in flight, here are some ways to distinguish a pitch (assuming a right-handed pitcher, which you can most likely invert for a lefty):

  • Fastball - Very little break. Fast. Pretty easy to tell when someone throws a fastball.
  • Slider - This is slower than a fastball but with a similar release, Small to Med break. The best will break sharply and late, they 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.
    Sliders are common pitches(Randy Johnson had a pretty famous one) and sort of like faster curveballs, but are easy to "hang" by the pitcher, where the at the wrong velocity, can just sit up for the batter to crush.
  • Cutter - Will maintain horizontal plane and cut away from a right-handed batter, sometimes picking up velocity. Very few pitchers can throw this pitch well, which is why Mariano Rivera's career is so remarkable.
  • Splitter - There is a giveaway in the arm release because it's usually "over the ear" and supposed to look like a fastball, but right at the plate, it's supposed to bottom-out.
    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

  • Sinker - This is a kind of pitch that is in-between a fastball and a split-finger fasterball. It is meant to be a fast pitch that "drives down" very hard as it approaches the plate. It's popular because sinkers increase the likelihood that a batter, on contact, will drive the ball into the ground, and ground-ball pitchers are less likely to be scored on.

  • 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. Tim Wakefield is famous for this.

Look at the following diagram that shows the ball movement and break (For right handed pitcher)

baseball pitches

Source
Source

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Please note that this appears to be copied verbatim from the quora answer linked below. I haven't had time to read it fully, but it is not the work of the author as it appears to claim. –  wax eagle Aug 9 '12 at 15:30

You're not alone; sometimes even the commentators, who have the same "over-the-shoulder" long-lens view that the folks at home do, will simply refer to a pitch as a "breaking ball" if it drops sharply or curves outside, even though a number of specific pitches can do that.

The fundamental theory of pitching is that the batter gains an advantage over the pitcher proportional to his ability to predict the pitcher's next move, and conversely, the pitcher gains an advantage over the batter inversely proportional to the batter's ability to predict the next pitch. Your better pitchers have a number of weapons to accomplish this, but key to all of them is control over three elements of the pitch; speed (and thus timing), vertical axis (drop), and horizontal axis (slide).

From the very good diagram Dor linked to, here's a basic breakdown of the most common RHP's pitches as seen by a RHB:

  • Fast Pitches (usually 85mph+ in the major leagues):

    • No Break - Four-Seam Fastball (speed is usually mid to high 90s, can exceed 100, and will appear to head pretty directly to the plate)
    • Breaks Low - Splitter (speed's in the high 80s to low 90s, designed to look like a fastball but takes a dive under the bat; giveaway is a "snappy", compact delivery with the pitcher's index and middle fingers split severely)
    • Breaks Inside - Two-Seam Fastball/Sinker (again, speed in the high 80s/low 90s, designed to look like a fastball but breaks towards a RHB to jam him up)
    • Breaks Outside - Cutter (speed in the low 90s, breaks outside without dropping to look like a four-seam fastball, notorious for breaking bats, difficult to throw correctly and so rare)
    • Breaks Outside Low - Slider (Speed high 80s low 90s, breaks outside and drops to make the batter "chase" what he thought was a four-seam; more often seen than the cutter)
  • Off-speed pitches (between 70-85mph)

    • No Break - Change-up (designed to throw off a batter's timing, looks like a fastball and goes right down the middle, but speed can be as low as 70mph, but more likely high 70s-low 80s)
    • Breaks Low - Forkball (slightly faster than most other off-speed pitches, usually mid-80s, it's quite literally a slow splitter)
    • Breaks Very Low - Curveball (changes everything about the batter's approach, looks like a change-up but dives under the bat. Sometimes incorrectly called a changeup, but the vertical curve is more pronounced. Thrown incorrectly, it doesn't dive, and coupled with the slower speed it's a batter's dream pitch)
    • Breaks Inside - Circle Changeup (Simple variation of the changeup, looks like a change-up but breaks inside much like a two-seam does in the fast pitches)
    • Breaks Inside Low - Screwball (difficult and rare, it looks like a curveball coming in but breaks inside)
    • Breaks Outside Low - Slurve (combination slider/curve, looks like a curveball but breaks outside like a slider)

The variation of speed and breaking action produces a host of possibilities, which a good battery can use to keep the batter guessing. A pitcher can also aim pitches differently to make them look like other pitches; a pitcher can throw a fastball high and fool the batter into thinking it was going to be a sinker or splitter, or can throw a two-seam wide and the batter may think it's an errant four-seam until it breaks back over the plate.

Batters like a variety of different pitches; exactly what the batter likes should be known by the pitcher and/or catcher, and a combination of what the batter flat doesn't like, and pitches that look like what he does like but then change, are generally the order of the day. From time to time a pitcher may give a batter exactly what he wants, hopefully when he's least expecting it; this is often necessary to avoid showing the batter the same pitch too many times, and a missed opportunity can also put the batter "on the tilt", throwing off their concentration as they mentally kick themselves.

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