Fast Ball, Curve Ball, Slider ……What’s the Difference and Who Cares?

This video shows  a Tim Lincecum fastball and curveball delivery correlated at the release point and superimposed to provide an overlay comparison of the two motions.   The two pitches look nearly identical to my untrained eye. This YouTube video uploaded by  on June 18, 2009.

So I’m  listening to play-by-play of  a game the other day and the announcer says instantly “that was a fastball (curveball, sinker, slider, doesn’t matter … you get the point) and I’m thinking how the hell does he know that?  I mean the ball’s traveling at 90-95 mph and he’s up in the announcer booth 200 feet away.   I know this announcer used to be a pitcher  so I’m pretty sure he knows what he’s talking about, but how is that possible ~ to call the pitch instantly in split-second timing, almost before the ball’s even thrown?

I set out to research this so I might understand the difference between the  pitches and how a pitcher  might determine which pitch to throw and when to throw it.

The first article I ran into was “Fastball, Curveball, Change-up, Slider” ~ An Analysis by John Walsh, December 20, 2007, Hardball Times.  (See  “Pitch Movement” Diagram here, looks  like a pap smear. I never figured out where the pitch was).  The article is only seven pages, but it took me nearly 2 hours to read, and re-read to realize there was no way I was going to “get it” no matter how many times I read it so I chucked it in search of another.  I mean this stuff’s really confusing!   I’m starting to understand why some of these kids decide to forego the draft in favor of college before embarking on a baseball career.

Eephus Pitch Courtesy Stevenellis.com

My next attempt at research didn’t end up much better.  I mean how can you go wrong with Wikipedia?   Did you know there are 33 recognized pitches at the Wikipedia website?   And did you know that an “Eephus Pitch” (I kid you not)   is thrown overhand like most pitches, but is characterized by an unusual high arcing trajectory and corresponding slow velocity, bearing more resemblance to a slow-pitch softball delivery than to a traditional baseball pitch.  It’s considered a trick pitch.   You don’t say.

Juan Marichal

Orlando Cepeda was quoted as saying that most pitchers have one or two pitches, curve ball and a fastball, but Juan Marichal had at least 16 different pitches because of the way he delivered them.  His entire body, arms and legs were in constant motion and his delivery changed constantly giving a distinct characteristic to different pitches.  It’s a good thing they didn’t decide to name all the different pitches, or maybe they did.

In any event, I decided to postpone my research for another day.   I’m way out of my league here which reminds me once again of my favorite Einstein quote, “You teach me baseball and I’ll teach you relativity. You will learn about relativity faster than I learn baseball.”   Here’s to you Professor Einstein!  It really doesn’t matter to me whether the  catcher calls, or the pitcher throws, a fastball or a curveball or a slider.   Surprise me!

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