Learning how to identify the most common pitches in baseball: spin, speed & location

Learning how to identify the most common pitches in baseball: spin, speed & location is a crucial aspect of pitch recognition. It's one of the most common traits hitters train in our pitch recognition app.

How can you tell what kind of pitch is thrown?

You learn how to identify pitch spin, speed & location by having a game plan to pick up the pitch as quickly as possible out of the pitcher's hand and through all three phases of the pitch plane.

Here's the thing, you only have four-tenths of a second to read the pitch and use that data to execute a selectively aggressive swing on a pitch in the strike zone.

In this piece, we're gonna break down exactly what hitters should be looking for with common pitches at both the youth, high school, collegiate and professional levels.

Speed, Break & Location

Listed below are some of the most common pitch types based on movement, velocity, and location.

Learning how to identify the most common pitches in baseball: spin, speed & location

Four Seam Fastball

Average MLB Fastball: 85-100 mph

The fastest pitch in the game. A good fastball will explode out of the hand. Pitchers who throw 95+ mph can pitch effectively up in the zone to induce lazy flyballs.

Pitchers with average fastballs establish the outside part of the plate to be effective on fastball on the inner half.

A good Four Seam example is Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan & Aroldis Chapman.


AKA: A Hook, A 12-6, A Deuce, A Bender, Lord Charles, Yellow Hammer, A Number 2.

Average MLB Curveball: 70-80 MPH.

A good curveball will have a bugs bunny loop 12-6 drop. (Think: clock with hands at 12 and 6).

Pitchers typically will throw the curveball to keep the hitter off-balance, 2-2 pitch to contact or to get ahead in the count if they’re able to locate it for a strike consistently.

See The Pop!

An effective way to recognize the curveball out of the pitcher’s hand is anticipating the “pop” at the release point.

In other words, the ball will seep to “pop out of the hand” before getting on its pitch plane.

A solid approach to hitting curveballs is looking for one up in the zone.

If it starts low, it’ll end up in the dirt.

If it starts high, it will end in the strike zone.

A good Curveball example is Barry Zito, Doug Drabek & Tim Lincecum.

Two Seam Fastball

Two Seam Fastball Pitch Recognition

AKA: Sinker

MLB Average Sinker: 80-93 MPH.

A good right-handed two-seam fastball will tail in on a right-handed hitter and move away from a left-handed hitter with a slight downward movement.

Expect to see a lot of jammed swings and broken bats when thrown effectively.

A good two-seam fastball example is Pedro Martinez, Marcus Stroman & Max Scherzer.


Slider Pitch Recognition

AKA: Slide Piece.

MLB Average Slider: 80-90 MPH

The Slider from a right-handed pitcher tends to move down and away from a right-handed hitter.

A good slider is a hard-mix between a fastball and a curveball but works more as an off-speed pitch instead of a breaking ball.

Also, pitchers will throw their Slider off of the fastball to keep the hitter off-balance since the Slider looks very similar to the fastball out of the pitcher’s hand.

A good two-seam fastball example is Randy Johnson, Dennis Eckersley.

What is a Slider Pitch?

The slider is a popular pitch that can be difficult to master. Most elite-level pro pitchers throw sliders as a way to make the fastball more effective, especially when located. The slider out of the hand looks like the fastball especially when not buried in the dirt.

For pitchers - throwing a slider can be harder than it looks, though. Some things about the slider, include:

  • The difference between a curveball and a slider
  • How a slider pitch got its name
  • How to grip a slider
  • How to recognize a slider

What is the Difference Between a Curveball and a Slider?

The curve and the slider are similar pitches with a few key differences. Both are intended to fool a hitter with spin and movement away from a pitcher’s arm side.

The curve rotates from a 12 o’clock position to a 6 o’clock position on a right-handed batter. The slider, however, rotates from 2 o’clock to 8 o’clock.

A curve will have more of a looping arc to its movement, whereas a slider will cut sharply down and away.

A curveball spin tends to take more effort in terms of grip, so they’re slower than sliders. Most pitchers try to disguise their Slider as a fastball.

They’re thrown at about the same speed as a fastball and won’t start breaking as soon as a curve does – perfect for fooling hitters. 

Is a curve harder to throw than a slider? The difficulty depends on the pitcher. Not everyone’s cut out to throw a slider and not everyone’s going to throw a curve, either. Even fewer pitchers will throw both. So as a pitcher, how do you know which one is right for you? Former major leaguer and current coach and author Dan Blewett says it depends largely on arm slot:

  • With a low ¾ arm slot or sidearm, you can’t get over the top of the ball to throw a curve. So, go with a slider.
  • With a ¾ arm slot or over-the-top, pitchers can choose either curve or slider. Sliders require tight wrists and fast arm actions, whereas curves are better suited to pitchers with loose wrists and windmill-type motions.


How To Identify Pitch Types: Spin, Speed & Location.: Changeup pitch recognition

AKA: Change Piece. The Vulcan.

Average MLB Changeup: 70-80 MPH.

A good changeup from a right-handed pitcher will have a 1-7 type movement and will look as if it drops off of a table.

Additionally, the changeup can be the most devastating pitch in the game when it’s being thrown for a strike or when the inside fastball has been established.

A good changeup example is Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels & Jamie Moyer.


Cutter Fastball Pitch Recognition

AKA: A Buzzsaw.

MLB Average Cutter: 85-95 MPH.

A right-handed Cutter will “cut” away from a right-handed hitter. The Cutter is a mix between a good slider and a fastball with movement similar to a two-seam just in the opposite direction .

Also, a good Cutter is a “Bat Breaker” when it’s cutting toward the hitter.

A good Cutter example is Mariano Rivera. Period!

How To Identify Pitch Types: Spin, Speed & Location.

How To Identify Pitch Types: Spin, Speed & Location Checklist

Now that we understand how pitch types tend to come out of the pitcher's hand and move throughout the pitch plane, let's take a look at what are the spin and rotation types of each pitch.

I've also broken down pitch spin types in this in-depth post as well titled: Reading Spin & Movement For Better Pitch Recognition.

The Four-Seam Fastball (AKA The Heater)

Pitch Recognition: What a four-seam looks like

The Four Seam fastball spin will have a solid red/brownish tint and a tighter spin.

Typically, the four-seam has the least amount of movement compared to the two-seam or cutter.

On occasion, a pitcher with a three-quarters release or a left-handed pitch will have some tail, or natural movement with their four-seam fastball. Pedro Martinez had devastating movement with both his four-seam and two-seam.

Two Seam Fastball (AKA The Sinker)

Pitch Recognition: What a two-seam looks like

The Two-Seam will have a small horizontal yet looser spin with a lighter spin.

The Curveball (AKA The Hammer)

Pitch Recognition: What a curveball looks like

An even lighter shade than other pitches. The Hammer has a type of optical-allusion out of the pitcher's hands. The pitch will "pop" out of the pitcher’s hands at the release point. Also you can also pick up the curveball from the pitcher's wrist angle. (Skinny Wrist)

Lastly, a "beginner’s curveball" may have the index finger up and off the ball.

The Slider (AKA The Slide Piece)

Pitch Recognition: What a slider looks like

A darker shade than a breaking ball.

With a "Red Dot" at around 2-o'clock, the slider typically breaks toward the pitcher’s glove side.

The Changeup (AKA The Vulcan)

Pitch Recognition: What a changeup looks like

The lightest "off-white" shade of all the other pitches. The spin direction is the opposite of the breaking ball, and closer to the four-seam with obvious velocity differences.

Learning how to identify the most common pitches in baseball: Spin, Speed & Location Checklist

Learning how to identify pitch types is hands down one of the most underrated qualities of elite hitters.

With superior pitch recognition, your ability to judge balls and strikes lowers your swing-and-miss ratio and increases your hard-hit contact percentage.

Being able to see the ball out of the pitcher's hand is also how you develop Hitter's I.Q.™ and a powerful Swing Trigger™.

Lastly, superior pitch recognition gives you the ability to slow the game down, which is how you make the adjustment to pitching at the next level.

If you're not seeing the ball as well as you can, make sure your pitch recognition is on point.

Pitch Recognition App

Have a question about our pitch recognition app? Reach out to me here.

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