The leaves may be turning, and kickoffs may be kicking off all across the country, but it's also playoff season—the most exciting period, most would argue, in the baseball season. It's the time that pitchers have been saving up for, in order to sling their very best stuff plate-ward and hopefully befuddle any would-be slugger. To keep track of what the hurlers are hiding in their mitts, here's a quick rundown of pitches you're likely to see in the days ahead. Batter up!
1. The Curve
A "C" shape is formed with the hand, and the ball is delivered with a snap of the wrist in a downward motion, which gives the ball spin, and causes it to change its trajectory down and in. Believe it or not, for the first half of the 20th century, many scientists doubted that the ball actually "curved"—until a physicist named Ralph B. Lightfoot used wind tunnels to prove that the ball does indeed move. When thrown correctly, a curve should look like this, and ought to leave a batter just as baffled.
This pitch has a break similar to a curve, but is delivered with less of a snapping motion, and with the ball rolling off the index finger rather than the middle. The grip gives it more of a lateral spin, and because there's no "snap," it can usually be thrown at a higher speed. If thrown correctly, the seams of the spinning ball should form a dot. Here is what a good slider can do. The pitch is often attributed to Charles Albert Bender, a member of the Ojibwe tribe who played for the Phillies and the White Sox in the early 1900s.
3. Two Seam Fastball
Pitchers with less natural speed tend to prefer the Two Seam to the Four Seam because it appears to have some movement to it. The delivery is almost exactly like the Four Seam, although the grip is different; pitchers also can vary the index finger pressure and palm position to affect the amount of perceived "movement." This is what a very active Two Seam can do, although the amount of "shimmy" varies from pitcher to pitcher.
4. Four Seam Fastball
This pitch is thrown purely for velocity. Because it doesn't break, it's also the most accurate pitch. The fingers need to stay directly behind the ball to keep any side spin from developing. The ball does have back spin, however, which, along with the spin of the seams, helps keep it flying straight and steady. Because of the flicker rate of the seams, batters often perceive this pitch as faster and higher than a Two Seam fastball, although their paths are actually quite similar.