In this study, we analyzed the kinematic characteristics of various types of baseball pitches by elite baseball pitchers, and tested a null hypothesis that “no type of pitch has the same kinematic characteristics as another.”
A high-speed video camera was used to record the initial trajectory of the pitched ball thrown by 84 skilled baseball pitchers. Each pitcher was asked to throw all the different types of pitch he would use in competition and practice, and to self-declare the type of pitch used for each throw. The kinematic characteristics of each pitched ball were analyzed as ball speed, the direction of the spin axis, and the spin rate. A custom-made device was used to analyze the direction of the spin axis and the spin rate, and the ball speed was measured with a radar gun. One-way ANOVA with the Games-Howell post hoc test was used to test the hypothesis.
The total of 364 pitches were categorized into 11 self-declared pitch types. Four of 10 pitch types thrown by more than one pitcher - the four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and cutter - had unique kinematic characteristic distinct from all of the other pitch types. No significant differences were found in any of the kinematic parameters between 1) changeup and sinker, 2) forkball and split-fingered fastball, and 3) two-seam fastball and shoot ball. Therefore, the hypothesis was retained for these 3 pairs of pitch types: although they were kinematically similar, the pitchers categorized them as different types.
When the breaking ball was compared with the four-seam fastball, they were classifiable into 3 types: 1) pitches with a slower ball speed and lower spin rate with a different direction of spin axis (changeup, sinker, forkball and split-fingered fastball), 2) pitches with a slower ball speed, different direction of the spin axis and a spin rate comparable to the four-seam fastball (slider, curveball and cutter), and 3) pitches with a comparable ball speed, similar spin axis direction, and lower spin rate (two-seam fastball and shoot ball). These data revealed that the kinematic characteristics of some pitch types are quite different from those described in baseball coaching handbooks.