Choosing the Correct Pitch Sequences: Data-Driven Decisions

I wrote this email to the parents and players of our Elite Baseball Training program and figured I’d share it with the public. We use data-driven decisions to form our opinions here, rather than traditional groupthink and coaching platitudes.


All pitchers (and parents of pitchers):

My fellow author at The Hardball Times wrote an awesome article 2+ years ago about pitch types, and updated it in 2011. It’s pretty data-intensive:


Large-scale data mining of MLB pitches using my database as well as Harry’s work has formed the backbone of why I teach the pitches I do, and the sequencing of them. Though I don’t get too in-depth into this when I work with you guys one-on-one, I figure it’s good to get this information out there for those who are really interested.

For the younger guys, we always recommend training as a starter first, which means commanding two fastballs (four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball/sinker), a curve ball (12-6 or 1-7, preferably the former), a slider/cutter (depending on arm angle and comfort level – how we teach the cutter is basically a slider anyway), and a change-up (can just be the sinker if four-seam velo is < 80 MPH).

Reproducing the relevant chart:

Pitch Chart


Aside from splitters (not a pitch we generally teach for a variety of reasons), sliders (SL) have the best Whiff Rate, while curveballs (CU) have the best Watch Rate. Fastballs (FA) are the easiest to throw for strikes and generate a lot of foul balls, but the primary reason to throw fastballs is to set up the other pitches. Change-Ups (CH) and Sinkers (SI) have very good GB% rates.

Everything works together. It’s important to realize the role of each pitch:

-Fastballs set the hitters’ expectations for velocity, location, and allow you to easily get ahead in/back into strikeout counts (at the risk of being the easiest pitch to hit)
-Curveballs should be thrown early in counts to tough hitters to disrupt timing and late in counts (2 strikes) to weak hitters who are likely to take strike 3 (at the risk of being a pitch most brutally punished when the spot is missed)
-Sliders should almost always be thrown late in counts to strike hitters out; giving hitters an early look at your left-right breaking ball is generally a huge mistake (at the risk of being a very hard pitch to throw for reliable strikes)
-Change-Ups should be saved for the 2nd and 3rd time through the lineup for a secondary “breaking ball” to get hitters out with; can be used for GIDP situations (at the risk of being a high-contact high-average pitch)
-Sinkers/two-seam fastballs should be used against opposite-hand hitters as you would use your fastball; lean on it heavily to neutralize the platoon advantage and minimize the # of four-seam fastballs thrown to opposite-side hitters (at the risk of being a high-contact high-average pitch)
–Use sinkers/two-seam fastballs for GIDPs, though I recommend against this for pitchers not playing for elite college/select teams (how many GIDPs does the average youth team turn anyway?)

A same-handed hitter perceives a pitch thrown up-and-in to be up to 10% harder than a pitch thrown low-and-away. Watch/take rates go up the bigger the difference between pitch n and pitch n+1 become – this means you should use fastballs in to setup curveballs which setup sliders. Be economical with your pitches and don’t be afraid to experiment. While you don’t need to throw your cutter/slider for strikes reliably, you need to get into as many 1-2 or better counts as possible.

First pitch strikes are important, but the first three pitches together matter the most. The difference between 1-2 and 2-1 is incredibly huge, which is why pitchers should be able to throw all pitches for a combined strike rate of 66%+.

Hope this isn’t too much data!

Check out what else we know about everything spin rate / pitch design here:

Pitch Design / Spin Rate Articles

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