Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Secret Art of the Wiffle Pitch

by Christopher Reardon

I'm not the most athletic person in the world, and in most sporting ventures would probably be that sad fat kid that gets picked last, but I do fancy myself a decent Wiffle Ball pitcher of all things. Pitching a Wiffle Ball is not as easy as it should be - it's a soft piece of plastic with holes in it and tends to move a lot even if you don't want it to - but if you learn its secrets you'll be striking batters out in no time. Keep in mind that I am right-handed and most of the tips here assume the user is also right-handed, but they can be adjusted for a left-hander if necessary.

Getting to know your Wiffle Ball

First things first, you've got to learn a thing or two about the ball you're trying to throw. Those holes are not cosmetic. They allow for air to move around and through the ball in different ways depending on grip and delivery, and thus allow for a Wiffle Ball to break, sink, or float much more drastically than possible with any baseball. There is also a seam on a Wiffle Ball, just below and parallel to the line of holes, that is useful for finger placement, and the bottom of the ball has a logo that is also useful. Just like in baseball, a slightly used (or "mudded") Wiffle Ball is actually preferable to a brand new one. Some people even go so far as to scuff the surface of their ball with sandpaper or a knife, but I like to simply throw the ball around and let nature take its course in aging the ball. Finally, use an official Wiffle Ball. Those knock offs are different and probably require totally different mechanics and grips to be thrown effectively.

Mechanics

Delivery mechanics in Wiffle Ball are not as important as they are in baseball, but there are a few things that any budding pitcher should keep in mind when fine-tuning their delivery:

1. Avoid throwing across your body - Pitching is an unnatural motion, and pitching correctly is even more-so. When throwing your right arm will naturally want to move toward your left hip, which will negate a lot of the effects of pitch rotation and throw off your command. When throwing over-hand, keep your arm in line with the right side of your body. When throwing from a 3/4 angle or sidearm, move your arm downward toward the end of your delivery. Remember to rotate your hips a bit and this step will come more naturally.

2. Bend your back knee - At the very start of your delivery, bend your back knee in preparation for the push-off. This small step will add a lot of power to your repertoire as you will now be using the energy in your legs as well as your arm to throw.

3. Eyes on the prize - It seems pretty simple but this small step will help you get a good look at your target and stay in command of the strike zone. It may help to use an open stance in your delivery - that is, starting with your front foot a little off line of your back foot (to the left if you are right-handed). This way you will have to turn your head less to keep sight of the zone even as your lift your landing foot.

4. Land with your front foot pointed at the target - At first it may seem natural to keep your front foot pointed in the same direction your back foot started, that is toward third base if you are right-handed. This is a big no-no, as you will always be throwing across your body and you will never generate as much power as you are capable of. If you land with your front foot pointed in front of you, guess what? Your pitch will move in front of you.

Basic Pitches

Straight Fastball - Hold the ball like you would an egg; very lightly and with your thumb directly below your index and middle fingers. Don't cover any holes with your fingers. Keep your wrist straight but snap it downward at the end of your delivery. This pitch can be thrown from any arm angle; I suggest you master it from every angle so that you can use it to set up any pitch.

Slider - Cover three holes with your middle finger and keep a little space between your index and middle fingers, keeping a tighter grip with your index finger than with your middle finger. Cock your wrist slightly to the right and snap it downward at the end of the delivery, letting the boll roll or snap off your index finger. The movement on this pitch can be altered depending on grip and delivery. If you point the tip of your index finger closer to the seam of the ball the pitch will have more downward movement. Also if you throw the slider over-hand it will break down and slightly away, but if you throw from a 3/4 or sidearm angle it will break more away from a right-handed hitter. Mix it up to give the batter a few different looks with one pitch.

Curveball - Cover three holes with your middle finger, but keep your index and middle fingers close together and tighten the grip on the middle finger. Keep your wrist straight but at the end of your delivery turn it over so that your fingers roll off the bottom of the ball and the the pitch has topspin. At this point your palm should be pointed more or less upward. A good curveball will have a huge 12-6 or even 12-5 break. This pitch is best thrown over-hand, but a good sidearm pitcher can use it as a sort of frizbee slurve pitch.

Straight Changeup - Don't cover any holes with your fingers, but hold the ball deep in your hand and use a tight grip with your wrist straight. It can be thrown from any angle, but try to use the same delivery you've been using for your fastball to fool the hitter. Don't hold back on your delivery too much either, this will tip the hitter off and most likely result in a big hit. Trust that the grip will slow the pitch enough to fool the hitter.

Advanced Pitches

Sinker - Grip the ball tightly along the seam with the holes pointed upward and your ring and pinkie fingers curled around the logo on the bottom of the ball. Keep your wrist straight and snap it down on release. This pitch must be thrown from a sidearm or 3/4 angle in order to let air into the top of the ball and push it downward.

Riser - Grip the ball tightly along the seam with the holes pointed downward and your ring and pinkie fingers curled around the space just below the holes. Keep your wrist straight and snap it downward on release. This pitch must be thrown from a sidearm or submarine angle to effectively rise through the strike zone. It's hard to master but it's also a hitter's nightmare, so I suggest you give it some practice.

Cutter - Grip the ball just as you would a fastball, but cover one or two of the holes on the right side of the ball and use a very slightly tighter grip. This should cause the pitch to move like a cross between a fastball and a slider.

Watch this vid and weep because you'll never be this good (but it's ok because neither will I):


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

nice

Bryan Donovan Jr. said...

Hey nice article my friend thanks for writing! Me and my brother have a running one on one whiffle ball series going and I'll be sure to use your tips in our next match. Just wondering, do you not throw a knuckleball? I know if you can master them they can be deadly!