Updated: Oct 26, 2022
There are three types of velocity that affect the pitcher’s ability to get outs.
There is real velocity, which velocity as it appears on a radar gun. Every pitcher is always trying to find ways to increase their real velocity through more efficient mechanics and strength and conditioning.
There is perceived velocity which is how fast the pitcher looks to a batter. Due to the Doppler effect, pitches that are located higher are perceived as faster than pitches that are located lower. Pitches that are located inside are perceived as faster than pitches that are located outside. Within those parameters, you can use location to affect how the batter perceives a pitch.
Adding to this equation is the release point of a pitcher. The longer stride and better mechanics a pitcher has, the closer they release the ball to the batter and therefore it looks faster to the hitter. For every 1 ft closer to the plate a pitcher releases the ball, the ball looks 3mph faster to the hitter.
And third and most important, there is effective velocity. Effective velocity is the velocity spread from pitch to pitch, utilizing varying pitch types (fastball, curveball changeup, etc.), real and perceived velocity to a pitcher’s advantage and keeping the hitter off balance and uncomfortable.
The goal is to create effective velocity spreads of 18mph or greater from pitch to pitch (Note: the harder you throw, the more room for error you have). If you throw a 90mph fastball up and in, it will have a perceived velocity of 96mph. If your next pitch is an 80mph changeup down and away, it will have a perceived velocity of 74mph. In this pitch sequence, you have created an effective velocity spread of 22mph. That is tough for any batter to barrel up the baseball at their max swing speed.
There are three keys to using effective velocity to your advantage to be an elite pitcher. First, you need to understand perceived velocity and how pitches in various locations (i.e. up and in, up and away, etc.) affect how fast the pitch looks to the batter. Second, you need to have the ability to throw at least three different pitches (i.e. fastball, curveball, changeup) for strikes. Third, you need to have enough command to be able to locate those pitches with consistency.
Even pitchers that don’t have a great fastball can be great pitchers just by using effective velocity to your advantage. If you lack real velocity on your fastball, you need to understand how to “pitch backwards” to get outs. Essentially, you throw a lot of off-speed pitches and mix in your fastball so it looks faster that it really is.
Tom House, the founder of the National Pitching Association, former MLB pitcher and legendary pitching and QB coach was famous for this. His fastball was only 82mph when he pitched in the big leagues. However, he had great off-speed pitches he could throw with command. When he threw multiple off-speed pitches and then mixed in his 82mph fastball, it became hard to catch up to.
Master effective velocity and you can be an elite pitcher.