13 Essential Pitching Grips Every Pitcher Should Know

If you want to learn how to throw different pitches in baseball, you're going to love this article that explains 13 essential pitching grips in step-by-step detail.

Warren Spahn image
Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn is famous for once saying:

Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing. A pitcher needs two pitches—one they’re looking for and one to cross them up.

I honestly couldn't agree more with this statement.

If pitching is all about upsetting a hitter's timing, then one of the best ways to do this is by changing speeds and using different grips.

Anytime I'm working with a young pitcher, the first priority is always getting the basic mechanics of the four-seam fastball down.

Then... we move onto the second most important pitch—the change up.

It’s a deception and movement pitch meant to disrupt a hitter's timing once he's gotten used to seeing power pitches.

The "best" change up grip will depend on the pitcher. So it's a good idea to let young pitchers experiment with different options.

For starters, you could use a four seam or two seam fastball grip, but hold the ball looser and deeper in the palm of the hand.

If that's not enough to slow the pitch down, you can also try the three finger change up grip (which is great for young kids with smaller hands) or the circle change, which is what I threw throughout my career starting at 12 years old.

The mechanics are identical to the fastball. Use the same windup, release point, arm speed and extension. The extra friction from the deeper grip will take the speed off the pitch for you.

Developing an awesome fastball

Garrett Richards has a seriously good four-seam fastball. Check it out here...

Garrett Richards four-seam fastballGarrett Richards' four-seam fastball

Notice how his 6-foot-3 frame allows him to fully get on top of the ball, giving a pure downward plane for his fastball from the mound to the glove, creating more sink and natural inside bite?

Pinpointing this location at 98 MPH with subtle movement is what makes it near impossible for hitters to square up and generate solid contact against him.

To develop a great fastball like Garrett Richards, it's important to remember this:

In any given game, most pitchers will throw 65% to 70% fastballs.

So naturally that's what your son should spend the most time learning first.

Once he's mastered the four-seamer, I recommend adding a two-seamer (for movement) and a change up (for a change of pace) before advancing to a breaking pitch like the curve ball at 14 or 15 years old.

Before I share with you some illustrations and step-by-step instructions of all 13 essential pitching grips for youth pitchers, it's important to keep a few tips in mind when learning any new pitch...

This can help to speed up the learning process and reduce frustration along the way.

  1. Don't have unrealistic expectations when learning a new pitch.

    Remember, it's new, so encourage your son not expect to be perfect with the spin and location right away.

    These things take time.

    The best attribute to have when learning a new pitch is patience.

  2. Be GREAT with 2 or 3 pitches, rather than average with 4 or 5.

    Two great pitches is better than five pitches that don't always work—or that your son can't throw for strikes 6.5 to 7 out of 10 times.

    Trying to learn several new pitching grips at once will likely decrease your son's effectiveness on the pitches he'll use most often.

    Again, start with the four-seam fastball. Then add a two-seamer and a change up as his comfort level and feel for the pitches improves.

  3. Concentrate only on the pitches that will contribute the most to your success.

    Screwballs and knuckle balls just aren't relevant for 99% of the pitching population, especially in Little League Baseball (and even in high school and college baseball). Stick with that fastball!

  4. Have fun!

    This really is key. Learning a new pitch is fun because your son is making himself better...

    ...and that's what it's all about!

Now let's learn how to throw those 13 key pitches...

How to throw a four-seam fastball

Four-seam fastball grip image The best grip for velocity and control on the fastball is across the four seams.

With a four-seam fastball, the baseball is balanced and consistent finger pressure creates a straighter flight path to the plate, creating better accuracy and control.

The four seamer is the foundation of any pitcher's arsenal. The better it is, the more effective everything else he throws will be.

Let's take a closer look at the grip, arm action and mechanics of the pitch.

Learn the grip

Here are some pictures of finger placement for the four-seam fastball.

Do you notice how the index and middle fingers are placed either on the "C" or "backwards C" across the seams, with the thumb placed underneath?

All force is applied through the middle of the ball toward the target, with the fingers creating backspin upon release.

Standard four-seam grip

Pitching grip four seam fastball Pitching grip four seam fastball Pitching grip four seam fastball image

  1. Grip the baseball across the wide seams with the finger pads over the seams.
  2. Place the first two fingers 1/2 to 3/4 inch apart. To improve control, widen out slightly.
  3. Place the thumb directly under the ball. The ball should rest on the inside bony surface of the first joint in the thumb.
  4. Flex the ring finger into the palm with only the inside of the second knuckle touching and stabilizing the ball.
  5. Hold the ball out in the fingers. It should not contact the fleshy part of the palm. There should be a good space between the first finger and the thumb.
  6. Keep a firm grip, but allow the wrist and forearm muscles to be loose and relaxed.
  7. For good control, the grip, finger pressure and release point must be consistent.

Arm action and mechanics

Check out this video clip of Felix Hernandez firing a 92-MPH four-seamer past Prince Fielder for a called third strike.

Felix Hernandez four-seam fastballFelix Hernandez's four-seam fastball

Take a seat!

Hernandez, like most big league pitchers, does a nice job of the following:

  1. The palm of the hand faces the plate with the first two fingers on top of and directly behind the ball.
  2. The ball comes out of the hand as the wrist flexes forward to a neutral position and the hand crosses a line about even with the pitchers face.
  3. Upon release, the fingers flex forward following the ball and the wrist will naturally flex forward as well.
  4. The ball should come off the finger pad of the outer half of the middle finger. This will give the ball some side and backward rotation, causing the ball to move slightly, although not as much as a two-seam fastball, which is described later.
  5. The arm continues downward across and outside the lead leg for a good long smooth arc of deceleration.

The four-seam fastball is an excellent pitch to throw hard, up in the strike zone.


How to throw a two-seam fastball

Two-seam fastball grip imageThe two-seam fastball is a pitch thrown much like the four-seamer but with different finger placement that causes a little more movement downward and/or to the throwing-hand side of the plate.

It is called a "two seamer" because when thrown, the pitch only has two seams cutting through the air toward the target.

This causes the ball to move more but is also a little slower.

It's important to note that while some pitchers throw their two seamer a couple of miles per hour slower than their four seamer, many throw both pitches just as hard. 

Let's take a closer look at the grip, arm action and mechanics of the pitch.

Learn the grip

Here are some pictures of finger placement for the two-seam fastball.

Do you notice how to the index and middle fingers are placed along the seams with the thumb underneath?

Standard two seam grip with the seams

Pitching grip two seam fastball with the seams Pitching grip two seam fastball with the seams image Pitching grip two seam fastball with the seams

Standard two seam grip across the seams

Pitching grip two seam fastball across seams image

  1. Hold the ball with two fingers close together inside with or along the narrow seams, or across the narrow seams.
  2. Use a slightly firmer finger pressure than the four seamer and hold the baseball a little deeper in the hand.
  3. Hold the ball should slightly unbalanced by off centering the ball toward the ring finger and applying more pressure to the first finger pad.
  4. Use one of two methods for the thumb position under the baseball:
    • Place the thumb under the ball resting on a seam on the inside bony surface of the first joint. Upon release, the thumb is slightly pulled under the ball, creating a side to over-spin.
    • For pitchers with large hands and long fingers, some prefer to flex the thumb back under the ball more to get the ball down and over the thumb quicker.

Arm action and mechanics

Check out this two-seam fastball from Henderson Alvarez of the Miami Marlins. Here it is in slow motion as he strikes out Curtis Granderson of the Mets...

Henderson Alvarez two-seam fastballHenderson Alvarez's two-seam fastball

Man, it's a thing of beauty.

That movement is just plain sick, right?

Alverez, like most big league pitchers, does a nice job of the following:

  1. As the arm and hand come to the release point, the wrist is slightly turned outward.
  2. There is little more first finger pressure as the fingers come over and down through the inside of the ball.
  3. The thumb pulls outward slightly and under the ball. Remember the ball is already off centered a little to the ring finger.
  4. The wrist is flexed down and outward slightly. The wrist will not be as loose as on a four-seam fastball.

This next video clip of Johnny Cueto's two-seamer really brings it together for us.

Here's a fantastic two-seam fastball to opposing pitcher Lance Lynn.

Johnny Cueto two-seam fastballJohnny Cueto's two-seam fastball

It's hard not to love the amount of movement on this fastball. The ball begins on the outer half of the plate and ends well inside, out of the strike zone.


How to throw a change up

Change up grip imageThe change up is thrown with exactly the same arm action and arm speed as the fastball, but with a grip that provides less force behind the ball and therefore less speed.

The most effective change up is one that immediately follows a fastball in a pitching sequence. If a pitcher is a real hard thrower, the change is more effective because the hitter has to "gear up" for a good fastball and make his decision on whether to swing much earlier.

The pitcher, of course, is trying to destroy the hitter’s timing and take away his aggressiveness.

Look to throw the change up 10-15% off fastball velocity. So if a pitcher throws an 85-87 MPH fastball, an effective change up speed will be 72-78 MPH.

Also, the pitcher shouldn't think a change up is only effective when it's missed. It really is not a strike out pitch, but a pitch that is "miss timed," causing weak contact. Even change ups out of the strike zone can be effective because it effects a hitter’s confidence that he can "sit" on the fastball.

Check out this change up from Stephen Strasburg. Watch this pitch move down and right...

Stephen Strasburg change upStephen Strasburg change up

I literally feel like crying on behalf of hitters everywhere.

The best times to change speeds are:

  • To big swingers
  • When the batter is ahead in count—1-0, 2-1, or 2-0
  • When a hitter is trying to pull or is out in front of the pitches

Let's take a closer look at the grip, arm action and mechanics of the pitch.

Learn the grip

Pitching grips for the change up vary, but generally the grip is deep in the fingers, but not in the palm. The grip should also be very loose, with just enough pressure to make sure it doesn't fall out of the hand.

Standard change up grip across the seams

Pitching grip change up across seams image Pitching grip change up across seams image Pitching grip change up across seams image

Standard change up grip with the seams

Pitching grip change up with the seams image

Three finger change up grip

Pitching grip three finger change up image Pitching grip three finger change up image

Four finger change up grip

Pitching grip four finger change up image

Circle change up grip

Pitching grip circle change up image Pitching grip circle change up image

Vulcan change up grip

Pitching grip vulcan change up image Pitching grip vulcan change up image

  1. Grip the ball deep in the hand, balanced and loose. The ball should rest up against the top ridge of the palm or at the base of the fingers.
  2. If the pitcher is just learning the pitch, use the three finger grip for control. For a RHP looking at the back of his hand, and the ball as a clock, place the thumb at 7 o’clock, the little finger at 5 o’clock and the first three fingers on top of the ball at 11, 12, 1 o’clock.
  3. Raise the finger tips and pads slightly and apply finger pressure between the first and second finger joints.
  4. Don’t set the grip until the ball is hidden in the glove just before the hand break.

Arm action and mechanics

Check out this change up from Max Scherzer to strike out Adam Dunn...

Max Scherzer two-seam fastballMax Scherzer's change up

Love that movement!

Scherzer, like most big league pitchers, does a nice job of the following:

  1. The arm action is just like the fastball until the pitcher comes into the acceleration phase, then:
    • Bring the hand in closer to the head which causes the elbow to lead longer
    • Start an early pronation of the wrist
  2. Upon release, the fingers are lifted off the ball, the ball rolls up the fingers.
  3. The wrist and hand are pronated a little early which stops the wrist from popping forward. This takes velocity off the ball and creates movement.
  4. On the follow through, collapse the body slightly. Don’t try to get too much backside drive and hip rotation into the pitch.
  5. Work for full arm extension to the plate on the follow through, just like on the fastball.

2 secrets to a better change up

The discussion forum Let's Talk Pitching has a terrific thread on developing the change up pitch in which members shared the following tips to practice and throw a great off-speed pitch:

Change up tip image

5 mistakes when throwing a change up

  1. Slowing down the arm and body motion
  2. Over emphasizing the fastball motion
  3. Releasing the ball too much from the side caused by turning the hand over too much.
  4. Dropping the hand and elbow and short arming across the body
  5. Not working on and using the pitch enough to master it

This next video clip of James Shields' patented change up really brings it together for us.

Check out the movement on this pitch to get Mark Teixeira swinging...

James Shields change upJames Shields' change up

Nasty right there.

The bottom line is this: if a young pitcher can develop a good change up, his fastball will appear faster and hitters will be less aggressive.


  • Attention Parents: The following info and step-by-step instruction for throwing a curve ball is recommended only for pitchers 14 and up. Please use caution when teaching the curve ball to young pitchers, as it potentially increases the risk of pitching-related injury.

How to throw a curve ball

Curveball grip imageThere's a lot of discussion among youth coaches about the "right" age to teach players to throw a curve ball

It's not unusual for kids as young as 10 or 11 to develop the technique and skill to throw a curve ball

But that doesn't mean they should.

Younger kids usually have hands and fingers that are smaller and shorter.

As a result, they have problems gripping, controlling and releasing the pitch properly. 

This often causes the hand, wrist or elbow to be out of proper position during the acceleration and release phases, which can lead to injury.

Younger players also lack the the arm strength and durability to control the forces on the elbow joint during the pitch.

So what's the "magic age"?

Generally speaking, players should be AT LEAST 14 years old before they start using the pitch regularly in game situations.

Check out this slow-motion look at Madison Bumgarner's hook as he strikes out Mike Moustakas...

Madison Bumgarner curveballMadison Bumgarner's curve ball

What's interesting about Madison Bumgarner is that he wasn't allowed to throw a curve ball until he was 16 year old, according to an article in Sports Illustrated.

16.

At that point, most boys have gone through puberty, and the bones and connective tissues in their throwing arms are strong enough to handle the strain.

But, more importantly, it's YOUR responsibility as a coach to teach your kids the proper mechanics of the pitch, and provide them with exercises to condition the elbow and shoulder.

Let's take a closer look at the grip, arm action and mechanics of the pitch.

Learn the grip

As with most other pitches, grips for the curve ball will vary.

But generally the pressure on a curve ball is provided by the middle finger and thumb. The index finger is just along for the ride.

Standard curve ball grip

Pitching grip curveball image Pitching grip curveball image

Curve ball grip with index finger up

Pitching grip curveball with index finger up image Pitching grip curveball with index finger up image

Knuckle curve ball grip

Pitching grip knuckle curveball image Pitching grip knuckle curveball image Pitching grip knuckle curveball image

No space curve ball grip

Pitching grip no space curveball image

  1. The curve ball grip may vary from pitcher to pitcher. Much depends on hand size, grip strength, finger length and feel. A pitcher with big hands and long fingers has an advantage because he can keep the fingers on top of the ball and the ball won’t slip out as often.
  2. I prefer teaching a standard rotation curve because it allows for faster rotation and therefore the chance for a sharper break.
  3. Grip the ball slightly deeper in the hand than the fastball, but do not choke the ball. Leave a space between the first finger and the thumb.
  4. The pressure points on the ball are:
    • The outside finger pad of the middle finger is up against the wide seam
    • The crook between the first and second joint of the ring finger stabilizes the ball.
    • The pressure point of the thumb on the ball is along the inside bony surface of the first joint.
    • The first finger should just lay on the ball and be close to the middle finger so the ball can roll over it quickly. A few pitchers will actually lift the first finger upon release.
  5. Use a firm grip with the middle finger pad and thumb, but as mentioned the pitcher must maintain a loose and flexible wrist. The forearm muscles should not be tense during the acceleration phase.

Arm action and mechanics

Check out Francisco Rodriguez's arm action as he throws a curve ball

Francisco Rodriguez curveball arm action Francisco Rodriguez's curve ball

K-Rod holds the major league record for saves in a single season with 62 set in 2008. His curve ball is 76-79 MPH, or about 16 MPH slower than his 95 MPH fastball. That's ideal.

It's not difficult to see why he's one of the most dominant closers in MLB history with that deuce.

Rodriguez, like most big league pitchers, does a nice job of the following:

  1. At the start of the motion, the arm action should be just the same as on the fastball. Use a full range of motion, don’t short arm the back swing or curl the wrist.
  2. The pitcher should attempt to get the hand up high in the cocked position with the elbow at least as high as the shoulder. This way the pitcher will be accelerating in a downward plane.
  3. As the shoulder starts to externally rotate, the palm of the hand will turn inward to partially face the head. The fingers will now be on top outside—not behind—the ball as on a fastball.
  4. During the acceleration phase, the elbow will lead slightly longer and the shoulder will internally rotate later. At this point the pitcher should think of great hand speed and wrist snap in a forward, inward plane. The hand speed must overtake the elbow to release the ball with a good overspin.
  5. The hand should be higher then and well outside the elbow at release point. Do not curl the wrist inside the forearm, this reduces ball velocity.
  6. The pitcher should bend at the waist getting the head and shoulders over the stride leg. Try to visualize reaching out in front of the body directly to the plate.
  7. Upon release of the ball, relax the hand, wrist and arm to allow the arm to pronate naturally. This will reduce some of the stress on the shoulder and elbow joints.
  8. On the curve ball do not attempt to get full arm extension on the follow through. Short arm the follow through quickly downward and outside the lead hip.

5 secrets to a better curve ball

Jeremy Affeldt has a great curve. Check out this 76 MPH bender to Eric Hosmer (and the nice frame by Buster Posey)...

Jeremy Affeldt curveballJeremy Affeldt's curve ball

That's such a dirty pitch.

Affeldt, like most big league pitchers, understands these 5 secrets to a great curve ball:

  1. Do not to rush the motion. Make certain the head and shoulders get over the lead leg and the hand speed overtakes the elbow and pull downward.
  2. Do not drive the back knee forward as hard as on the fast ball. Many pitchers like to drag the back pivot foot to allow them to flex earlier at the waist.
  3. It is important to use good lead arm action, driving down and back giving great velocity of the hips, then shoulders. Keep the front shoulder closed as long as possible.
  4. During the release and follow through, many pitchers create such a violent downward force that they lose sight of the ball on the way to the plate, but pick it up again well before it reaches the hitting zone.
  5. As on the fastball, a pitcher may have to use a jump step to recover his balance to field his position.

8 mistakes when throwing a curve ball

And we can't talk about curve balls without talking about Clayton Kershaw's breaking pitch. It's one of the best in the game.

Clayton Kershaw curveballClayton Kershaw's curve ball

It takes a few watches to fully comprehend the beauty of Kershaw's hook. Notice how the pitch reaches as high as eye-level well off the plate before gracefully falling to the bottom of the outside corner for the called strike on Wilin Rosario.

Now that's a backwards-K!

Here are the 8 most common mistakes that I've observed pitchers make when throwing a curve ball:

  1. Over throwing it.
  2. Short arming the backswing and coming out of a low cocked position.
  3. Over extending the elbow by releasing the ball in a 12-6 vs. a 1-7 rotation.
  4. Not short arming the follow through, over extending the elbow.
  5. Wrist hooking during the backswing or curling the wrist during acceleration.
  6. Choking the ball too deep in hand.
  7. Throwing across body.
  8. Hanging the curve—the pitcher throws up hill, low elbow in the cocked position, or rushes motion ahead of arm.

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What do you think?

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Are there any pitching tips that I missed?

Or maybe you have an idea of how I can make this article even better.

Either way, leave a comment and let me know.

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