How To Throw A Filthy Splitter

Do you know how to throw a split-finger fastball?

In this article, you'll learn everything you need to know about throwing a splitter that goes beyond "dirty" or "nasty" and usually involves embarrassing the batter...

But first, check out this splitter from Masahiro Tanaka and tell me it isn't awesome:

Masahiro Tanaka splitter
Image source: pitcherlist.com

Wow.

Tanaka's splitter hits the triple crown of traits for what a dominant pitch should exhibit—good velocity, generates ground balls, and gets whiffs.

It's easy to see why in 2014 among all pitchers who threw at least 300 splitters, Tanaka ranked 1st in whiffs/swing (46%), 1st ground balls per balls in play (69%), and 2nd in velocity (87.27 mph average).

The splitter is known for its tight rotation and strong velocity.

The surprise on the quick dive of the ball at home plate in the very last second creates missed swings from the opponent.

The split-finger fastball is strictly an out pitch.

Splitter grip

So what's the secret to a good splitter?

Let's take a closer look at how to grip and throw the splitter...

The split-finger fastball's grip is similar to the two-seam fastball, but the fingers are spread farther apart to change the rotation and add breaks.

If you have larger hands the pitch is most effective because it should be "choked" deep in the hand. This enforces the splitters downward movement.

Splitter grip
Image source: baseball-pitching-tips.com
  1. Place index and middle fingers on the outside of the horseshoe seam.
  2. Grip firmly.
  3. Throw the palm-side wrist of the throwing hand directly at the target. Keep your index and middle fingers extended upward; wrist should remain stiff.

Bruce Sutter and the split-fingered fastball

Did you know Hall of Fame pitcher Bruce Sutter may have had one of the best splitters in the history of baseball, according to baseball analysts?

Here's a shot of Sutter pitching in a game back in 1983... love the scruff.

Bruce Sutter sinker pitch image
Chuck Solomon/Icon Sportswire

To throw a splitter, Sutter says you do the following:

"Position your thumb on the back seam and throw a fastball. This placement puts the ball out front, more than a forkball."

What set Sutter apart from forkballers, and before that, spitballers, was how the ball came out of his hand with a spinning action indistinguishable from a fastball.

At 55 feet the ball dropped clear out of the strike zone.

You can watch it here:

Few pitchers in major league history have ever had better command of the bottom of the strike zone. Sutter rarely threw his splitter for a strike, but it was difficult for hitters to lay off.

And he'd throw the fastball just enough to keep them guessing. His dominance, and Hall of Fame career, can be directly traced back to learning the split-fingered fastball.

More images of splitter grips

Splitter grip images
Image source: baseball-pitching-tips.com

DID YOU KNOW?

The splitter comes in with tight rotation and good velocity and dives straight down at the last second.

The grip is similar to the two-seam fastball, but with the fingers spread farther apart to change the rotation and add break.

This pitch is generally not thrown for strikes, but to coax a swing and miss.

How to throw a splitter video

Put it all together, and it looks like this...

Here's a splitter from Ubaldo Jimenez that makes Torii Hunter chase out of the zone:

Ubaldo Jimenez splitter
Image source: pitcherlist.com

Now that's a great pitch.

Jeff Samardzija splitter pitching gif
Jeff Samardzija splitter

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, the split-finger fastball or splitter was on of the more popular pitches in professional baseball.

Today, however, it's one of the least popular pitches in the majors, at least in terms of usage.

According to Pitch F/X, just six pitchers throw the pitch at least 10% of the time. Hiroki Kuroda leads all pitchers, throwing his splitter on 23.4% of his offerings. Masahiro Tanaka and Ubaldo Jimenez both throw it at least 20% of the time, with Tim Hudson, Dan Haren and Jeff Samardzija ranging from 10.2% (Samardzija) to 16.4% (Hudson).

While the pitch isn't particularly popular in the big leagues, it is used more frequently in college baseball.

But I'm NOT a fan of the pitch.

While it's true, if a pitcher can make the ball tumble and control it in the strike zone, it can be a very effective pitch because it breaks so late and the pitch is a little slower off the same fast ball arm action. But I'd much rather see high school and college pitcher throwing their fastball to develop arm strength and stamina.

Plus, the splitter is a difficult pitch to control and to develop a consistent break. And thrown improperly, and maybe even correctly, it may cause added stress on the shoulder.

Therefore, when teaaching the splitter, I usually limit it for the following types of pitchers only:

  • Pitchers who are not pro prospects.
  • Pitchers who don’t have a real effective breaking pitch.
  • Pitchers who don’t have real good velocity.
  • Pitchers who can throw it with a natural fast ball arm action and release.

How to grip a splitter

  1. Hold the ball with the narrow seams up between the fingers, and the thumb right under the ball, right under the split of the fingers.
  2. The pressure points of the index and middle fingers are along the inside of the first outer finger joint. The 3rd finger should rest up against the outside of the ball to stabilize it. The ball rests on the inside bony surface of the thumb. Looking at the ball as a clock (RHP), the index finger will be at 10, middle finger at 2, ring finger 2nd joint at 4, and the thumb at 6.

The other grip that many pitchers use is to place the thumb up on the side of the ball at 8 o’clock. It is more difficult to throw the ball with great velocity this way, but it is an effective change-up and it will tumble and drop.

The mechanics of throwing a splitter

Arm action:

  1. The arm action should be just like the normal fastball. Think fastball - do not aim the ball.
  2. It is very important to use a long natural arc of deceleration during the follow-through.

Release point:

  1. The wrist is positioned as on a fastball.
  2. On release, the wrist is flexed forward to the neutral position and may be pronated early to allow the ball to slip out. Finger pressure may vary from pitcher to pitcher.
  3. The pitcher should feel like he is pulling down through the ball with the fingers, pushing up through with the thumb.
  4. Maintain the same arm action and hand speed as on the fastball.
  5. Make sure the ball is released at the normal fastball release point. Work for full extension to plate after release.
  6. During acceleration phase, the hand maybe closer to the head than on a fastball.

How to practice throwing a splitter (6 steps)

  1. Throw fastballs, but keeping widening the fingers down the side of the ball until it feels comfortable and starts to decrease the rotation of the ball.
  2. Work at 1/2 or 3/4 speed at short distances until the pitcher has the feel for the pitch.
  3. Throw for the center of the plate and below the hitter’s crotch area.
  4. Experiment with the position of the thumb
    • Under the ball as in throwing the fastball
    • On the side near the bottom of the ball
    • On the side near the index finger
  5. Experiment with rolling the ball back deeper in the hand
  6. Loosen the inside finger pressure of the index and middle fingers. Try to let the ball slip out which will slow the back spin.

Common problems with the splitter

  • Learning to control the pitch and keeping it low in the strike zone.
  • Hiding the grip from batters and coaches. Some pitchers start each preliminary motion with a split-finger grip, then change to the pitch they are actually going to throw.
  • Having to stiff-wrist the release to make the pitch tumble causes added stress on the elbow and shoulder joint muscles. Do not stiff wrist the pitch.
  • Difficult to grip and control in cold weather.
  • Snapping the arm with a recoil action or hyper extending the elbow.
  • Not getting the fingers on top of the ball.
  • Too much pressure applied by the thumb on the ball.
  • Trying to make the pitch “work” rather than throwing and releasing it with a normal fastball motion.

Again, the splitter can be a very effective pitch, but I do not recommend teaching it to high school and college pitchers who have the potential to be real hard throwers. I really believe pitchers should be working to develop more velocity, movement, and control of their fastball and that over-use of the splitter may hinder the development of good velocity.

Learning different pitches

Remember this: Even though this site describes a method of throwing five or six different pitches, it does not mean any pitcher should attempt to learn or throw all these pitches.

High school and college pitchers should try to master just three pitches. Even many major league pitchers are successful with three basic pitches. Some may add a specialty or fourth pitch as they get more experienced.

Youth pitchers 14 and under should concentrate on developing the fastball and learning to throw it to spots, plus learning to change speeds on the pitch.

Pitchers who haven’t reached puberty should not throw breaking pitches competitively due to their lack of muscle, ligament and bone development. The breaking pitches create more stress on the elbow joint and bicep in young pitchers may not be developed enough to properly decelerate the forearm.


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