the Pitch Low
DR. JOHN BAGONZI
IF THERE IS ANYTHING I AM certain about in
pitching, it is that the farther up in the game you go, the more
successful you can be by keeping your pitches low. There
will be exceptions, of course. The classic example will be the
power pitchers (like Nolan Ryan) who can retain their velocity
and continue pitching upstairs as they age. Most pitchers
will achieve greater success by keeping the ball in the lower
part or even just out of the strike zone. Several of the
reasons for this are:
is faster. Most low fastballs are 1-2 mph faster than the
pitcher's high fastball cousins. A radar gun will quickly
hitter can see only the top half of the ball. On a high
pitch, the batter will see the whole ball.
low ball is more likely to be hit on the ground and less
likely to be hit for distance.
action on the ball (veer and sink) is heightened when the
pitch is low.
adds to both the velocity and movement of the pitch.
plays (the essence of defensive efficiency) are the precious
gifts of the low-ball pitcher.
Keeping the batters from hitting the long
ball is a form of survival pitching. For whatever the
reason (tighter wound balls, shorter fences, fewer developed
four-seam fastballs, tighter strike zones, and souped-up bats),
one has to pitch low in order to be effective.
Delivering a four-seam fastball high and
without a lot of action can be dangerous. Since umpires have
reduced the high strike to a nonentity, "everything
low" becomes an extremely viable style of pitching. The
lower strike zone has truly stimulated the development of this
The power sinker is a great low-pitching
option for anyone who can master it. The artistry lies in making
use of gravity, getting a good rotation, and mastering stride
The hard or power sinker is a marvelous
pitch. It seriously fragments the frequency of home runs.
Unfortunately, few pitchers can throw it effectively. Kevin
Brown of the Dodgers is the prototype power-sinker pitcher. It
is a low pitch, but because it is thrown extremely hard (90's
mph), it can be both a ground-ball and strikeout pitch.
Qualities and requirements of the power
sinker would include:
angle. Three-quarter or three-quarter minus is the preferred
arm slot, though some pitchers can throw it with a higher
(three-quarter plus) arm slot.
is mainly in the 8 to 2 direction approaching 9 to 3.
tight hard spin provides the bite (sharpness of break) to
hand speed, with an acceleration at the release point.
of hand with the index finger coming down on the inside of
the ball, turning the ball over. Thumb turns to the right (RHP).
long stride to ensure a low pitch.
Keeping the ball low increases its velocity
by as much as 3 mph. Add the dimension of a sharp lateral
break accompanied by a downward bite and you have a devil of a
pitch. By keeping this pitch at the knees and lower, you
can make it almost impossible to hit for distance.
One of its great characteristics is that it
often appears headed for the low strike zone, but because of its
sharp action, it often breaks out of the strike zone, not only
tormenting the hitter, but inducing the umpire to call a
borderline strike. Mixed with a late breaking slider
and/or a circle change-up, which may also break down (and
incidentally also break out of the strike zone), it gives you a
devastating style of pitching. When you mix it with a soft
or slower sinker, you wind up with a menu for ground balls.
Since few grounders ever wind up as extra-base hits, you will
reduce the run output and consequently enhance your opportunity
Not every pitcher will be able to throw
power sinkers, but many will be able to develop some quality
with the pitch. The jury is still out on the anatomical stress
produced by the power sinker, but, as with all pitches, good
mechanics can reduce the risk.
Anatomy of the Circle Change
The circle or OK change has become the
preferred change-up of the day. It has several real
positive qualities. It's the grip that causes the ball to
go slower. In a conventional fastball, the fingertips are
the prime activators of fast spin (tight) and ultimately provide
the velocity and quality to the pitch. In a change-up, the
fingertips do not play a role. Some experimentation with
the circle or OK change will be needed to obtain a comfortable
Mechanics of the OK change (also called the
an OK with the thumb and forefinger forming a circle and the
three remaining fingers standing up in the conventional OK
the middle two fingers in the center of the ball.
the little finger to the outside of the ball.
the thumb and forefinger (in a circular position) on the
inside of the ball.
Another way of gripping the circle or OK
change is to:
the ball as a palm grip.
little finger down.
a circle on the inside of the ball with the forefinger and
Once the grip is established, the idea is
to throw the pitch low. The middle fingers should
guarantee the lowness of the pitch, as well as prevent the pitch
from being thrown hard. At the outset, I believe you
should try to throw the pitch hard and then gradually work into
a comfortable release. The pitcher should always provide
an illusion to this pitch -- make his armspeed look like
Getting Change-Ups to Sink
Many OK change-ups will sink (a la Maddux
and Martinez), which will add to their effectiveness. This
movement can be purely accidental or by coincidence. It is the
result of natural pronation. But a certain degree of doctoring
can occur. Try the following (to make ball break in and down):
the thumb turn outward (to right for RHP).
forefinger down and in (RHP).
This will cause the ball to sink. Some circle changes even
act like a screwball, due to the reduced speed and rotation.
These pitches will often be out of the strike zone, but will
still cause the batter to lunge for them. Rarely will such
pitches be hit for distance.
To make the ball break away (for RHP):
fingers can exert pressure (inward, to the left).
turns inward -- to the left.
This will cause the change-up to break like
a cutter or a slider. Since the pitch is unlikely to break
downward, it cannot be recommended. A change-up must go
down in order to be effective. The anatomy of the
pitcher's hand may very well determine which way to make this
Throwing the OK change perfectly straight
still has great advantages, as the spin rotation in the
four-seam fastball and four-seam change-up is very deceptive to
the batter, particularly to those who like to read the pitch.
As I have said, the pitch must be kept low. High changes
are dangerous, as the batter can adjust to them much easier. His
vision is more focused (on high change-ups) and his swing more
As pitching coaches, we have to imbed this
tendency (keeping the ball low) early in the pitcher's career.
Pitching low is where it's at! It is a style of pitching all in