Home Baseball Content Is Pitching Velocity Really that Important?

Is Pitching Velocity Really that Important?

Written on May 11, 2010 at 6:45 am, by Eric Cressey

About this time last year, I attended and spoke at at big sports medicine conference organized by Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Medical School.  Given that it was baseball season, and the event’s organizers were all also on staff with the Boston Red Sox, a big focus of the event was the diagnosis, treatment, and causes of throwing injuries to the elbow and shoulder.

One of the organizers happened to be my good friend Mike Reinold, who is the head athletic trainer and rehabilitation coordinator for the Red Sox.  As you probably know, we collaborated on the Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD set as well.


One of the resounding themes of Mike’s talks was that throwing hard is not the single-most important factor in being a successful pitcher.  Rather, success is all about changing speeds and hitting spots.  The point is an important one – and it’s backed up by the success of the likes of Jamie Moyer, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux.

Why is it so important for youth pitchers and parents to understand this?  It’s because it demonstrates that long-term success is not about dominating in little league; it’s about acquiring skills that allow for future improvements.

Youth pitches should focus on commanding their fastballs with consistent repetition of their mechanics early-on – not just throwing hard.  If you think you have the fastball mastered at age 9 and simply learn a curveball so that you can dominate little league hitters, you’re skipping steps and trying to ride too many horses with one saddle.  It’s not that the curveball is inherently more stressful than any other pitch; it’s just that – as the saying goes – “if you chase two rabbits, both will escape.”


While kids need variety, they shouldn’t try to master too many different complex skills at once.  Step 1 is to have command of your fastball – not just to throw it hard.

Step 2 is to learn a good change-up to start creating the separation to which Mike is referring.  Breaking pitches can come later.

Need proof?  I recently saw some statistics that demonstrated that the MLB average against off-speed pitches has decline each of the past three years.  Meanwhile, not surprisingly, the average MLB fastball velocity has increased by about 1mph.  Throwing harder made all those off-speed pitches more effective by creating more separation.  So, yes, throwing the crap out of the ball is still important – but only if you know where it’s going – otherwise the average fastball velocity wouldn’t be higher in Low A ball than it is in the big leagues.

Oh, and in case you need further proof of how MLB general managers perceive the importance of off-speed pitches, Phillies First Baseman Ryan Howard gave you $125 worth when he signed a new five-year contract last month.  While the MLB average against off-speed pitches has steadily declined over the past three seasons, Howard has gotten better.


The take-home message is that youth pitchers need to develop the mechanical efficiency and physical abilities that will eventually make them able to throw hard in conjunction with a solid assortment of off-speed pitches.  They don’t need to light up radar guns and showcase curveballs when they’re still regulars at Chuck ‘E Cheese.

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10 Responses to “Is Pitching Velocity Really that Important?”

  1. Dan Says:

    You can add Andy Pettitte to that list as well. He had shoulder problems and really had to adjust the way he approached pitching. His success last season and so far this season speaks for itself.

    I read an interesting article about stride length when pitching and velocity. Supposedly the bigger the stride the more velocity you could generate. I know Nolan Ryan attributed much of his velocity to his leg strength.

    Great post.


  2. Eric Cressey Says:

    Dan – Funny you mention the stride length/stride angle thing. I’ll actually be writing it up in a future blog.

  3. Dan Says:

    Cool. I can’t wait to read it. Even though my playing days are over I am still fascinated by the mechanics of pitching. Watching a pitchers arm in slow motion is unbelievable.


  4. Tom Says:

    I agree that one must have command, but the cold hard fact is that all things being equal, the hard thrower gets the ball first, and continues to get it until he proves that he shouldn’t get it. No?

  5. Tom Says:

    I agree that one must have command, but the cold hard fact is that all things being equal, the hard thrower gets the ball first, and continues to get it until he proves that he shouldn\’t get it. No?


  6. Nathan Says:

    Tom – When it comes to the more advanced levels of baseball such as college or higher, coaches prefer to put pitchers out on the mound who have good command of their fastball, and one other pitch. It’s not irregular for a coach to frequently use a pitcher who throws 83-85 with command for example, over a guy who is bringing it at 90 mph mark, but is inconsistent with his control.

    Youth coaches are obsessed with kids who can throw the baseball hard because location and pitching command is not as important at the lower levels. If you miss your spots in college you get rocked, and it doesn’t matter how hard you’re throwing or at what level your playing.

    Anyways, great article Eric

  7. Christian Says:

    I agree that early on in the stages of pitching the fastball needs to be emphasized with a good change up, but at an early age is command necessarily the biggest factor we need to look at? You can teach a pitcher command, but teaching velocity is different. Should we not from the beginning teach mechanics to build explosive power and then work to control it?

  8. Carl Thomas Says:

    I agree with the focus on developing consistency in mechanics of the fastball and not worrying about breaking stuff. But I also think there is too much concern with developing off-speed pitches in general in young pitchers, including the change. Most kids learning the change only “change” their mechanics. While overthrowing should be discouraged, I think developing a strong arm (and core, and legs)–both in terms of durability and velocity–are the critical aspects of development, so long as the velocity is coming from proper strength and power development within the confines of proper mechanics. With more awareness (not enough, but improving) of the dangers of too much throwing, a smart arm-strength program will do more for both the short-term and long-term development of most young pitchers.

  9. Mike McCrite Says:

    Pitchers should be taught an learn to LOVE their change-ups!!! I have seen velocity increase with proper mechanics and with age, but the pitch that I have seen does the most good is off speed.
    Players that have had higher velocity (between ages of 12 – 18)have been able to “scare” the batter into swinging at fastballs that are not strikes; but, their success has come from dropping 8 – 12 MPH off and making the batter look silly or roll one gently to the left side.
    I think we should remember that the perfect inning is 3 pitches and not 9. I had a former hitting champ here in Seattle tell me that the pitcher he hated to hit off was Jamie Moyer.
    Teach consistant arm speed and body motion.

  10. Steve Says:

    Having the utmost respect for your expertise, I do disagree with the basic premise here. I would much rather emphasize that a young pitcher throw aggressively and explosively in their early years and then work on command later on. An over emphasis on “throwing strikes” can cause a pitcher to lead with the elbow and slow down the delivery. The best pitching mind on the planet – Brent Strom – preaches having young pitchers rear back and fire the ball, strike zone be damned. I’m with him on this one.

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