Fast-pitch softball is more technical than you might think. The learning curve for a new pitch is one to two years, but understanding the specifics of various release points and hand positioning requires patience and practice. The more comfortable the pitcher feels, the more effective the pitches will be. A tiny difference in release could mean a home run for the other team.
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What Makes the Difference?
Believe it or not, your index finger does most of the work. According to Lisa Sweeney, pitching coach at the University of Pennsylvania, the spin makes all the difference. "That finger pulls the seam in the right directions when you're snapping the ball so that it spins the right way. The faster the ball spins, the more it's going to move, so you want it to be as tight as possible," Sweeney says.
What Happened to the Fastball?
The fastball is likely the first pitch you learn as a kid, but in college the vast majority of pitchers don't use it in their repertoire because it's the one most likely to get burned. "In softball, you're so close to the batter that at some point, speed becomes unimportant. If a girl can time you and get around on you, your speed doesn't matter anymore," Sweeney says.
Pitches and Their Placement
The greater the movement your pitches have, the harder it will be for the batter to hit and the more dominant you will be. A dropball can be thrown to the inside or outside parts of the plate, and as the name implies, it should drop. When you pitch from the mound, a curveball will tail away to the outside corner, to the left of a right-handed hitter, while a screwball will trail to the right. A riseball, one of the hardest pitches to both learn and teach, according to Sweeney, can be thrown either inside or outside, but its backward spin should force it up. Hence the rise.
More effective than the release point of a pitch is the spin and angle of your hand on the ball. For a riseball, your hand is placed underneath. "If you were to put your hand down beside you and hold your palm out like you were holding a pizza, that's how your hand is releasing the ball to get that backspin," says Sweeney. "A curveball is similar, but your fingers that wrap around the ball pull it across your body, spinning it completely sideways, like motioning three to nine on a clock."
Take Your Body into Account
Understanding your own mechanics will help command your throws. Your body type, stature and build, will slightly affect the technical dimensions of throwing. For example, a person with smaller hands is going to have a different way of spinning the ball because it will more difficult for her to keep a firm grip. Overall, knowing how to work with your body will only increase your effectiveness. "If you're in command over three of four pitches, you're in pretty good shape because the batters don't know when the ball is coming out of your hand and which way the ball is going to break," Sweeney says.