In that time, in less than a half of second a batter has to figure out what pitch is coming, the location and if he's going to swing at it. The play by play man has almost another half of second to tell you what pitch was thrown.
How do they do that?
Red Sox broadcaster and former major leaguer, Jerry Remy wrote in his recent Boston Globe #1 Bestseller, "Watching Baseball" Discovering The Game Within The Game, "One key to recognizing the pitch is to focus on the pitcher's hand as it comes through the release point. Attentive hitters also pay attention to the arm slot, which is the angle of the arm as the ball is released."
Pitchers can have an over-the-top, three quarter, sidearm, submarine delivery or a variation of any of the four positions. A lot of times when you hear that a pitcher needs to work on his mechanics, they are often referring to a pitcher's release point and arm slot.
Pitching coaches are always trying to get a pitcher to have the same release point for all their pitches, but that is easier said than done. When a pitcher has a different release point or arm slot for different pitches he is often tipping his pitches, which has been reported to be a problem this season with Cardinal hurler, Mark Mulder and in the past with Matt Morris.
Here is a tip on what to look for when trying to figure out for yourself, what pitch a pitcher is throwing. When a pitcher throws a curveball, his arm may be more on top or have a higher arm slot than his other pitches. When his wrist is facing home plate, the pitch is probably going to be a fastball. When the wrist is turned to the side, than it's going to be a breaking ball or curve.
That seems like it would be simple enough to determine what pitch is coming, except there are three different types of fastballs, with about six different names. There is the "curveball" with a half of dozen different names. Then there is the "slider" and the "split-finger fastball", (now that's at least four different types of fastballs, confused yet? If this isn't enough then you have the "change up" and on rare occasions, you may face a knuckleball pitcher like Boston's Tim Wakefield and you still might see a variation of the old fashion spit ball.
Let's take a look at the these different types of pitches and how to identify them, starting off with the fastball.
THE FASTBALL - the fastball is the basic pitch in baseball and there are three different types of this pitch. The four -seam, two-seam and cut fastball. A typical major league pitcher throws a fastball around 90 mph, with some reaching the upper 90's and a rare few cross the 100 mph on some pitches.
The four-seam fastball: will be a straight pitch very little movement on it and will tend to rise when it crosses the plate. A lot of times you will see a batter swing underneath the pitch. Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds comes to my mind, swinging at those high four-seam fastballs. This pitch is made by griping the ball across the four seams (not with).
Major League Scouts rank the four-seam fastball as one of Cardinals' starter Chris Carpenters best pitches and is one of Matt Morris and Jeff Suppan's better pitches.
Over the past couple of seasons Matt Morris has had to rely on more of his breaking stuff and sinker because he can no longer just blow batters away with his fastball. Last season Morris' fastball rarely topped the 90-92 mph range forcing him to become more of a complete pitcher and it seems to be working for him. While the four-seam fastball pitch is one of Jeff Suppan's better pitches, his fastball is just slightly above average in terms of velocity, sometimes hitting 92 mph with average movement and control.
The two-seam fastball: is also known as a sinker, sinking fastball or heavy fastball. It has good velocity but takes a hard dip at the end. The pitched is released the same way as a four-seam fastball, but the pitch is made with the middle and ring finger placed along the two seams and the pitch does not run or slide as much as a four-seam fastball. This pitch gets it's name "heavy fastball" because if a batter makes contact with the ball he feels like he's hitting a shot put.
Cardinal starters Matt Morris, Mark Mulder, Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan all throw the two-seam fastball. Marquis has the best two seam fastball among the group with Morris and Mulder's two seamer slightly above average by major league standards and Suppan's possesses an average two seam fastball.
The cut fastball: looks like a four-seam fastball except that it has late movement on it, cutting in on the hands of a left handed batter or cutting to the outside of the plate on a right handed batter. To throw this pitch a pitcher holds the ball just a little off center. Perhaps the most famous cut fastball pitcher is New York Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera.
You will also hear the term a "running fastball" during a game. This is not a pitch in itself, it is a mistake pitch that runs in on the batter, usually because the pitcher held on to the pitch too long and changed his release point.
Don't get too excited because you can't tell the differences in these pitches from the stands. Other than the sinker, you just are not going to be able to detect the subtle difference between these pitches. If you are watching the game at home and you get to see the same pitch in slow motion, in time with practice you might be able to pick out the type fastball pitch.
Other things you can watch out for, most cross-seamed fastballs are thrown with an arm slot over the top down to three-quarters. The cut fastball is also thrown right over the top and a sinker (two-seamed fastball) will often be released just a little lower than the other fastballs but will still be well above the shoulder.
STUDY TIP - Print out this three part series and study it for a while. It can be a lot of fun learning the pitches and trying to call them during a game. To add some fun to the watching the game, you can actually make a contest out calling pitches with your friends, you might even win a couple of cold ones with your new found expertise.
Part Two - We'll take a look at the "curve ball", "the slider" and the Cardinals that throw them and how their pitches rank among major league pitchers
Part Three - The "split-finger fastball", "the change up" and the Cardinals that throw them and how their pitches rank among major league pitchers.