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Brandon Claussen, pitching for the Cincinnati Reds, delivers the ball to home plate

In baseball, the pitcher is the player who throws the baseball from the pitcher's mound toward the catcher to begin each play, with the goal of retiring a batter who attempts to either make contact with it or draw a walk. In the numbering system used to record defensive plays, the pitcher is assigned the number 1. In the National League and the Japanese Central League, the pitcher also bats. Starting in 1973 with the American League and spreading throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the hitting duties of the pitcher have generally been given over to the position of designated hitter, a cause of some controversy.

Contents

Overview

In most cases, the object of a pitch is to deliver the ball to the catcher without allowing the batter to hit the ball. The ball is delivered in such a way that the batter either can't hit a pitch through the strike zone, hits the ball poorly (resulting in a pop fly or ground out), or is fooled into swinging at a pitch outside of the strike zone. If the batter elects not to swing at the pitch, it is called a strike if any part of the ball passes through the strike zone and a ball is when any part of the ball doesn't pass through the strike zone. The batter can also check their swing. A check swing is when the batter swings half way, but then stops their swing short when they think the pitch will be a ball. If the batter successfully checks their swing and the pitch is out of the strike zone, it is called a ball.

There are two legal pitching positions, the windup and the set position or stretch. Either position may be used at any time; typically, the windup is used when the bases are empty and pitchers go from the set position when runner(s) are on base. Each position has certain procedures that must be followed. A power pitcher is a pitcher who relies on the velocity of his pitches to succeed.[1] Generally, power pitchers record a high percentage of strikeouts. A control pitcher succeeds by throwing accurate pitches and thus records few walks.

Johan Santana delivers a pitch at Shea Stadium in 2008, while playing for the New York Mets.

Nearly all action during a game is centered around the pitcher for the defensive team. A pitcher's particular style and skill heavily influences the dynamics of the game and will often determine the victor.

The type and sequence of pitches chosen depends upon the particular situation in a game. Because pitchers and catchers must coordinate each pitch, a system of hand signals are used by the catcher to communicate choices to the pitcher, to which the pitcher either vetoes or accepts. The relationship between pitcher and catcher is so important, that some teams use more than one starting catcher; selecting the catcher for a particular game based on who the starting pitcher is. Together, the pitcher and catcher are known as the battery.

Starting with the pivot foot on the pitcher's rubber at the center of the pitcher's mound, which is 60 feet 6 inches (18.44 m) from home plate, the pitcher throws the baseball to the catcher, who is positioned behind home plate and catches the ball. Meanwhile, a batter stands in the batter's box at one side of the plate, and attempts to bat the ball safely into fair play.

Although the object and mechanics of pitching remain the same for all pitchers, pitchers may be classified according to their roles and effectiveness. The starting pitcher begins the game and he may be followed various relief pitchers, such as the long reliever, the left-handed specialist, the middle reliever, the setup man, and/or the closer.

In Major League Baseball, every team uses Baseball Rubbing Mud to rub their balls in before their pitchers use them in games.[2]

Pitching in a game

The position of the pitcher
A pitcher releases the baseball from the pitcher's mound
Delivery of the baseball from the pitcher to catcher

A skilled pitcher often throws a variety of different pitches in order to prevent the batter from hitting the ball well. The most basic pitch is a fastball, where the pitcher throws the ball as hard as he can. Some pitchers are able to throw a fastball at a speed of over 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). Other common types of pitches are the curveball, slider, changeup, forkball, split-fingered fastball, and knuckleball. These generally are intended to have unusual movement or to deceive the batter as to the rotation or velocity of the ball, making it more difficult to hit. Very few pitchers throw all of these pitches, but most use a subset or blend of the basic types. Some pitchers also release pitches from different arm angles, making it harder for the batter to pick up the flight of the ball. (See List of baseball pitches.) A pitcher who is throwing well on a particular day is said to have brought his "good stuff".

There are a number of distinct throwing styles used by pitchers. The most common style is an overhand delivery in which the pitcher's arm snaps downward with the release of the ball. Some pitchers use a sidearm delivery in which the arm arcs laterally to the torso. Some pitchers use a submarine style in which the pitcher's body tilts sharply downward on delivery, creating an exaggerated sidearm motion in which the pitcher's knuckles come very close to the mound.

Rotation and specialization

Effective pitching is vitally important in baseball. In baseball statistics, for each game, one pitcher will be credited with winning the game, and one pitcher will be charged with losing it. This is not necessarily the starting pitchers for each team, however, as a reliever can get a win and the starter would then get a no-decision.

Pitching is physically demanding, especially if the pitcher is throwing with maximum effort. A full game usually involves 120-170 pitches thrown by each team, and most pitchers begin to tire before they reach this point. As a result, the pitcher who starts a game often will not be the one who finishes it, and he may not be recovered enough to pitch again for a few days. The act of throwing a baseball at high speed is very unnatural to the body and somewhat damaging to human muscles; thus pitchers are very susceptible to injuries, soreness, and general pain.

Teams have devised two strategies to address this problem: rotation and specialization. To accommodate playing nearly every day, a team will include a group of pitchers who start games and rotate between them, allowing each pitcher to rest for a few days between starts. A team's roster of starting pitchers are usually not even in terms of skill. Exceptional pitchers are highly sought after and in the professional ranks draw large salaries, thus teams can seldom stock each slot in the rotation with top quality pitchers. The best starter in the team's rotation is called the ace. He is usually followed in the rotation by 3 or 4 other starters before he would be due to pitch again. Barring injury or exceptional circumstances, the ace is usually the pitcher that starts on Opening Day. Aces are also preferred to start crucial games late in the season and in the playoffs; sometimes they are asked to pitch on shorter rest if the team feels he would be more effective than the 4th or 5th starter. Teams rank the pitchers in the rotation by taking into account skill level or whether they are right or left handed. Mixing up right and left handed pitchers is seen as advantageous in order to throw off the other team's hitting game to game in a series.

Teams have additional pitchers reserved to replace that game's starting pitcher if he tires or proves ineffective. These players are called relief pitchers, relievers, or collectively the bullpen. Once a starter begins to tire or is starting to give up hits and runs a call is made to the bullpen to have a reliever start to warmup. This involves the reliever starting to throw practice balls to a couch in the bullpen as to be ready to come in a pitch whenever the manager wishes to pull the current pitcher. Having a reliever warmup does not always mean he will be used, the current pitcher may regain his composure and retire the side or the manager may choose to go with another reliever if strategy dictates. Commonly, pitching changes will occur as a result of a pinch hitter being used in the late innings of a game. A reliever would them come out of the bullpen to pitch the next inning.

When making a pitching change a manager will come out to the mound slowly to waste time. He will then call in a pitcher by the tap of the arm which the next pitcher throws with. The manager or pitching coach may also come out to discuss strategy with the pitcher, but on his second trip to the mound with the same pitcher in the same inning, the pitcher has to come out. The relief pitchers often have even more specialized roles, and the particular reliever used depends on the situation. Many teams designate one pitcher as the closer, a relief pitcher specifically reserved to pitch the final inning or innings of a game when his team has a narrow lead, in order to preserve the victory. Generally, relief pitchers pitch fewer innings and throw fewer pitches than starting pitchers, but may be able to pitch more frequently without needing multiple days to recover.

After the ball is pitched

The pitcher's duty doesn't cease after he pitches the ball. He has several standard roles at that point. The pitcher must attempt to field any balls coming up the middle, and in fact a Gold Glove Award is reserved for the pitcher with the best fielding ability. He must also cover first base on balls hit to the right side, since the first baseman might be fielding them. On passed balls and wild pitches, he covers home-plate when there are runners on. Also, he generally backs up throws to home plate. When there is a throw from the outfield to third base, he has to back up the play to third base as well.

Pitching biomechanics

The physical act of overhand pitching is complex and unnatural to the human anatomy. Most major league pitchers throw at speeds between 70 and 100 mph, putting high amounts of stress on the pitching arm. Pitchers are by far the most frequently injured players and many professional pitchers will have multiple surgeries to repair damage in the elbow and shoulder by the end of their careers.

As such, the biomechanics of pitching are closely studied and taught by coaches at all levels and are an important field in sports medicine.

The throwing motion can be divided into phases which include windup, early cocking, late cocking, early acceleration, late acceleration, deceleration, and follow-through.[3] Training for pitchers often include targeting one or several of these phases. Pitching biomechanics evaluations are sometimes done on individual pitchers to help target their training.[4] Some players begin intense mechanical training at a young age, a practice that has been criticized by many coaches and doctors, with some citing an increase in Tommy John surgeries in recent years.[5]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ "Velocity". Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. 2007. http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/velocity+. Retrieved 2007-08-10. 
  2. ^ Schneider, Jason (2006-07-04). "All-American mud needed to take shine off baseballs". The Florida Times-Union. http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/070406/sps_3737799.shtml. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  3. ^ Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. 15(1):37-40, January 2005. Benjamin, Holly J. MD *; Briner, William W. Jr. MD
  4. ^ Pitching Biomechanical Evaluation
  5. ^ http://fullcountpitch.com/2009/02/06/pitching-perspectives-with-rick-peterson-understanding-the-epidemic-of-youth-pitching-injuries/
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Simple English

, pitching for the Cincinnati Reds, delivers the ball to home plate]]

In baseball, the pitcher is the player who throws the baseball from the pitcher's mound to the catcher to begin each play, trying to retire a batter who tries to either make hit it or draw a walk.

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