Introduction to Pitch Design

Pitch Design Part 1: The Basics

For the purpose of this article, we will stick to the basics of Pitch Design to get a better overall understanding of what is going on during the process.

What is Pitch Design?

With the rise in tech and data usage, a new training tool called, Pitch Design, has impacted pitchers across the country.  To make it relatively simple, players/coaches will set up some sort of pitch tracking device and compliment that with high-speed video cameras to develop a new pitch.  It first caught my attention when I heard Trevor Bauer talk about designing his changeup to play better off his fastball a couple years ago.  As everyone in the baseball world is well aware now, Bauer has been at the forefront of players advocating for the use of tech and data.  He has used data from websites, such as BaseballSavant and FanGraphs (where there is readily available data on pitch characteristics), and compared it with his own data to develop a pitch from scratch (in this case, his changeup). 

Pitch Tracking and High-Speed Cameras

We will use Rapsodo and Edgertronic information when talking about pitch tracking data and high-speed video.  Rapsodo is a device that can be set up behind the plate or in front of the catcher to pick up pitch characteristics such as: spin rate, spin axis, velocity, movement profile, release point and arm positioning.  Compliment that with the Edgertronic footage, which allows for high-speed video capture of ball flight as well as hand position at release point, and you can start to see why this is becoming such a lethal combo.  The more information we can gather on a pitcher, the better equipped we are to help improve them.

Getting A Baseline

The first step in the pitch design process is a baseline bullpen.  The baseline normally entails throwing roughly 25-30 pitches with the main focus of getting at least 5 pitches with every pitch the pitcher throws.  This data allows for a baseline movement profile of all the pitches.  The more game-like speed the bullpen, the better.

Bauer Units

Once we get a baseline, we can start to analyze and compare the pitch profiles.  All pitching arsenals start with the fastball.  Driveline came up with a great way to normalize fastball pitch data from the amateur level to the MLB with Bauer Units.  Bauer Units refers to Bauer Units Formula and gives fastballs a numerical value so we can compare fastballs ranging in velocity and spin rate.  The average MLB Bauer Unit is roughly 24.  We can gain a lot of information on how to throw our fastballs based solely off Bauer Units.

  • A below-average Bauer Unit would indicate that a pitcher needs to work more down in the zone while an above-average Bauer Unit would indicate more success working up in the zone. 

Pairing Pitches

Once we have figured out the fastball characteristics, we can start to dive into what other pitches can pair well off the fastball.  When an athlete comes in with an above-average spin rate, they may find more success in developing a curveball over a slider to maximize the vertical break difference in the two pitches.  In contrast, pitchers with lower spin rate fastballs may look more into developing a slider to maximize horizontal break difference.

Conclusion

Pitch Design is on an athlete-to-athlete basis.  No two pitchers will have the exact same pitch profiles but that is the beauty of the whole process.  We live in a world with a vast amount of data at our disposal and techniques like Pitch Design allow us to combine the two in a dynamic way.  In further blog posts, we will discuss more in-depth about developing new pitches and what are some effective cues and tricks to speed up the process.

Guest blog post by Pitching Trainer Chase Cunningham.  Chase is one of our talented floor trainers and will do great things for the game of baseball.

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