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  • D. Randall Faro

Splitter or Slider?

What would Major League Baseball be without commentators cluing us clueless in on what pitches are being lobbed at home plate. It takes a super-practiced eye to discern how the pitcher is holding the ball and which of the many varieties of pitches he throws. Here follows an example of a couple of pros calling the game for us baseball fans.


#1: “Joe Pitchford opens the game with a two-seam fastball for strike one.”

#2: “You sure about that, Pete? Looked to me like a four-seam bullet.”

#1: “Whatever. Here’s the 2nd pitch . . . a changeup for strike two.”

#2: “I beg to differ. Dime to a dollar says it was a circle changeup.”

#1: “Hard to tell. You might be right. Whoa . . . a cutter for ball one.”

#2: “Here comes pitch number three. Wow, a swing and miss at a rare forkball.

Don’t see that often.”

#1: “Good eye, Sam. Hard to distinguish a forkball from a curveball.”

#2: “Here comes Vito Ballboa to the plate. Yowser! A double to left field on a lazy slider.”

#1: “Pitchford blew that one. I thought he’d serve up a slurve for sure.”

#2: “He’s also pretty good with both the screwball and palmball.

Let’s see what comes next.”

#1: “Chico Ruiz at bat. Swing and a miss on a beautiful splitter by Joe.”

#2: “He’s sure using a variety of pitches today.

Let’s hope the Mariners hang on to this guy.”


So the observations run throughout any MLB game. But . . . you’ll never convince me that the commentators aren’t doing a lot of speculating on their pitch calling. Here’s a list of pitch possibilities:


Four-seam Fastball; Two-seam Fastball; Cutter; Splitter; Forkball; Curveball; Slider;

Slurve; Screwball; Changeup; Circle Changeup; Palmball.


And here’s where the commentator’s decision making can get dicey. A cutter is gonna move across the plate and a splitter is gonna drop. A four-seam fastball is gonna stay straight or give the appearance of moving in a a little. The natural movement on a two-seam fastball is to move across the plate a little so when a four seam fastball stays completely straight it almost seems as if it is moving back in a line to the hitter; almost a little bit of a screwball effect. A circle changeup (also called the "okay changeup", related to the thumb and index finger touching) is a pitch thrown with a grip that includes a circle formation. A circle change can also be used to provide movement like a two seam fastball but without the stress placed on the arm by a traditional screwball.


Got all that straight?


A major league pitcher can throw a baseball up to 95 miles per hour, and some even faster. At this speed, it takes about four tenths of a second for the ball to travel the 60 feet, 6 inches from the pitcher's mound to home plate. Less than half a second for someone watching to determine if the pitch is a cutter or a two-seam fastball. (The difference is miniscule.) The pitch-callers might have binoculars on the thrower’s pitching hand to try and see how he’s gripping the ball . . . which gives a clue. But I’m betting that most of the time the commentators are simply taking a best guess . . . knowing that a fellow like me couldn’t tell the difference between a spitball and a spitlessball pitch.


Isn’t most of life something like this . . . a matter of making decisions based on whatever information we have at hand, trying for the best pitch, and hoping for good results?

Of course, the information at hand is a critical factor. All too often people make judgments and take actions based on little or erroneous information, and are too lazy to do the serious homework needed to make an informed decision. Calling a baseball pitch correctly or incorrectly is no big deal. It’s just a game. But other decisions in life can be immeasurably more crucial in their consequences . . . hence, the importance of striving for all the best information possible.


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