There is a big debate in baseball today that is linked to a major evolution of the game and that is pitching velocity vs pitching command. The reason it is changing the game dramatically is that it goes to the heart of how players are developed from a young age to the longevity of the athlete to how the game of baseball is watched and enjoyed as a spectator. In this article, I will breakdown the debate of pitching velocity vs command through all levels of the game from a player perspective and then I will try to predict the future of the game through the same lens.
Let’s first look at this debate through the eyes of a layman. Anyone who learns of this debate of pitching velocity vs command, who isn’t involved in player development with baseball or up to speed on the latest science and technology of baseball, would believe this debate is about picking sides. Basically, from the layman’s eyes, it looks like you either believe a successful pitcher throws hard or a successful pitcher can locate his pitches well. The reality is it isn’t nearly this simple. The truth of the matter is the experts or super fans in this game know it has more to do with which side is more effective when it comes to building the ultimate pitcher. If we are answering the question, “What is more effective in this game elite velocity or elite command,” the answer is evolving into both. The ultimate pitcher is someone who not only can throw fire but can throw multiple secondary pitches just as nasty and locate precisely throughout the strike zone.
I have been in player development it seems like for my entire life. I went from a pitcher myself who had to rebuild his career after a major rotator cuff injury, into a pitching coach who helps thousands of pitchers build or rebuild careers as well. I have always mainly focused on pitching velocity because it is a powerful commodity in this game and it was pivotal to me making it back from surgery and playing professional baseball. It’s also why I have spent more of my time in this debate on the pitching velocity side. I still believe in today's game it is the most powerful commodity when it comes to getting young men to the professional level. I am now spending a little more time on the other side of the debate with command because this is critical to a pitcher’s success once he gets in the door of professional baseball. This is also how I believe developing the ultimate pitcher works best. You have to develop healthy velocity before you develop elite command. A good friend of mine in this same arena Coach Zinga said it best, “You can’t shut a cannon from a canoe.” This means you have to first build the ship that you know can shoot the big guns that you want to fire then you train it how to fire with command. As logical as this sounds to me that elite pitching velocity must come before elite pitching command many coaches would argue the other way around.
Pitching Velocity VS Command at All Development Levels
To truly understand the essence of this debate you have to look at it through the prism of each level of the game. This would include little league, high school, college and professional. The little league pitcher is where player development starts, and the debate of pitching velocity vs command begins. To avoid myself making blanket statements of what I believe this level of pitching should focus on in player development like most coaches, I want to look at what the science is showing is separating the levels of the game and then make an educated decision using this science supported by my experience as a player and a coach. Evidence suggests that the physical differences between the Little League pitcher and the High School pitcher is about 5 inches of height and 65 pounds of mass (Fleisig et al., 1999). When I see that much of a physical change between levels of the game this means there is strong evidence that physical development is the biggest influencing factor. This leads me to believe that pitching velocity must also show a significant difference which it does. I know this to be true because evidence suggests that muscle volume has a correlation with pitching velocity (Yamada et al., 2013). High school pitchers throw about 11 mph higher than Little League pitchers which is the biggest jump of velocity between all the levels.
Moving on to College and Professional baseball the physical gains aren’t as significant even though there is a continued enhancement in size all the way up the ranks of the game along with a pitching velocity increase. Typically, when the velocity of the pitcher begins to reach a peak of 90mph which can happen at the high school level command now becomes the great equalizer. It allows the 90mph pitcher to compete with the 100mph pitcher. This doesn’t happen as easily with pitching velocity below 90mph which is why most college and professional scouts are looking for 90+mph. The reason for this is reaction time. Reaction time at 90mph and up is equal to or quicker than the blink of an eye at around or below 400 milliseconds or four-tenths of a second (Coburn, 2009). Pitching velocity below 90mph gives the brain a lot more processing time to make adjustments which at higher levels proves to be less effective.
Once a pitcher achieves the highest level of the game which usually qualifies that his pitching velocity today potentially is 95+mph it throws another curveball into the debate of pitching velocity vs command. That curveball is injury. Evidence suggests there are high amounts of throwing related injury at these pitching velocities at the professional level (Bushnell, Anz, Noonan, Torry, & Hawkins, 2010). This could be why evidence also suggests professional pitchers are throwing fewer fastballs as in the past few years (Verducci, 2020). This means the command is becoming even more important for the hard throwers who might have ignored command some during their developmental years. The Darwinist perspective is that more pitchers are throwing harder and it is possible due to the injury problem at high velocities that the human potential for velocity may be at its ceiling, therefore, the pitcher is evolving into a more well-round competitor who can throw fire and locate with great command.
I believe this Darwinist perspective is the truth and those young pitchers who have aspirations to play at the highest level of the game must not only set their goals for high pitching velocities and health in their careers but for the ultimate ability to locate multiple pitches with precise command. The critical first step is getting on the correct and most effective path in a career to increase the probability that the pitcher will achieve these ultimate pitching abilities.
Pitching Velocity VS Command Coaches Forum
It was an honor to have this debate with some of the sharpest minds and highest level of experience in this game of baseball. The video below is a must watch for all Coaches and Players to learn what it really takes to develop an elite pitcher.
Bushnell, B. D., Anz, A. W., Noonan, T. J., Torry, M. R., & Hawkins, R. J. (2010). Association of Maximum Pitch Velocity and Elbow Injury in Professional Baseball Pitchers. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 38(4), 728–732.
Coburn, D. (2009, Dec 18). Baseball Physics: Anatomy of a Home Run. Popular Mechanics.
Fleisig, G. S., Barrentine, S. W., Zheng, N., Escamilla, R. F., & Andrews, J. R. (1999). Kinematic and kinetic comparison of baseball pitching among various levels of development. Journal of Biomechanics, 32(12), 1371–1375. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0021-9290(99)00127-X
Verducci, T. (2020, April 10th). Need for Speed: MLB's Hardest Throwers Are Paying a High Price. Sports Illustrated.
Yamada, Y., Yamashita, D., Yamamoto, S., Matsui, T., Seo, K., Azuma, Y., Kida, Y., Morihara, T., & Kimura, M. (2013). Whole-body and segmental muscle volume are associated with ball velocity in high school baseball pitchers. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 4, 89–95. https://doi.org/10.2147/OAJSM.S42352