Can You Throw Underhand Pitches In Baseball? (What To Know?)

Underhand Pitches

A pitch is an act of throwing the ball from the pitcher on the mound to home plate. Pitchers in baseball have a variety of pitches at their disposal. Every at-bat and every pitch requires a careful strategy to make sure you get that batter out. The commonly known or used pitches are all thrown overhand. A big question though, is can you throw underhand pitches in baseball and the MLB?

Yes, you can throw underhand pitches in the MLB and baseball in general. Even though it is legal, you will rarely see it done. When baseball originated, throwing underhand was the norm, and pitching overhand was illegal until 1884. There are a multiple of reasons as to why pitchers will not throw the ball underhanded.

Why throw overhand vs underhand pitches?

Throwing underhand pitches in baseball is allowed, but rarely done due to the other options at a pitcher’s disposal. Pitching overhand allows the player to take advantage of gravity and height. This gives them the ability to throw a wider variety of pitches, at a much faster velocity. Likely, a pitcher that throws underhand will not exceed a speed of 70 mph on his pitches. The pitching mound being elevated is also a big advantage to a pitcher when throwing overhand.

Benefits of throwing underhand pitches:

In terms of benefits from throwing underhand pitches, the main advantage a pitcher will have is accuracy and control. Throwing overhand will allow a pitcher to blow the ball past hitters. However, his accuracy might be all over the plate. By throwing underhand, there is a lot more control and ability to put a pitch exactly where you want it. In games where the umpire might have a loose strike zone, placing a pitch just on the outside of the strike zone will have high success. A perfect locational pitch regardless of speed will get a better out more times than not.

Successful underhand pitchers:

Throughout Major League Baseball, there have been a few players to incorporate underhand pitches into their repertoire.

A minor league player by the name of Christ Hayes threw the ball underhand. He never made it to the MLB but had the most career success for an underhand pitcher. His pitches never exceeded 70 mph, but he had unbeatable control of the baseball. He registered 21 unintentional walks in over 150 innings, playing for two seasons. During the same period, he only gave up 7 home runs.

Another player that used underhand throws was a pitcher named Juan Marichal. He played notably for the San Francisco Giants, and incorporated overhand, underhand and sidearm pitches.

What are the most common pitches in the MLB?

With overhand pitching being used by almost all major league pitchers, the evolution of pitching has grown significantly over the years. In the early days of baseball, pitching was as simple as throwing a fastball. In 2021, pitching has evolved immensely. Here are all the pitches that are practiced and worked on my MLB pitchers:

Four-Seam Fastball – The most commonly thrown pitch in baseball. Required for success in the Major Leagues, the four-seam fastball is almost always the straightest and hardest thrown pitch.

Used to overpower hitters, and to cross the plate before the hitter can time his swing. The grip of the four-seam fastball is with two fingers across the open space between seams and the edges of the fingers slightly over the seam.

Two-Seam Fastball – A two-seam fastball is often a few miles per hour slower than a four-seam fastball, but it tends to have more movement. With a two-seamer, the ball moves in the same direction as the throwing arm being used. This means a right-handed pitcher gets rightward movement on a two-seamer.

There are a variety of grips that pitchers use to throw two-seam fastballs. The most common occurs when the pitcher puts his two fingers directly on top of the ball where the seams are closest together.

Curveball – A curveball has more movement than any other pitch. It is thrown slower and is used to keep hitters off-balance. When executed correctly by a pitcher, a batter expecting a fastball will swing too early.

A curveball can be thrown with several different grips. Some pitchers possess curveballs with a sweeping, sideways trajectory, while other curveballs break straight downward. Straight downward trajectories are known as 12-to-6 curveballs.

Slider – A slider is another type of breaking pitch. It is meant to be slightly more deceptive than a curveball because it is thrown harder and has a spin that more closely resembles a fastball. Although it doesn’t create as much overall movement, many power relief pitchers use only a fastball and a slider. One pitch setting up the other because of the late deception created by the slider. Like a curveball, a slider is thrown by a pitcher with a wrist snap and spin. 

Changeup – The changeup is a common off-speed pitch, and almost every starting pitcher has a changeup. A good changeup will cause a hitter to start his swing well before the pitch arrives at the plate. This results in either a swing and miss or very weak contact. When a hitter can identify the changeup, the pitch is among the easiest to hit because of its low velocity.

There are several different grips that pitchers use for a changeup. The most common is that the ball rests further back in the hand. Some cases, as far back as the palm. They are thrown with a nearly identical motion to that of a fastball, causing the intended deception.

Sinker – The sinker is a pitch with hard downward movement, known for inducing ground balls. It’s generally one of the faster pitches thrown and, inducing some of the weakest contacts off opposing hitters bats. Pitchers who rely on the sinker are known for inducing ground balls and limiting home runs.

Knuckleball – A knuckleball is a very rare pitch. The pitchers who throw it during games tend to use it exclusively. The purpose of a knuckleball is to eliminate almost all of the spin on the baseball, causing it to flutter unpredictably on its way to the plate. Although knuckleballs come to the plate at a much lower velocity than the average pitch, they can be among the hardest to hit because they move so randomly. They are also among the hardest pitches for catchers and umpires.

The obvious downside to the knuckleball is that if it isn’t moving, it becomes very easy to hit because of the slow speed. Because the pitch is so hard to master and the risks of throwing a bad knuckleball are so great, very few pitchers throw the knuckleball anymore. Typically no more than a handful of Major Leaguers have done so at any given time in history.

The knuckleball gets its name from the grip used to throw the pitch, with the knuckles either on the ball or hovering just over it while the fingernails dig into the surface.

Knuckle Curve – The Knuckle Curve is one of baseball’s greatest paradoxes, given that a curveball is defined by its spin and a knuckleball is defined by its lack of. Still, the knuckle curve produces the desired effect of the two pitches; a slow, curveball break mixed with the unpredictable movement of the knuckleball.

Very few pitchers have mastered the knuckle curve, and those that throw it generally don’t use it often. It’s a deceptive weapon, often stashed away until they think a hitter will be fooled by it. The grip is having at least one of your fingers bent while holding the ball, like a knuckleball, while the pitcher maintains the snap of the wrist that is common with a curveball.

Cutter – A cutter is a version of the fastball, designed to move slightly away from the pitcher’s arm-side as it reaches home plate. Cutters are not thrown by a large portion of Major League pitchers, but for the pitchers that possess a cutter, it is their primary pitch.

A pitcher with an effective cutter can break many bats. When thrown from a right-handed pitcher to a left-handed hitter, or a lefty pitcher to a righty hitter, a cutter will quickly move in toward a hitter’s hands. If the hitter swings, he often hits the ball on the handle of the bat, causing it to break.

Splitter – Splitters are often referred to as split-finger fastballs, but because of their break and lower velocity, they don’t hold much in common with a typical fastball. They’re generally thrown in the same situations that you would see a pitcher throw his breaking and off-speed pitches. A splitter is generally only slightly faster than a changeup. A splitter is thrown with a pitcher’s two fingers split apart by the baseball.

Rarest pitches in Baseball:

Forkball – One of the rarest pitches in baseball, the forkball is known for its hard downward break as it approaches the plate. Because of the torque involved with the snapping of a forkball, it can be one of the more taxing pitches to throw. When throwing the pitch, the baseball is jammed between the index and middle finger before releasing the pitch with a downward snap of the wrist.

Screwball – A screwball is a breaking ball designed to move in the opposite direction of just about every other breaking pitch. The screwball travels toward the pitcher’s arm side, which is caused by an extremely unorthodox throwing motion. In throwing the screwball, the pitcher snaps his wrist in a manner that causes his palm to face away from his glove side.

Eephus – The Eephus is one of the rarest pitches thrown in baseball, and it is known for its exceptionally low speed and ability to catch a hitter off guard. Typically the pitch is thrown very high in the air, resembling the trajectory from slow-pitch softball. Hitters expecting a fastball that’s near twice the velocity of the Eephus, can get over-anxious and swing too early. For a hitter who can keep his weight back and put a normal swing on the ball, it is the easiest pitch to hit in baseball.

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