Dan Kopitzke K-Zone Academy
It is commonly accepted that the faster the pitch the harder the hit; the pitcher supplies the power. On the surface this makes sense. If this is indeed true, one would argue that you can hit a fastball further than a curveball since a fastball is coming in with more velocity. However, there are other factors to consider.
Many coaches tell there players to hit the ball with back spin because that will carry the ball further. This is indeed true that backspin creates lift or carry. A curveball has topspin (it’s already spinning in the direction of backspin) and the fastball has backspin (its spin needs to be turned around to create back spin). Because of this curveballs are hit with more backspin than fastballs. So, which one is more important; backspin or velocity?
We decided to conduct a little study using our HitTrax simulator which gives us all the data we need to answer this question. The question of which pitch can be hit further has already been addressed by some of the brightest minds in the field of physics (See this article by Alan Nathan). What we are going to try to answer is “Which pitch is more likely to be hit for a home run?”. After all, it doesn’t really matter which one can be hit further unless it’s by a large margin (it isn’t).
One of the most important factors in hitting a home run that is rarely, if ever, discussed is the launch angle; the angle the ball leaves the bat. I imagine the reason for this is that it’s fairly obvious that you need to hit the ball with a positive launch angle to hit a home run. So, the question that I think we need to answer first is which pitch are hitters more likely to hit with a launch angle that could produce a home run?
We looked at 3 hitters in this study, all are different types of hitters. In other words, their typical exit velocities and launch angles are not the same. Although capable of hitting home runs, none of them would be classified and long ball hitters. We measured their performance in a game environment, so their goal was simply to score more runs than the other team and win the game. Each player was the sole representative of his team, so he took all of the at bats in a 9 inning game (between 34-49 at bats per game). The pitch did not vary during the game; one game was fastball and the other game was curveball.
Here are the results:
One of the most interesting findings is that the exit speed of the batted ball is not significantly different between the pitches; must less than you might have expected. You can read more about why that is in Dr. Alan Nathan’s article referenced above (hint: it’s the coefficient of restitution; COR).
The data clearly shows that the average LA for the curveball is significantly higher than that of the fastball for all hitters. Consequently, curveballs are more likely to be hit for home runs than fastballs. The fastballs, on average, aren’t even hit at a launch angle that would produce a home run (based on the average distance, they aren’t even leaving the infield in the air). If you can hit either pitch with the same velocity then the one with the better matched launch angle is the winner: curveball.
Next time you are wanting to take one deep, look for the curveball.