Over the course of a full Summer Academy schedule, it is very interesting to note areas of instruction consistently needing attention. At the Lifeletics Summer Academies, most of my coaching time is spent in Throwing or Pitching stations. I've found that a surprising amount of young players do not understand how to properly grip the baseball. There are two basic baseball grips, the 4-seam grip and the 2-seam grip.
While pitchers use both of these grips for their fastballs, position players most commonly use the four-seam grip. Normally, the four-seam grip moves less than the two-seam, and therefore has slightly more velocity. It is the easiest grip for an athlete to control, with the best chance for consistent accuracy. Following is a full description of the grip to teach young baseball players:
The four-seam fastball grip is formed using the index and middle fingers, the thumb and the inside of the bent ring finger. Gripped across two of the wide seams ("the horseshoe" or "the smile"), the pads of the index and middle finger rest on top of the stitches, approximately a half-inch apart. The thumb is tucked below the ball, resting on or near a bottom seam, and the ring finger and pinkie are curled on the side of the ball. As the size of a pitcher's hand increases, there should be enough space between the palm and the baseball to move a finger in and out of the space (between the thumb and the index finger). Four-seam rotation should have all four seams rotating directly away from the target (backspin). *(Excerpt from Lifeletics Instructional Manual, Coaching the Beginning Pitcher. Purchase information available at the Lifeletics.com web site.)
Common Mistake: Using Three Fingers (excluding the thumb)
Young athletes tend to use three or even four fingers when gripping the baseball. With small hands, it makes sense that an athlete will use the grip that feels most comfortable? one that will not "stretch" the fingers out. Often times, this results in an athlete using three fingers. Many athletes continue to use three fingers, even when they have grown to the point where using two fingers is not difficult. The result is an inaccurate, inefficient release.
Ask your athletes how many big leaguers throw a fastball with three fingers? When they respond in silence, confirm that the answer is zero, and then communicate that the faster they can get comfortable using two fingers, the closer they are to the big leagues. One important exception comes with an athlete whose hands are physically too small to properly grip the ball using two fingers. In that case, instruct an athlete to use three fingers, with a clear understanding that the goal is to switch to a two-finger grip as soon as possible.
Common Mistake: Thumb on Side of Ball
The proper four-seam grip has the thumb directly below the baseball, forming a triangle between the two fingers above the ball. This allows the ball to evenly roll off of the index and middle fingers upon release. Young athletes tend to leave their thumbs up on the side of the baseball, closer to their index finger. Typically, this is a habit learned when their hands were not big enough to comfortably keep the thumb underneath. Encourage athletes to keep the thumb underneath the baseball so that the hand and arm rotate correctly.
In general, young athletes should use two fingers across a four-seam grip as soon as possible. An athlete has only a matter of seconds in which to field the baseball, set the proper grip and release a throw to the appropriate base. Not only is the athlete pressed for time, but he must also find his grip without looking at the baseball (as the batter is sprinting down the baseline). Gripping the ball correctly becomes an action based on "feel" rather than sight. The ability to feel the ball (recognize its location in one's hand), and then execute the proper adjustments to find a consistent grip, takes thousands upon thousands of repetitions.
Accuracy is a direct result of knowing and understanding one's own movement tendencies on the flight of a thrown baseball. These tendencies are caused by different arm angles and release points. Gripping the ball correctly and consistently can accelerate an athlete's ability to develop accuracy. For example, an athlete like Nomar Garciaparra throws from a very low arm slot. Nearing a sidearm throw, Garciaparra's ball flight has considerable movement from left to right (as well as top to bottom). A four-seam grip will help to maintain a consistent pattern of movement, while the repetitions using that grip will eventually result in an athlete that understands his movement tendencies and therefore can aggressively throw with accuracy.