Pros and Cons of a Pitching Machine
When it comes to using a baseball pitching machine, there are pros and cons. Many baseball players, coaches, and parents do not like using a pitching machine because it is not the real thing of facing a live arm. That reasoning is understandable. However, a batting machine can be useful for hand-eye coordination, timing, and bat control when used correctly. However, it will not generally change one’s hitting mechanics. Using a batting tee and working with a trained hitting coach is best for improving the hitting fundamentals.
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However, there are some instances where the batting machine is better than the real thing.
I see many parents pitch to their baseball playing kids who just cannot throw the ball over the plate very often. The batter is not only in danger of getting hit by the ball, but they also get frustrated because they rarely get a pitch to hit. Understandably, the young player gets to the point of not wanting to practice. Another instance where the live arm is not as useful is when the batting practice pitcher cannot approach game type speeds. Many players are great batting practice hitters, but fail to hit in games, because they only see slower than game speed pitches.
In these instances, a batting machine is much more useful because they can be set up to throw consistent strikes and they can approximate game speeds for the age of the player. The drawback to using a pitching machine is that facing the same speed pitch may screw up a players timing. Additionally, depending on the type of pitching machine used, it can be tough to gain any rhythm and sense of timing. Because of those reasons, facing a live batting practice pitcher is best when they can challenge players accordingly and can change speeds accurately, so batters learn to time various speed pitches.
Because of the strike-throwing consistency, the use of a machine can be very beneficial for young ballplayers who are still fearful of the ball. Using a machine that utilizes softer balls, no matter the size, like whiffle ball machines, can be especially beneficial to afraid players. A good point could also be made that leagues should use a pitching machine for players after tee ball for a couple of years to help with the fear factor and to speed games along. Often, at the 7, 8, 9-year-old ages, strike-throwing pitchers are few and far between, so games drag along with few innings played in the allotted time frame for games.
Other Pitching Machine Tips
Having said the above, having access to a pitching machine is of great benefit to most ballplayers, as long as they know the best way to use them. One thing I tell people when they question about using a pitching machine is that if you can hit, you can hit anything, whether it’s from a pitching machine, a ball on a batting tee, short flipped balls, or a live pitcher. Period. Of course, that is easier said than done because having great hitting mechanics is not easy. As with all hitting, the ability to hit line drives with backspin in the direction of the pitch location is always the batting goal.
Following are the best way to use a pitching machine, and it is good to keep in mind that the age of the player is important too. The reason for that is that most pitching machines are set at about 45 to fifty feet from the batter. Therefore, that distance is comparable to the regulation distance youth players aged 7 to 12 compete at in baseball games. However, that is a much shorter distance than teenage, high school and above players face in games, so the real speed reaction times differ for older players. That variation must be considered when setting speeds for each batter. Often, I recommend faster speeds for younger players and slower ones for older kids for that reason. Also, at season’s first practices, pitching machine speeds should be set at slow speeds and gradually increased as the season approaches.
Necessary Pitching Machine Pointers
- Have all players wear a batting helmet when using any ball other than a whiffle ball, no matter how accurate the machine is. I have seen injuries occur from fouled off balls especially off the top net as balls come back down to the player’s head and face area. Batters should consider using their non-game bat for most of their time with a batting machine when hard balls are used. Bats have a limited lifespan so they may wear out quickly if used with a pitching machine too often.
- If the distance from machine to batter can be altered, set the distance to approximate the correct game distance.
- A coach should set a marker down that marks the first and third baselines, so batted balls are fair or foul balls. Of course, hitting outside on a ballfield makes the markers
- Have coach and then the batter look at a pitch or two before getting into the batter’s box to get a feel for it and to ensure the machine seems safe.
- It is always best to change the speeds of pitches as often as possible. The biggest drawback to pitching machines is it throws the same speed pitch after pitch. That action is not game-like, and players get locked into hitting only that speed. Timing can be thrown off for a long time when facing only one speed. If changing speeds is difficult like at paid batting cages, go with slower speeds at first to make sure players doesn’t get too jumpy and quick. As mentioned above, this slower rate is most important when the distance between batter and pitching machine is shorter than game distance.
- Have player widen stance at first and hit with no stride until they get a feel for the speed and timing of the release point.
- As mentioned previously, any time the speed can be altered after ten or fifteen pitches, it is worthwhile and the best use of batting practice.
- With machines that are very accurate, batters should move around in the batter’s box to get different pitch locations to practice. For example, moving away from home plate will give them the outside half pitch and moving closer to home will provide the inside pitch.
Also, players can move up in the box towards the machine to get slightly higher pitch locations, etc
Which is the best pitching machine?
There is no simple answer to that question. Because they are expensive baseball tools, you have to consider if the machine will last and that players do not outgrow the device too quickly. Many good pitching machines exist in the marketplace and finding the one that best suits one’s needs and budget takes research and time. People should consider the age of the players and the location they will use the machine. Portability is a big factor for some, whereas some teams and players may only need it for one location. Costs are variable too, depending on how sophisticated a machine you want. Some newer devices can throw curve balls, and other non-fastball pitches and those will be more expensive but more useful as players age. As mentioned, there are also non-hardball machines that may be more practical for younger players and when a batting cage is not available.
Many batting machines have been around for many years and are still reliable. The Atec pitching machine, the Louisville Slugger pitching machine, and the Jugs pitching machine are the ones that come to mind. Many newer designed ones are now available and worth checking into also.
Another advantage to using a pitching machine is their use in other areas of baseball practice. They are good at throwing fly balls, line drives, and even groundballs. A downside to using real baseballs with most machines though is they may wear the balls out quickly as the seams tear apart going through the machine.