How Hard Is It To Hit A Pitch From An MLB Pitcher?

baseball pitcher skills and techniques

A 30 percent success rate would be bleak for most things in life. However, it's a solid professional goal for a Major League Baseball hitter. Batting against MLB pitchers takes immaculate hand-eye coordination, quick reflexes, and extraordinary power behind one's swing. Professionals may make it look easy, but hitting against an MLB pitcher is harder than meets the eye and takes years of extensive training to master.

Logistics of an MLB Pitch

The pitching mound is 60 feet and six inches away from home plate in Major League Baseball, though the pitcher releases the ball a bit closer due to the mechanics of the throw. For pitches over 90 miles per hour, which constitutes a large percentage of MLB pitches, the ball is only in flight for 400 milliseconds. Of the 400 milliseconds that the ball is in the air, the batter is handicapped by the first 80 to 100 milliseconds due to natural delay in human perception. It takes 140 to 150 milliseconds, the blink of an eye, to decide how and whether to swing, with a brief 10-millisecond window to make contact with the ball as it enters the strike zone over home plate.

Types of Pitches

The three main types of pitches can be broken down into fastballs, breaking balls, and changeups (aka off-speed pitches), each of which presents unique challenges to a hitter. Fastballs like the two-seam or four-seam have an extremely high velocity with an average modern speed of over 95 mph. Some forms of fastballs like the cutter also involve last-minute angle changes to throw a batter off. Breaking balls like the curveball or the slider use dramatic swerves to throw a batter off. Lastly, changeups appear like a fastball to the batter at first but are actually about 10-15 mph slower to challenge the hitter's timing and reflexes.

How Batters Analyze A Pitch

A batter in the MLB has just 150 milliseconds, roughly the blink of an eye, to determine the type of pitch, how to swing, and whether to swing at all, in the case that the pitch is a ball instead of a strike. Batters need to recognize pitches so well it becomes part of their subconscious. They will also have studied an opponent's pitchers and taken into account the context of the game to determine their approach.

Hitters start by locking their eyes onto the point of the pitcher's release. Then, as the ball comes towards them, they make an assessment of the ball's angle and spin to determine where the ball is going and if they should swing. The seams of the ball are a telltale sign of the pitch: for example, a two-seam fastball looks like two red stripes with its backward rotation, and a slider's lateral spin makes the ball seem to have a red dot on it.

How An MLB Batter Compares to An Amateur

Being a successful hitter in Major League Baseball isn't just about swinging, but knowing when not to swing, which differentiates an MLB-level batter from a novice or amateur. MLB players have a uniquely trained eye to be able to distinguish what kind of pitch is coming and whether it will be a ball or a potential strike. Most recruits have significantly better than average eyesight, to begin with, with a norm of around 20/13 vision for most players in the league. Professionals put in an endless amount of training to memorize the 12 main types of pitches so well it becomes second nature to them, as well as a significant time studying how to bat against an opponent's pitchers.