Pitching takes strategy. The pitcher aims to throw pitches in the strike zone so he can get strikes, yet still make it difficult for the kicker to kick the kickball. The pitcher throws pitches with different speeds, directions, and spins in order to challenge or confuse the kicker.
Fastballs are the most basic and the most common type of pitch that pitchers throw. As the name suggests, its main quality is speed, so it has a relatively straight path compared to other pitch types which we will learn about later in this chapter.
Fastballs are usually the first pitch a pitcher throws to a kicker in any at-bat. This helps the pitcher gauge the kicker's reaction time as well as determine the strike zone for the kicker (if the pitcher throws a straight fastball in what he thinks is the kicker's strike zone but the umpire calls it a ball, the pitcher will have to adjust for the rest of the at-bat).
Breaking Pitches/Breaking Balls
Breaking pitches (more commonly known as breaking balls) are pitches that, unlike fastballs, break from a straight path through the air. This means that they curve in a certain direction while traveling towards the plate -- they can have an arced path, travel toward the ground, or curve to the left or right.
Their purpose is to trick kickers. For example, at first a pitch may seem like it has a straight path, and the kicker might swing at it. Then, when it is too late for the kicker, the kickball breaks directions and the kicker misses it.
Breaking balls are more difficult to hit than fastballs since their path is less predictable; however, they are also more prone to being balls since their path can cause them to miss the strike zone. They also tend to have lower velocities than fastballs.
Curveballs are a type of breaking ball that have a forward spin and typically break downward, which means they initially seem to have a straight path, then suddenly travel downward. However, some pitchers will add variants to this general principle. Curveballs are relatively slow, but they have a high amount of movement compared to other pitch types.
Sliders are similar to curveballs -- they tend to break downward, however, they typically have more lateral (left/right) movement and have higher velocities than curveballs. They also tend to have less movement than curveballs; that is, their break from a straight path is not as dramatic.
Backdoor Breaking Balls/Backdoor Sliders
Backdoor breaking balls (often called backdoor sliders, although the term can apply to either curveballs or sliders) operate in the opposite way. Their path is initially lateral, traveling away from the strikezone. The kicker thinks it is a ball, and does not swing. Then, at the last second, the pitch curves in and travels through the corner of the strike zone, becoming a strike.
A pitch does not have to only change directions in order to deceive kickers. Differing or slow velocities can also be used to make pitches harder to kick; these types of pitches are called off-speed pitches.
Changeups are a common type of off-speed pitch. They look very similar to a fastball -- they are thrown in a similar way and have a straight path -- but are significantly slower than a fastball. For kickers, it is often difficult to detect the difference between a fastball and a changeup, since they have the same path and the speed of the kickball cannot be determined until it is very close to the kicker. That is why changeups are so effective: They trick kickers into thinking the pitch is a fastball, and the kicker will swing at it. However, since changeups are much slower than fastballs, the swing would be too early, either missing the kickball completely or hitting it weakly.
IMPORTANT: Depending on the level of play and the rules of the league, bounces might not be allowed. Please refer to your league's rulebook for more information.