The Evolution and Impact of the Splitter in Baseball

Pat Bloom

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splitter in baseball

The splitter, a pitch that has evolved over decades, remains one of baseball’s most enigmatic and effective weapons. Originating from the forkball in the 1920s, the splitter gained prominence thanks to pitchers like Bruce Sutter and Roger Craig, who mastered and popularized it.

This pitch, with its deceptive drop and late movement, has baffled hitters and become a staple in many pitchers’ arsenals.

In recent years, pitchers like Shohei Ohtani have showcased the splitter’s devastating potential. Ohtani’s splitter, for instance, held batters to a .126 batting average in 2022, proving its effectiveness in disrupting timing and inducing weak contact.

Whether you’re a seasoned pitcher or a curious fan, understanding the mechanics and history of the splitter can offer valuable insights into its enduring allure in the game of baseball.

The Evolution of the Splitter in Baseball

The splitter, also known as the split-finger fastball, has evolved significantly in baseball over the years, both in terms of its usage and its effectiveness. Here’s a brief overview of its evolution:

Historical Development

The splitter’s roots can be traced back to the 1920s, evolving from the forkball. The split-finger fastball, fundamentally different from its predecessor, began gaining traction during the 1970s and 1980s.

Innovators like Bruce Sutter and Roger Craig turned it into a formidable weapon. Sutter, a Hall of Famer, used the pitch to win the National League Cy Young Award in 1979.

By the 1980s, the splitter was a staple in many pitchers’ repertoires, becoming known for its sharp downward movement that made batters swing and miss.

Key Changes Over the Decades

In the 1980s, the splitter became synonymous with success, but it also gained scrutiny over its potential impact on pitchers’ arms. The pitch saw a decline in usage as more organizations grew cautious.

Despite this, pitchers like Kurt Suzuki and Shohei Ohtani have continued to utilize it effectively. Ohtani’s use of the splitter in 2022 held batters to a .126 average, showcasing its potential when executed correctly.

Advances in biomechanics and pitching analytics have provided deeper insights, helping refine the pitch and manage associated risks.

Mechanics of the Splitter

The mechanics of throwing a splitter are quite intricate and require precise control and technique. Here’s a breakdown of the key mechanics involved:

Understanding the Grip and Technique

Splitters rely on a unique grip, where the index and middle fingers are placed along the outside seams of the ball and the thumb rests on the bottom seam.

A loose grip allows for maximum movement, causing the ball to slip out rather than being tightly spun, creating a downward action. Splitters should be thrown with a fastball arm motion to keep hitters guessing and maximize deception.

Following through naturally with a firm wrist ensures accuracy, and practicing this grip and release enhances effectiveness on the mound.

Physics Behind the Pitch

The effectiveness of the split-finger fastball is driven by physics. The loose grip reduces backspin, causing the ball to drop sharply as it nears the plate, unlike high-backspin pitches like the fastball.

This drop, influenced by decreased Magnus force, leads to more ground balls or missed swings, making the splitter a valuable pitch for disrupting hitters’ timing and balance.

Significant Pitchers and Their Impact

Several significant pitchers have been associated with the splitter throughout baseball history, each leaving their mark on the pitch and influencing its usage and effectiveness. Here are a few notable pitchers and their impact on the splitter:

Trailblazers of the Splitter

Bruce Sutter was one of the first pitchers to popularize the splitter in the 1970s. Earning the Cy Young Award in 1979, Sutter’s success with the pitch cemented its value in baseball.

Roger Craig, another pioneer, taught the splitter to numerous pitchers, enhancing its reputation. Their efforts demonstrated the pitch’s ability to confound batters with its sharp, downward action.

Modern Masters of the Pitch

Shohei Ohtani and Kurt Suzuki represent the modern usage of the splitter with great success. Ohtani’s splitter held batters to a .126 average in 2022, showcasing its effectiveness in today’s game.

Stephan, a setup man for the Guardians, utilized a splitter with a whiff rate of 53.6% and an expected slugging percentage of .186, proving the pitch’s continued relevance.

Though Stephan’s elbow issues have prompted questions about the splitter’s impact on arm health, the lack of definitive research leaves its reputation debated.

Pitching Strategies With the Splitter

Pitching strategies with the splitter vary depending on the pitcher’s style, strengths, and the situation in the game. Here are some common strategies pitchers employ when using the splitter:

When and Where to Use the Splitter

The splitter is an effective pitch that disrupts hitters’ timing with its sharp downward movement, causing swings and misses or ground balls, especially in high-leverage situations.

It’s best used as an out pitch when ahead in the count and is effective against both left- and right-handed batters due to its deceptive drop and slower speed compared to a fastball.

The splitter is strategic against power hitters to avoid hard contact and is most effective when batters expect a fastball, with proper pitch tunneling enhancing its success, as shown by Guardians setup man Stephan’s 53.6% whiff rate on his splitter.

Combining the Splitter With Other Pitches

To maximize the split-finger fastball’s effectiveness, pair it with a high-velocity four-seam fastball.

The velocity and vertical drop differences between the two pitches create deception, as the splitter tunnels off the fastball and drops sharply near the plate, disrupting hitters’ timing. Mixing the splitter with breaking balls like sliders or curveballs adds further unpredictability.

For instance, Detroit Tigers’ Casey Mize uses a hard splitter with elevated fastballs to keep batters off-balance. Use the splitter situationally alongside other pitches and experiment with cues to enhance its effectiveness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why throw a splitter?

A splitter is thrown because it disrupts the timing of hitters with its unpredictable downward movement, often leading to ground balls or swings and misses. It adds a unique element to a pitcher’s arsenal and can be especially effective when paired with other pitches.

What is a splitter in baseball?

A splitter is a type of pitch where the ball is gripped with the two fingers split in a “V” shape. It has a deceptively slower velocity and a sharp downward movement that aims to induce weak contact from hitters or cause them to miss entirely.

Why is the splitter so hard to hit?

The splitter is tough to hit due to its sharp drop as it reaches the plate, which can make it appear to “disappear” to the batter. This, combined with its slower velocity compared to a fastball, gives hitters little time to react, making it very challenging to make solid contact.

How do baseball announcers know what pitch was thrown?

Baseball announcers often rely on PITCHf/x, a sophisticated camera system in stadiums that tracks the speed and location of pitches with high accuracy. This system helps them identify the type of pitch thrown based on its characteristics.

What’s the difference between a forkball and a splitter?

The forkball and splitter differ mainly in grip and speed. A forkball is gripped farther back and wider between the fingers and is generally slower due to a wrist flip during the throw. In contrast, the splitter has a tighter grip and is designed to drop sharply with less reduction in speed.


Mastering the splitter can significantly elevate your pitching game. Its sharp downward movement and deceptive nature make it a formidable pitch when executed correctly.

By pairing it with other pitches and focusing on proper mechanics, you can keep hitters guessing and off-balance. While there are concerns about its impact on arm health, careful management and technique adjustments can mitigate risks.

Embrace the splitter as part of your pitching arsenal to gain a competitive edge on the mound. Consistency and practice are key to perfecting this pitch.

By integrating conditioning routines and seeking feedback from coaches, pitchers can refine their splitter and maintain peak performance. Utilizing video analysis tools can also provide valuable insights into your form and effectiveness.

Stay patient and persistent, as mastering the splitter takes time and dedication. Each incremental improvement will contribute to your overall success, making you a more versatile and unpredictable pitcher.

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Pat Bloom

I lead Washington University in St. Louis' baseball team, emphasizing skill development, strategic play, and sportsmanship. Our rigorous training and competitive spirit cultivate discipline and teamwork, preparing athletes for success both in baseball and academics. We embody the determination and sportsmanship that define our university's athletics. LinkedIn

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