The pitching machine is a well-known piece of equipment for just about any baseball player.
There’s a good chance that you have spent a decent chunk of your career honing your skills and practicing your stance in front of a pitching machine.
I, myself, have used one to get my hitting techniques right when I was a young player.
And now that I’m a coach, I occasionally take out my Louisville Slugger Black Flame Pitching Machine from the shed to help my hitters get better at the game.
But is hitting off a pitching machine really helping them? It seems that there are many who think of pitching machine practice as a waste of time and money.
But another group of people, myself included, believe that it can be a pretty handy tool when used the right way. The truth is, it has a fair bit of drawbacks too that one simply cannot ignore.
I will give you a clear understanding of the different advantages and disadvantages of using a pitching machine and try to help you figure out how best to make use of it.
Advantages of Using a Pitching Machine
Before you focus on its bad side, I would like to start off with a little bit about why I love using a pitching machine. It lets you focus on many basic elements, such as hitting mechanics and timings. In addition, a pitching machine is also great to train your fielders if you are a coach in charge of getting your team into shape.
Here are the main advantages of using a pitching machine:
Improving Mechanics and Batting Technique
There is no alternative to getting a grip on your batting technique other than repetition. How the body of the hitter moves with the bat is important in dictating the overall force behind the strike. The batter needs to spend hours practicing hitting different pitches to find the perfect batting technique. And that is where a pitching machine truly shines.
If you have an automatic pitching machine like the Jugs BP1, you can set it up with an automatic ball feeder and have your batter consistently hit the ball that it throws. In the meantime, you can monitor your player and offer constructive criticism.
Every player hits differently, and there is no right or wrong way to hit the ball. But to get the perfect batting technique for the player, he needs to repeatedly hit the ball in a single way. Sure, you can have a pitcher throw the ball, but it is not very efficient as you would also want to focus on your pitcher’s training.
Developing Strike Timing
A pitching machine is also an excellent piece of equipment when you are working on hit timings. All pitching machines come with speed control settings that let you set the pitch speed from fast to slow. You can adjust the speed to help your batter learn how to hit different pitches at varying speeds.
For new players, getting the timing right is quite difficult. They also suffer from jitters while swinging. By practicing their swing timings in front of a pitching machine, they can get quite comfortable, and you can slowly transition them into playing against live pitchers.
By playing against a pitching machine first, a newbie player will be able to grasp the basic concept of batting. Besides, a lot of the pitching machines, especially those that utilize a throwing arm instead of a wheel to pitch the ball, let the batter see how the ball is pitched to react better and get better timings.
Hitting Specific Spots
The main issue with playing and training against a live pitcher is that it can be difficult for the pitcher to hit the same spot every single time. Each pitch from a real player will be different, and the batter needs to adjust to the shot. While this is an important thing for the batter to learn, for a beginner, this can be quite troublesome.
With a pitching machine, once you set it up to target a specific spot within the strike zone, it should hit the same target every time. This would allow your hitter to practice hitting the ball at that same spot while working on their batting stance, swing techniques, and strike power.
So, in essence, you will be able to focus on a very specific pitch where your hitter is struggling and help him overcome it. This might be the biggest benefit to practicing against a pitching machine that is almost impossible to replicate when you are putting your hitter up against a real pitcher.
Perfect for Youngsters
A pitching machine can be a superb investment.
if you are working and & drilling with players under 13 years old. Players at this age are relatively inexperienced and require consistent practice. The rhythmical practice with a pitching machine is perfect for players of that age.
Even if you are working with high schoolers, a pitching machine can be quite useful. You would not rely on it as much, but it can still come in handy in training against specific pitches in specific strike zones. It can also help strengthen the strike of the players.
Disadvantages of Using a Pitching Machine
Even though a pitching machine is a fantastic piece of equipment, you should not rely on it too much. Don’t get me wrong – I love using a pitching machine to train my players from time to time. But even I have to admit that there are some pretty solid reasons for not using it.
Here are some of the major disadvantages of using a pitching machine.
It can Develop Bad Habits
The biggest issue with a pitching machine is that it can enforce some bad habits if you are not careful about using it. You should never rely on a pitching machine too much. Ideally, you want to monitor your hitter all the time while he is training against a pitching machine.
By keeping a close eye on the hitter while he trains, you will be able to detect bad postures or poor strike techniques and help him fix them. In my experience, once a player develops a bad habit, it can be quite difficult to eliminate it. So, you should always try to prevent it in the first place.
You Grow Out of It
Sure, if you are working with little leaguers, getting the top pitching machine is always worth it. But once the players get a bit older and start playing at college levels, a pitching machine does not really offer too much value. It is much better to play against a live pitcher at that stage.
This does not mean a pitching machine is a complete waste of time, though. You can still use it to train fielders against defensive drills. Most pitching machines allow you to shoot line drives or flyballs which is excellent when you are doing team fielding practices.
Not Very Versatile
Unless you are blowing your bank on a super expensive high-end wheel-style pitching machine, you are likely not going to get too many options in the type of pitch the machine can throw. In most cases, your pitching machine will only be able to throw rise balls.
Rise balls are basically fastballs that, as the name implies, rises up as it makes their way to the plate. A lot of pitchers throw rise balls, but most rely on different techniques such as curveballs and sliders. And if you want a pitching machine capable of that, you need to spend a lot of money.
Even a low-end pitching machine will set you back a couple of hundred bucks, and unless you are willing to commit to it, it offers little value. As I said, affordable options are only good if you are training your players against fastballs or rise balls. If you want some more pitching styles, you need to spend extra money.
Sure, if your goal is to simply work with youngsters who have no experience playing baseball, it can be an excellent investment. You can train them against fastballs, and once they get the hang of it, you can move on to playing against real pitchers to teach them how to deal with other complex pitching styles.
If You Decide to Get a Pitching Machine – Here’s What I have to Say
After going through the different advantages and disadvantages of using a pitching machine for your hitters, you should be able to decide whether you want it for your team. If you do decide to buy one, here is a quick review of my favorite pitching machine, the Jugs BP1 – that I often use for team and solo practice.
Jugs BP1 Baseball/Softball Combo Pitching Machine
If you’ve ever spent some time looking at pitching machines, you’re likely to come across Jugs pitching machines. And amongst all the popular machines in their arsenal, the Jugs BP1 pitching machine is my trusted compadre.
As a sub-2000 dollar pitching machine,
the Jugs BP1 is of the top little league pitching machine out there. It features an automatic design and has excellent speed and accuracy settings giving you complete freedom in how you want it to perform.
When it comes to the pitching velocity, it can throw the ball as fast as 70 miles per hour. On the slow end, the pitching speed can come down to 15 miles per hour. You can easily adjust the pitch speed using the handy speed control on the machine depending on the skill level of the player and your drill requirement.
Since it is a wheel-style machine, you also get the option to throw a variety of pitches with it. The pitch accuracy is consistent, and the ball always hits the strike zone once you calibrate and set it up. If you invest in an after-market automatic ball feeder, you will be able to enjoy a fully hands-free experience with it.
Apart from that, the head of the pitching machine can also swivel to a full 360 degrees. If you like using a pitching machine for fielding drills, this feature alone can entirely make it worth the investment. With this option, you will be able to run your full team through a variety of defensive drills.
The frame of the Jugs BP1 is extremely sturdy. With a weight of around 75 pounds, you should probably use a car to move it from one place to another. It is made well, and if you maintain it every now and then and lubricate the different moving parts, it should last you for quite a while.
Is it Good to Hit Off a Pitching Machine?
As you can see, there are some pretty strong cases both for and against a pitching machine. In the hands of a coach who knows what he is doing, a pitching machine can be a fantastic piece of equipment. But relying on it too much never leads to anything good.
If you ask me, then I would say yes, using a pitching machine to train your hitters is a good idea. It will help them develop a consistent hitting technique and let them work out their strike power and accuracy. Just make sure you are not going overboard in its use when setting up hitting drills for your players.
People who are skeptical about pitching machines can always give the best batting tees a shot.
A good quality batting tee can help your hitters with their swing fundamentals. So, that’s always an option.
Getting back to the topic at hand – the trick to getting the most out of your pitching machine is using it wisely. If you want a few tips on using a pitching machine so that it does not harm or enforce any bad habits on your players, you can check out my article here.
With that said, I hope my thorough explanation of the advantages and disadvantages of a pitching machine could help nudge you in the right direction. You should now have all the information you would need to decide for yourself whether you want to invest in it or not. Cheers!