Whether you are a coach training young players to pick up and wield their very first baseball bat or a player yourself trying to focus on hitting a specific type of pitch, a pitching machine is a great asset to have. But a lot of the performance and quality of a pitching machine relies on the ball that you use with it.
I have seen people complaining about the accuracy and capabilities of even some of the high-end pitching machines out there simply because they were trying to use an incompatible ball with it. A lot of coaches even go as far as using regulation baseballs in their pitching machine. And that is why I decided to share a bit of knowledge on the subject to help shed some light on it. From here on out, I’ll share some pointers on the different pitching machine balls you should use and discuss why using real baseballs and softballs might not be the brightest idea.
Can You Use Real Baseballs and Softballs in a Pitching Machine?
Well, it depends. There are many pitching machines out there that can handle real, regulation baseballs and softballs. But I always recommend not using them when you are using a pitching machine. In fact, anyone who knows a thing or two about these machines understands the pitfalls of using real baseballs.
For one thing, the seams on a regulation baseball can cause a lot of problems in your brand-new pitching machine. The surface of a real baseball is not exactly smooth, and the seams make it slightly uneven. When used in a pitching machine, the uneven texture of the balls can lead to inaccurate pitches.
Paint Peeling Off
In addition, regulation baseballs and softballs can contain paint on the upper layer, which comes off on the wheels of a pitching machine. If you keep using regulation balls on a pitching machine, the paint will start to make the wheels slippery to the point that they will not be able to grip the ball properly.
Damage to the Balls
Another major reason you do not want to use regulation baseballs or softballs is that even the best-rated pitching machine – forget the garbage alternatives – can damage the balls over time. The leather in regulation baseballs is glued together, and when you use it in a pitching machine, the glue can become soft. So, the ball might get ripped.
If, for some reason, you choose to use regulation balls still, make sure you are using high-quality leather balls even if it costs a bit too much. High-quality balls tend to last longer and do less damage to your pitching machine. Synthetic leather regulation baseballs and softballs are not ideal options in this case.
Types of Pitching Machine Balls
Pitching machine balls come in different sizes and designs to accommodate a wide variety of pitches. Depending on the type of ball that you are using, you can set up your pitching machine in different ways to get different throws out of it. Understandably, it can get a bit overwhelming for someone new to this sort of machine.
Ideally, before you buy a large set of balls for your pitching machine, you want to check the manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations. Each pitching machine is designed differently and tends to give better performance with one type of ball over the other.
Once you have done that, you should already have a pretty solid idea about which balls you can or cannot use. To help you understand which ball is perfect for you, here is my breakdown of the different types of pitching machine balls available on the market.
Pitching Machine Baseballs
If you are using your pitching machine for baseball, you need to know about three types of balls: mini balls, lite balls, and “real” pitching machine softballs.
1. Mini Balls
The first variation that I want to talk about is the mini ball. However, if you were to call them golf balls, I would not blame you as they are pretty much the same size. Many coaches, including myself, use these balls to work on the hand-to-eye coordination of their players.
There are two variants of mini balls, soft mini balls, and fast mini balls.
Soft mini balls are the slower of the two variants and are suitable for a small and controlled training space such as the batting cage. On the other hand, fast mini balls are better for a larger area and can be thrown and hit harder than soft mini balls.
For instance, if you check the Jugs Small-Ball review you’ll see that it uses patented Jugs small balls. The balls improve the hitter’s precision and overall vision. So, using a machine and ball like this can be really helpful.
2. Lite Balls
Lite balls are probably the most common and popular choice for pitching machine baseballs. The size and dimensions of the lite ball are similar to that of a regulation baseball. However, they typically feature a polyurethane construction and dimpled design that makes them better suited to be used in a pitching machine.
- There are three types of lite balls that you can buy for your pitching machine, hard lite balls, soft lite balls, and slider leather lite balls.
- Soft lite balls, as the name implies, is the softest one among the bunch and travel slower than hard lite balls. Typically, the main purpose of using this type of ball is to develop the hand-eye coordination of the hitter.
- Most youth baseball pitching machine are designed to support soft lite balls.
- Hard lite balls, on the other hand, are used for fast pitches and feature a stronger and harder polyurethane construction.
- Lastly, the slider leather lite ball is designed for slider pitches. Ideally, you want to use this type of ball in a machine capable of throwing these pitches. The seam in this type of ball is less pronounced, which lets it curve when thrown from a slider-capable pitching machine.
3. Real Pitching Machine Baseballs
Not to be confused with regulation baseballs, the “real” pitching machine baseballs are designed to be used with pitching machines exclusively that can pitch real-weight regulation balls. These balls are designed to be the same shape and size as regulation baseballs.
The main goal of using real pitching machine baseball is to give the hitters a taste of playing with a real baseball. However, you do not want to use these balls in a real game as they will get damaged pretty easily. There are two main types of real pitching machine baseballs, real poly baseball, and leather pitching machine baseball.
Real poly baseball is made using heavy-duty, hard polyurethane and features a pronounced dimple. These balls are typically more accurate compared to leather pitching machine baseballs. However, leather pitching machine baseballs curve when thrown from the machine simulating the feel of playing against a real pitcher.
Pitching Machine Softballs
For softball players, there are three main types of balls available that you can use in a pitching machine. They are 12 Inch Lite Softballs, 12 inch “real” softballs, and 11 inch “real” softballs.
1. 12 Inch Lite Softballs
Lite softballs for pitching machines are much lighter than real ones that you use in the game. These are made using polyurethane, and the dimpled design of the balls makes them extremely accurate when thrown from a pitching machine.
2. 11 Inch “Real” Softballs
These balls are a bit smaller than regulation softballs. However, they are much faster when thrown from a pitching machine because of their smaller size. This type of ball is made using solid polyurethane, and its main purpose is to improve hand-eye coordination.
3. 12 Inch “Real” Softballs
Similar to 11 Inch softballs, these balls are made using solid polyurethane. But the size of this ball is the same as regulation softballs. They also have a dimpled design which makes them accurate when used with a pitching machine.
At What Angle Should a Pitching Machine be Set to Maximize the Range of Baseballs
Most, if not all, pitching machines come with a horizontal adjustment option to modify the pitch angle. This is an important feature that you can use to your advantage to get the best launch angle when training the hitter.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question, and the best way to set the angle is to try out different ones. Ideally, you want to set it up in a way that there is a slight curve to the ball as it reaches the strike zone. It would help you simulate the feel of a real pitcher.
And if you’re doing fungo work, you should point the machine upwards for flyballs and vice-versa for groundballs. Again, there isn’t a universally true answer/number here. You need to test things out to understand what you want from the machine.
A Few Final Words
A pitching machine is no doubt an extremely useful piece of training equipment for young hitters. But without the right baseball or softball to complement it, you cannot use it to its fullest potential.
It is very easy for a beginner to mess up and use an incompatible ball with their machine with so many different options. However, after reading this article, you should be able to figure out which ball is perfect for your pitching machine and how you can get the most out of your training regime.
I hope you got a complete idea of what balls you can use in a pitching machine and how to go about using them. Cheers!