Pitching machines have done many good things for baseball. They help little league players learn to stance and timing without being afraid of the ball. They familiarize batters with different pitching styles in a controlled environment. And they allow for repetitive batting practice without wearing out a pitcher’s arm.
With a long list of pros, it can be hard to imagine why some might criticize using a pitching machine. While automation has some advantages, it also has some limitations. A mechanical arm can never replace the true motion of a human arm.
For many batters, pitching machines can be a useful tool but are not a replacement for live pitchers.
Benefits of Using a Pitching Machine
In baseball, a good hitter requires many skills. Mechanics, timing, and placement are all independent and vital skills. Pitching machines are a great training tool because you can run drills on repetition. Without a coach or pitcher, the hitter can run the same exercise with the same pitch as much as is necessary.
One of the necessary skills that all hitters need to master is the mechanics of how their body moves with the bat. While the principles are the same, position and posture are unique to the individual.
Mechanics like batting stance and swing develop based on individual preference. Some players are naturally better at swinging for speed or hitting for distance. Other hitters are better at swinging to cover the whole plate.
A pitching machine can help a batter find his or her preferences. Repetitive practice, combined with analyzing video recordings, can be a valuable coaching tool. Players can make small changes to their mechanics in a controlled environment.
Aside from mechanics, timing is the next most important skill that a hitter can develop. Pitching machines can help with timing in some situations. Hitters can get practice with faster or slower pitches depending on their needs.
For newer players, practice with a pitching machine can help end at-bat jitters. Sometimes being comfortable at the plate is the difference that a player needs to hit well.
Target Skill Practice
The biggest strength of using a pitching machine can reproduce pitches. It is difficult to find a pitcher or coach who can consistently hit the same spot, pitch after pitch. If a hitter needs to work on hitting pitches that fall on the inside, the machine can produce that. If they need to swing for pitches that place on the plate’s outer edge, the machine can produce that too.
Pitching machines are on-demand tools that are ideal for target training a specific skill. They are invaluable for their ability to produce consistency.
But real gameplay is not consistent. It is full of the element of surprise, full of human error, and full of imperfections. Thus, hitters should not replace live pitch batting practice with a machine. Instead, the machine offers a supplemental tool.
Drawbacks of Using a Pitching Machine
Pitching machines have a long list of benefits. But there are a few reasons to skip the pitching machine altogether. For one, repetition is only a good thing if it is reinforcing desired behaviors. And too much repetition can make a hitter a little too robotic.
Robotic Rhythm and Timing
A good hitter can easily adapt to the rhythm and timing of any pitcher. Too much hitting off of a machine and a batter loses the human element.
There are no visual clues with a pitching machine that might give a clue what pitch is coming. These visual clues help hitters prepare, subconsciously making mechanical adjustments. Too many swings from a machine will cause the hitter to lose the ability to read these clues.
Artificial Release Point
Nearly every pitching machine aims to be feeder-friendly. This means that the ball release is often located where it is comfortable to feed the balls. To be useful, the ball should release where a live pitcher would release. These machines are often not designed that way.
Too much swinging off of a machine can build bad habits. Hitters will be looking too high for a natural release. They will miss subtle clues from the pitcher, and they will be ill-prepared for real gameplay.
Poorly Matched Pitches
The most significant age group to use pitching machines is players aged 8 – 14 years. And, the most common pitch produced by a machine is a rise ball. This is a fastpitch that rises up as it approaches the plate.
Coincidentally, this age group doesn’t have a lot of pitchers that produce rise balls. Many coaches are prioritizing machine hitting to the detriment of their players. Repetitive practice off of the wrong type of pitches will not improve gameplay.
Faster Isn’t Better
One of the most common reasons for using a pitching machine is because they throw harder. Many coaches focus on practicing harder and faster pitches. While that can be good if the hitter encounters a fast pitcher, most don’t throw that hard.
Focusing on hitting faster pitches is not the same thing as training them to hit better pitches. Use the pitching machine as part of a well-rounded practice. Devote equal amounts of time to variable speed pitches.
Is It Bad to Hit Off a Pitching Machine?
It is not fair to say that pitching machines are good or bad. Each machine has specific strengths and weaknesses. The good or bad depends more on how you use the machine.
Pitching machines are best suited to target practice for a specific skill. If a hitter has identified a specific weakness, like hitting on the inside. Then a pitching machine can be set up to develop that weakness.
Pitching machines are not a substitute for live pitching during batting practices. Hitters that work with a pitching machine need to be careful to work on various speeds, spins, and styles.
Hands down, the single most useful application of a pitching machine is familiarity. Nervous batters, who are uncomfortable at the plate, need to spend time at the plate. A pitching machine can offer all the time in the world.