How to Choose a Pitching Machine
Before we dive into pitching machine features & benefits, allow me a coach’s perspective on how I believe ballplayers are made.
FIRST… You must learn the proper mechanics!
How this long stick is most efficiently wielded from pre-pitch to follow through.
SECOND… You do it over and over and over again!
There is nothing more important than taking literally thousands of quality swings & seeing the results
Lather, Rinse Then Repeat!
Many times, it becomes about which players really want it and that becomes about tweaks & adjustments followed by the quality swings they will either take… or not!
Why A Pitching Machine So Important?
Any player who has the privilege of being able to hit just by walking out his back door is at an unbelievable advantage when compared to the player who can’t. He is as fortunate as a player can ever be for this is the absolute number one tool that a player can have to become the best ballplayer he possibly can become. So much of this game is about quality repetition (like most other athletic feats) and since time is the one thing we cannot reproduce, ultimately, you either get the swings or you don’t!
If You Can Hit, A Coach Will Find A Place To Play You!
I once asked a coach if he ever had a player with a backyard pitching machine setup who didn’t turn into a much-improved hitter, let’s call him a good hitter.
He thought for a minute before saying, “No, I don’t think I ever have.”
So You Want To Buy a Pitching Machine?
For most people buying a pitching machine is a one-time purchase, so you sure want to make the right decision and not have to live with the wrong machine. If you will allow me to help, I may be able to assist you in whittling your selection down to the right choice.
Keep in mind that if you simply read the descriptions below, your gut feeling is most likely going to lead you to the right choice.
I say this because none of the pitching machines sold at Baseball Tips are junk. So if you are caught between two price levels and both are affordable, know that though I believe that there is quality built into all that we sell, more money does buy more machine. You can’t overpay for quality!
Your Major Considerations
PRICE | PITCHING MACHINE TYPE | AVAILABLE SPACE | YOUR PLAYER
Real Ball Pitching Machine Types
The Real Ball Pitching Machines categories are those machines that throw real leather balls or machine pitch dimple balls (you’ve seen them in yellow or white at the commercial batting cages). Incidentally, both types of baseball weigh 5 oz.
A Batting Cage Note
Generally, all are best utilized with a batting cage (some machines end up living in the garage otherwise), most can be purchased with automatic ball feeders & remote controls for one player operation.
Pitching Machine Categories
- Wheel Type Pitching Machines
- Arm Style Pitching Machines
Wheel Pitching Machine Types – (One, Two & Three Wheel Models)
These are the most popular types and are seen in backyards, machine-pitch leagues, high schools, colleges and in pro ball. They consist of a rubber wheel(s), a motor to propel the wheel(s), electronics with speed and direction adjustment, control knobs and a steel frame with most being attached to a tripod. All run on 110v current, though many fields without power will use a generator (or my suggestion, an inverter like the awesome Honda models). Most can be purchased for baseball-only, softball-only or in a combination package for multi-sport use.
Single Wheel Pitching Machines – (fastball only & fastball/curveball models)
Just what the name implies, these are plain vanilla pitching machines that generally throw a straight fastball between approximately 25-70 MPH with their included speed control.
Costs range from a few hundred dollars for backyard youth pitching with the more durable, harder throwing models just over $700 & up to $1,000 as of this writing.
There are a few single wheel curveball pitching machines including one pro-style model I am particularly fond of that you can access by the link clicking here along with one backyard youth model you can see here. These have the added feature of the obvious, it can also throw a curveball along with a very straight fastball. I personally prefer the curveball pitching machines for their versatility, lighter-weight & lesser cost than 2-wheel models & their ability to throw the breaking ball from either “hand,” but budget obviously needs to be added into your choice as well.
The price bumps up just beyond $1,200 for pro-style models and under $500 for one of the few youth models in this category.
Distinct Advantages are the lower price for a real ball machine and the weight of only 60+- lbs. for relatively easy transport from car to ballpark or storage etc.
Distinct Disadvantages are that they do not throw the high speeds or variety of pitches that two & three-wheel pitching machines do.
Two Wheel Pitching Machines
These are the most popular models and are considered the workhorse of pro and college baseball. These machines will throw & simulate almost every pitch from any angle, from left or right-handed pitchers at speeds from approximately 25 to well into the 90 plus MPH range.
Most carry price tags of over $1,800, plus options that are not necessary, but do add to the function and enjoyment, which easily translates to more time hitting and that certainly is a good thing!
There are now lightweight 2 wheel youth pitching machine models that are around 1/2 the cost of the heavier duty pro models.
Distinct Advantages are their ability to throw all the different types of pitches and the added bonus of using them for ground balls (not so good with single wheel machines) as well as fly balls and catcher’s pop-ups. They are somewhat portable. The two-wheel machines range in weight from 60 lbs to 110 lbs. Some of the older technology machines (which we will NOT carry) weigh 150 lbs. and are aggravating to transport, change pitches, etc!
One of our newer 21st-century models is called The Phantom Pitching Machine which actually utilizes its own 2 wheel transport caddy and has Made In USA quality… a very handy design!
Distinct Disadvantages are that you won’t see the motion of the “pitcher’s arm,” though you frankly, players get used to it after some practice and utilizing a smart coach who will ” show” the ball to the batter in a rhythm that the batter can now use to improve his timing. Additionally, as in all-wheel type machines, they aren’t consistent with wet, heavy water-logged balls or seam-swollen balls (for this reason we suggest and also suggest our machine pitch dimple balls). We have the pro-style so not too hard or soft.
Arm Style Pitching Machines
These are the heaviest-duty workhorses that many programs from High School and up through the pros. Also my favorite for backyard in that they can handle the weather, due to their industrial design!
You’ve seen them at the commercial batting cages…. those big green hulks of steel with their red lights warning of the impending pitch. They’ve been around for over 50 years and are really quite civilized and simple, once you get to know them. They can be equipped and changed for baseball or softball. They throw a straight, accurate ball at varied speeds of 25 to 85+ MPH and there is even an entry-level machine that peaks out at 65 MPH and also works well for slow-pitch softball (though the arm throws in an overhand motion). You should consider covering them during the off-season but really, you never have to move them, they are built like Russian tanks.
Rack Fed or Hopper Fed Models
There are two types, one which is rack-fed and will hold 38 baseballs or 28 softballs in a tough on the dies fo the machine, the other is a hopper-fed model which holds 600 baseballs or up to 400 softballs. They are the ultimate backyard or Major League toy… I mean, serious baseball training tool.
Distinct Advantages are that the player can see the pitcher wind up, so he “triggers” his swing, which develops an accurate timing mechanism.
These machines are weatherproof & tough. Buy the all-weather cover if you have the extra; it will look new outdoors for many seasons if you do and will fade and possibly begin rusting if left uncovered). No auto feeder needed as the rack version model holds plenty and hopper versions hold 600 baseballs. The softball hopper machine holds 400.
Don’t buy extra parts, as you will likely not recall where you put them by the time you need them. Spare parts are inexpensive, available & easy to replace too. Just lubricating the few places shown in the manual is about all the annual maintenance though we suggest you take a hands-on look at the moving parts often; it’s very quick & easy to do.
Distinct Disadvantages are simply that they throw only fastballs and are not really mobile, though the rack-fed models do come equipped with built-in wheels & a dolly system. The youth trainer model is only 175 lbs. and includes a transport dolly with a pull wagon-handle so easy to move with 2 persons.
“Light Ball” Pitching Machines
These machines use their own baseball-sized 2+ oz. balls that can be thrown at various speeds (25 to 70 MPH depending on which model). Some throw various pitches from various angles as well.
Here’s a very inexpensive light ball pitching machine that I like for its versatility to use as a younger player model AND one that school teams use for indoor batting practice in that it also throws RH & LH curves. Batting Cages are still advised and portable cages are perfectly matched for the lighter balls.
Distinct Advantages are low price and the ability to use them with inexpensive portable batting cages, many of which occupy only 22, 30, 40 or 50 feet, perfect for small backyards. An auto ball feeder is included in The Heater Slider model that is our most current offering.
Distinct Disadvantages are that they do not throw real baseballs and to some that’s not what they are looking for in a pitching machine. They also aren’t built as tough as “real ball” machines. For the record, I don’t care what you are swinging at. You take more quality swings and continue learning, you will play a long time!
Pitching Machine Options & Other Considerations – The final pieces of the puzzle are the extras that some want and some don’t.
Auto Feeders are great when a player works out alone a lot of the time. They are simple mechanisms that will allow a ball to enter the pitching machine every 6 or so seconds. Their are not many brands of auto ball feeders and I am all over the Bata auto ball feeder for its features that will play on most any wheel pitching machine model. It will hold 20 baseballs or 15 softballs and are priced around $300 for real ball machines. We even include a cordless remote control, which is great for coaching time outs and fewer wasted bad swings. The lightweight machines hold between 24 and 28 balls. Note that some entry-level youth pitching machines & light ball pitching machines include auto feeders.
Distinct Advantages are that one solo player can swing and swing without needing a pitcher or waiting for dad to get home from his workday. At 6 swings per minute and how many days a year a kid wants to swing… he either gets those swings or he doesn’t… all while another player is!
Batting Cages are full-sized at 55 or 70 feet in length, 12 ft. in height and 12 ft. wide or the more desirable 14 ft. wide (smaller sizes are available but these cover 85% of the market). Count on $1,500 to $2,200 and please don’t buy junk!
Backyard Batting Cages & Portable Batting Cages are the new, smaller lighter designs that many with younger players and smaller backyards might prefer. Batting cage length will never dictate your player’s future in this game but not hitting enough can most certainly shorten a budding career as other pass you by. We offer many choices with prices beginning at $299 and max out around $1,200.
So How Do You Ultimately Choose?
I think common sense concerning the amount of room you have, the age of the players & your budget will generally whittle it down for you.
- Common sense concerning space you have to work with (daily transporting & set up)
- Player age of growing children (younger players will use it for more years & older players are more serious about getting to the next level so age
- Budget (hint, don’t try to go cheap but don’t take food off the table either). Also,
- Hint – velocity should not affect the final decision
- Hint – a shorter batting cage with a heavier net beats a longer cage with a lighter net
Need more help? Call the good folks at Baseball Tips at 1-800-487-7432 (M-F, 10-7 EST).
Coach John Peter, presently aged 60 something, is the publisher of Baseball Tips.com and a lifelong student of the greatest game on earth. After being asked to find a more suitable occupation at age 26, many seasons after donning his first uni at age 7, he has transcended his skills learned by the good & bad that we have all had, into the much more important role of coach and especially as an instructor. His pride are his players, especially seeing them off the field and finally, as grown adults! “This game has been wonderful to my family and has afforded me a lifestyle to offer what I can to any local player or coach who seeks my knowledge!”