We understand that having a large and growing selection of the nation’s best pitching machines and accessories comes with the challenge of navigating our catalog. So, whatever you may happen to know about the products now, we hope that this review will help you understand the most important points about each pitching machine.
This pitching machine buyer’s guide is organized in 3 parts: specifications, diagnostic questions and finally our "editor’s picks', or what are the best pitching machines overall in each price range.
So first, I encourage you to look over the specification table below. You might immediately see that every pitching machine is sorted by price, which is pretty straightforward! The other columns are also easy to understand as well. Later in this guide I’ll elaborate more on these features and explain why they’re so important, but here are some quick definitions:
Please view this table on a larger screen (not phones or some tablets) for best results.
BB/SB - of course, pitching machines can come in 3 varieties: baseball, softball or a combination.
Wheels - Pitching machines can have 1 wheel or a set of 2 or 3 wheels. Additionally, they can be air (aka pneumatic), urethane or rubber.
Speed - top speed possible for any given pitch at regulation distance. We also make the distinction between the dial and digital adjustments. Manual dials are perfectly fine for nearly every single case, but digital dials make setting speed quicker and easier, especially with 3 wheel machines.
Pitch Control - pitching machines can let you swivel the head up and down or side to side to achieve different release points for each pitch. Some pitching machines are especially good at this, with full rotation, but each one’s basic pitch control is listed.
Adjustable Leg Height - every pitching machine gives you some pitch control, but a few pitching machines let you change the leg height (aside from switching from baseball to softball or vice versa). This is a special feature which helps customize batting practice even more. Some First Pitch machines have 3 adjustable positions for the legs. Rawlings/Spinball pitching machines, on the other hand, have specialized "XL legs" which move the release point of each pitch up to 7’ to simulate real overhand pitches.
Transporter - this is how you can put your pitching machine on wheels and move it around your backyard or the playing field. These come in handy, especially for larger units.
Warranty - whatever your need is for a new pitching machine, be it commercial or residential use, you can buy confidently knowing that your purchase is backed by a manufacturer’s warranty.
Now here are some key questions:
Do you need a baseball, softball or a combination pitching machine?
If your family is very athletic with a few up and coming athletes, then you may very well want to choose a combination pitching machine. Training facilities, schools, and other organizations can also benefit from combination pitching machines. If you need to pitch all of these balls for whatever reason, you will in general save time, money and energy with a combination machine.
Bear in mind that some of our pitching machines come with the ability to convert from baseball to softball and vice versa, free of charge! Converting from one to the other is very simple and only requires a few parts and some "elbow grease'.
Other pitching machines are available in any of these varieties, but with a small added cost for the BB/SB conversion kit. One advantage of this is that at any time you can come back to us and order the kit by itself. So if you anticipate that your needs will change in the future, we’ve got you covered.
How safely can the pitching machine be operated?
Parents of little leaguers will appreciate the added safety of some of our baseball and softball pitching machines. There’s always a risk in operating a pitching machines, and of course, users should feel informed and comfortable operating them.
As you would guess, the biggest risk lies in the spinning wheel and the "pinch point'. A pitching machine ball is essentially fed through to the wheel, where a little pressure is applied by the pinch point before it’s launched. When feeding a ball into the pitching machine by hand (rather than with an automatic feeder), it’s very important to watch your hand, not getting too close.
For a few reasons, Heater Sports is one of the best manufacturers for their ability to cater to the needs of young players. One reason certainly the fact that Heater machines are immensely safe to use. These pitching machines, like all others, use a spinning wheel. However, their wheels are enclosed in a fiberglass head. In fact this not only protects your hand but, as an added bonus, this protects the wheel.
Another point of safety is the type of pitch. Fastballs are the most predictable, which can translate into greater confidence and comfort for the batter. Breaking pitches, by contrast, are a little more advanced and young players can sometimes worry about being hit. Once again, Heater Sports shines when it comes to safety. Many of their pitching machines specialize in fastballs straight down to the batter’s box. These machines are great for developing eye-hand coordination early on. Heater pitching machines can also work with what are called "lite balls'. They have the same size as regulation leather balls but are well, lighter. Using lite balls can be a great way to ease your player into hitting curveballs and other breaking pitches. The Heater Sports Deuce pitching machine is a new and popular 2 wheel pitching machine, which lets players safely practice hitting realistic, breaking pitches.
How much accuracy and pitch control do you need?
Of course, every single pitch should fall into the intended spot in the batter’s box. The best way to measure a pitching machine’s accuracy is to fire off at least 100 pitches to a backdrop with a batters box painted on. Similar to the concept of "grouping' at a gun range, the closeness of the pitches or "hits' is what you’re looking for. There are professional ways to do this, and you might be very interested to see how the Spinball Wizard & Rawlings 3 Wheel pitching machines performed in one such test.
Otherwise, using your own eyes or taking a video is not a bad alternative! Regardless, it’s helpful to understand the major components of a pitching machine that are responsible for accuracy. This will let you diagnose any abnormal performance and fix any issues which occur from regular use (manuals sure come in handy for this). You can also take these factors into consideration when comparing pitching machines at our store, of course.
The basic features responsible for a pitching machine’s accuracy are the wheels, construction and release point.
The first consideration about wheels is the type. You’ve already seen from the table above that pitching machines come in two varieties: air and urethane. Air, or pneumatic pitching wheels, are tried and true, but they need some ongoing attention to make sure each pitch meets your standard of accuracy. Just like car or bike tires, air-filled pitching machine wheels are subject to the temperature around them. Colder weather compresses the air, which can result in more inconsistent pitches. At particularly high speeds, such as 90mph or more, the shape of pneumatic tires can distort. This is called centrifugal force, which comes into effect when anything is spinning at a very high speed. Finally they need to be buffed on occasion to keep a nice grip.
Urethane wheels are the currently the latest pitching machine wheel design, and they are a bit better at overcoming these natural factors. Thin but hard in design, they are minimally affected by the weather or high speeds. The Rawlings and Spinball Wizard pitching machines so far have the thinnest urethane treads, which makes their wheels the most accurate of all. However they too will eventually need some upkeep based on normal wear and tear.
The number of wheels is the most important factor of a pitching machine’s accuracy. The hand of a human pitcher is very complex, with a lot of ways he or she can grip and release the ball. To best simulate the performance of a star pitcher, having more wheels is preferable!
1 wheel machines are common starter pitching machines. They let you put either a backspin (baseball) or topspin (softball) on the ball. Pitches are fired off down the line very consistently. They are just fine for working on outfield drills as well.
2 wheel machines offer much more pitch variety. It’s helpful to remember that a baseball or softball will spin in the opposite direction of the faster wheel (or wheels). So, if you are operating a 2 wheel pitching machine, you could pitch a fastball with a top spin. With a simple adjustment to the pitch speed, you could make the top wheel faster and put a nice backspin on the ball to simulate a sinker or an overhand curve.
3 wheel machines, like the killer Rawlings 3 Wheel Pitching Machine, are the most accurate! 3 wheels of course have the best, balanced grip on the ball. Like the 2 wheel varieties, the 3 wheel machines’ wheels are adjusted independently, even electronically. No tilting left and right is necessary; you can simply enter in the speed and type of pitch you want and then enjoy the world class, consistent performance that even outstrips the accuracy of some professional pitchers!
When you’re considering the accuracy of our pitching machines, don’t forget about the overall rigidity and weight of the construction. Pitching machines with greater weight, a wider base of gravity and steel construction reduce recoil. These features together can minimize the subtle changes in the release point as a result of each pitch. This is especially important for more forceful, speedy pitches at odd angles.
The release point is also an interesting point concerning accuracy. Basically there are two sides of the release point. The concept of swivel is important. Most pitching machines will allow you to "aim' the pitching machine’s head or release point up and down. That’s how you can simulate pop flies and ground balls for outfield drills. Other pitching machines take swivelling further and let you rotate around the base on a vertical access (left and right range of motion). For example, the Rawlings 2 wheel machine has been updated in 2016 to swivel left and right. You can always move the whole machine by repositioning the legs, but the more outfield drills are important, the more you might want to consider the horizontal swivel.
"Swivel' overlaps with "adjustable release points', but here’s the distinction I’m making: machines with ARPs refers to the kind of legs (essentially the tripod) that you’re getting. Most of the time, legs, and therefore the height of release, are fixed. When you switch from baseball to softball or vice versa, you would be switching out legs for a different release point (overhand and underhand).
We have a couple brands of pitching machines that this part of ARP even further. The Spinball Wizard baseball pitching machine can even come extra long legs, called ARP legs. This is because overhand pitches from human beings are pretty high up! To put this into perspective, the average release point of our pitching machines is about 4.5 to 5.5 feet. The ARP legs for the Spinball Wizard can take the release point up to around 7 feet! In the Wizard’s case, when the wheels are vertically aligned and you’re using the ARP legs, you can get the most accurate fastball or sinker that any pitching machine can offer today!
Rawlings and Spinball products are world-class, but First Pitch machines also have made a splash in terms of ARP. In fact, a number of their machines come with adjustable legs just as they are. You can change the height by popping some pins. Amazingly, the First Pitch Ace Pitching Machine is the only 1 wheel pitching machine that can accurately put a topspin (for softball) on the pitches. This is done by feeding ball into the Ace under the wheel, therefore this is one more interesting dimension to improving accuracy and adjusting the release point.
How important is portability?
Having a little help getting your pitching machine on and off the field never hurts. There are a good number of pitching machines that are lightweight enough to just move by hand, or with some extra helping hands if you really need.
Other pitching machines are little heavier and more cumbersome. Fortunately, you can see in the top of this page that some pitching machines at least have the option of being moved on a transporter. Traditionally, a transporter could be thought of as a dolly specifically designed for whichever given pitching machine. Instead of moving a stack of chairs, you just lock the pitching machine right into place and wheel it away wherever you want. In every case, having this kind of transporter requires you to splurge just a little more. Still, the larger wheels on traditional transporters make them easier to roll.
Otherwise, you can in some cases get a pitching machine with the transport wheels built right on the machine. Rawlings and Spinball pitching machines may be the best at this. They not only have relatively large wheels but they’re perfect for tilting it over and rolling off the field. Whether you pay extra or not for transport wheels, they are usually a little easier to handle and are more economical.
The Best Pitching Machines by Price Range
Less than $500………........................................First Pitch Relief Pitcher
$500 to $999…………………………………......Heater Sports Deuce Pitching Machine
$1,000 to $1,499…………………………..….....Spinball Wizard
$1,500 to $1,999…………………………...…….Rawlings 2 Wheel
$2,000 - $2,499………………………………....Sports Attack Junior
$2,500+ (and at ANY price!)..............................Rawlings 3 Wheel