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Splitter vs Forkball – What’s The Difference? (Solved!)

For every developing pitcher, the primary focus is on improving throwing technique and expanding their arsenal of various pitches.

As a player matures and becomes more skilled, his throws become more dangerous, and more advanced pitches replace the basic ones.

The key to success on the mound is to be able to adapt to the level of batting you go up against.

This development doesn’t only happen on the individual level. The same thing happens to the pitching in all of baseball.

Throughout history, pitches have come in and out of fashion, been replaced by new, more intricate techniques, or evolved into something new.

This is exactly the case with forkball and splitter.

When comparing splitter vs forkball, many fans hardly notice any difference and it’s not by accident.

Forkball is a precursor of the splitter which has developed from this, now very rare, pitch.

What is a Splitter?

The splitter, also known as a split-finger fastball is a type of off-speed pitch. It’s considered to be one of the most effective pitches in baseball.

Splitters are often compared to traditional fastballs, but they feature a break and fly at a lower velocity.

Their main characteristic is the sharp movement late in the ball’s path.

The ball suddenly breaks downwards in front of the batter and often bounces off the dirt before getting to the catcher.

This pitch generally flies at a speed between 80 and 90 mph, slower than the fastball, but faster than a changeup.

From the batter’s point of view, the pitch as it leaves the pitcher’s hand initially looks like a regular fastball.

However, as the ball reaches the home plate, it suddenly drops, catching the hitter off balance.

The unpredictability makes splitter one of the hardest pitches to connect with and often incites a swing-and-a-miss.

How to Throw a Splitter?

split-finger fastball by Toto-artist (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The splitter grip is similar to the one used for the forkball, but the ball is held with more ease and further toward the top of the fingers.

As the splitter is a type of fastball, the grip is also pretty similar.

In both cases, the index and middle fingers are used to top the ball.

However, when throwing a splitter, these fingers are further apart, usually following the outside of the closest seams.

If we imagine baseball as a clock, the index finger would be between 9 and 10, and the middle finger between 2 and 3 for right-handed pitchers.

A grip this wide puts much less spin on the ball than when throwing the fastball.

When throwing a splitter, the pitcher uses minimal wrist action.

Still, the hand and the forearm are trusted downwards which also reduces the backspin on the ball.

What is a Forkball?

Forkball is one of the rarest pitchers in baseball and today it’s almost forgotten.

Its place has mainly been taken by its successor, the splitter.

In a lot of ways, the two pitches are similar, but the forkball features less dramatic movement.

Unlike the splitter where the ball sharply breaks downwards, with forkball the drop is more gradual.

It’s slower than the splitter and is considered the slowest fastball with an average speed between 75 and 85 mph.

It flies with a tumbling action similar to a 12-6 curveball and often drops off the plate before reaching the catcher.

One of the reasons why the forkball is rarely used nowadays is that it can be very taxing on the pitcher.

Properly thrown forkball puts a lot of strain on the shoulder and elbow.

This is also the reason why this pitch is not recommended for young players with developing bodies.

How to Throw a Forkball?

Forkball by Toto-artist (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The forkball grip doesn’t differ much from the splitter but the ball is wedged further in the hand.

The ball is also gripped between the middle and index fingers with the thumb support underneath, but they are commonly further apart than when throwing the splitter.

You should start gripping the ball like the 2-seam fastball with fingers along the seams and then spread them out as much you can.

Another reason why this pitch is not recommended for young players is that it requires rather long fingers to be able to grip the ball properly.

On the release, the pitcher should snap the wrist downwards.

This will give the ball a bit of forward spin instead of backspin. This spin will help the ball tumble down in front of the batter.

The rotation should be as minimal as possible, so you can almost see the seams of the ball.

Splitter vs Forkball- What are the Differences?

As I already mention the relation between splitter and forkball relation is one of the two relatives as they are similar in many ways and one has evolved from another.

However, here, I’ll focus on the differences.

Grip and Release

Like many other things when analyzing splitter vs forkball, the grip is similar but still a bit different.

When pitching a forkball, the ball is held deeper in the hand with fingers set even further apart.

Also, the forkball is flipped out of the hand with the minimal spin or force applied from the finger.

As a result, this pitch is slower and more tumbling than the splitter.

On average, forkball is 4-5 mph slower than the splitter.

Movement of the Ball

The forkball also features a lower spin rate compared to the splitter. In this sense, it’s much closer to the knuckleball.

Commonly, the forkball makes no more than 9 rotations from the release until it reaches the batter.

The spin axis orientation also differentiates these two pitches.

While the splitter employs some backspin, the pitchers throw the forkball with the slight topspin.

Conclusion

Average baseball fans can often struggle to tell the splitter from forkball.

Truth be told, they are often used interchangeably by broadcasters and pundits, particularly when explaining the pitch with fingers split around the baseball.

Still, as you can see, there are subtle differences in the grip, release, and movement and velocity of the ball.

Lately, the task of recognizing which pitch it is has been made somewhat easier with forkball almost extinct from pro baseball.

Still, this doesn’t mean that it won’t make a comeback at some point taking its place next to its successor, the splitter.

One thing is certain, both of these pitches when done properly are a nightmare for the batters.

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