Hi, my fellow baseball aficionado. Or perhaps not quite that, but at least a baseball fan (or parent of one). In here you will find a list of the best pitching machines for different situations, as well as some discussion at the end about pitching machines. Leave a comment below if there is anything you think should be added.
Best Overall Pitching Machine
The JUGS Lite-Flite is our pick for best overall pitching machine. It’s only downside is the inability to handle real baseballs, but to get that benefit, you would need to spend more money (e.g., see the Zooka ZS740 below). However, if you’re just looking for a pitching machine to help you build your hitting approach, then the JUGS Lite-Flite will work for you.
The Lite-Flite is great for helping hitters learn how to hit breaking pitches (curveballs, sliders, etc.) via full range-of-motion. It is capable of also performing left- and right-handed pitches, which allows hitters to practice from both sides of the plate.
The Lite-Flite is a little heavier than some of the other pitching machines on this list, but at 35 pounds, it is still light enough to be carried by many coaches or parents.
You can also add to the portability by purchasing a rechargeable battery pack, which allows you to take the machine anywhere without concern for power sources; otherwise, you will need to keep your practices near a power outlet.
This device is also great for fielding practice as well. The machine can completely swivel, which allows it to be used for both grounders, pop-ups, and flyballs. This makes the Lite-Flite a great pitching machine for home use, since you can also practice fielding at home and hitting at the field.
Top of the Line Pitching Machine
The best top of the line pitching machine is the Zooka ZS740.
I have not listed it under the best overall pitching machine because you can get a lot of mileage out of the JUGS Lite-Flite for its price. However, I would recommend this Zooka if you can afford it. The ZS740 has everything you need from a pitching machine (well, except for the ability to use softballs…sorry ladies and adult rec league guys).
The ZS740 can deliver both fastballs and changeups from a distance between 20 and 65 feet. The pitching height can also be adjusted between 24 and 43 inches.
The speed can also be adjusted: up to 70 miles per hour, at 1 mph increments.
At only 30 pounds, this wonderful device is easily transported between home and the practice field. Just throw it in the SUV or truck, and head out to the diamond.
The battery can sustain 400-700 pitches, depending on the speed of the baseballs. It needs to charge overnight in order to maximize the battery, but after 5 hours it can get up to around 80%.
One thing I really like about this pitching machine is a built-in safety feature: the pitching machine can only be used once it has been unlocked. With it and a shutdown button, you can feel at ease that the machine will only be in use when you plan for it to be.
Additionally, it features a light and beeper to alert the batter before a pitch is made.
Best Pitching Machine for Little League
Our pick for the best Little League pitching machine is Louisville Slugger’s UPM 50 Black Flame.
Of course, you may be asking: why? Well, the simple answer is that it just seems logical given both Pony League Baseball and the Babe Ruth League have both adopted the machine for use during their practices.
On top of that, many Little League coaches are volunteers who have other competing responsibilities. So, something that is easy to use and transport is important. The Black Flame has both ease-of-use and portability covered.
This pitching machine has two advantages in terms of portability: size and weight.
The Black Flame is only 25 pounds, which makes it relatively easy for most adults to carry short (and perhaps medium) distances. Its size also allows it to conveniently fit into most car trunks. Just a note: You’ll want to double check your vehicle’s specific measurements.
In addition to it being lightweight, the Black Flame has several other things going for it.
No power sources are required to operate it, which means you can set it up anywhere safe for baseballs to be flying. The device is manually operated via a pedal and spring mechanism.
The machine also allows for lots of flexibility with pitch delivery: variable speeds between 20 to 50 miles per hour, as well as the ability to set pitch locations (middle of strike zone, grounders, fly balls, etc.).
You can also use baseballs or softballs with this machine, making a good choice if you have a need for both.
Best Pitching Machine for Curveballs
The BATA-2 Combo machine is ideal for practicing against curveballs, as well as fastballs, sinkers, knuckleballs, and sliders. It features two variable speed wheels which can generate the curving action. Moreover, it has lots of different features which make it a great purchase:
- Easily converts between softball and baseball
- Built-in transport wheels aides in portability (and is much needed since it weighs almost 100 pounds)
- Delivers pitches up to 100 miles per hour
- It can be used for pitches, fly balls, or ground balls
- Solid, welded steel construction keeps it protected from hard hits back up the middle.
Best Cheap Pitching Machines
Cheap gets a bad rap: it doesn’t have to mean bad or lesser. In the case of these pitching machines, it just means it lacks certain features or is made of less durable material. Or perhaps the brand does not have the same name recognition as Jugs, Zooka, or others.
Our pick for best cheap pitching machine is the one listed above. Anything below a certain price point is more toy than machine. But, Louisville Slugger’s UPM 50 Black Flame does everything you could want from a pitching machine for a very affordable price relative to some of the other machines.
Best Pitching Machine for Kids
All of the machines listed here are intended for more advanced baseball players. But everyone must start somewhere, and you can’t start too early with teaching little ones how to enjoy the game.
The iPlay 2-in-1 Baseball and Pitching Machine is a great example of a kids toy that can teach the most basic baseball skills.
Auto mode is great for allowing kids to get a nice, repeatable rhythm. In this mode, balls are delivered every 5-7 seconds. You can also use the remote control (RC) mode, which gives your child control (via a button on the bat) of when the pitch is delivered.
What are Pitching Machines?
Pitching machines are devices that deliver baseballs or softballs automatically rather than depending on a person to pitch. While some auto-feed, many pitching machines require a person to feed the ball into the machine.
The first pitching machine was developed in 1897 by Charles Hinton, and they have been steadily improved ever since. Now, pitching machines have lots of variances between them, and are often used in lower level leagues as a replacement for a pitcher.
What are Some of the Advantages of Pitching Machines?
Baseball is arguably one of the most challenging games, and that has everything to do with a player’s confidence. You can do everything right for many at-bats, and still see no positive results (e.g., line drives right at a fielder). And with so few opportunities on a given day, it can take several weeks sometimes for luck to swing your way.
Building confidence can be important for players in several different situations:
- Some new players (i.e., those smart enough to realize a baseball flying at you can hurt) can be afraid of the ball. Pitching machines can provide a consistent pitch (i.e., location), which can allow players to confidently know the pitch will not hit them. Over time the fear subsides and they can just enjoy the game.
- As mentioned above, players can hit a bad patch where nothing seems to fall for them. Or, perhaps their timing or mechanics are slightly off. Getting in front of a machine can help them feel better about their approach.
- Some players may feel overwhelmed by how fast pitchers are delivering balls. Slowing down the pitching machine can help batter’s gain the confidence needed to tackle the faster pitches during the game. Or, players can attempt to match the machine speed to in-game speed in order to work on timing.
Pitching machines allow players to get many practice reps, in a relatively short amount of time. This can be important for allowing coaches to make suggestions. And as mentioned above, it can be important for building confidence.
And don’t underestimate the importance of a pitching machine being able to routinely hit the same spot every time. Just imagine yourself struggling to hit that high fastball. Pitching machines allow batter to pitch-after-pitch practice hitting trouble spots, so that in game they know just what pitches thay can (and cannot) handle.
What Should I Think about Before Buying a Pitching Machine?
Before you purchase a pitching machine, you really need to think about how it is going to be used.
Are you purchasing it for your kid to use in the back yard (hopefully a big, big yard or in combination with a batting cage/net) or elsewhere close by? Then, portability may not be the most important concern.
But if you’re needing to transport to the ball field, then you need to really consider just how much the pitching machine weighs. At this point, you are probably wondering: How much does a pitching machine weigh? Excuse the cop out answer, but it depends! Pitching machines can weigh anywhere from 30 to 100 (or more) pounds.
So if you plan to move your pitching machine around, you will want to purchase one on the lighter side, or possibly invest in some wheels for your machine.
Buying a pitching machine–especially the higher-end machines–is a pretty big financial decision for many families. Sometimes it can be hard to get this information for children, but you need to make sure your ballplayer is committed to getting better.
If you’re a coach, then perhaps you have a budget that makes this less of a concern. But even then, you want to make sure that you and your team are committed to getting the most out of the machine.
Are Pitching Machines Bad for Hitters?
The short answer is no. But there is a longer answer.
In an ideal world, you would have someone to pitch to you instead of needing to use a pitching machine. You just cannot replace the timing and skill development that comes with picking up the baseball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand.
There are a few other issues: pitching machines have a maximum speed, pitching machines have a consistent delivery, and pitching machines have a lower release point than the typical pitcher.
All of that said, it is unlikely a pitching machine will lead you to develop bad habits, or otherwise inhibit your ability to hit off a pitcher. As long as you are getting solid reps with live action pitching!
Do professional baseball players use pitching machines
I cannot say how common the practice may be, but some hitters definitely use pitching machines. For example, Randal Grichuk talks about using a slider pitching machine to improve his approach versus the pitch.
Pitching Machine Drills and Tips
Of course it’s great being able to get lots of extra swings in that may not be possible in normal practice or game situations. But, to maximize your use of a pitching machine, consider using the following:
- Always wear batting helmets, no matter how accurate you think the machine may be.
- Always test the machine two or three times before stepping into the batter box
- It can be tempted to “swing for the fences” when doing batting practice (machine or not). Stay within your game, and pretend it is a real at-bat.
- Use the repetition to practice your load and timing.
- Imagine different hitting scenarios. What are you trying to accomplish with this at-bat or pitch count?
- To expand on previous point, it may be beneficial to use repetitions to practice your two-strike approach, which should oftentimes be different than your approach during other counts.
- Use varying speeds if possible in order to prevent becoming too locked in on the pitching machine timing.