How much should I invest in a pitching machine?
A pitching machine can be a sizable investment, and there are so many options to choose from, it is hard to determine where you should set your budget at so you get the machine you need. With several pitching machine manufacturers producing several models, all with progressively advanced features, and new technologies and features being added year over year, it is easy to get caught up in the bells and whistles and spend on a machine that will give you more than what you will use. On the other hand, you need to make sure you are not underspending, or as your player's skill advances, they may begin to outpace the pitching machine's capabilities. To add to the confusion, these machines come in all over the price spectrum. Pitching machines can range from $300 to $10,000...so it is important to understand what exactly you need, how your player will use it...and what is just overkill.
Aside from indoor practice machines and recreational (backyard) pitching machines, most coaches and parents elect to purchase a machine that will most closely simulate pitches the player will see in the game. Machines favored by coaches and youth programs generally start above $800, and depending on the solution you are looking at, could settle in anywhere between $1200 - $2000 if you are looking for a machine that can keep up with your player's skill level as it improves. That represents a significant investment, but when you break it down in terms of years of use, and "lifetime value" the investment doesn't start to look as daunting.
Before we can start to calculate that "lifetime value", you must start to evaluate how much you want to invest first, and there is a lot to consider. You need to make sure you get the right machine for your needs in order to maximize the usage of it. The cost is driven by the features the machine has and also the durability of the machine. You need to make sure the pitching machine fits your needs and you also need to take into consideration how long do you think you will be using it. In deciding which features you want on your pitching machine it is important to consider the age of the child or children that are going to use the machine and the location you will be using the machine. As kids start to get older they will see more advanced pitches and having a pitching machine that can throw these pitches can be a great benefit. Getting a lot of repetition on a pitching machine on the advanced pitches can be a great benefit to a young hitter learning to hit breaking balls.
What do the features on the machine add to the cost?
It is very important you decide what features you want on a pitching machine before you select it. You have to consider what types of pitches it needs to throw, how fast it needs to throw, and how to control the speed / pitch type. Do you want a machine that simulate game situations, and is programable to vary the pitch placement and timing, or are you looking for something for drills to work on the fundamentals? Once this has been determined, you can consider additional features and accessories that will also impact the price of the machine. For instance, a single wheel pitching machine will throw fastballs only, and come in a variety of top end speeds (depending on the brand and model). You can purchase a high quality fastball machine that pitches real baseballs at speeds up to 70MPH and comes with a good 5 year warranty for less than $800. With a top end speed of 70MPH, this machine will grow with your players through the ages of 14 or 15 years old and makes a great machine to coach on during their early developmental years. If you need more speed, you will pay more, but the machine will have a longer useful life as your player develops. Fastball pitching machines range in price from around $850 up to more than $2,500.
If you need to step into a machine that will throw curveballs in addition to fastballs, the price of the machine jumps up to between $1,500 and $3,500. That is quite a bit more than a single wheel fastball machine, but as your player advances through high school and into college, they will be seeing a lot of different pitches … and to many coaches and parents, the investment in a two wheel pitching machine is essential. Additionally, the control box and how you set / determine the pitch type can add between $100 and $1000 to either a fastball or a breaking ball machine. Machines with simple variable speed potentiometers (dials with numbers on them that helps you determine the speed that the wheel spins) are the most affordable options, but give you the least amount of control of the machine. Proprietary control systems like the JUGS Dial-A-Pitch offer more precise control of the pitch speed and type, but can cost a few hundred dollars more than the entry-level machines. Dial-a-pitch, micro adjustments, and machines that can program an entire sequence of pitches are the most effective machines as they simulate most accurately live pitching.
Programmable machines are also available, but can be cost prohibitive to small teams and youth programs. This feature can be very important for a college program or if the machine is going to be used by numerous coaches (versus only a few individuals), however this feature comes at a premium cost. Additional features such as the ability to swivel the machine 360 degrees and a vertical pivot for fielding drills, as well as combo baseball /softball machines can and will play into the price. Location of where you are going to use the machine is important as not all of the features can be used if the machine is going to be used in a batting cage. A machine that has vertical pivot for defensive drills (fly balls and ground balls) will not be useful in a batting cage. There would be no need to spend the additional money for this feature if it is solely going to be used in a batting cage, but the addition of these features impact the cost far less than the “big three” factors of Pitch Type, Pitch Speed, & Pitch Control
How long do I need this machine to last?
This seems like a silly question to ask as most people would say I want the most durable machine that is available. However it has as much to do with “lifetime value” as it does with durability. Most respectable machines over $800 come with extended warranties (typically 3-5 years) and are built to last. For older players (teenagers and above) the warranty is critical, as the play is more aggressive and they are going put plenty of wear and tear on them. When determining the “lifetime value” of the machine, you just need to do some simple math. You just need a simple formula to calculate how long will the player or team will use the machine before they out grow it, vs the initial investment. It will help you weigh the cost of ownership vs value of use, and decide if the cost of a year's worth of practice on that machine is reasonable.
Here are a couple of examples:
- If you buy a $750 FirstPitch Baseline fastball pitching machine for your 12 year-old player, he may only get one to two years of use out of the machine before he advances past its capabilities. At 13 or 14 he will need to start practicing for faster pitches and a wider variety of pitches. At $750 over two years, it represents $375 a year of use.
- However, if you were to spend an additional $180 to upgrade to their next step up, the Firstpitch Original fastball pitching machine, you would still be getting a “fastball only” single wheeled pitching machine…however that extra $180 buys you an extra 10MPH and another year of development. If this machine would last your player 3 years instead of two, it would represent $30 a year value as opposed to the $375 value of the lower end machine.
- If you were stick with Firstpitch, but were to invest around $1,700 on Curveball Pitching Machine that pitches breaking balls as well as fastballs at speeds over 100 MPH, this machine could conceivably be used by your player for 6 to 7 years. At 6 years (and a $1,700 initial investment), it would represent the best value yet at less than $285 a year of use.
Are there any alternatives?
Yes! If the pitching machine is for a child sometimes it is better to purchase a lower end (less durable) machine and save the money until you know the commitment level of the child. If the child is just beginning in baseball or softball it may be best to purchase a less expensive (and durable) machine to try out to make sure the commitment level is there. They are still very good for working on mechanics and throwing batting practice, however they tend to not last as long as they are not built as solid. This can be a better decision if the child decides not to pursue the sport long term. Additionally if you save considerable money on the lower level machine and the child decides to pursue the sport you can always upgrade to a more durable machine down the road. These machines can cost as little as $200 and can as much as $500… however if you are considering a $500 machine, it might be time to evaluate spending an extra $150 to get into a single wheel fastball machine that will represent a stronger life time value due to its versatility and expected longevity.
So...what pitching machine should I buy?
With all of the different types of pitching machines and brands on the market these days, it can be an overwhelming decision to make. Like any other major purchase you are making, you should have a checklist of "must have", "nice to have", and "don't need" features, and then set a budget that will allow for you to purchase the very best machine, with the best "lifetime value", that fits within that budget. You don’t want to overspend to get features you won’t use, however you need to consider buying a pitching as an investment and you need to spend enough money to make sure you will get maximum usage out of it. The best part is....you don't have to do it alone. We are here to help answer your questions, provide recommendations, share our customer's feedback on brands or products, and help you select the machine that suits your needs.
- Jeff Kiley