I field a lot of phone calls from people who are confused over which pitching machine to buy. Although price is probably the first thing people ask about, not far behind is the question, "How fast will it pitch?"
Granted, if you are setting up a pitching machine from 60 feet away and using it in league games or you have at least a 60 foot batting cage, the maximum speed a pitching machine will throw is definitely an important consideration.
The fact is, few people have yards where they can set up a 60 foot long batting cage and fewer still want to fork out $800 or more for a cage that size. Instead, they opt for something smaller like a 30 foot batting cage. When they do that, the ball gets on a hitter twice as fast as it does from 60 feet away.
I frequently use the analogy with customers of a car speeding toward you at 50 MPH. If that car is 1/4 mile away, you have plenty of time to move out of the way. If the car is only 20 yards away, you're doomed!
In the pitching machine industry, this is called the "seems like" or "relative" speed. Basically, it is a measure of how fast you would have to react to a given pitch speed from various distances in order to get the bat on the ball. To calculate the relative speed, simply take the regulation distance from the mound to the back of the plate, divide it by the distance your pitching machine is from the back of the "plate" and multiply that number by the speed of the pitch.
A pitching machine that has a maximum speed of 45 MPH may not be fast enough if the machine is 60 feet away. If you are hitting from a cage that is only 30 feet long, though, that suddenly seems like a 90 MPH fast ball [(60 ft ÷ 30 ft) x 45 MPH = 90 MPH]. Only have a 24 foot cage? That 45 MPH pitch now has a relative speed of more than 112 MPH. If your son or daughter is getting around on pitches that fast, you might want to call a few scouts!
I think you can see now why the speed a pitching machine can throw is one of the least important things for most people. Far more important is how it is made. Is it partially plastic or is it all metal? Does it have a 1 year warranty or a 5 year warranty? There's probably a very good reason a manufacturer offers a 1 year warranty versus a 5 year one!
If your child is likely to use a machine for several years or if you have multiple children who will be using it, choosing a pitching machine with a longer warranty is a pretty good idea. They are obviously built to withstand more use. Get as good a machine as you can afford. You'll be thankful you did a few years down the road.
You can read more about other factors you should consider before you buy a pitching machine in our resource article, How to Select the Best Pitching Machine.
Pitching Machine Stop Quote of the Day: "Trying to sneak a fastball past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster." - Joe Adcock