Pitching Strategy…. My Way
Kathy Willen/ AP
If you are anything like me at the game, I tend to think and re-think the game a lot from the comfort of my blue chair out in the Baseline Box seats. Sometimes the simple fact that a Pitching Coach has come out of the dugout, or is still sitting there contemplating a move and letting our guy on the mound get lit up can drive you nuts. You want something positive to happen, but sometimes you are not rewarded at all.
And if you are at home, there is the added dimension of the broadcasters and hearing the cheers and jeers in stereo that can drive you simple batty as to pitching situations. So today I decided to maybe just give you a few situational pitching ideals and beliefs I have gathered since I first picked up a ball over 40-some years ago.
Now I am not professing to be a professional pitcher, and my ideas might be as bad as some of the current MLB Pitching Coaches we all second-guess every day and night, but it might it might also enlighten some of us with some extra information before we yell and scream for the Bullpen to “get someone up” next time.
I know it is a hard position to be a MLB Pitching Coach. I know I could never do it for a living, but sometimes even the best of them needed to be questioned for actions, or even non-actions in a game. Most post-game interviews are with the team’s Manager, not the Pitching Coach who might have errored in leaving someone to bake on the mound, or pulled someone early. And Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey’s “pitch to contact” style is either viewed as a success or a failure depending on your pitching viewpoint.
But Hickey’s position is actually a “no-win” situation. Mostly for the pure fact that if a guy goes out there and performs fantastic, you never hear a question towards the Pitching Coach, just the Manager. But either way, we as fans always have a few questions in our minds on why or how a certain pitch or situational pitching scenario unfolds in a game. Keep in mind here I am not trying to portray myself as a pitching guru or saint here, but I am going to try and give a fan-based Pitching tutorial.
I still have foggy recollections and vivid memories of situational strategies that I was taught when I was much younger, and could throw a lot harder. So without any further delay, lets begin my little journey into the simple basics of some pitching strategies. Former Chicago Cubs closer Steven Ellis uses to say that the best way to pitch was to “keep the batter uncomfortable at the plate.” Sounds like a simple method, but isn’t pitching suppose to be more than just about throwing a baseball across a keystone-shaped plate?
Well to most people that is the basic aspects of the game they see with every pitch. They want it over the plate and not biting the corners or even high and tight on the guy. Most people want to see the power-against-power up there at the plate like gladiators with the better players coming out on top. But that is not always the way it ends during an at bat in the major leagues. Sometimes luck can ruin a perfect pitch, or a shattered bat can deliver an infield hit.
So we always wonder what some of the basic fundamentals or game day thoughts that might go through a pitcher’s mind while he is out there on the mound. Some of the simple ideals of pitching can become complicated if mixed up and turned sideways by a Pitching Coach.
Baseball is a simple game, it is us so called ‘experts” that make it more difficult. So here are a few of my personal ideals on how to be effective on the mound. These ideas have come from the coaches and instructors I have known since my first days of Little League at Northwest Youth Center in St. Petersburg, Florida to the college ranks. Every one of them had a different spin on the philosophy of pitching. These are just a hodge podge of those instructions that have stayed within my mind in regard to pitching all these years. Some are very simple, but just like KISS, keeping It Simple Stupid can make you a 20-game winner on the mound.
1) You always want to make the inside of the plate yours. You have to make the batter anticipate the inside pitch, so you attack him inside and make him respect your fastball or breaking ball.
2) Show your off-speed stuff early in the game. Now you do not get in there and throw a massive amount of them because then the hitters can get gauge your timing and you are then asking for another ball from the umpire… a lot. But your curveball, change-up, sinker and slurve can help you dictate the game.
3) Always be careful with your change-up. Just because you think it is the right pitch, you have to also adjust to the fact he might be guessing right too. Just because it has worked for you all day doesn’t mean he is not now sitting there waiting for it again. The slower it comes in, the faster it will go out if he gets it right.
4) I was always partial when I was younger (over 14) to throw a curve ball on occasions during 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 counts. The only reason I did this was that the hitter was usually waiting on a fastball to strike him out. Not that I did not mix it up at times, but it was just my personal pattern. Develop your own style.
5) With runners in scoring position, I tried to not let the batter get a good read on my fast ball. A badly placed fastball can unload the bases just as quick as a well placed ball for a called third strike for that last out. You are not the only one playing this “guessing game” here, the batter is also trying to get the right answers to get his guys home. Also never think you are smarter than the hitter, you might have just been lucky today to this point.
6) Changing the eye level or height of your pitches can be more effective than changing the speed. A fastball low and inside followed by a curve up by the chest changes the batter’s perspective on your pitches. It can also open up the outside corner for a nice breaking ball to get that out. Always leave him guessing.
7) I personally loved to throw a 2-seam fastball on either the first pitch, or during counts like 1-0,2-0,2-2, or 3-2. It might seem predictable, but if placed right, it should be an effective pitch. To me a breaking ball on 3-2 is too risky unless you have no one on base at the time. Better to
go down in flames with your best stuff than gamble on a breaking ball hitting the plane outside on a full count.
8) One of the worst thing a pitcher can do on the mound is get predictable, even with his first pitch every at bat. By changing the eye height of the pitch and hitting the corners of the plate you can put doubt in the hitter’s mind, and that is your best weapon to defeat him every time. If you have him guessing or confused, you have already won half the battle.
9) Everyone always hear the phrase “throw up a zero”, but it is important for team confidence to shut down an opponent after they either score, or you have scored in the game. The confidence of the guys behind you will make them more relaxed and want to make plays for you. A confident defense is ready to make outs.
10) This might be the most important one to me. Always re-adjust, re-focus and make the hitter re-think past at bats when you are facing them the second time, or even third time through the batting order. Just because you threw a slider for a first strike last time up doesn’t mean you should do it again. Pitch the game wisely, make him guess right to get anything off of you today. Do not reward his memory by giving him the same pitch twice at the same part of the count in a game.
Well, those are just my personal 10 simple ways to develop a simple pitching strategy for the game. I am not a Pitching Coach, or even a Little League Coach. I am simply a fan who has loved the game since my first glove at Christmas at the age of three. But even if I am not a coach, I can see good and bad patterns and errors. With teams in the major leagues now watching video tapes and analyzing pitching charts on every starter, it is getting harder and harder to surprise teams now.
But if your team does employ these basic pitching ideals it can make the rest of your day at the ballpark flow better. Worst thing about pitching, you can hit all your spots that day, be hitting the glove perfectly and still lose the contest. But that is why we play the game. If it was so simple we would have people like you and me out there hitting and playing the game until we were too old to pick up a bat or field a ball.
So some of us become those “off-the-field” coaches who can ruin even the best games of some of our players in our own minds. I enjoy reading some of these blogs where people question a pitching situation, or even a pitch selection or substitution. I just hope this short list can give some people a hint of more insight into pitching.
Sometimes even a 10-year pro pitcher can forget the basic and he gets drilled in an inning. I do not know who said it, but baseball is a game where we reward people for hitting the ball a third of the time. And that is so true. Baseball is simple, but it is the fans and sometimes the coaches and players who can make it seem more difficult.
So with that in mind, I am getting ready to head on down toward Tropicana Field tonight and watch the first game of the three game series with the current American League East division leaders, the New York Yankees. The only reason I am making a big thing of that is that if the Rays do get some “mojo rising” during this series, that current position in the division will change. But you can bet even tonight, Yankee starter A J Burnett will employ all or most of those 10 pitching strategy fundamental ideas listed above in the ballgame. You can bet on it.