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Pitching Strategy..The Rays Renegade Way
Kathy Willen/ AP
If you are anything like me at Tampa Bay Rays home games, I can sometimes described as a rabid fan who’s game knowledge sometimes rivals the thought processes of the professionals sitting in the dugout. I have a tendency to think outside-the-box sometimes, then re-think the game from the comfort of my blue plastic chair out in the Baseline Box seats. Sometimes the fact that our Rays Pitching Coach is still sitting there contemplating a move with his backside firmly on the bench while letting our Rays pitcher get lit up sometimes drives me beyond the realms of insanity. You want to see something positive happen at that moment, but usually you are rewarded with more questions than answers about a move.
And if you are at home watching in the confines of your own home, there is the added dimension of the broadcasters own opinions and hearing the amplified cheers and jeers in surround sound that can drive you simple batty. So today I decided to maybe just give you a few situational pitching ideals and beliefs I have gathered in my dust-covered memories since I first picked up a ball over 40-some years ago.
Now I am not professing to be a professional pitcher or expert. My ideas might be as ill concieved as some of the MLB Pitching Coaches currently employed around the league. As fans, we always seem to be open to second-guessing pitching decision with every game and every late game scenario, but hopefully some of these “life” accumulated facts and ideas might enlighten some of us with an extra added supply of pitching information before we yell, scream for the Rays Bullpen to “get someone up” next time. The job is not as clear cut as we all might think it is at times.
I know it is an extremely hard position to be one of the 30 MLB Pitching Coaches. I know I could never do it for a living, but sometimes, even the best of them need to be questioned for their actions, or 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, and if the team is on a winning streak.
But Hickey is actually a “no-win” situation when it comes to the Rays fans. If a Rays pitcher goes out there and performs fantastic, you never hear a question towards the Rays Pitching Coach, just the Rays Manager, Joe Maddon. But either way, as Rays fans, we always have a few unanswered questions in our minds concerning the parameters of why or how a certain pitch or situational pitching scenario unfolds within a Rays game. Keep totally in mind here I am not trying to portray myself as a pitching guru or saint here,I am trying to give one Rays 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 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?
Brian Blanco / AP
Well to most baseball fans, that is the basic aspects of the pitching game. It sometimes seems like the ultimate pitchers’ have a tendency to want to place their offerings all over parts the plate and not just biting the corners or high and tight on the hitters. Most fans want to see the power-versus-power battle at the plate like the Roman gladiators, with the player quessing right coming out on top. But that is not always the way an at bat ends in the major leagues. Sometimes plain old luck can ruin the perfect pitch, or a shattered bat can deliver an infield hit that can easily be converted into an out.
We always wonder what game day thoughts or basic fundamentals might go through a pitcher’s mind when he is out there on the mound. Some of the simple ideals of finesse and power pitching can become complicated and diluted if mixed up and turned sideways by a Pitching Coach trying to impliment too much on a young player.
Baseball is a very simple game, but it is the so called ‘experts” in the stands that can make it more difficult. So here are a few of my personal pitching ideals on how to be effective on the pitching 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 my college days basking in the sun.
Every baseball fan has a different spin on their own school of pitching philosophy. The below ideals are just a slight hodge podge of the pitching instructions that have stayed within my mind in regard to pitching over the years. Some are very simple, but just like KISS, keeping It Simple Stupid, I can not guarantee toyou that any of these thoughts will transform you into a 20-game winner on the mound. But they are simple ideas taught to me by legions of Coaches who experimented and analyzed their own players over the years. Hopefully some of these suggestions hit home and do not seem to trive and trivial in nature.
You always want to make the inside of the plate your own. You have to make the hitter at the plate anticipate a possible inside pitch, so you begin by attacking him inside and make him respect the speed on your fastball or the vertical drop on your breaking ball.
2) Show some of your off-speed stuff early in the game to keep the hitter guessing throughout the contest. You do not get in there and throw a massive amount of breaking stuff because the hitters will quickly get an accurate gauge on your pitch’s timing. But your curveball, change-up, slider and cutter can help you dictate the pace of the game from the mound.
3) Be careful with your change-up. Just because you might think it is the right pitch, you have to mentally adjust to the fact the hitter might be guessing right too. Just because it has worked for you all day doesn’t mean he is not sitting there waiting for it again. The slower it comes in, the faster it will go out if he guesses right. 4) I was personally partial when I was younger (over 14) to throw a nasty curve ball 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 own personal pattern. But it is important for you to develop your own pitching style that synchs with your team’s strong points.
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 third strike for an out. You are not the only one playing this “guessing game”, the batter is also trying to get the right answers to get his guys’ home. Never think you are smarter than the hitter, you might have just been lucky to that point in the game.
6) Changing the eye level or height of your pitches can be more effective than changing your overall pitch speed. A fastball low and inside followed by a curve up by the chest changes the batter’s depth perspective on your incoming pitches. It can also open up the outside corner for a nice breaking ball to get that hitter walking from the plate shaking his head. Always leave him guessing, Always leave him questioning himself on that long walk to the bench.
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 or someone prone to taking a wild swing at times. But it is 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. 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. Throughout the game, always remember to adjust, re-focus and make the hitter remember the pitches they saw in previous at bats. When you are facing them the second time, or even third time through the batting order, you still have to out-think them every time. 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 the hitter guess right to get anything off you. Do not reward his short-term memory by giving him the same pitch twice at the same part of the count in a game. Make him earn every swing, and every contact.
Chris O’Meara /AP
Those are just my own personal 10 simple ways to develop a simple pitching strategy for a game. I am not a Pitching Coach, or even a Little League Coach, just a fan who played baseball into his mid-20′s and still develops more knowledge about the game s I ge each year. I am simply a Rays fan who has loved the game since I unwrapped my first glove at athe gae of three during Christmas.
Even if I am not an amateur or professional Pitching Coach, I can visually focus on good and bad pitching patterns and fundemental delivery errors. With teams in the Major Leagues now actively downloading video and deeply analyzing opposing pitchers’ charts on every probale starter in an upcoming series, it is getting harder and harder to surprise MLB teams.
If your team does employ these basic and simple pitching ideals, it can make the rest of your day at the ballpark flow a bit better. Worst thing about pitching, you can hit all your spots during that day, could be hitting the glove perfectly every time and still lose the contest on one simple mistake or miscalculation. But that is why we play the game.
If it was so simple to play the game professionally, then 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. Some of us evolve to become those “off-the-field” coaches who can ruin even the best games of some of our Rays players in our own minds. I enjoy reading blogs where people question a pitching situation, or even a pitch selection at a certain point in a game. I just hope this short list can give some people a hint of more insight into pitching.
Sometimes even a 10-year veteran pitcher can forget the basics and gets drilled in the process. I do not know who said it, but baseball is a game where we reward people for hitting a batted ball coming in at a high rate of speed 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 by muttling up the clear waters.
Post Note: This is my 850th post on MLBlogs.com today. Funny how a refreshing activity to remember why I love to write has transformed into such a great adeventure, and meeting such great baseball friends and fans. I feel blessed every day as I write these blogs.
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