Pitch Smart – 10 things I want my youth pitchers to learn
Very few positions in sport require an athlete to have courage like a baseball pitcher must have. It can be a very lonely spot as every move is out in the open for all to see. When things go south, pitchers wish they could dig a bigger hole on the dirt mound other than the one they pitch from so they can crawl into it. Those who learn to pitch smart have the best chance of survival on the hill, especially when they do not have their best stuff. The only way to become a smart pitcher is to learn how to pitch smart.
Following are the ten pitch smart tips pitchers must learn to give themselves the best chance at success.
Pitch Smart Tips
- Don’t leave it in the bullpen. A common problem with young pitchers is throwing too much or too hard before they even get into games. They wear themselves out beforehand. The pitcher must understand warm up throws are just that, and that they should not lose confidence from their bullpen throws when they are not as sharp as they would like. If they apply more focus in games, the accuracy and stuff often arrive. Stuff is a baseball term that signifies the pitcher’s various pitches, like fastball, curve, etc…
- Know the odds. There are eight players including themselves that are ready to catch one baseball. Throwing strikes so balls are put in play is better than the alternative of giving hitters a free pass by walking them. Getting strikeouts help out and those will come along the way, but thinking that they need to strike everyone out is not the way to go. Pitching success comes from putting the ball over the plate where batters can hit it. Of course, the ninth player on the field is the most helpful, the catcher. Pitchers must learn to work with their catcher, so they think alike for pitch selection and figuring out ways of setting up the batters.
- Pitch with poise. As mentioned, courage is crucial to be a baseball pitcher, and that is most important when those eight players are making errors. It is easy for pitchers to become frustrated with their teammates because it feels like it’s them that is doing badly as the runs cross the plate. Pitchers must learn to understand that errors are part of the game and that no player wants to make them. Once they recognize that gaffes occur, they can continue to give their best. They can keep their teammates upbeat by never showing disgust with other’s mistakes and continuing to battle each and every pitch. I encourage pitchers to tell the error making player to “Forget about it” before making the next pitch.
- Practice out of the stretch more than the windup. Experienced pitchers know that the most important pitches they make are with runners on base. Therefore, they should practice that way more than from the windup delivery method.
- Know the value of off-speed At the youth level, the only off-speed pitch should be the change up. To pitch smart, young ballplayers should understand a few things. They do not have to throw their hardest or the same speed on every fastball. Any speed variation can be useful. The change up’s primary purpose is to set up the fastball. After seeing a slower rate, their usual speed fastball will look quicker to a batter’s eyes. Off-speed pitches are best for the better hitters. Good hitters will learn to time any speed if they see it enough. Changing speeds on them can disrupt that timing. Whereas giving weak hitters a slower pitch may be playing right into the batter’s bat.
- Strike one is the key to pitching success at any level. Getting ahead of batters with a first-pitch strike is the secret to pitching success. The odds go in a pitcher’s favor when they are ahead in the count. At the youth levels, that should be easier too because many young kids do not like to swing at the first offering. The best pitch smart tip is to throw the first one over the plate.
- Work on the two and four seam fastball. Most pitchers have a preference, but it is good even at the young age to practice both grips. If not right away, eventually, that practice will come in very handy. Kids like to think they have a variety of pitches and that gives them two right away.
- Find and understand rhythm. Pitching is all about timing and balance, so pitchers must learn and maintain the same pace and stability on every pitch, especially for the tight spots in games. This process is easier said than done, but using the “seconds count” in their head can help. I have my pitchers count one thousand one on their back step, one thousand two on their knee lift and so on to create the same timing and sequence each pitch.
- Work quickly. Nothing is more annoying than having a pitcher take a lot of time between pitches. Making sure they keep little and the same time between pitches is best for them and the players behind them.
- Remember they are a fielder. Many pitchers get in such a pitching mindset that they forget they are a fielder once they throw the ball. Fielding one’s position can save runs and the ERA. Youth players should practice fielding from the pitcher’s mound in workouts too, not just from other places on the ballfield.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” now $5 and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte at YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.