Pitching can be a confusing skill for pitchers and for coaches, so let’s simplify it all.
Instead of thinking about a million different mechanics, learn 4 qualities that every pitcher needs.
I saw a stat from this year’s WCWS that was shocking – 52% of all the runs scored in Oklahoma City were scored via the home run. That’s 48 of the 92 total runs scored! While we all know the final 8 teams in OKC were loaded with powerful hitters, those hitters were also facing the best pitchers in our game.
This tells me that hitting has really made strides and is starting to edge past our current pitching. This happens. The game moves in cycles where pitching sometimes dominates hitting and results in lower scores and higher strikeouts, and then hitting rebounds and dominates pitchers with higher scores and lower strikeouts.
We are definitely in a hitting dominant cycle and, while it’s exciting for the average fan, for those of us pitching coaches out here, we’ve got work to do.
That brings me to a terrific conversation I had this past week with Lance Glasoe, University of Washington’s Pitching Coach. We were doing a camp together, and Lance talked about how he grades pitchers on the 4 qualities of a good pitcher. To me, it’s a great way to simplify pitching while helping pitchers learn to appreciate their own uniqueness.
Not everyone can throw it 72 miles an hour, or make a ball move like Cat Osterman, but by using these 4 qualities you can help pitchers focus on what will make them successful. Lance boiled pitching down to 4 buckets, or qualities. Two of them are obvious to think about, and pretty easy to see:
- Speed – this one’s obvious since it’s how fast you pitch the ball. Unfortunately, it’s the quality that most coaches focus on and most pitchers obsess about.This is also the one quality that you can have an A grade in and C grades in the other qualities and still become a very successful pitcher. But, keep in mind that an A grade in speed means you pitch 70 miles per hour or faster – and few pitchers on planet earth do that! A pitcher’s grade when it comes to speed is based on how fast they actually pitch the ball in a game: 70+ mph = A+, 65-69mph = A, 60-64mph = B, 58-63 = C and so forth (NOTE: This is a grading scale for college age pitchers)
- Movement – how much a pitcher moves a ball is how much they make a ball go up or down or left or right. We give these movements names like rise or drop or curve or screw and while most pitchers think their pitches move, not all of them actually do. So the grade in this skill needs to be based on actual movement, not on “favorite” pitch status, or on the ball’s approach angle as soon as the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand going left, right, up or down.
The final two qualities are tougher to see, but just as important as Speed and Movement. Those qualities are:
- Location – this might be the easiest to achieve, and the most underrated. A pitcher’s ability to locate her pitches determines whether she’s getting hitters out, or putting runners on. Being able to repeatedly hit any location within the strike zone allows a pitcher to weaken a hitter and continue to attack her weakness. A pitcher can go far simply using her fastball to hit locations, and then add location control with her movement pitches. The higher the Location grade, the smaller the spot the pitcher can hit, repeatedly, in games.
- Deception – most people only think of changeups and off speeds when they think of deception, but in fact, there are other ways to deceive hitters. Making all pitches look the same from grip, to gripping time, to pre-pitch movement to entrance path are things that pitchers can do to make it extremely difficult for coaches and hitters to distinguish one type of pitch from another. The more a hitter cannot distinguish a pitch the less able they are to commit their best swing to it.
To make these 4 qualities really help your pitchers, think of them each in terms of a grade A to F. Just like in school, an A is excellent or outstanding, while an F is failing. Most of us live somewhere in-between and your pitchers won’t be any different.
Pitchers don’t need to have A’s in all 4 skills, but it will be difficult to be successful if they have D’s or F’s in any.
Let’s look at two very different pitchers, both of whom have been extremely successful in college and see how they each varied greatly in these 4 qualities:
Pitcher 1 – throws the ball VERY fast – over 70 miles an hour fast, she doesn’t have great movement, she’s got average control and a so-so changeup. So grade-wise, we’d give her Speed an A, her Location a C, her Movement a C- and her Deception a C-. Normally, any pitcher with three C’s won’t be very good, but because her Speed is an A+ she’s extremely successful. Speed is the one quality that can make up for low grades in the other 3, but it better be A to A+ Speed!
Now let’s look at Pitcher 2 – This pitcher throws about 58-62 mph, she has outstanding movement, great control and pretty good deception. Her Speed grade would be a C+/B-, her Location grade would be B+/A-, an A for Movement and an A-/B+ for her Deception. This pitcher is also outstanding, and yet she’s a C+ grade for Speed. She’s figured out how to dominate hitters using her Location, Movement and Deception instead of relying on B- Speed.
Too many pitchers focus too much on Speed while allowing their other 3 skills to suffer and allowing their chances for success to suffer as well.
Help your pitchers see the value of all 4 of these skills, and help them learn to accurately grade themselves. This will allow them to grow their weaknesses and have a healthier way of seeing themselves as a quality pitcher instead of simply wanting to always throw the ball harder.
Developing all 4 areas of the pitcher gives them the best chance for success.
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