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For Pitching, or Any Skill, Get Simpler to Get Better

Because something is difficult does that also make it complicated?

Many of us think that pitching must be complicated because it’s hard to do. See why I disagree.

There’s no question that pitching is difficult. Pitching for 7 innings, against incredible bat technology, ever-shrinking strike zones, and powerful hitters is REALLY difficult. But that doesn’t mean we need to make it complicated.

Let’s take another example – running a marathon. Not many people have done it because it’s really, really hard. But that doesn’t mean it’s complicated. In fact, as complexity goes running 26.2 miles is pretty low on the scale…simply put one foot in front of the other and don’t stop for 26.2 miles. The slam dunk is another example. Jump up and push the ball down through the net from above the rim. Both examples are simple to understand, but not easy to do.

To me, pitching is another such example. Simple to understand (make a circle with your arm, take a step and let go) – but difficult to do. Somewhere along the way we made it SUPER complicated. Maybe because it’s difficult, I don’t know. What I do know is that making pitching so complicated only makes it more difficult to understand, and therefore more difficult to repeat with any authority or consistency.

Instead of complicating things by thinking about a million body parts in action, we need to simplify and prioritize things for our pitchers, or any of our players. The ball is a stupid $5 ball without any brains of its own, and therefore it MUST do what your hand tells it to at release. It must.

That means whatever the ball is doing is always teaching you what you just did with your hand when you let go of it. It might not be what you wanted to the ball to do, but it is what you told it to do. And, the ball does it at the speed you told it to do it.

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Say, for example, you want the ball to drop on the outside corner (to a righty) – so you twist your hand over as you release the pitch. The ball does stay outside but it drops late. That simply means your hand twisted late (aka too far past your intended release point). Conversely, if you want the drop to stay outside but it moves inside more like a screw, then your hand did that exact motion during the release. Simple, but by no means easy!

While it sounds simple, and the concept IS simple, it’s the doing it that gets complicated. Mainly because the release happens so fast that it’s easy to miss it just slightly, resulting in a pitch that misses just slightly more. Because of the distance the plate is from the pitcher (or the glove is from an infielder or outfielder) the amount of miss at the release point is magnified at the end point.

The best advice you can give your pitchers (and all of your players) over the holidays is to have them work on controlling their hands…to connect their intentions for the pitch (or throw) to the release of the pitch (or throw). Instead of mentioning every single body part to your pitcher, start with the body part touching the ball – the Hand – and then work backwards (if you must).

Simplify. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, or that different body parts don’t impact what a pitcher’s trying to do, but it does mean to limit what you talk about to your pitcher. Challenge yourself and only mention ANY mechanics or body parts every 3rd pitch. On the other pitches, simply ask your pitcher what she felt – and she MUST start with something she did well!

Also – pick random targets (in AND totally out of the strike zone) and practice pitching the ball to those locations – straight (as in a fastball) and then bent (as in a drop, curve, rise). To own the break of the ball, your pitchers must own the release of it. Explode the strike zone so it’s not so confining and make the focus be on seeing the target in your mind and then hitting it. That’s all pitching within the strike zone is.

For some great training aids to help your pitchers, check these out:

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