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Saturday, January 15, 2011

How to throw more strikes

How many kids have heard their coach, parent, etc say “Come on Johnny, throw strikes!” while on the mound?  

The body language of the kid shouts "Gee Coach, I didn't know that.  All this time I was out here trying to throw balls until now.  Thanks for the advice!"

The point is, every pitcher tries to throw strikes.  How to throw more strikes is what I cover here.  Certainly there are mechanical issues that need to be ironed out in many cases.  That being said, throwing strikes at any level has much to do with a pitcher's mind set prior to throwing the ball.  A flawed strategy - usually a too complicated one - is a big cause of failing to throw strikes.  The flawed strategy typically involves trying to get the batter to miss the ball.

In my opinion, young players of all ages and abilities can benefit by aiming for the center of the plate (and low) on all their pitches until they are well ahead in the count (ex. 0-2, 1-2).  This is helpful because it gives the pitcher, particularly the young pitcher, more room for error with each pitch.  Most players do not have the talent to put the ball exactly where they want it, whenever they want to.   Most kids also don't have the velocity to pitch up in the strike zone that often either.  All other “mortals” need a different approach.  

A home plate is 17 inches across.  That means a pitcher who aims for the center of the plate and low can miss the middle of the plate by up to 8 1/2 inches to the left or to the right of the target (sometimes more depending on the ump) and still have it called a strike.  In fact, most pitchers will typically not put the ball exactly where they want it.  On a first pitch fastball for example, a pitcher who aims for the center rarely will throw it exactly down the middle.  Movement and /or inaccuracy will cause the ball to be off-center by several inches.  As long as it doesn’t miss by more than about 9 inches, it will be called a strike and the pitcher starts with an O-1 count.  If a pitcher aims for, let’s say, the outside corner on the first pitch, he must be perfect in his accuracy (not likely) for it to be an outside corner strike.  If he misses outside by even one inch, it's off the plate and probably will be called a ball.  If he misses the other way, the ball is getting closer to the center of the plate which is easier to hit.  Aim for the center and the pitcher has a lot more room for error.  When the pitcher gets to an 0-2 or 1-2 count, he can then go for the corners to get the batter to chase a bad pitch.  If the count goes 2-2 or 3-2, he should go back to aiming for the center.  

The priority for pitchers is to throw strikes and pitch to contact.  There are only a few situations in baseball where a pitcher absolutely tries for the strikeout.  Runner on third base, one out would be an example.  All other times, the pitcher should want the batter to hit the ball.  The pitcher's job is to throw it low so that the batter has less of a chance of hitting it well.  Ironically, when pitchers take this approach, many times their strikeout totals go up!

Pitching, especially at the younger ages, does not have to be that complicated.  Unfortunately, some people still seem to think it does.  

"Throw strikes, Babe Ruth is dead!"

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