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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pitchers: Take good care of your fielders

A pitcher's ERA and win-loss record depends largely on what the players behind them do during the course of the game.  If players make more plays, a pitcher's ERA tends to go down.  If a pitcher's ERA goes down they tend to have a better win-loss record.  The point is that fielders are a pitcher's best friend.  When they go all out after a ball, they are helping to improve a pitcher's ERA and win-loss record.

Whether he catches the ball or not, this guy
deserves a high five and an "atta boy"
from every pitcher on the staff. 
The next time you are watching a high school or middle school game, watch for the following:  An infielder, outfield, or several of both go all out for a fly ball in foul territory but don't get to it.  What usually comes next is the amazing part.  Many pitchers will get a new ball and get right back on the mound to get the sign from the catcher and barely wait for the fielders to get back into position before throwing the next pitch.  Of course, this makes no sense after reading the first part of this post and understanding the whole "fielders are a pitcher's best friend" thing.

So here is a basic, no brainer  tip for all pitchers.  When a teammate or several of them go after a ball, give them all the time they need to get back to their position and get their breath before stepping back onto the mound.  If the W or the L goes next to my name as a pitcher, I want everyone on the field to be at full strength when I throw each pitch.  You should too.

And remember ... thank them for their effort after the inning.  It's your ERA they are trying to protect.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pitching with a runner on third base

Here’s a tip for pitchers who find themselves with a runner on third base. 

Be sure to look at the runner prior to starting your delivery to home plate.

Be sure to look at this guy at third BEFORE you
start your delivery to home plate.
(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Especially from the wind-up.  Here’s why.  Occasionally, the runner on third base will either tip off that a squeeze play is on or a steal of home might occur.  Once you start your wind-up you cannot stop so if the runner does do something early, it’s too late for a pitcher to do much about it once he’s begun.  The correct thing for a pitcher to do is to get the pitch sign from the catcher and then look at the runner on third base.  If nothing is out of the ordinary, the pitcher proceeds with his delivery.  If the pitcher notices something unusual, he can just step off the rubber and address it.  Some runners dance off the bag to try to get the pitcher to balk.  This doesn’t happen if the pitcher just waits for the runner to stop before starting the wind-up.  

All of this applies to a pitcher in the stretch position as well.  A pitcher can get the sign and come set, look at the runner, see if everything is ok, then proceed.

A pitcher runs into problems when he is so concerned about delivering the pitch that he forgets to check the runner.  You might be surprised at how many pitchers check the runner after starting their delivery.  By then it's too late.  

The pitcher has lots of power because not much happens until he decides to start.  Take your time and use that power to your advantage with a runner on third base.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Track the ball to the catcher

In a previous post called Off-season Hitting: An overlooked Drill I talked about the advantages of standing in when pitchers are throwing indoors or in the bullpen.  One tip I recommended while doing it was to follow the ball all the way back to the catcher’s mitt.  This allows the hitter the ability to see any late movement on pitches that would have been missed if the batter continued to look straight ahead after the pitch came in. 

There is another good reason to follow the ball to the mitt and it has to do with your relations with the umpire.   Umpires do not appreciate being “shown up” in front of everyone.  Keeping your eyes looking forward on the pitch creates the potential for a batter unintentionally showing up an umpire.  Here’s how.

Hunter Pence tracks the ball all the way to the
mitt and now faces the umpire.
(Photo by
A batter thinks the pitch is a ball and takes the pitch with his eyes looking straight ahead.  The umpire calls the pitch a strike.  What does every batter in that situation do?  He whips his eyes back to face the umpire because he is shocked the call was a strike.  The batter has just let the entire ballpark know that he did not agree with the call.  No matter what the batter says, the umpire will not be happy because the batter just made him look bad in front of everyone. 

When a batter follows every pitch they take all the way back to the catcher’s mitt, his eyes are already looking back to where the umpire is.  If the call is a strike and the batter disagrees (and has something to say about it), the only people who know what’s going on are the batter, the catcher, and the umpire.  That's because he never whipped his head back.  Umpires usually will give a batter a little more latitude with their comments in this situation because it has been kept between the three of them.  Snapping your head back after the call virtually guarantees the umpire will not take too kindly to anything that is said.  On TV, this is when the ump commonly whips off his mask and gives the batter an earful.

So follow the ball back to the mitt when you take pitches.  It has some practical advantages for hitters and it also helps get some experience in diplomacy.  

Monday, March 28, 2011

Separating yourself vs Standing out

We all have words we live by.  I've turned a few into posts. "Show up, Suit up, Shut up, and Play hard" is one of them.  Another one for me is ... 
It is better to separate yourself from the crowd then to stand out from one.
A clown stands out in a crowd.  Your eyes are automatically drawn to a clown.  They get tons of attention.  However, does anyone respect a clown?  Nope.  They're a clown.  Nobody takes them seriously.  Although they may be entertaining to look at for a while, people grow tired of their act rather quickly.  
Manny being Manny.
The same concept holds true in baseball.  Over the years, there have been quite a few players that have drawn a lot of attention to themselves.  Manny Ramirez,  John Rocker, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, and now Brian Wilson.  Through their attitude, actions, and/or appearance, they have done things to stand out from the major league crowd.  Unfortunately, all have (or will have) trouble sustaining respect.  Sports fans and especially those in the media have a high tolerance for players who stand out.  That is, as long as their performance stays at a high level.  As soon as their performance drops, an avalanche of criticism falls down on them.  Take Manny Ramirez as an example.  When he was in his prime and hitting a ton, the Red Sox, their fans, and the media looked the other way on many of his "issues."  The sports media saw him as entertaining and loved to report all the "Mannyisms" of Manny-being-Manny.   When his performance started to drop, he all of a sudden was correctly reported as a "cancer" that nobody wanted.  Brian Wilson is setting himself up for the same fate.  Their "acts" become tiring very quickly.  Crash Davis spoke of this in Bull Durham when he said ...
If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press'll think you're colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob. 
Of course, you'll be "colorful" until you stop winning 20 in the show.

Giants closer/clown Brian Wilson
Separating yourself from the crowd is something very different.  It's what makes players like Derek Jeter, Chase Utley, Tori Hunter, Adrian Gonzalez, CC Sabathia, and David Wright well liked even when their performance slips or when they make mistakes.  People give these players the benefit of the doubt when times get tough because they play the game the right way.  They let their day-to-day and year-to-year performances do the talking for them.  They all understand that sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.

Every player gets to choose which type of player they become - someone who stands out or someone who separates themselves from others.  If they choose to stand out, they will get lots of attention but in the long run, I don't think they will like the type of attention they get.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A tip for secondary leads

This Tigers runner shuffles off on
the pitch and is in position to
land properly at the right time.
(AP Photo)
A secondary lead is the extra lead base runners take when the ball is traveling to home plate.  Others call it "shuffling off on the pitch" but it's all the same thing.  This post is specifically going to deal with a very important piece that must occur at the end of a secondary lead.  It simply involves landing with the proper foot at the proper time.  It doesn't matter what base the runner is on.
When a runner takes a secondary lead, they must land with their right foot as the ball crosses the hitting zone.
Jason Werth easily gets picked off
on a catcher's snap throw in the
2009 World Series.
(NY Post Photo)
There are no exceptions to this rule.  When a runner lands with his right foot as the ball crosses the hitting zone he can plant and return to the bag very easily and quickly if necessary.  He is also in a good position to take off running if the ball is hit.   A runner that lands with his left foot as the ball crosses the zone will be squared up to the next base (shoulders and/or hips) and is in a horrible position if he has to return to the bag quickly.  He is making it very likely that he will get picked off by the catcher after the pitch.  This is also true for a runner who is late landing with their right foot.  If this is the case, the runner is still moving away from the bag after the catcher has caught the ball.  On a snap throw by the catcher, the runner in this scenario will take longer to get back and increases the odds he will be out.

A note to catchers and infielders:  You should be looking for runners who either land with the incorrect foot or have poor timing of their right foot landing.  They become prime targets.  If you see this at any bag, relay a sign to the proper teammate and put on a pick-off following the pitch.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The mentality of a thief

When a normal person walks into your home for the first time, they will walk around and compliment you on your decorations, your new flat screen TV, your stereo system, and your brand new iMac computer.  When a person who is really a thief walks into a house, they will say the same thing but in their mind they are asking themselves the following:

  • Where are the alarms in this house?
  • Do they have a dog?
  • Which window would get me the easiest access?
  • Lou Brock
  • Which things in this house have the most value?

They think this way because they have the mentality of a thief.  Thank goodness normal people don't think this way.

However, if you want to be a great base stealer, you must also learn to think this way.  A base stealer has the audacity and the arrogance to know that they will be stealing a base.  They just have to figure out how.  Their questions would take the form of:

  • Am I going to steal on the catcher or the pitcher?
  • What is the pitcher's best time to home plate?
  • What pattern has the pitcher fallen into with runners on?
  • How does this lefty tip off when he's coming to first?
  • How does he tip off when he's going to the plate?
  • How big of a lead off first do I need to take to see the catcher's signs?
Ricky Henderson
The common factor in both lines of questions is that none of them show any hesitation or lack of confidence in whether it can be done.  The house thief knows it can be done.  He just has to figure out the pieces to the puzzle.  The same thing goes with the base stealer.  It's not a question of whether he'll make it.  That's a given in a base stealer's mind.  It's just becomes a matter of how and when.

Same eyes. No fear.
This is why the two greatest base stealers in baseball history - Ricky Henderson and Lou Brock - could ascend to that pinnacle without being baseball's fastest runners ever.  Surely there have been many runners that have been faster.  Henderson and Brock obviously had enough speed to be good base stealers.  What made them great was speed combined with the mentality of a thief.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Stubborn Hitter - a short story

Once upon a time on a field far, far away there was a hitter who was very stubborn. 
The boy hit mile-high pop-ups.  One after another.
They soared high up into the clouds ... and always landed for outs.
The coaches all tried to intervene. 

The boy wanted nothing of it.

They searched far and wide for the best instructors in the world.
All were paid handsomely to make the long journey to the field.
All failed to correct the batter's swing.

The boy wanted nothing of it.

Then one day, the old groundskeeper hobbled by with his sun scared skin and bad knees.
He limped behind the plate and saw the hitter swing.
He heard the frustrated sighs of all the experts there to help.

The old man said to the boy ...
"Son, I haven't seen a ball hit that high since ole' Willy McDugan played here."
The young hitter stopped his batting practice, thanked the old man, and said ...
"By the way, who is Willy McDugan?" 

As the old man walked away, he said "That's exactly the point."

The young batter then started hitting line-drives.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Perfect hitting speed

At any level of baseball, there is going to be a pitching speed that most of the hitters at that level are comfortable hitting.  It's that speed that is not too fast and not too slow - the Perfect Hitting Speed (PHS).  Your game-plan as a pitcher depends largely on knowing where you are on the following spectrum.  



_?_ mph


_?_ mph




If a pitcher's fast ball velocity falls within the red PHS zone, he'd better have great command in the strike zone with his fastball - low and consistently on the outer thirds of the plate - and/or have great movement.  A pitcher who has velocity above the PHS for his level does not have to be so fine with his pitches because his strong velocity will overcome poor location or lack of movement.  The same thing goes for pitchers who are below PHS.  Many hitters say that they would rather hit a guy who throws above PHS than to face a guy who is below PHS.  A "Below" pitcher has to learn how to pitch but he can still be very effective if he knows what he is doing.  I know!  I had about 20 career at-bats off Tim Wakefield in the minor leagues and don't think I ever hit the ball past the mound!

All this should be very instructive to young pitchers.  A pitcher who is towards the bottom end of PHS would be better off easing off a bit to get into the "Below" PHS area that hitters complain about.  Sometimes, just having a good change-up or slower breaking pitch gets more of their pitches in this zone.  The key is to make sure you take advantage of multiple zones by changing speeds.  Unfortunately, most young pitchers do not pitch to their strengths and suffer from trying to satisfy their ego by humping up to throw harder.  Doing this usually puts them more squarely in the red zone with all of their pitches.  With all the emphasis on fast. faster, fastest, it becomes very hard to convince a pitcher to back off at times and think slow and slower.

One thing that pitchers in the "Above" zone need to understand is that when they move on to college, the zone shift upwards.  For many years, they counted on the fact that they were in the "Above" zone and didn't have to be too concerned about learning how to pitch.  Why pitch when I can just throw it past every high school batter?  The first few innings at the college level usually become a big wake-up call for these pitchers because now their velocity falls within the college PHS.  They better quickly learn how to pitch or develop some better command and movement.  Of course, the same thing goes for a college hard thrower that moves into pro ball.

Good pitching starts by looking inward and honestly evaluating yourself and then developing a plan of action to maximize your abilities.  Understanding how PHS works is a big part of that development.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The silent catcher

For every position or role on the field there are a given set of expectations for a player, should he want to be successful.  The nature of the lead-off spot in the order demands that a player be good at getting on base.  A third or fourth hitter should have a greater ability to drive in runs.  A shortstop should have enough arm strength to make a throw from the hole.  A pitcher has to be able to throw multiple pitches for strikes.  All these expectations have to be met if the player in that role wants to be successful. 

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Leadership in catchers come in
different forms.  From the outgoing
Francisco Cervelli  ...
But what about things like leadership?  Do you have to be a good leader to be a successful second baseman?  How about a left fielder?  It would be a nice addition to players in those roles but I would argue that it's not a necessity.  

That's not the case for catchers.

The very nature of being a catcher demands that they be a leader on the field.  A player who catches cannot look at the leadership expectations as optional.  It is part of the job just like it's part of the job description of a lead-off hitter to get on base.  When you catch, the whole field is in front of you.  You see everything.  You are also closest to the coaching staff in the dugout so you become the link between the coaches and the players in front of you.  Whether he likes it or not, a catcher is a leader and needs to act like one.

... to the more quiet,
confident Buster Posey.
(Photo by
Robert Beck/SI)
Many young players connect being a leader with being an in-your-face, rah-rah type of kid.  Although that tends to be the leader that is most easily noticed, there are other styles of leadership.  There have been many successful catchers who were soft-spoken and wouldn't come across as being an outgoing, stereotypical leader-type individual.  However, when they put their uniform on, they became a leader in one form or another.  Some bark out reminders constantly during the game and let their pitchers know they are not pleased with their performance either verbally or through body language.  Others have the calm, cool, confidence of someone who knows they are in charge but doesn't need to prove it all the time.  Their style is better in a one-on-one setting.  The common denominator in both personality types is leadership in some form.

If you are a catcher and want to be good, embrace your leadership role and match the leadership style that works with your natural personality.  Do not try to be something you are not.  Then start speaking up in your own way.

No coach wants a silent catcher.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The game is your toughest opponent

Any player that has been with me for at least one season has heard me say many times the following:
"The game of baseball is a much tougher opponent then any 
team you will ever face."
What does this mean?  

It means that sometimes a team or an individual player will place too much emphasis on who they are playing instead of just playing the game.  When teams/players focus on playing the game the right way, it won't matter who they play.

Pete Rose never cared who he
played.  He played the game.
We have all seen teams "play down to their competition." They knew the team they were playing wasn't as talented and figured they didn't need to play as well in order to win.  Although it may be true that the team does not have to be at their best to win, that is obviously a dangerous attitude to take as an athlete.  When you focus on playing the game as opposed to a team, you will never have a let-down because the game itself is much tougher.  

Playing a team instead of the game leads many to become what is referred to as a "scoreboard player" or "scoreboard team."  They mistakenly think that as long as the scoreboard shows that they've won, all is good.  As a coach, I want to win just as much as the next guy but some of my loudest bursts of anger directed at my team have been after games in which we have won.  I rarely raise my voice on the field but when I do erupt, it is done to send a very clear message to my players that there is a right way to play the game.  If you lose while respecting the game and giving it your all, so be it.  Losing is part of life.  Stay positive and move on.  But hell hath no fury like me addressing a team after it has just disrespected the way the game should be played.

If you find yourself or your team performing inconsistently with many ups and downs in terms of effort level and performance, many times it is because of "scoreboard" thinking.  To be more consistent at playing at a high level, focus on playing the game.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Focus on your weaknesses?

Here's a question.
If your child came home with a report card with the following grades ...

Math = A
Computer Science = B
Social Studies = B
English = C
Physics = F

Which grade would you focus the most attention on?  The F is usually the popular answer.

The same thing goes in baseball.  A player asks the coach what areas they are weakest in so that the player can focus most of his attention in that area of the game.
But why?  The student above probably hates physics so saying something like "the next two weeks you are going to spend all your evenings and weekends studying physics!" is the kid's worst nightmare.  Pick something you hate doing and imagine having to focus all your attention on that thing for a month.  How are you going to like the next month of your life?

If a player has an "A" in running speed and an "F" in hitting for power, do you want him to focus more attention on hitting for power?  I wouldn't.  I'd want the player to maximize his strength and minimize his weakness.  He should become an expert at base running, reading pitchers' moves, and stealing.  His hitting work should focus on line drives and ground balls, using the entire field, working the count, and bunting.

In life and in baseball, you need to find something you are good at and run with it.  That's what makes you unique.  That's your angle at success.  Value comes with scarcity.  If you are unique, your talent is scarce and therefore worth something.  It makes no sense to focus too much on a weakness.  Someone out there is strong in your area of weakness and loves doing it.  Let them have it.

Jamie Moyer didn't become a MLB
pitcher by focussing on his weakness.
Imagine if Jamie Moyer woke up one day early in his career and said "I'm weak in the area of velocity so I think I'll focus most of my attention on building arm strength so I can throw 94mph."  The result surely would have been a quick end to his career.  He instead chose to identify his strength and focus on maximizing that strength.  He became unique and continued to have value.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying to ignore your weaknesses and just accept the "F".  Putting more attention on that area or making an adjustment in how you approach it, is necessary for overall improvement.  However,  use your time more wisely and focus on the more valuable area(s) of your game/life.  Focus on the A's.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tips for diving after ground balls

Being a defensive minded baseball person by nature, I love watching highlights of great defensive plays by infielders.  For me, a player diving for a ball and getting up to throw a strike to first base is better than watching a batter hit a game winning home run. 

Although some of these Major League infielders have extraordinary physical abilities that cannot be taught, there are some technical aspects of making a play like this that can be learned.  The key of course is make time to practice them.  Some might argue that practicing “Web Gems” is fluff and a waste of time.  I disagree.  It not only adds some spice to the monotony of practice but may even lead to an unbelievable play to save a  game!
When practicing your diving, work on including the following: 

Dive with both arms out.  If you dive with only your glove arm extended, it will be very hard to get up after the catch.  Having both arms outstretched on the dive allows you to push up with both arms instead of just one.

Twins shortstop JJ Hardy dives with both arms out.
(Photo by Mike Carlson, AP)
Angle towards the outfield.  When you dive, try to get into the habit of diving slightly towards the outfield.  This allows you a little more time to reach ground balls because the ball is traveling a few feet farther before you touch it.

Bring your feet to your hands.  After catching and landing with both arms outstretched, plant your hands on the ground and bring your feet up to where your hands are.  Your momentum on the dive should allow this to happen fairly easily.  What players don’t want to do is try to do a pushup with their arms.  That will require a player to stop his momentum before doing the pushup to get up.  Use your momentum on the dive to your advantage.

Land wide.  When you bring your feet to your hands, be sure to land with your feet wide – slightly more than shoulder width.  This will immediately put your body in a strong base which is better suited for a long, strong throw.

Land with your front side facing your target.  This takes some body control but try to land not only with your feet wide but turn your body as you are coming up to enable your front side to point to the target when you land.  This is not always possible depending on where the ball is hit but it can be a big help in saving time before throwing.

One hop the throw. Especially on long throws, don’t be shy about throwing a one hop throw to first base.  A low, line-drive throw that bounces once will usually get to first base more quickly than a big, slow arcing one.

This clip shows all the above tips in action except the one hop throw.  Keep pausing it to see each step of the process.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

How to hit (take!) a curve ball

I get a lot of questions related to hitting asking for tips on how to hit a curve ball.  As players get older, pitchers certainly are going to throw more than just a fastball so all hitters have to be prepared – physically and mentally – to handle curve balls and other breaking pitches.

That being said, I believe the best piece of advice has nothing to do with learning to “hit” breaking pitches.  It has to do with becoming better at “not swinging” at breaking pitches.  The lower the level in baseball the less likely a pitcher is going to have command of his breaking pitch(es).  Command means having the ability to throw strikes with the pitch.  This is a bit more complicated than it appears.  Example: A young pitcher throws a curveball that consistently bounces a foot in front of the plate causing many young batters to swing wildly and miss.  Even though the pitch is labeled a “strike” because of the swing, the pitcher does not have “command” of the pitch which means the ability to locate the pitch within the strike zone.  As the pitcher gets older, he will find that pitches routinely swung at are now taken for balls by better hitters.

Although easier said than done, Prince Fielder probably
wishes he could have taken this off-speed pitch.
(Photo by
Throwing breaking pitches for strikes and hitting them are difficult things to do at any level.   Knowing this, it is to the batters advantage to develop a better ability to lay-off breaking pitches.  Chances are, the pitch will not end up being a strike making it more likely the next pitch will be a fastball and thus easier to hit.

If you watch highlights of Major League home runs, you’ll probably notice that any time a breaking pitch is hit for a home run, it’s a bad breaking pitch out over the plate and/or up in the zone.  Very rarely do even Major League hitters hit a great breaking pitch well.  If they cannot do it, it’s unlikely that someone at a lower level will be able to either.

Of course, laying off pitches isn’t as easy as it sounds.  The key is to develop quick enough hands and overall mechanics so you can wait longer before you start your swing.  This doesn’t help as much with being able to hit a good curve ball as it does with helping you have more time to recognize a curve ball and decide not to swing.

So, if you are a player looking to improve your curve ball hitting success, it’s ok to set up a pitching machine and take some swings on some breaking pitches but it is more important to train yourself to swing at them less often.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hitting: "Looking" vs "Guessing"

After a big home run, you have probably heard a Major League hitter interviewed and say "I was looking for a fastball and got one."  You may have also heard an announcer say after a bad swing/miss or a called third strike, “it appeared the batter was guessing on that pitch.”    Good hitters occasionally will "look" for pitches and poor hitters "guess." 

What’s the difference between “looking” and “guessing?”

Looking for a pitch means that the hitter usually has done some homework and paid attention to the tendencies of the pitcher.  When faced with a particular situation, the batter has a general idea of what to expect from this pitcher in that situation.  He may know that the pitcher always stays away from right handed hitters with breaking pitches but comes inside with fast balls.  In a fastball situation, the batter can "look" for a fastball on the inner half of the plate.  This is different from "guessing" because although the batter is looking inside, he is aware that the pitch may not be in that location or may not even be a fastball.  He is just ready for it if comes.  Because of this, he has the ability to adjust and possibly hit a different pitch.  A batter looking for a fastball can still crush a hanging curve ball if he gets one because he still waits to see what the pitch and location are before swinging.  

When a player "guesses" he completely shuts his mind to any other possibility of there being a different pitch and/or location to the next pitch.  If he is guessing a fastball on the inner half, as soon as the ball leaves the pitchers hand he is probably going to start flying open early to get the bat around to crush the inside fastball.  He is not even waiting to see what the pitch actually is because his mind is already made up.  However, it may not be a fastball or may not be inside.  Any off-speed pitch will make this hitter look foolish.  Even that same hanging curve ball will cause the batter to miss by a foot if he is guessing.

If you are missing badly on certain pitches, swinging at pitches way out of the strike zone, or taking a lot of called third strikes, you are probably guessing.  It's ok to "look" for pitches if you've done your homework or you are ahead in the count and have the luxury of taking a pitch that you were not looking for.  Guessing, on the other hand, will lead to many bad at-bats.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tips for an underhand toss

There are a number of plays in baseball that require an underhand toss:
Ranger pitcher CJ Wilson
  • A first baseman tossing the ball to the pitcher covering first.
  • A pitcher fielding a hard hit bunt on the first base side and tossing it to the first baseman.
  • A pitcher tossing the ball to the catcher on a squeeze bunt.
  • A shortstop tossing the ball to second base on a double play or force out.
  • A second baseman tossing the ball to the shortstop on a double play or force out.
Like everything else in baseball, there are a lot of little things that go into a simple throw like an underhand toss.  Here are a few to make it the best it can be.

Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira
Get your glove out of the way. Some players make the mistake of keeping their glove too close to the ball when they throw a ball underhand.  This makes it tough for the receiver to see where the ball is coming from.  After catching the ball, put your glove on or near your hip so the fielder clearly sees your throwing hand and where the ball is coming from.

Step to your target when you toss.  Standing still and tossing underhand tends to make your arm swing too high or not high enough.  Catch the batted ball, step towards your target, and underhand while you are moving to the target.

Former Tigers shortstop 
Adam Everett
Don't let your arm go above parallel.  When you swing your arm up to toss, make sure your arm doesn't go too high.  Stop it at the parallel mark.  An arm that stops before that will tend to toss the ball too low.  An arm that stops higher than that tends to put too much arc on the ball or throw it too high.

"Shake his hand." Recoiling after letting go of the ball screws up your accuracy.  After tossing the ball, stop your arm at the parallel mark and keep it there as you move to the target as if you are going to shake the hand of the person you are throwing to.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard
No arcs.  Firm, line drive tosses only.  A toss with too much arc will get there slower and usually is too high to handle easily and quickly.

Keep your head still.  By "still" I mean do not lift it up as you are throwing.  From the start of your toss to the finish, keep your head at the same height from the ground.  Picking your head up brings your arm up as well which creates an arc.

Chest high.  Aim for the chest.  It is more easily seen and handled by your teammate.

Throw and go.  Continue moving in a straight line towards your target after tossing to improve accuracy.

As you can see, even a simple play like an underhand toss involves a lot of little things that must be done consistently to get the most out of it for you and your teammate.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The importance of repeating yourself

White Sox pitcher Chris Sale
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/
Getty Images)
The other day I am watching the MLB Network (surprise!) and they are doing an analysis of the Chicago White Sox during their 30 Teams in 30 Days Tour.  They spent a bit of time on a young pitcher named Chris Sale who was drafted in last year’s MLB Draft and is already in the Major Leagues.  They showed him throwing a bullpen session and doing all the things the other pitchers were doing.  Something struck me immediately as I watched him throw.  Although the announcers did not mention it, I guarantee what I saw is a big factor in his success.   The mechanics and rhythm of every pitch he threw was exactly the same.  For pitchers, that is called “repeating your delivery.”  

It sounds simple.  Just learn a good set of throwing mechanics and repeat it over and over every time you pitch.  Like most everything else in baseball, that is easier said than done.  Most pitchers, from the Little League level all the way up to the Major Leagues, struggle with this at some point – some more than others.  It is why a Little League game can last so long.  The pitcher throws a good strike and then cannot find the zone on the next ten pitches.  It is also why a Major League starter can cruise for four innings and then completely fall apart in the fifth, losing all his command, and be taken out.  The ability to repeat your delivery is so important in pitching and takes (usually) many, many focused reps to master.  Many never get there.  

Repeating your delivery over and over has a couple benefits.  First, it helps with accuracy.  If a pitcher can repeat his mechanically sound delivery when he throws a strike, it makes sense that he will throw strike after strike because everything is the same.  Second, it also helps as the game procedes and the pitcher starts to tire.  Although his velocity may drop a little as he gets tired, if he can repeat his delivery, he usually can continue his success for a bit longer.  When most pitchers get tired, they unintentionally alter their mechanics by dropping their elbow or not using their lower half enough.  Not surprisingly, many lose their command along with their mechanics.

Consistency as a hitter depends
on repeating good swings.
It is important to note that all this does not just apply to pitchers.  An infielder who repeats the same good footwork develops consistency on all types of ground balls.  The hitter that repeats one good swing over and over is more likely to be consistent over time as well regardless of the pitch thrown or who is throwing it.  Hitting is hard enough.  Trying to hit with a different swing on every pitch is a recipe for failure.

A baseball player's goal should be to develop consistency with all his mechanics.  Many players who underperform or do not play as much as they would like do not lack ability.  What they lack is consistency.  Chris Sale got to the Major Leagues in part because of his ability to consistently repeat his delivery.  Whether he stays will depend on his ability to continue to do so.