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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pitching 101

or, How to Make Guys Look Like This at the Plate.

Okay, I feel like it's time to have a discussion on pitching, especially after our latest disAstro performance on the hill by Gallows. I figured that it'll help the average viewer/fan appreciate our frustrations with Astro pitching a little more if he/she understands the nuances of being effective in the circle.
Let me give a quick disclaimer. I am a firm believer in hard work, focus, and desire; but that doesn't amount to anything without talent. So it's a happy marriage of the two that produces the exceptional players. What I'm about to say isn't rocket science, but it's amazing how quickly the "simple" stuff can get lost. Okay, enough. Here we go...
How to Pitch and Get Guys Out
Here are a few simple rules for being a successful pitcher. Granted, you can throw a no-hitter and still lose. Some of the best have gotten no run support and lost 1-0 (a la Roger Clemens last year). But sticking to these rules will give you a good, solid chance at having a nice career.
Above all rules, pitchers should stay relaxed without losing their intensity, focused without over-thinking, and aggressive without being foolish.
1) Get Ahead, Stay Ahead. The worst thing a pitcher can do is get behind in the count. The goal of every pitcher is to get the batter out, so the best way to do this is to put him on the defensive immediately. When you're ahead as a pitcher, you force the hitter to swing at your pitches. You don't have to give in, and you're in control. Thus, first-pitch strikes are paramount. If you've got effective command, a first-pitch curveball is ideal because most hitters look fastball. It's an easy strike that puts you ahead. We can talk about that later, though.
Of course, getting ahead is nice; but you also have to stay ahead. A first-pitch strike means nothing if you turn around and throw two straight balls.
2) Hit Your Spots. This begins with having a plan. Know where you want to throw the ball and throw it there. Have an idea of how you're going to work the hitter and then do it. Remember, the goal is to make him play your game, not the other way around. If you miss your spot and he rakes it, that's on you. You're going to lose the battle sometimes (e.g., you throw a dirtball and he golfs it for a double); but you won't very often if you hit your spots.
3) Mix Your Pitches. There are very few pitchers who are successful when throwing the same pitch over and over (or the same pitch at the same point in the count). Unless a certain pitch is clearly overmatching the hitter, mix it up and keep his timing off. You want him off balance, out of sync, and again... chasing your pitches. If you keep him guessing, he's yours.
4) No Free Passes. Walks are a pitcher's worst nightmare. It "never" fails that a leadoff walk results in a run. The only walks that should be administered are intentional (and sometimes "non-intentional" intentional) ones. Remember... your objective is to get the hitter out. He wins when he touches base safely.
5) No 2-Strike Hits. If you get two strikes on a hitter, you need to put him away. This is bound to happen from time to time (even if you make your pitch), but if you keep it to a bare minimum, you're going to enjoy life on the hill a lot more. There's nothing worse than knowing you had a guy and then letting him slip away. This almost always comes back to haunt you.
6) If You Hit Guy, Mean To. What? That's so mean, Phat-C. No, it's not. It means that you should never hit a batter unless you mean to. Sometimes pitches get away. Sometimes you miss your spots. But it seems like the main problem here lies in combination with #5 above... over-aggressiveness with two strikes. Here you've got a guy on the ropes, and you give him a free pass by missing your spot and hitting him. You've just broken three rules on one pitch. Bob Gibson was the master of making guys uncomfortable, but he seldom hit them without intending to. I'm not suggesting that pitchers should throw at hitters. I'm just making the point that you should NOT hit them by accident.
7) Don't Waste Pitches. It's one thing to get a guy down 0-2 and then waste a pitch to make him chase it; but I'm a proponent of getting hitters out by any means possible. This means that a strikeout is not always the best avenue. Be effective with your pitches. If you waste one and he doesn't bite, give him a pitch that's too close to take but that he can't do anything with. He's out either way that way... unless he gets lucky (which sometimes happens).
8) Mix Up Your Looks. This applies with runners on base. When pitching from the stretch, don't get too predictable. You want to vary it up a little so the runner can't time you as easily. Mix your moves over to first (some fast, some regular). Mix in a slide step if you can. All of these things can help prevent the runner from having an extra advantage... especially since he shouldn't be there in the first place.
9) Remember You're a Fielder. After you let go of the ball, you become a fielder. On your follow-through, be prepared to field your position and field it well. You wouldn't appreciate the shortstop's taking a lazy approach on a groundball, so you shouldn't either. This is another way to further frustrate opposing hitters. A note on this as well... if one of your teammates makes an error, pick him up. I guarantee you he'll pick you up more often with a nice play than you'll have to pick him up by getting the next guy. Pitchers who dwell on fielders' errors are not consistently successful.
10) Practice Good Mechanics. You've got to do things the same way every time. It makes adjustments that much easier, and it also allows you to do it naturally (without thinking). The less you have to think about mechanically, the more you can concentrate on your objective... getting the hitter out. Plus, it allows you to narrow down your struggles better. Example: When Roy Oswalt is not on his A-game, you'll notice he "falls" off the mound to his left quite a bit. This is somewhat natural for right-handers, but I'm talking dramatically. What's the indication? He's most likely over-throwing, which knocks his mechanics out of whack. When he's on, you'll see him end up almost flush with the plate.
So, that's a very basic 10-rule process to making yourself a good pitcher. It's amazing that more guys don't have success when you look at how easy this is. BUT... I'd be willing to guarantee that if a Major League pitcher executes these 10 rules with consistency, he'll win the majority of his starts (even with an occasional lack of run support).
Remember... if they're not on base, they can't score.


Blogger Shafty said...


6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:09 AM  

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