This is one of my favorite times of year. On the heels of March Madness and Wrestlmania, baseball season has come again. Every season from 2nd-11th grade, I was gearing up for another summer on the ball diamond in the proud baseball town of Walnut, Iowa. I was blessed cursed with a good left arm and could blaze a fastball past almost everyone I faced through high school (more on that in a minute). As a kid, when I wasn’t on the mound I played all around the infield and settled in as your routine left-handed 3rd baseman in high school. It didn’t matter; my future was on the mound—if I chose to play baseball.
I didn’t. The decision to forgo my senior baseball season to head for Iowa City and begin training with the Hawks was one of the toughest of my life— much tougher than choosing between Iowa & Iowa State for football. It may have been was probably the wrong decision, but I was chasing a football dream and thought baseball could wait.
Six years later I found myself in San Angelo, Texas trying out for an independent league professional team. I was a lefty, I threw hard, and I was big— I had a chance. A 2-season journey took me from Texas to New Mexico, back to Texas and eventually to Alaska for a season. Where it didn’t take me was anywhere near the minor leagues. I was a thrower, not a pitcher.
- Throwers try to throw pitches past the batter anywhere in the strike zone. Pitchers try to throw a quality pitch in every situation.
- Throwers try to get strikeouts. Pitchers try to get outs.
- Throwers are concerned with maximizing miles per hour. Pitchers are concerned with minimizing pitches per inning.
- Throwers are typically inconsistent and wild. Pitchers have good command of the baseball.
I saw a lot of pitchers in pro ball that didn’t throw nearly as hard as I did, but they got a ton more outs than me. This is where the blessing of a good arm can turn into a curse for a kid who begins to rely on a dominant fastball and doesn’t develop proper mechanics or a good change up. Even though I threw hard and had a great slider at times, I never developed any consistency.
“The difference between a minor leaguer and a major leaguer
isn’t talent, it’s the ability to perform consistently”
Taking the experiences and the insights I learned from coaches & teammates along the way, I wish I could go back and coach myself as a kid (or come out of retirement as a ‘crafty’ lefty). Odds of those are slim and none, but I’ve found an outlet in teaching other young throwers how to be a pitcher. Between December and the start of the youth season, I instruct up to 250 pitching lessons every year at Diamond Dreams in Coralville. Drawing from my involvement as a pitcher and a pitching coach, I teach some basic principles, simple drills, and repeatable mechanics for young pitchers to consistently get hitters out. Here are a few tips:
Pitch with ‘Tilt’
I’m 6’5” tall. Standing on a mound and throwing the ball with a very over-the-top motion, my release point is over 8 feet in the air. Ideally, I will get my fingertips to the top of the baseball on release, sending it on a downward angle and crossing home plate at the hitter’s knees, about 1 foot off the ground. Can you imagine the angle the ball travels from my fingertips 8 feet in the air to the catcher’s mitt at the knees? This is called ‘tilt’. When you get tilt, the ball is traveling perpendicular to the plane of the bat and the hitter may only see the top of the baseball, resulting in an easy groundout or a swing over the top of the baseball. Hitters will also swing at more pitches below the zone because the pitch threatens the strike zone as it nears the plate as opposed to a pitch that stays high.
Finish & Miss Low:
When you’re watching ball games this summer, watch how often young pitchers miss above the strike zone as opposed to below. Watch how many of the strikes are in the top half of the zone as opposed to the bottom half. Many young pitchers consistently miss high or throw pitches in the hitter friendly part of the zone because they don’t finish their pitch by getting their finger tips to the top of the baseball and sending it down (Tilt & Finish work together). Take our example above—if my release point is 8′ in the air and my fingers only stay behind the baseball, the catcher is going to catch it 8′ in the air (minus the effect of gravity which is minimal beyond 40 miles per hour). Pitchers should work on this every day when playing catch; try to hit your partner in the belt buckle.
Use Your Legs
Most young pitchers don’t have the mechanics and body control that allow them to effectively use their legs when delivering the baseball. Think about the science of a pitch. The power that gets the baseball from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s mitt comes solely from the ground. Pitchers with good mechanics transfer that power efficiently from the ground into their feet, up their legs, into the core, to the throwing shoulder, down the arm, through the fingers and into the baseball. The lack of lower body strength or simply not using the legs at all decreases the amount of transferrable power right at the source. The same can be said for core strength. This results in a pitcher relying on only his arm, which could eventually lead to overuse and possible injury.
Develop A Change Up
This should be the 2nd pitch a player should learn. It is a great equalizer when facing a hitter you can’t throw the ball by. Players should learn to throw it by simply playing catch with a change up grip. You shouldn’t try to pitch it until you can play catch with it. Because of the grip, the ball will want to fly out sooner, so getting on top of the baseball and burying it down in the zone is vital to a good change up. Throw it just like the fastball, get the release point out front, keep it down, and let the grip do the work. A pitcher should get to a point where he’s comfortable enough to throw his change up in a 2-0 count, and not be trapped to giving in and throwing the batting practice fastball the hitter is looking for.
Develop Control & Consistency With Mechanics
If a pitcher can control his body, he can control the baseball. Many young pitchers have wild windups and leg kicks; much of their movement is wasted and counter productive toward delivering consistent and quality pitches. Pitchers can greatly improve their mechanics by finding a balance point at the top of the leg kick, and driving straight down the mound with the back leg through the release. On the finish, a pitcher’s body should remain between the rubber and home plate in a space the size of a doorway, not falling over to the side of the mound.
Those are just a few tips for young pitchers to improve their results. These principles and mechanics take time to develop and need to be drilled throughout the year to develop properly and consistently. Contact me to inquire more about lessons and teaching young pitchers. Have a great season on the mound!