This is a series of articles to help pre-college age (ages 14-18) pitchers improve, get noticed by college coaches, and get a scholarship to play baseball.
As a pitcher your brain and the strategies you use are paramount to being successful. Hitters become more knowledgeable as they progress up the 14-18 age groups. Understanding hitters and how to get them out is important for you as a pitcher as you progress too.
My motivation for writing this article is I have not seen very much from the experts about pitching strategies. I especially do not see anything about what we are going to discuss in this article: understanding hitters (your competition) and using this understanding against them. I believe this is because of the backgrounds of the experts. Pitching coaches focus on pitching. Hitting coaches focus on hitting. There is nothing out there about the essence of strategy—-understanding your competition and using this information to defeat them. It’s really in the space between pitching and hitting where it looks like no one dwells.
I have 31 years in strategy in industry. We spend a lot of time and money understanding the strengths, weaknesses, motives, tendencies, and capabilities of our competitors. Do we understand everything all the time—–no but we are always fighting for an edge. You as a pitcher should too.
I understand this competitive analysis is done at the pro level but there are things we can do at this level to give ourselves as advantage as pitchers. Also do not tell your hitter friends about this paradigm we are using. They will start trying to understand pitchers better. It’s best to have a passive competitor with a lack of understanding about who they are competing against.
Sun Tzu: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”
If you do not know who this guy is you should find out. You also need to read on…….
In a previous article I explained you have to study and understand hitters as a pitcher. One way is to troll the hitter’s web sites that teach them how to defeat you. Below is one of those articles from a hitting expert. (I found it because one of my son’s teammates that is a good hitter has a link to it on his Twitter site)
What we are going to do is use their teachings against them. As an aside….you will also be surprised how you as a pitcher is referred to by these “hitting experts.”
Learn how to swing, then learn how to hit a baseball By Guest Author on November 14, 2012
Having been a hitting instructor for the past 11 years working with players from MLB down to the high school player, I can tell you that I have seen a lot, and learned a lot. I have thrown a lot of things against the wall and seen what has stuck for guys at the highest levels and for those who are just beginning their careers. The most glaring thing that I have personally seen over the past 11 years is the how the younger hitter may know how to swing, but they do not necessarily understand how to hit a baseball. Have you heard somebody say “Man, that guy is a good 5 o’clock hitter.” I know I have! Do you know what that means? Simply put it’s a hitter who can really swing that bat during BP (which for a 7pm game takes place roughly around that 5pm time), but can’t sniff a hit or make decent contact during the game. You may be thinking, how can this happen? His swing is obviously good if he can take a good BP!
Herein lies the problem I see with most young hitters. They have been privately trained by a hitting instructor, They work tirelessly on the mechanics of their swing. While there is a priority and honor to getting the player’s swing as good as it can be, many don’t get to, or lose sight of the fact, that they need to teach the player how to USE that swing during the games! Their swing looks great for the Perfect Game Showcases that many young ballplayers attend. They will pass the showcase “eye test.” In 10-15 swings during BP they can look like the next Albert Pujols. But some of them, once they get into games, will look like they are facing Justin Verlander.
So where do you begin? That’s a bit of a loaded question, but in my eyes I like to begin with explaining to a hitter who is really in charge here. Is the pitcher in charge? Not in my eyes. Is the hitter in charge? Yes indeed.
Let’s take a time out….
So this is what they tell the hitters? They are charge? As a pitcher this should piss you off. Read the other articles on this site. You are in charge NOT the hitter. There are many ways in the articles on this site to assert control over hitters. Use them when attacking hitters to take advantage of their false sense of control. But that is not why I cited this article….read on.
Executing A Plan
I believe there are two things that a hitter should walk up to the plate trying to execute during a game (not including some situational hitting opportunities of course).
Put the best swing on the best pitch you can find.
That’s it! Sounds simple doesn’t it? Almost too simple to most the first time they hear it.
No matter what level you play at (MLB or HS baseball in South Dakota) you can have this plan when you’re in the box and will have more Quality At Bats then you’ve ever had before.
Hit What You Want
Most hitters get themselves out. The good hitters are making outs because the pitcher gets lucky and gets them out.
Let’s take another time out….
So hitters really believe the pitcher is lucky to get them out? I can hear the coaches say: “that’s alright little Johnny. It’s not your fault the pitcher was just lucky.” I’ll have more about how to take advantage of a hitter’s lack of understanding about pitching in a subsequent article. Again that is not why we are here……this just amazed me.
There is no rule in the rulebook stating that a hitter has to swing at everything that comes towards them. When we are going badly at the plate, we tend to swing at everything and get ourselves out. When we are going well, we tend to square everything up and hit balls out of a certain “area.”
Where is that area? I can’t really tell you because that’s something that I tell the hitter to pick out. It’s not a postage stamp sized area. It’s an area (or zone) in which we like to make contact with the ball. This includes allowing the fastball, curveball, change-up, slider, cutter, sinker, etc to get into our “area.” If these balls do not enter this area/zone, then we simply lay off them (even with less than 2 strikes and it’s called a strike).
Alright…now we are on to it. Hitting instructors tell hitters not to swing at some pitches that are strikes. The mantra is “wait for your pitch.”
Let Balls Run Into Your Swing
Most young hitters want to swing hard and drive the ball. While in theory this sounds good, in practice this can get the young hitter in trouble. For one thing, most hitters lose control of their barrels. They won’t see this as being much of a problem when they are younger, until they enter a level where the ball runs, dips, dives and moves on them like never before. Simply put, the ball has no chance of running into their barrel because the hitter has taken it out of the zone just as quickly as they have put it in. What the hitter quickly finds out is that they need to put their best swing on the ball and let the ball naturally run into their barrel.
Alright…..so what did we learn and why does it matter for us as pitchers?
You must have heard “wait for your pitch” all the way back to little league. That is what this article is about. First of all most hitters at the lower range of the 14-18 age group are just swingers. Their hitting instructors and dads lack the ability to teach what is being said in this article. Also the rationale may be that they do not want to teach younger hitters to look for a specific pitch yet. They really likely do not know what “their pitch” is. As hitters progress to the high school level they will likely have an approach as explained in the cited article. They will likely have a pitch that they consider THEIR pitch.
So it’s easy…just figure out what type of pitch each hitter likes and do not throw it—-easier said than done.
As a pitcher you may get a sense in your local leagues what type of pitches individual hitters like. Many times you can just ask the hitters you know and they will tell you. As for tournaments and playoffs against other high schools you have little to no information about each hitter. This is not true in the pros and colleges. The pros and colleges spend a lot of time understanding hitter’s strengths and weaknesses. That is why a hitter can be successful when he is new to the league, but as time goes on pitchers figure them out. Pitchers stay away from what they like and stay on their weakness, (This is known as Jackie Bradley syndrome),
So what can you do? The first way is to go back to how hitters are developed. Little Jonny has been hitting straight fastballs since he was an embryo in batting cages. Also he has practiced forever on tees with settings that are low strikes. (I have never seen a tee set up for a high pitch—never. My bet is this is never or rarely done.) Hitters are also taught to swing down on the ball to induce more line drives. Look at the picture below….individual hitters have practiced swinging at low strikes tens of thousands of times. Not knowing anything else about a hitter you encounter for the first time you can say——hitters love low pitches. The reason is this is just about all they have seen in practice over many years.
So what do you do as a pitcher? Learn how to throw a high strike—-both inside and outside. Also stay away from straight fastballs (see the article on this site that addresses the type of fastballs to throw).
Why? In this age group (14-18) high strikes are likely not “their pitch.”
Also here is a tip. Know where the top of the strike zone is defined by the umpire. Umpires are trained to set their eye level at the top of the strike zone. The reason is if they have to move their eyes up the pitch is high and out of the zone. Know where the high zone is defined by the ump. Look at the umps eye level every pitch. That is where you need to hit to get hitters out with the high strike.
What else can you do? The answer is late movement. As the article says it harder for hitters to square up their barrel on pitches that are not “their pitch.” The ultimate best situation for the pitcher is a pitch that starts looking like “their pitch” and turns into not their pitch late in its path. If you can discern where a hitter likes the ball start out your 2 seamer or change in that area. The ball will move from one he likes to one he doesn’t at the end of its path to the plate. What you are doing is manipulating the hitter’s emotions (you are in control —–like the Outer Limits. The baby boomers will understand this). He gets all excited that this is “their pitch” and then it’s not. Many times the hitter will have started their swing based on their excitement.
So why should I incorporate what is said here as a pitcher? Not throwing hitters “their pitch” will lead to a path being worn out back to the dugout of hitters that waited for “their pitch” that never came.
How do you like that hitters? Keep thinking you’re in control and pitching is just luck.
I’ll have more about understanding hitters and ways to use their thinking and training against them.