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Fastpitch Tip: Pitchers, Catchers, .300 Hitters, and the Rest
Fastpitch is pitching, catching, .300 hitters, and the rest. Hitting is timing. Pitching is messing up that timing. These old sayings are as true now as in the past or the future. The arguments about styles concerns me less than the substance of pitching.
Location, speed changes, movement, without being "read" prior to delivery will always be hallmarks of the tough pitcher to hit. Mechanics that minimize risks of injury in a very ballistic performance should be continued to be studied and taught. Teaching the mental aspects of focus and intensity, on and off the field, will forever be qualities of good instruction and coaching.
Location, location, location wins in fastpitch and real estate. The real estate a pitcher should be interested in is the four corners and the borders of the strike zone. Artrageous artist Don Ash created one of my favorite t-shirt designs for our camps. It has A's printed on the corners, B's along the borders, and a big C framing a meatball with a fork in it covering the entire middle of the strike zone. There are no D's or F's in the picture. If you cannot throw strikes, you cannot be a pitcher.
How many youth coaches set the pitching machine up to throw right down the middle for hitting practice? And then, they walk over to their young pitcher and tell them, "Just throw heat over the plate". Is that not teaching the pitcher to practice throwing what the hitters are practicing to hit?
Try this drill against your own team in a scrimmage. Place the ball on a tee on the four corners of the strike zone. Put the batters in their normal stance. Play a game this way and see the effect of good location.
Along a similar line of thinking, I am amazed how many times I hear "Throw it by them." Most of our pitching machines here at The StrikeZone run all winter at 65 m.p.h. A youth throwing 10 to 15 m.p.h slower than our normal practice is not going to throw it by hitters conditioned to the same easily timed fastball.
Speed does count, sure. Reaction time is a reality. Doesn't the inexperienced coach who fiddles and fidgets trying to feed the pitching machine drive your own hitters nuts? When the ball doesn't drop routinely and smoothly through, it messes up your hitters timing. Old Fiddle & Fidget is a real pitcher. For every pitch you throw, you should have at least two speeds of the same delivery and spin. It is nice to have more speeds with greater variances. The purpose is not to get hit hard.
My 57-year old senior shortstop handles three-hop grounders well. It is the rock-skipping bullets we all have trouble with.
Change of speeds is the paint a pitcher can use to become an artist. Movement of the ball is created by two well known factors, spin and the angle of attack into a given resistance. Whatever grip on a given pitch that causes the greatest spin is the one you should use. The glaring difference between the world-class pitchers I've caught or warmed up over the years was not the orientation of the spin, but the angle of attack and the tremendous acceleration of the hip and wrist just prior to release. All the great ones have that explosion just before release and a little "wiggle" from the throwing hip. It wasn't so much hip rotation that it became a "waddle" and the shoulder took the abuse. (Please read Dr. Sherry Werner's Olympic Analysis). No hip action, or throwing across the body, will flatten out the best drop or rise. Check out a baseball curve, a golf stroke or a tennis serve without hip action. Velocity surely helps movement.
But anyone who has caught the Clearwater Bombers Herb Dudley's changeups knows it is a well-timed explosion of hip and wrist. Not being "read" is an easy correction to make. During your practices, videotape from the coaches boxes and behind the plate. If you can see your grips or differences in your delivery, so can the opponents' coaches and hitters. Change how you cover the ball with your glove. The ball is in the important hand, teach the one to hide the ball until you start forward or the throwing arm is moving fast enough you can't see your fingers from the plate. Do this the same on each and every delivery. Work hard to deliver the ball with the same motion on all your pitches.
Teach your catcher to cover and disguise signals. Don't let your catcher move to the location too soon, or better yet, not at all. My favorite pitcher is one who drops the throwing hand below the glove, pauses the white ball in front of black pants, then continues the arm swing. That is my favorite pitcher to HIT. His glove would fly out of the way to give me an early picture of the ball directly in front of his release point with every grip exposed! I don’t know a single good hitter who was fooled by a windup. I know lots of great hitters who study "reading" pitchers to eliminate the guesswork.
Finally, do you have the right stuff to be a pitcher? Does failure motivate you to seek excellence on the next pitch or in the next practice? Does success fuel your competitive fire? Can you keep a healthy balance in your life off the field so as not to affect your game? Good grades? Honest, wholesome relationships with teammates, coaches, friends, family and yourself? Can you focus intently on your goal for this pitch, this game, this year, this life?Regardless, how far your talent and determination takes you, when you play fastpitch, I'm rooting for you. Be a good sport and good luck.