Have you ever asked yourself these questions:
- "How can I improve command of my pitches?"
- "How can I locate the ball better and throw more strikes?"
- "How can I reduce the number of walks I give up in games?"
I think we all can agree that pitching a baseball to a target that is 60 feet, 6 inches away and only a few inches in diameter is no simple task.
However, a baseball pitcher's ability to throw strikes with precision and consistency will ultimately determine his success on the mound.
What good command of the strike zone looks like
Check out this 96 MPH pinpoint fastball from Max Scherzer to get Martin Maldonado with the backwards K:
Now that's what good command looks like.
I love how Scherzer paints the corner of the strike zone right there.
Pitchers with good command have the talent to locate their pitches just about anywhere they want within the strike zone; they are able to throw strikes, but not just any strikes—GOOD strikes!
What do I mean by that?
A strike could be a fastball up in the zone that the hitter chases and misses.
It's a strike. But perhaps not the best location.
A GOOD strike is a pitch that catches the outside corner low and away, and sends a batter back to the dugout. Or a ball that tails inside and jams a hitter.
These are good strikes because even if the hitter makes contact, the end result is a weak ground ball to the infield. In other words, not much damage.
Let's keep building on this...
2 reasons for poor command pitching
In my experience, there are generally two major reasons pitchers struggle with command:
- The first reason for command issues is a pitcher who is afraid to challenge hitters.
I'm sure you've see this too—a pitcher who pitches with a lot of fear and self-doubt. You can usually spot it in their body language and their emotions on the mound.
Cole Hamels is a great pitcher, but even big league pitchers struggle with command of their pitches from time to time.
- The second reason for command issues is poor pitching mechanics, and more specifically poor posture and not staying on midline with the lower body.
Proper posture is a great way to fix command problems in young pitchers; when a pitcher understands what good body posture is and can maintain that along with keeping his head level, while moving faster along midline, his command problems will often disappear on their own.
And remember, the midline is a line drawn from the middle of the back foot toward the target...
...every time a pitcher moves his body away from midline during his rocker step, pivot, leg lift or stride, it requires another (extra) movement to get back along that same line, which disrupts timing, momentum (velocity) and control.
Having good control is not just a matter of practicing or throwing a bunch of bullpens. Good control begins with having good mechanics. It is very difficult to control the ball if you can't control your body and get to a consistent release point. Besides poor mechanics, pitchers with poor control usually don't throw enough and don't have the ability to make adjustments. Once mechanics are good, then throwing bullpens to develop command is almost like target practice.
How to improve pitching command and control
The good news is, these mental and mechanical aspects of poor command are fixable but will take some time—especially since the speed gun creates so many pitchers who over throw, which cuts down on command as well.
Here are 7 great ways to help you improve command of not only your fastball...
...but any other baseball pitches that you might throw.
Implement these fastball pitching tips into your throwing regimen and you'll see the difference they can make to your game.
1. Have a purpose
Want to improve fastball command?
Have a goal in mind every time you pick up a baseball.
Every time you pick up a ball you have a chance to improve your location.
Playing catch, throwing a bullpen in practice, or pitching in a game ... it does not matter.
Every throw gives you an opportunity to get better.
2. Make them count
Make every throw count.
Do not waste your time by throwing from different arm slots or trying different useless grips for fun and wonder why your location is not there on game day.
You only have so many throws in your arm. Make them count.
3. Repeat, repeat, repeat
Implement the same throwing mechanics on every practice throw that you would on the first pitch of a game.
You will make a lot of practice throws in your lifetime.
Why not use those throws to improve what will ultimately be the deciding factor in whether or not you are successful?
4. Focus, focus, focus
Pick out a specific spot on your target and focus on hitting that target with every single throw.
Start when your partner is close and it's easier to hit the target. Expect to hit your target every time, especially when you are close.
This will build confidence in your ability to hit spots.
Adjust your expectations somewhat when your target is far away; as it's harder to hit that target the further back you go. But do not use that as an excuse to lose focus.
5. Aim small, miss small
As cheesy and overused as this phrase is, it's actually quite profound.
Make your target as small and specific as you can; your misses to that target will be small as well and you will improve command.
6. Visualize, visualize, visualize
Tell yourself what you want to do with the baseball and visualize it in your head and it will be easier for you to achieve it.
If you can see yourself do it in your head, then you will be more likely to do it on the field.
7. Become a perfectionist
Expect to locate the ball exactly where you want to 100% of the time and nothing less.
Always strive for perfection...
...it will make you better and you will constantly be working harder to reach this unattainable goal. This takes time and maturity.
Making mechanical adjustments
When Garrett Richards can command his fastball effortlessly, he is a force to be reckoned with.
Check out Exhibit A as he nails the bottom corner of the strike zone with a cutter at 95 MPH:
That's such a dirty pitch right there.
However, occasionally even big league pitchers like Richards will experience a loss of command within a game, or even within an inning.
Successful and more experienced pitchers know how to make proper and quick game adjustments with their arm action, grip, finger pressure or release point. They know themselves, understand their usual problem, and know what to adjust to work best for them on a particular pitch.
An experienced pitching coach can help young pitchers by recognizing problems quickly and teach them techniques for game adjustments on their different pitches. Each pitcher will have his own particular fault and his own method of adjustment. The pitcher will need poise, mental control, and focus under game pressure to make effective adjustments.
In the chart below I am listing some common command problems many pitchers experience, some techniques which often cause the problem, and various adjustments which may be effective for a pitcher.
As a coach, teach the pitcher how he can best adjust. That way, the pitcher will be better prepared to self-correct problems during a game and be able to work himself out of trouble.
|Problem||Cause||How to fix (mechanics adjustments)|
|Wild high||rushing, over striding, low cocked position||
Keep weight back, shorten stride, flex more at waist
|Wild low||stride too short, upper body dives in, arm circle too small||push off rubber earlier, lead with front hip, not front shoulder; use a down, back and up arm path.|
|Wild inside||stride too closed, lack of trunk rotation, low cocked position, improper grip, early pronation of hand||stride straight to plate, forward and inward drive of the back knee, get hand up during backswing, balance ball with grip, keep fingers behind ball.|
|Wild outside||Body tilts too much to side, fingers on the side of the ball, lands on a stiff front leg||lead with front hip and shoulder towards plate, keep fingers directly behind the ball, land flexed, then brace up leg.|
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What do you think?
Now it's time to hear from you:
Are there any pitching tips that I missed?
Or maybe you have an idea of how I can make this article even better.
Either way, leave a comment and let me know.