Pitching Strategies: Three Essential Elements

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Pitching strategies for baseball will determine how successful a pitcher will be. It doesn't matter how many hours you put into preparing because if you can't perform in games, then all that preparation goes to waste.

It all begins with outsmarting the opponent.

Baseball pitchers must understand that they are in control of the game.

They control the tempo, they control what pitches will be thrown, and the ultimately control their performance.

There are always scenarios within the game that are out of a pitcher's control including fielding errors, mental mistakes, balls barely slipping through the holes, difficult weather conditions, and bad umpiring.

To simply put it, that's baseball.

I've written an article about pitching strategies on one of my other websites, but I wanted to expand on it a little further here.

This post is going to explain some pitching strategies for overcoming difficult circumstances, and for developing a powerful strategy that will lead you to pitching success.

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Basic pitching strategies

The following pitching strategies will focus on pitch counts. To become a great pitcher, you must understand what pitches to throw, and when to throw them.

I will go through each count in an at-bat, and explain some possible scenarios that pitchers should think about.

0-0 count

This is the most important pitch for any pitcher because it will determine that rest of the at-bat. If you're a starting pitcher, then you should be challenging the hitters from the get-go.

Typically in the beginning of a game, most hitters want to see how the pitcher is locating and want to see how fast or how much the ball is moving.

This is a perfect opportunity for a pitcher to throw strikes. First-pitch strikes are vitally important for gaining an advantage on the batter, and for limiting pitch counts.

Most pitchers at the college level will challenge hitters with first-pitch fastballs because they understand the importance of getting a strike. As far as the three and four hole hitters, you might feel more comfortable starting them off with an off-speed pitch if you're able to throw it consistently for strikes.

This all depends on how good your fastball is.

Professional MLB pitchers are able to locate all of their pitches with precise accuracy, and therefore do not need a formula.

However, even MLB pitchers understand the importance of throwing first-pitch strikes.

Most professional pitchers are capable of throwing first-pitch strikes 70 percent of the time. Moral of the story, pound fastballs, challenge the hitters from the get-go, and shoot for at least 60 percent first-pitch strikes.

0-1 count

Now that you have successfully thrown a first-pitch strike, you now have an advantage of the hitter. If you're confident with your off-speed, this is a great count for throwing it. Nevertheless, it's still an important count for throwing strikes.

If you can throw a curveball or changeup for a strike, the 0-1 count would be an excellent opportunity to showcase it.

If you're successful, the batter will hit into an out, or be in the dreaded 0-2 hole.

0-2 count

As every pitcher should know, the 0-2 count is the best situation you can be in. At this point, the batter is simply just trying to not strikeout.

Also keep in mind that batters have strategies in 0-2 counts including crowding the plate, and choking up on the bat making it easier for contact.

Great pitchers are those who can effectively finish off batters in the 0-2 or 1-2 count. It is important to understand that whatever pitch you throw 0-2 is NOT a waste pitch.

This pitch shouldn't be two feet out of the strike zone. An effective 0-2 pitch is suppose to be right outside of the strike zone in a spot that makes it difficult for the hitter to make contact.

Most pitchers rely on their off-speed in the 0-2 count. Two of the best pitches to throw is a curveball or slider that starts down the middle of the plate, but breaks sharply away out of the strike zone at the last second making the batter chase.

This is an excellent strategy because the pitch appears to be in the strike zone to the batter, and if you throw it correctly, there is almost no chance that he will make contact.

Pitchers who have great fastballs, can use it to their advantage in 0-2 counts. One of the best locations for a fastball in an 0-2 count is high in the strike zone. High pitches look extremely enticing to batters, and are difficult to lay off.

The majority of batters in this count will chase the "high cheese", and will very likely not make contact because it is a very difficult pitch to hit.

On the 0-2 count, pitchers must focus on not giving the batter a good pitch to hit, and focus on finishing him. Remember, you are in complete control when a batter is down 0-2, take advantage of it!

Advanced pitching strategies

In the section above, I discussed what and when to throw particular pitches depending on the count. This section will explain how to properly hold runners, how to have a good tempo, and how to properly pick-off to every base.

Preventing base runners from stealing

Every pitcher dreams that he never allows a runner to reach first base, but as we all know this is a highly unlikely probability under normal game circumstances. It doesn't matter your level of skill or the competition. Almost always, one or more batters will find a way to get on base.

By knowing that you aren't always going to throw a perfect game, you will realize that you must develop the ability to effectively hold base runners on. The purpose of holding base runners on is to prevent him from advancing to the next base. There are several strategies that pitchers use to prevent base runners from stealing.

The first strategy is to disrupt the timing of the base runner. Here's a few examples:

  • Vary up your timing to home plate.
  • For example, by simply coming set and not throwing for 3-6 seconds, you will force the batter to call timeout, and this will immediately disrupt the runners timing.
  • Look once and deliver the ball.
  • Look three times and deliver the ball.
  • Deliver the ball without looking.
  • Mix between a slide step and a pinch, but never use a full leg lift with a runner on first!

In essence, the best strategy for inhibiting a base runners timing is simply be completely random and unpredictable. Pitchers who have easily identifiable patterns with runners on will exploited by the other team. Vary up your looks, vary up your timing, and make the base runner feel like he has no chance of stealing a base!

Pick-offs at first base

In addition to disrupting the runners timing, pick-off moves can be very effective for holding runners on. A good pick-off move will force runners to take a smaller lead, and could also result in an out. There are several ways that pitchers can utilize pick-offs.
During every pick-off attempt the pitcher needs to use a short arm circle, similar to a catcher's throwing motion. There are two different types of pick-offs and those include a weak, and strong pick. The only difference between these two picks is the arm effort. Your foot speed and quickness towards first remains exactly the same, but the speed of the delivery is altered.

When you hear the opposing bench yell, "Not his best!", they are indicating that the pitcher just used a weak pick, and has not showed his best pick-off move. Both of these moves use the classic spin, but some pitchers will step behind the rubber when picking as well.

The balk move

There is one more method for picking runners at first, but it is frowned upon. This move is often times labeled as the "balk move."

Here are the steps: pitcher comes set, looks over at first, look back at the target, slightly twitches his front knee and then picks over simultaneously.

This move is frowned upon because it is extremely deceiving, and makes it appear that the pitcher is going home.

When used correctly, it is also very difficult for the umpire to catch it. I am not promoting this trickery, but if you're in a real jam, you should have it in your arsenal.

If you have noticed, I haven't included left-handed pitcher pick-off moves. This is because I'm going to write a post completely dedicated to it, stay tuned!

Pick-offs at second base

Picking off at second base requires a significant amount of cooperation between the pitcher, the second baseman, and the shortstop. In most instances, pitchers will be communicating with the shortstop through hand signals. In most instances, the shortstop will indicate to the pitcher how many looks he should give at the runner between each pitch.

Similar to the first-base pick, pitchers can look once, hold for a few seconds, and pitch. Vary up the timing and vary up the looks. The goal is to remain unpredictable.

There are two types of pick-offs at second base. On the first one, the pitcher will look back at the shortstop, the shortstop will then "flash" his glove while running towards second base, and the pitcher will spin pick and throw to second base. This is a very good move for picking off runners when the timing is correct.

The second pick-off to move is often labeled as a spaghetti move or in and out move.. Here are the steps: pitcher get his signals from the second baseman, performs his looks, look back at home plate, begins his leg lift, but instead of going home he lift the leg directly up and across his back leg landing behind the rubber, and then as he is spinning he throws the baseball to second.

This move requires a significant amount of practice, but when it's mastered, it can be used to effectively hold and pick-off runners on second base.

Pick-offs at third base

Right-handed pitchers rarely pick-off to third base, but it's important that you at least understand how to utilize it if needed. One the biggest factors that you have to be cautious of with a runner on third is the squeeze play.

Some pitchers prefer to throw out of the windup when there is a runner on third, but this is dangerous because of the possibility of a squeeze.

Therefore, it is usually best to pitch out the stretch, or if you really want to throw out of the windup, you must step behind the rubber instead of to the side. This will enable you to step off if the runner starts sprinting towards home.

One of the best and most deceptive pick-off moves is the third-to-first move.

On this move, the right-handed pitcher will perform his leg lift, step towards third without crossing the 45 degree mark, and then immediately spin pick to first base. If performed correctly, this move can result in many pick-offs at first base.

Additional pitching strategies

The previously mentioned strategies analyzed aspects that were in the pitcher's control. These pitching strategies are designed to examine the possible scenarios within a game that are out of a pitcher's control such as weather conditions, fielding errors, and bad umpiring.

By controlling your emotions and properly mentally preparing, you can overcome these obstacles.

Dealing with poor weather conditions

Unless you're playing baseball in California, then you're probably going to have to deal with some adverse weather conditions. Extreme heat, cold, wind, and rain can all become factors within a baseball game.

In cold weather, baseball pitchers must prepare several different ways. Both starters and reliefs should wear compression sleeves under cold conditions to ensure that the arm stays warm throughout a game.

Many MLB pitchers will wear sleeves unless it is above about 85 degrees, but it is really just preference. In addition to wearing sleeves, pitchers might need additional time to warm up before throwing if it is really cold.
Under very cold conditions, many pitchers will spend extra time running poles before beginning their dynamic stretching program. In addition to an extended warm up, pitchers must remember to bring a jacket in order to stay warm between innings.

In essence, if you're pitching in cold weather you need to be wearing compression sleeves, you need to allow extra time for properly warming up the body, and you need a jacket to stay warm between innings. By following these rules, pitchers will remain healthy and injury free. Otherwise, pitching in the cold can be a very unpleasant experience.

In hot weather, pitchers must be sure to stay hydrated before, during, and after the game. Under wet and windy conditions, pitchers must rely on their mental ability. These conditions are out of your control, and you must simply try to focus in and persevere. Don't let weather conditions determine your performance!

Dealing with umpires and fielding mistakes

While adverse weather conditions can be overcome through mental focus, dealing with unfair umpires is a completely different challenge for a pitcher. Some umpires have big strike-zones, others have tiny strike-zones, some umpires call low, some umpires call high, and some umpires are just straight inconsistent.

This is simply apart of baseball, and as a pitcher you must understand that the decisions of umpires are completely out of your control.

This concept stays true in regards to fielding errors. There aren't many pitchers that love when their defense makes fielding mistakes. However, in order to become a great pitcher, you must be able to put it behind you and get ready for your next pitch.

Never let an umpire or defensive errors change your game plan as a pitcher. The best baseball pitchers are those that show the same emotions and demeanor in every possible circumstance while pitching. By doing this, the opposing team will never gain an advantage over you because your emotions stay on an even keel.

Keep working hard. No off days. No excuses.

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TUFFCUFF pitching program One of the big misconceptions in baseball is that playing the game keeps you in shape to pitch. I wish that was true. It's not.

To get to the next level, preparation is everything. Big league pitchers spend far more time preparing to pitch than actually pitching.

If you believe adding velocity could be critical to your success, check out my latest strength training, conditioning and throwing programs for baseball pitchers of all ages.

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