Simplifying the Art of Pitching
By Carie Dever-Boaz, Washington Glory Head Coach, National Professional Fastpitch League
After 32 years of learning, playing and working in the greatest sport in the world, I can say without any reservation that great pitchers need three great pitches coupled with nerves of steel and the absolute passion for competition.
Since the day I turned in my uniform to venture into the teaching of the sport that provided me with a lifetime of memories, lessons and friendships, I have finally reached the ultimate conclusion that we try to complicate every aspect of the game.
The art of pitching is no exception.
The single most important skill learned by any pitcher of any age is the mastery of the change-up or off speed pitch.
Now before you start to question this, hear me out.
Let’s review exactly what a batter has to do in order to be successful against a pitcher. They have to identify if the ball is a strike, and to complicate that further, is it a strike that the umpire will call. Next, they have to decide where the pitcher will locate the ball.
All things being considered by the batter are figured against the pitcher who will be throwing 60 miles per hour, allowing about .45 tenths of a second in which to decide to swing.
Now let’s begin my simplification of the art. What if I can brilliantly throw one more obstacle at them and change the speed at which the round object is coming at them, by throwing the change-up at anytime during the count? No wonder most batters fail more than they succeed.
Now don’t get too angry yet. I am not a math whiz, but I know a great batting average (with a few exceptions) is somewhere between .300 and .400 at most levels. This being true, that means a hitter is going to fail six to seven times in every 10 at-bats, and it is my opinion that I will increase their failure rate dramatically with the mastery of the change-up or off speed pitch.
I will leave the discussion of which change-up or off-speed pitch is the best: circle, backhand, palmball, slip pitch or knuckleball; for another time.
As for the other two pitches that a “great” pitcher should have, they have to be two that the pitcher can master. So, that leaves a lot of wiggle room for me to answer.
However, I want to first clarify why I have limited my belief to three pitches.
For years, I’ve sat in a college coach’s chair and received hundreds of resumes from pitchers of all sizes, shapes and ability levels. I was always puzzled to read that many of them had as many as eight pitches.
Obviously, my job should have been easy knowing my standard of three great pitches. But, what I found both frustrating and confusing is why when I observed these pitchers either by tape, or during live game, these multitude of pitches they had in their game, few and far between had mastered a great change-up and two other pitches.
Many of the pitches looked the same or did not move in the direction that they were intended to move. Okay, so now if I had my dream pitcher or could start working with every pitcher at the very beginning of their careers, we would master from the womb, throwing a great fastball to locations with a great change-up.
When the pitcher is at about a 75-80 percent success rate we move on to the two next-best pitches. Once the fastball and change-up have been mastered, the next is the “drop.” When those three are mastered at a 75-80 percent success rate, in comes the rise and then the fastball goes by the way side which takes me back down to my magical number of three.
Many of you will argue that most pitchers cannot throw a good rise and I will not argue that point with you. Remember I am getting the luxury of building my great pitcher from the ground up and answering my statement that great pitchers only need three great pitches. We all have to work with what we have and some pitchers will have great screwballs or curveballs instead of the rise.
I will tell you don’t fix what is not broke, and do not try and make an athlete master something they cannot not, if you are doing what is best for the athlete.
Lastly, I will tell you why I believe the rise and drop are the two next-best pitches.
In order to do so, I take you back to the hitter’s checklist at 35- or 40-foot pitching distances. First, decide is it a strike, is it a strike the umpire will call, at what point will the batter attempt to hit the ball. Second, at what speed will it arrive. Third, at which plane will the hitter attempt to make contact.
I will leave the nerves of steel and the absolute passion for competition to another time as this is something I believe is not taught, but a gift to those great pitchers. You know the ones I speak of. We have all seen them in action and they have that “something” special that most of us only are lucky enough to coach once in a career.
Please email your questions and suggestions for future issues to asksara@LittleLeague.org.