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 > Little League Online > Learn More > Newsletters > Coach's Box Newsletter > 2010 > Coach's Box - June > Michele Smith Feature

Michele Smith Feature

Volume 5, No. 5 - June 2010

A Pitching Strategy for Successful Outings

By Michele Smith, Olympic Gold Medalist

Pitching is one of the most important parts of the game of fastpitch. We all know that. But when it comes to the “strategy of our pitching game” how much do we really know about how “easy” or “hard” we can make the game on ourselves as pitchers? Let’s face it when you see a pitcher walking batters, hitting batters and falling behind in the count, you know she is hurting herself. She is making her job much harder on herself. Many times young pitchers don’t have a strategy for their outings, and if they do have a strategy-and it is not effective they abandon their pre-game ideas and just hope for the best. For inexperienced and experienced pitchers alike, having a successful strategy will help take your game to new heights. Let’s take some time to learn and understand what a successful strategy is.

( Before we start, I want to add that most of the numbers and percentages you will read below are “generalities” and not exact. In order to get “specific” or true numbers for yourself and your team, keep statistics of your own games to personalize your pitching strategy. )

Goal No. 1 for a Successful Pitching Strategy. Getting ahead early in the count is very, very important and the first point I want to discuss. Throw first-pitch strikes. It doesn’t get any easier to understand. Only about 15 percent of batters swing at the first pitch. Therefore, as a pitcher, it is important to get that first pitch in the strike zone and get ahead in the count. Of the 15 or so percent of batters who do swing at the first pitch and make contact, they average only about a .185 batting average.  So it is safe to assume, that the more pitches the batter sees from a pitcher, the better the opportunity to get a good pitch, and hit it well. The flip slip of this is we don’t want to throw our first pitches right down the middle of the plate, obviously a pitch down the middle will lead to batting averages higher than the .185 approximation above. The point is, throw a good strike on the first pitch, get ahead and make the batter have to chase from there.

Goal No. 2 for a Successful Pitching Strategy. Once we get ahead in the count on the batter, there is more of a chance we will be able to get her out, therefore keeping her off the base paths. So our second goal goes hand in hand with Goal No. 1. Keeping the leadoff batter of each inning off of the base paths is goal No. 2. Approximately 65 percent of lead off batters who get on base score. Like the jingle cheer goes, “you get the first batter on, you bunt her over, you score, you win, that’s it”! Keeping the lead off batter of each inning off base is paramount. Of base runners who follow, that is-who get on base after the first out of the inning, only 20 percent score. I like those odds a lot better when I am on the mound. Remember, when a runner is on first base with 1 out, it takes at least 2 singles to score her, or an extra base hit in the gap. When the lead off batter gets on, there are more opportunities for her to move into scoring position and then score. Most players and coaches don’t realize it, but the games of softball and baseball are all about “outs.” When on offense, we don’t want to give “outs” away, and when on defense, we need to get “outs” as quickly a possible. If you are having one or two bad innings a game, go back and analyze those innings. See how many “outs” you “gave” the opposition in the innings they scored.  So to recap goal No. 2, keep the lead off batter of each inning off the base paths.

Goal No. 3 for a Successful Pitching Strategy. Pitchers with great ball control are normally more in control of the game. That is they are able to master their pitches. So goal # 3 is to throw strikes 70-75 percent of the time. Herb Dudley once said that “control is the ability to throw a ball when you want to, and a strike when you have to.” If you think about it, that is what the best pitchers in world do, they control the game and almost “appear” to control when the batter swings and when she does not! Now we understand that really can’t happen, but when you watch the best pitchers in the world, they have an uncanny ability to make batters watch strikes, and swing at balls. Obviously you are going to be much more successful as a pitcher if you can make batters swing at balls. Most times, batters who fall behind in the count have batting averages under .200. Why is that?  Because when they are in the hole, the pitcher has control, and can throw her best “stuff” getting the batter to chase something that looks like a strike, but is really a ball.

Goal No. 4 for a Successful Pitching Strategy. Our fourth goal is an obvious one, but even though it is obvious, we can’t forget it as an important part of our strategy. Goal No.4 is to limit your free passes. In other words, avoid walks, past balls, and hitting batters. All of these allow the opposition to get on base or move into scoring position without having earned it.  When pitchers make opponents earn their runs by having to put together a string of three or four hits, and sacrifice outs for scoring position… it is much more difficult to score.

Most pitchers already strive for one or two of these goals. But it is important to incorporate all of these goals into some form of a pre-game or pre-tournament strategy. What is your vision of your game, what type of pitcher do you want to be? The mind is the most powerful and important part of a pitcher’s presence. If your aim is to be the best pitcher possible, you need a strategy…and a good one.  I can assure you that if you incorporate these four goals into your pitching strategy you will be on your way to a successful outing.

For more information on training for softball, visit www.MicheleSmith.com

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