From USA Baseball’s Coaching the Pitching Delivery Module, special to Little League University.
Velocity is a gift. Granted, a gift that can be developed and improved through hard work and dedication, but not one that most baseball pitchers at most levels of the game are blessed with.
Many up and coming pitchers may get discouraged when the realization comes that they don’t have top-level velocity and haven’t been blessed with the ability to throw a ball as hard as the next guy. Scouts love velocity. College recruiters love velocity. Professional coaches love velocity. But plain and simple, not every player who toes the rubber will be able to throw 90 miles per hour.
But the ability to throw the ball hard is just one aspect of a pitcher’s ability to retire batters.
Allard Baird, currently a special assistant in the Boston Red Sox front office, and former General Manager of the Kansas City Royals, once said, “Tools are great. Everybody loves tools. But if you cannot translate those tools into useable baseball skills that can help you perform and your team succeed, then those tools are worthless.”
Aside from being able to blow a ball by a hitter, there are three additional, usable pitching skills that every pitcher can learn, completely independent of whether or not they have been blessed with a strong arm.
Control is the ability to throw the ball over the plate – obviously a very important skill to have as a pitcher, and in our view, the first skill every pitcher should focus on mastering.
The next step beyond control is command: The ability to throw a pitch to a certain spot of the strike zone, in addition to areas off the plate, specifically for balls. Learn how to throw into the strike zone first, and then work on pinpointing smaller areas within (and out of) the strike zone to truly take control and command on the mound. (Add links to related USA Baseball pitching modules)
To fully understand pitching, it makes sense to try to understand hitting. In its most basic ideal, hitting is timing. A hitter has to figure out when to start their swing, by learning when to get their legs, hips, and hands in sync with the delivery of a pitch. If a hitter is doing everything in his power to be on time, then a pitcher should be conscious about doing whatever it takes to disrupt that timing.
The skill of throwing pitches at various speeds, can make hitters both early AND late. Not only does a good change-up get hitters out in front of a pitch, it also makes an average fastball seem that much harder, making a hitter late, often in the same way a good fastball does.
The pitcher’s plate stands 10 inches above the rest of a baseball diamond. It’s an artificial angle created by baseball’s founding fathers that gives the pitchers a distinct advantage over the hitter. By understanding the downward angle to home plate, effective pitchers can employ movement that comes in the form of a curveball, a slider, or a fastball, to retire even the most imposing hitters.
Commanding the baseball enables a pitcher to exploit a hitter’s weak spots. Changing speeds gets hitters off-balance, while disrupting their timing. And, using the plane of the mound to throw downhill forces a hitter to adjust his sights, up and down, while movement on a pitch can will help keep the ball off the barrel of hitter’s bat.
Not every pitcher will be able to blow the ball by the hitter, but every pitcher is able to find many other ways to get the hitter out.