Browsing Archive February, 2008

Pitching With Eyes Closed

Being from the NY-Metro area, I’m a big Mets fan and regularly watch SNY (the Mets’ cable TV network). This evening one of their on-air personalities, Kevin Burkhardt, was reporting on the Mets’ spring training and one of his big news items was the fact that Pedro Martinez was pitching with his eyes closed.

First of all, this is not a new nor cutting-edge development. Pitchers under my supervision have used “eyes closed” drills going back to the early 1990s, and even then it wasn’t a new concept — certainly nothing I invented but rather a training method that had been handed down from previous generations of pitching “gurus”.

In any case, I’m glad the story came up, because now is a good time to apply the technique. Essentially, it is what it sounds like: you go through your entire motion and pitch with your eyes closed (this should be done in bullpens / side sessions; it should be obvious that you don’t try this in a game situation). If you have solid mechanics, and total control over your body, you should be able to throw strikes. When I coached at the D1 level, and we were working out indoors (preseason) my pitchers were not allowed to advance to breaking pitches until they could throw their fastball and changeup for strikes with their eyes closed. This may sound drastic and a little nuts, but that was my way of confirming that each pitcher’s mechanics were understood, “felt”, and repeatable.

Pitching (or doing anything athletic) with your eyes closed is tied strongly to visualization, but it is also an immediate way to “feel” what the body is doing. With the eyes open, your attention is split by all kinds of distractions — most of them visual. When you are “blind”, and expected to throw to the catcher’s glove, you absolutely, positively, must focus on controlling your body and its movements. Concentrating so narrowly on balance and movement, the mind is less susceptible to outside distractions that could cause the body to fall off course. In addition, if a particular part of your mechanics or timing doesn’t feel “right”, it is a more glaring and identifiable issue with the eyes closed. You will be amazed at how quickly you can correct mechanical issues simply by throwing a few pitches with your eyes closed.

Finally, there is the benefit of self-assurance. Prove to yourself that you can throw a strike with your eyes closed — literally — and you are suddenly armed (pardon the pun) with a supreme confidence to throw strikes at will.

By the way, this method can be applied to batting, though it’s limited to hitting off a tee.


Pitching: Dragging the Back Foot

The other day I went to a batting center that included tunnels where pitching lessons were being taught. Over and over I heard the same phrase from the instructor: “drag your back foot!”.

To me that sounded a bit perplexing, and thought perhaps the coach was teaching the change-up. After ten minutes, I realized the coach was using his “drag your back foot” instruction as a means of teaching the fastball.

A few days later I witnessed another pitcher, in another facility, consciously dragging his back foot on all pitches per the instruction of a completely different “pitching coach”.

Now I’m really befuddled.

Perhaps I’ve missed something, but what I have been taught is that you want to do anything BUT drag your back foot if you’re interested in increasing velocity on your fastball. In fact, what you should do on your fastball is push off the rubber with your back foot — much like a sprinter does off the starting blocks — and as a result the back foot should fly up in the air, high over your butt, after the stride foot lands. The back foot pushes, the front foot pulls, and if you get them working in sync, you’ll be using your legs to power the ball (now you know why pitchers do so much running!).

The only time a pitcher would drag his back foot, as mentioned earlier, is on a change-up. If your back foot — or more specifically, your toes — drags along the dirt in front of the rubber as your stride (front) foot lands, then it should help take a few MPH off the change-up. However, that is a pretty advanced technique, and should only be practiced by those who have a very solid understanding and execution of sound pitching mechanics, and whose changeup needs to be just a bit slower.

If I’m missing something with this “drag the back foot thing” — perhaps I’m misinterpreting a newfangled, cutting-edge technique — please let me know in the comments below.