Browsing Archive June, 2006

Establish Your Fastballs

Whenever I start working with a young pitcher – the first thing I ask is “what pitches do you throw?”. Invariably, — be he a 12-year-old Little Leaguer or a 22-year-old college hurler — the pitcher claims to throw at least three or four pitches in addition to “a fastball”.

Without going any further, let’s clear up a few issues. Just because you think you know how to throw a particular pitch, does not mean it should be part of your repertoire. Too often a pitcher tells me he throws a curve, a changeup, a splitfinger, a knuckle-curve, a sidearm curve, and a cutter, yet when that pitcher gets on a mound, he can’t throw any of these “pitches” for consistent strikes. If you’re not throwing a pitch for strikes at least 75-80% of the time in practice, then don’t bring it into the game.

Furthermore, no one who calls himself a pitcher should throw only one fastball. Unless you are a knuckleball pitcher, your fastballs are your most important weapons, and you should establish at least two or three in your repertoire.

First, of course, is the straight fastball, also known as the “four-seam” fastball or “four-seamer”. It’s thrown by loosely gripping the ball across the widest seams and releasing with a straight snap down of the wrist. This is the fastball you throw most often in practice, as you use it to get your mechanics in order. If your grip and release are correct, and your mechanics are good, you should be able to throw this pitch for strikes with your eyes closed — literally. If you can’t, then there is likely a problem with your mechanics, and it will be easy to figure out the issue by isolating a few checkpoints in your motion (more on that in another post).

The second fastball you throw should be a two-seam fastball, preferably either a “down and in” or a “down and out”. This is a fastball that rides (or “runs”) down toward the ground and either in toward a righthanded batter’s hands or away from a righthanded batter. (We use a righthanded pitcher and a righthanded batter as a standard frame of reference; thus a “down and away” fastball from a righthanded pitcher will actually move in toward a lefty hitter.)

A “down and in” or “down and away” can take anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour to teach. However, it can take a few weeks of consistent practice to really learn. We’ll go over these fastballs in a future article; the point today is that you should learn at least one if not both of these fastballs before moving on to another pitch.

Another fastball to consider learning — after you’ve commanded at least the four-seamer, a two-seamer, and a changeup — is a rising fastball. Pitchers who throw at good velocity for their level of play (50+ MPH at Little League, 75+MPH in high school, 85+MPH in college), will find it beneficial to throw a rising fastball after they learn a change-up. Essentially, it is a four-seamer, but thrown to a higher target. With practice, you can get it to appear to rise, and makes for a good 0-2 or 1-2 pitch to hitters that like to “climb the ladder”.

Once you have established at least three fastballs in your repertoire, you can compete in a game at any level, at least for a few innings. Add a change-up to your arsenal of command, and you will have enough to dominate hitters most of the time. Understand that “establish” or “command”, means that you can locate a pitch where you want consistently — meaning at least 75% of the time.

So again, for those looking to “add another pitch”, stop looking. Instead, evaluate what you’re currently throwing, and ask yourself these questions: “do I truly command these pitches? Can I spot a fastball where I want, anytime I want, with movement? Can I throw a four-seamer for a strike with my eyes closed?” After you’ve honestly answered “yes” to all three, then consider adding another pitch to your repertoire.

Check back here in the coming weeks to learn how to throw various fastballs.


Book Review: The Science of Hitting

Science of HittingTed Williams was the greatest hitter who ever lived … or at least, that’s what he kept telling himself. All kidding aside, the “Splendid Splinter” was probably one of the top five hitters of all-time, if not the best. This book — one of the few of its kind when it was originally published — is packed with all of Teddy Ballgame’s theories and philosophies in batting a baseball.

Compared to some of today’s ultra-intensive hitting books — some of which break down batting mechanics to specific timings, angles, and checkpoints — this thin paperback may seem vague and unscientific. At the time it was written, however, it was considered state-of-the-art, and provided the basis for nearly all other hitting theories that followed.

One of the main philosophies that Williams brings forth in this book is the strategy of understanding what areas of the strike zone you can handle, and waiting for pitches in those zones. In other words, he found a correlation between the best hitters and their focus on pitch selection. Although many coaches think Williams’ theories cause a batter to be less aggressive, there are just as many who think patience is key to a batter’s success. One needs to look no further than Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s organizational hitting philosophy to see that the preachings of Ted Williams are still followed today.

Personally, I’ve read this book from cover to cover dozens of times, and pick up something new every time. It’s not often that one of the greatest athletes — in any sport — gives away all of his secrets, and this book holds back nothing. Though some of the ideas in this book might not apply today, the majority of the teachings are timeless, and presented in an easy-to-understand format. I recommend it fully as a necessity on the shelf of baseball players of all ages. Click on the image and you can get it for about ten bucks — a marginal investment that will provide a return over and over for years to come.


Maple Bat: Recommended

Some visitors have emailed me regarding a good choice of wooden baseball bat, specifically a maple bat.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the maple bats; I prefer good old ash. But then I guess that goes with my “old school” ways, doesn’t it?

However, I have used several maple bats in games and practice, and most liked
this “Brett Brothers” model.Maple MB-110, 34\

I’ll admit that one of the reasons I bought it was because I consider George Brett to be one of the greatest hitters of all time, and figured that if he was putting his name on a hitting product, he’d make sure it would live up to his Hall-of-Fame character.

The main reason I like this bat is its balance; I’ve never been fond of top-heavy bats, or bats with thin handles and huge barrels. Years ago, I used the Louisville Slugger “S44?, which was very similar in size and balance. Another thing I like is the strength of the bat. I’ve used it in about 30 games and twice as many practices and it has yet to chip or splinter — something which seems common with maple bats. The price is also easy to swallow, as it’s less than $60 from Amazon by clicking on the photo.


Catcher’s Gloves: Recommended

Through the years, I’ve used catcher’s gloves from Wilson, Rawlings, Spalding, Mizuno, and most recently, Akadema. As a youngster, and through high school, I used a glove with a double break; one break on each side of the wrist pad. It was a clumsy, heavy design, and in college switched to single-break gloves. The Rawlings gloves had a good feel in my hand, and strong, durable leather, but the leather lacing was thin and weak. Since I caught a few guys throwing over 90 MPH, the lacing around the webbing would break. So I started using Mizuno gloves, which had stronger lacing and were much lighter, thus easier to handle. I swore by the Mizuno’s until recently, when I was introduced to the Akadema “Reptilian” series.

There are a few things I love about the Akadema gloves. First, the quality of the leather (including the lacing) is top-rate. Years ago, Rawlings’ “heart of the hide” was supposedly the best leather but today’s examples don’t hold a candle to Akadema. Secondly, the unique design makes much more sense than the conventional / traditional catcher’s mitts. It is a double break, but the “second” break is way up along the top of the thumb, and actually serves to form the pocket. That design is crucial for two things: it makes it easy to catch the ball in the pocket, and it prevents thumb injuries. Conventional gloves have one long pad on the thumb side, and thumb sprains occur if you catch a hard thrower who is frequently crossing you up wild inside, or if you get a foul tip against the pad. The way these “Reptilian” gloves are designed, your thumb is in a very safe spot, away from the shock of those situations. The third thing I really like about this glove is the break-in period, which was extremely quick. In the past, I always had two catcher’s mitts: one for games, and one for practice that I’d break in. The break-in period generally took 2-3 months of catching pitchers every day. These gloves take 2-3 weeks.
This is the 32.5? catcher’s glove, suitable for younger / smaller catchers:

Akadema Praying Mantis-Catcher APM42 (32.5\'\'), Praying Mantis Series, Ball Gloves, Akadema AKA-APM42

Catchers with larger hands and frames (high school and up) will probably be more comfortable using the 33.5? glove. This is the glove that I use. It took only about two weeks to break in for game use, and is hands-down the best glove I’ve used in over 25 years of catching.

Akadema APM40 Reptilian Praying Mantis Series 33.5\