Instructional Friday: 3 Answers on Pitching

Instructional Friday: 3 Answers on Pitching

The concept of developing a pitching arsenal is sometimes overlooked.  Perhaps it’s due to ignoring some of the complexities that go along with categorizing pitches.  Or it’s an acceptance of “these are the pitches I’m supposed to throw.” Whatever the reason, it makes sense for any pitcher – particularly one in the development stages of a career – to closely consider what pitches may work best and which versions are most practical.  

Factors that can drive these decisions are deep and wide.  Pitchers should seek out expert advice and instruction when making these determinations.  Additionally, the trial-and-error method of finding a right fit will supply the needed evidence as to what the hurler should pursue in working towards command of their efforts.  Simply said, pitchers should never stop learning or even tinkering with their craft. Pitchers need to find what will work, but continue to push to what can help them improve.

On this edition of Instructional Friday, the Dirtbags are going to tap into 3 of its staff/coaches for some direction on pitch development.

  • Brent Haynes – 15u & Dirtbags Director of Player Development
  • Alex Krivanek – 16u
  • Chad Rothlin – 17u

Question 1.

As players work to develop a breaking ball, what should be considered in a decision between a curve or a slider?

BRENT HAYNES – When it comes to picking a curve or a slider a lot of times the arm angle is going to help determine this.  If your arm angle is lower ¾ you will probably have more success with a slider. If your arm angle is more over the top you have more of a decision to make as this arm angle will allow you throw to either pitch and that’s when I let the feel for the pitch come in for a pitcher.  When I talk to kids I want them to pick one or the other and really get a good feel for the pitch. It’s not going to do a lot of good if you have both and neither one is an out pitch for you. So I would rather have someone who has one that is really good and an out pitch than someone who has both and neither is an out pitch for them.

ALEX KRIVANEK – First thing should be the age of the athlete. We never want to start breaking balls to early off. Second should be the arm angle at which the individual throws. It is much more difficult for a 3/4th pitcher to throw a 12/6 curve than it is for a true overhand pitcher. Lastly the velocity the pitcher throws at is something to consider as well.

CHAD ROTHLIN – When deciding between adding a curve or slider to your arsenal it’s important to keep true to your mechanics & arm slot.  Many young players will develop poor habits outside of their normal fastball arm slot in an attempt to make their breaking ball move more, which is the absolute wrong way to think.  This could lead to constant soreness and worst case scenario, a career ending injury. I personally struggled to “get on top of” the ball to throw a curve, so I never developed one. I also tended to put more pressure on the ball with my index finger rather than my middle finger, which made it more difficult to get on top & pull down for a curve.  Do NOT intentionally pull your elbow down to get that extra spin…it never works! Also being a low 3/4 arm slot, it was easier for me to develop a slider since it favors a more horizontal spin that the vertical spin of a curve, which naturally fit better with that slot. In summation, when players start experimenting with the curve and slider make sure you maintain your fastball mechanics, including arm speed & arm slot.  If you have a high arm slot, curves are generally more easy to get the end-over-end vertical spin you need to be effective. Sliders would be more easily developed by lower arm slots. Above all else, which ever one “feels” best and you have the most confident in will usually win over the other.

Question 2.

What are some top tips on throwing the change up effectively?

BRENT HAYNES – The Change-up is a hard pitch for kids to throw these days.  When it comes to throwing the change-up you first have to find a grip that is going to work for you.  When I was learning to throw the pitch everyone told me I needed to hold it as a circle change and back in my hand.  This did not work for me and I had no feel for it like this, even though I’m sure it’s how some people hold/throw the pitch.  For me the grip was a circle change but I held it out in my fingertips. This allowed me to have more feel and command of the pitch and it ended up becoming an out pitch for me in college.  Another thing I see a lot with kids and throwing a change-up is that they don’t allow the grip to help reduce the speed of the pitch, instead they want to slow their arm down to decrease the speed of the pitch which in return is the last thing we want them to do.  So I tell kids find the right grip and when you do trust that grip and throw the hell out of it.

ALEX KRIVANEK – First thing is to get a grip you are comfortable with. Palm, circle change, splitter what are you comfortable throwing. Second is practice throwing it in catch daily. Change ups should look exactly like a fastball but obviously aren’t as fast. You should throw it with the same arm speed as a fastball so working on throwing that when you play catch is a must.

CHAD ROTHLIN – To piggyback off of the previous answer, change-ups are best developed by a comfortable grip, maintaining arm speed, and practice practice practice.  With those 3 things confidence will build and you will maintain the integrity of your fastball mechanics. The biggest mistake young pitchers make in their change-up is intentionally slowing their arm down.  To that I say, NO. That’s the grips job. The whole point of a change-up is to come in looking like a fastball with just a few mph’s taken off of it. Try some different grips until it feels comfortable in your hand and ask you throwing partner what it looks like coming in.  Does it sink? Does it look like my fastball? Does it tail in? If you’re getting “Yes” responses to those questions then you’re on the right track. I tell players often that when they warm up to throw to start with their change-up grip. Since you’re just lobbing the ball back and forth from only a few feet away at the beginning to loosen up your shoulder, you might as well be working on something.  This will help build confidence in your change-up as well as you continue to practice it. Also, when throwing bullpens alternate back & forth between your fastball & change-up every pitch to really get a good feel for maintaining that arm speed.

Question 3.

Most pitchers work off the fastball. How should they decide between a 2-seamer & a 4-seamer? And what about a fastball grip can enhance results?

BRENT HAYNES – Choosing between a 2 seamer and 4 seamer depends on the pitcher.  I would tell a kid to choose between the one that they can command the best and then get the most movement out of.  I was a 4 seam guy with my fingers close together in high school but when I got to college and started playing with grips more I became a 2 seam guy.  I liked to move down the horse shoe some on the seams almost like a split finger. This gave me more sink on the fastball and allowed me to be a groundball pitcher in college.  But again I was more of a 4 seam fastball guy before going to college and didn’t go completely away from that as I felt I could command that pitch (4 seamer) in any count and throw it where I wanted it.  But with grips it’s all about what is going to work for you and give you the best results while you are on the mound.

ALEX KRIVANEK – Find out what one you are most comfortable with and also which one you can control most. It has always been true in baseball no matter if you are Greg Maddux or Steven Strasburg if you can’t control a fastball it doesn’t matter if you throw 88mph or 100mph, it will still get hit. Find which one you can control best and keep working on it. Personally I liked messing with a cutter as well as leaving the ball open on my thumb side so throwing it opposite of most four seamers as I felt I had more control over it that way. Find what works for you as far as grip.

CHAD ROTHLIN –  No pitch is more effective than a located fastball.  This is what you should spend the vast majority of your time working on.  When tinkering with 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs, it certainly doesn’t hurt to mix up grips.  4-seamers will always result in a slightly higher velocity, just based on pure physics. 2-seamers however can add some extra movement to your fastball if you’re struggling to get any out of your 4-seamer.  My 4-seamer was always straight but with a slight tail. I started messing with a couple different 2-seam grips and noticed that with my arm slot I was able to get more of a tail into right-handed hitters with my index & middle fingers touching together & over the right seam.  But when I did the same thing over the left seam it cut into left-handed hitters. Some pitcher experience different results depending on which seam they favor towards or directly in the middle, or with their fingers together or spread apart. Again, it really depends on your own personal “feel” and arm slot that will help you decide what works best.  To get the best results on fastball movement, make sure you are extending down the mound towards the catcher or “finishing” as we coaches often say. This will produce a higher spin rate and in return will equal more movement. I encourage pitchers to try different fastball grips because it only makes you a more dynamic threat on the mound to have another weapon like that in your arsenal.  Of course, others may argue towards the Chick-fil-a method and say master just one grip and be the best at that. I like a little variety though to keep the hitters guessing.

A big thanks to our coaches for their  insight in reference to pitch selection their expertise on some techniques or tactics to gain best results.  Come back next week when baserunning will be our topic.