INSTRUCTIONAL FRIDAY – 1/11/19
PITCHING – HOW TO GET A “GRIP” ON PITCHES
By: Eric Leary
Pitchers and pitching coaches have a laundry list of physical and mental boxes to check in order to ready a young hurler for consistent result on the mound. Everything from the delivery to the arm strength, to the pitching philosophy can be considered as essential. But be careful not to bypass the importance of the grip. How the pitcher holds the ball and the skills executing that grip can be the difference between winning or losing, all-star or sandlot, and all-league or all done.
In analyzing the grip of the pitcher to pitch the baseball, first understand that HAND STRENGTH is a deciding factor. The righty or lefty that offers the firm handshake to the coach is already ahead of the competition (and not just because he shows confidence). Hand strength is a necessary component for anyone playing a sport that uses the hand to perform skills. It provides an advantage in areas like command and action on the ball. It often determines which pitches can be executed. While hand size can be important (more specifically, the length of fingers – big hands often bring more options), even small hands can deliver quality pitches when they have been strengthened to meet the task. Seek out some quality exercises to improve hand strength. (By the way, Dirtbags CEO Andy Partin recently posted a video on Twitter highlighting some proven tactics on this very topic.)
Transferring the acquired hand strength to the mound then requires the pitcher to practice the various grips that will be used to deliver pitches. Decisions need to be made on how many pitches and which pitches are best suited for this player. A ton of factors could be considered. The suggestion is to stay simple. Be able to locate the fastball first and add a changeup next. Age and repeatable mechanics will often dictate when to add the breaking ball and what type should be used. The secondary pitches in the arsenal are all about command and feel. This essence of feel leads to the concept of experimentation with grips. Setting up drills to allow the pitcher to determine which variations of a grip for a pitch fits his hand best can lead to maximum potential of that arm on the mound.
Any drill of this nature is easily worked into a throwing routine on flat ground and often best suited for shorter distances. The frequency of drills to experiment with grips can be determined by how often the player is throwing and what time of the year it happens to be. More emphasis could be put on these sessions in pre-season or early season work, with some tweaking dictated by performances once the season starts. The ability for the pitcher to create a comfortable, repeatable grip for a specific pitch is key. Don’t settle for “that’s pretty close.” Precision of the feel is important and will be recognized by the command and actions created on the ball.
Consider the following guides in finding the best grips for the identified pitches and then a few drill suggestions to serve as the proving grounds.
FASTBALL – Determine if a 2-seam or 4-seam is the best fit for this pitcher. Experiment with fingers split or close and even placement as to impact factors like velocity, movement and command. Closely related to grip is wrist angle; it can be a movement enhancer if it proves necessary and can be accomplished.
CHANGE UP – Remember the amount of skin in contact with the ball should impact the loss of velocity, not the arm speed. This pitch is all about the grip. Best results seem to be when the middle finger can access the inside of the ball. Variations with the thumb on the bottom or not can impact comfort and command. Also consider working this pitch off the best fastball grip to create similar spin patterns on delivery.
BREAKING BALL – This is definitely a pitch impacted by the fingers and whether it is a curve or a slider the ability to find the best seam for leverage is critical. Again, the middle finger is often the determiner here. Finding that placement to allow the middle finger to work in front of the ball and pull that seam to initiate spin brings consistent results.
- Delivery drills – Pitchers can execute basic delivery drills/warm up routine with a singular grip focus. Best results would be fastball or changeup. Can create comfort of the grip.
- Knee down grip drill – Used in the delivery drill sequence or as a stand alone, this drill allows for the significant focus on the arm action and the grip by eliminating the bottom half. Distance should be short. Consider spinning breaking balls that bounce in the middle to get the pitcher to finish the pitch with the fingers.
- Stretch to stride – Either from a mound or on flat ground at 45-50’ have the pitcher start at stride point. He should load momentum back with the ball in the glove, break and deliver a pitch to the strike zone. Emphasize finishing the delivery with the lower half. The quickness at which this drill operates allows for a number of reps of a specific grip in a short period. Consider spinning breakings to a target on this drill: seat of a chair, into a bucket or a trash can on its side.
Remember, only attempt to throw pitches in games that the pitcher can locate. This only happens if those pitches are practiced. Practice the skill of finding the right grips of the pitches to dominate on the mound.