Pitching: Delivery and Mental Focus

Pitching: Delivery and Mental Focus

   It has been said that the game of baseball is all about pitching. If a team has pitching so many other parts of the contest will fall into place.  Conversely, teams that lack solid output on the mound many times must overproduce to compensate for subpar pitching performances.

Thus, the amount of emphasis put on even the smallest of details of pitching a baseball seem worthy of the attention.  With that in mind, today’s piece on instruction will zero in on the movements of delivery, as well as the mental edge needed to overcome the countless obstacles faced by the moundmen crafting their skills.

As a panel of coaches, the Dirtbags have assembled quite a collection of coaches/instructors to drill down to some core thoughts on these topics.  The hope is that one of these responses may offer the exact answer a pitcher searching such insight needs to improve. For this article the coaches are:

  • Ryan Falcon … 11u / Dirtbags Baseball Analytics & Development Director
  • Phil Maier … 17u
  • Justin White … 16u

Question 1.

What is your view on the movements pitchers need to include in their windup?

RYAN FALCON – Every pitcher’s windup will be different based on their body’s natural movements.  I teach pitchers to load as much of their weight as possible on their back leg as they begin their leg kick.  This loaded weight must then be transferred down the mound and through the catcher initiated by their hips. Body control is important, but a pitcher’s momentum should never stop throughout his delivery in order to get the most power and acceleration out of their body.

PHIL MAIER – The movement pitchers need to include in their wind-up can be a wide range based on the pitcher’s ability to control his body.  Overall, I feel it is best not to have too many drastic movements so the pitcher can stay in control of his body. He wants to control his movements so he gets his body and energy moving towards the catcher when pitching.  Pitchers need to know some basic physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So if he is moving his body to the 1B side (RHP) too much during start of delivery, then his body will then drift to 3B side when trying to come to balance and he may have a hard time finishing with all his momentum to the plate.

 JUSTIN WHITE – Every pitchers windup can differentiate in ways that make it more repeatable for that specific player throughout an appearance. The biggest keys that I’ve seen help players would be having hands set in a comfortable relaxed position, wherever that feels most natural. Once the pitcher starts his motion whether it be by stepping straight back, directly to the side or anywhere in between the goal is creating an easily duplicatable, controlled,  rhythmic motion that gets them to their balance point. There is no one way that is correct or incorrect with a pitchers windup and it is something pitchers in the MLB use to disrupt timing. Marcus Stroman is a good example of how he can change his windup from pitch to pitch but has enough control of his body and feel that he reaches every step in sequence.

Question 2.

What are some hot tips for pitchers on getting the ball out of the glove to aid the arm action?

RYAN FALCON – One of the most important parts of a pitcher’s delivery is the timing of his arm in relation to his body.  A basic rule of thumb out of the windup, is to take the ball down out of the glove as soon as the pitcher’s knee reaches the top of it’s leg kick and starts downward into the stride.  In the stretch, especially when incorporating a slide step, the pitcher needs to take the ball out of his glove as soon as he starts the leg kick. This way his arm will have enough time to catch up to his body.

PHIL MAIER – I have always tried to keep it simple with my guys and tell them that the ball needs to come out of the glove when the knee comes down when throwing out of the wind-up.  There are a lot of different visuals you can tell a pitcher to get it to sink in and video is a great way to determine if hands are breaking late and arm is dragging. How the ball comes out of a pitcher’s hand when releasing to the plate and location it goes to also can be a key.  Pitchers also have to remember that the process has to speed up and the pitcher cannot be lazy when getting the hands out when working with a slide step. 

 JUSTIN WHITE – For getting the ball out of the glove I would prefer a kids hand break to be later down the hill so that his arm isn’t getting up too soon causing him to lose his lower half. The main key is to not overthink it, once again most pitchers can’t be cookie cut with one particular style so just make it natural. Focus more on hips/lower half being gathered and riding down the hill. 

Question 3.

How can pitchers overcome frustration or distractions in the mental game while on the mound?

RYAN FALCON – Being able to “turn the page” on the mound is key to a consistent, successful season.  I used to pick a sign or object on the fence, scoreboard or somewhere in the stadium and pretend it was a toilet.  Any time things started going bad or getting stressful, I would look at the toilet and flush it in my mind. This meant the last inning, batter or pitch was flushed away and gone.  Time to “turn the page”!

PHIL MAIER – The mental side of pitching is huge.  Guys need to know how to control their breathing at all times of the game and especially when they are struggling.  Slowing the game down by have some relaxing breaths can help tremendously. Also, a pitcher needs to have the ability to have positive thoughts.  He needs to be able to recall times of success and be confident he will replicate that success with the next pitch. I have always told guys that they need to remember to use the toilet and flush it when things are not going their way.  The area behind the mound is their toilet and they need to know when to go there, breath, provide themselves some positive self-talk or visualization and flush what has happened. Then they can get back on the rubber and make some successful pitches to help themselves and the team.

JUSTIN WHITE – A pitcher must try to stay even keeled as much as possible during an appearance on the mound. You cannot get too high or too low at any one point so if you keep this mentality you will stay focused and be less likely to be affected by distractions. Some pitchers use mental keys to lock themselves in, in the movie “For Love of the Game” Kevin Costner uses a verbal cue “Clear the mechanism” to get locked in. This may be a line out of a movie but it is something that can be very effective. A lot of college programs teach players to grab their “anchor” which can be a visual to take a breath and then be ready to go to work.

What a fantastic job by the pitching gurus from the Dirtbags’ coaching staff.  Those guys really brought out some great points that each pitcher could and should consider when looking to sharpen their skills of the delivery and mental focus.  Be sure to check back next week when the series dives into 3 questions on CATCHING.