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HomeArticles › Taking the Mound, Pitch by Pitch

Taking the Mound, Pitch by Pitch

Pitchers are constantly faced with strategic choices. With every pitch, the pitcher has to decide what pitch to throw and where in the strike zone to throw it. With the ability to throw multiple pitches and knowledge of the pitch percentages, a pitcher can maximize his effectiveness on the mound.

For any pitcher to have a complete set of choices he must have command of three pitches: a fastball, a breaking ball (curve/slider), and a change-up/splitter. And he must be able to ‘locate' each of these pitches in four different locations: low-inside, high-inside, low-outside, high-outside. Three pitches and four locations add up to 12 different possibilities from the mound.

The best hitters in baseball are successful only a third of the time. When the pitcher has command, that is, when the pitcher is able to 'get ahead' in the count and 'hit his spot' with his pitch, the pitcher will win more than 80% of the time.

So, what is the most important pitch? The most important pitch is: the next pitch! All great pitchers have learned to pitch one pitch at a time. Strategy happens between pitches and constantly changes with each new count. During a pitch, the target is all the pitcher thinks about or sees.
In picking a strategy, the pitcher has to decide the type of pitch and the location of the pitch. He will have to consider the abilities of the batter and the count. For the purposes of this discussion, we will assume that we don't have information about the batter and will think mainly about the type of pitch, the location and the count.

Pitchers learn early in their careers that it is better to stay ahead of the batter in the count. Most pitchers think that the throwing a first-pitch strike is the most important pitch in baseball. Certainly, it is important to get ahead of the batter quickly. However, the first pitch strike may not be the most important pitch. Let's take a look at some of the rules that should guide pitching strategy.

·  The most important pitch is the 1-1 pitch. Throw a ball on the next pitch and statistically batters will bat over 300. Throw a strike on the next pitch and batters will hit only less than 200. This is the pitch that changes the batter chances most significantly.

·  Never throw a curve ball unless you are ahead in the count. The only counts in which to throw a curve all are 0-2 and 1-2. Make the batter hit the ball.

·  When behind in the count, throw the pitch that you can command the best to a good location. Make the batter hit the ball.

·  Throw a change up any time a fastball is in order.

·  Don't waste pitches. Get ahead and finish the batter off. There is nothing worse than getting the batter in a hole and then letting him out. The more pitches he sees the better chance he has of reaching base.

·  Any pitch you throw at 2-2, you should be prepared to throw at 3-2.

·  When the batter is ahead of the ball, keep the ball away. When he is behind the ball, bust him inside.
·  Every pitcher must learn to throw 'in'. No pitcher can afford to give the batter half of the plate all the time.

·  If the batter is hitting your fastball, slow down. Trying to throw harder usually results in the ball being hit harder.

It is hard for hitters, especially young hitters to hit the curve ball. Don't fall in love with the breaking ball too early though. Not only is it harder on the arm but few pitchers can be successful long term relying primarily on the breaking ball. The most successful pitchers throw:
·  Fastballs 60 - 65% of the time
·  Curveballs 20 - 25% of the time
·  Change-ups 15-20% of the time

The old adage that Babe Ruth is dead seems like good advice. Throwing strikes is the key to becoming a good pitcher at every level. The best pitchers can throw three pitches to four locations for strikes.

Using the right strategy can help a pitcher win even when he doesn't have his best stuff. Get ahead, stay ahead, be aggressive, don't waste pitches, throw the high percentage pitch even if the batter thinks its coming. And if you can throw a first pitch strike, get the lead-off batter out in every inning and retire the side without any runs after your team has scored, your pitching staff will win more than two-thirds of their games.
Obviously winning two thirds of the games will make any team a force to be reckoned with. And while that may be a lofty goal, knowing how to utilize strategy on the mound will increase your chances of getting closer and closer to that goal. Good luck!