After sending a normal newsletter, I get about 20 responses. While the majority are in agreement with me and what I write, there are a couple who will argue every point to the very spelling of the words I use. There are a couple who wish I took my points further, with more sting in my opinions. Others would just like a clarification on something. But, I never got a response like I did last month in all in the years I’ve been doing this newsletter. I got it all.. the good, bad and ugly. While some view me as a lighthouse in the fog when it comes to pitching as I simplify it for them, others aren’t so sure.
So, I guess I’ll clear the air one more time and expand on a couple points. The part that got the most ruffled feathers was when I discussed the curve/screw ball. There are some very very strong opinions on this matter, that’s for sure. I’ve got so many things to say on this topic I’m not even sure where to begin. I guess I’ll start from the beginning.
I teach pitching off what I do myself. I guess we can debate what kind of career I’ve had but, I can tell you that I wouldn’t have done what I have, at the level I have, if I was doing things entirely wrong. So, my overall point is… I teach from experience. That statement sometimes leads me into the age old debate about whether or not a pitching coach should have actual pitching experience. While I think there are obvious advantages to having experience in pitching softball to coach it, being a pitcher is not an automatic ticket to knowing HOW to teach it. The truth is, learning how to teach anything is an ongoing process. But, when someone questions what I do or why, I immediately wonder where this person is getting their knowledge from. So, what I’m going to talk about below is from my own EXPERIENCE and what I learned as I advanced through the levels of softball in my
Many pitching coaches post how many of their students go to college or how many state/national titles they won. I won’t do that. Right or wrong, I think by doing that I would be assuming credit for the pitcher’s hard work. Even if that is not my intent, I don’t want it to appear that way. For me, Sally Jones and Jane Doe get the exact same training… if Sally works harder than Jane, the better results would come from her. So, I don’t really buy into the pitching coaches who list their students like trophies. Moreover, as almost every school in the USA has a softball program now, it’s becoming easier and easier to play softball in college. In 1988 (for example) it was much harder for someone to pursue softball after high school than it is today. There were simply less opportunities than now. Title IX has afforded many the options of playing beyond high school. And that’s a
wonderful thing for the sport.
While I don’t want to make it sound like college softball isn’t a good goal to work on, many people are short changing themselves if they think that’s the pinnacle. There is another level beyond college. Moreover, there’s plenty of levels WITHIN college! So, I think many young pitchers sell themselves short by only dreaming of a college career without thinking of the possibilities beyond that. Can you name any person who dreamed of hitting the game winning HR in the college world series who wouldn’t love to do that in the MLB World Series? Conversely, someone who dreams of pitching in college should also be dreaming of playing at the Olympic level. No, not everyone will make it. Not everyone is good enough. It takes a phenomenal athlete to do what the Olympians do. But shouldn’t that be the
Who’s the best pitcher in the world? Most are probably thinking “Cat Osterman” as the answer. So, lets use Cat as our example. Do an experiment at as you watch this year’s Olympics on TV. Turn on your TV Mute button and just watch without sound as she pitches. See if you can count how many times Cat purposely throws a pitch that stays ‘flat’ and does not change planes. Please, no riseball debates here today. But that ball will be changing planes upward and downward in 95% of the pitches. Is that a coincidence? Even her ‘curve ball’ has a drop action to it. At no point is she working on pitches which stay at the same plane. Those are the ones (the very few) which surrender hits. That is, of course, assuming the batter pulled the trigger and swung the bat. After all, when you think back to Day 1 of teaching your team how to hit, they are taught to watch the pitcher’s
release point and swing. If that ball is not going up or down, then (in theory) the batter swung on the same path as the ball and probably made contact. Even if the ball is curving or ‘screwing’, contact is being made. And as I say ALL THE TIME, in 2008 with $400+ bats and polycore balls… contact is not a good thing! 95LBS slap hitters can hit the ball 250 ft, which means how far can a 250LBS girl hit the ball?
The majority of people who ‘disagreed’ with me on this all said virtually the same thing: At the level we are playing, the curve ball is still an effective pitch and worth using. This is a very good point and hard to dispute. Except to say that you won’t always be playing the level you’re at. And you will probably get those same hitters out with an effective rise or drop as you would with the curve. So, every time you are working on your curve, is time taken away from ‘perfecting’ the rise or drop. So you can work on what will win for you NOW… or work on what will win for you now AND later!
Keep in mind, even at the elite level, curve balls can work once in a while. But it’s more of a sneak pitch than a strategic pitch in my opinion. Again, talking from experience, I cannot fathom throwing pitches which are not changing planes on purpose. Once in a while I can get away with it, on accident. But to do it on purpose is not a good idea. Which is why you don’t see Osterman do it. She doesn’t have the 70+ mph speed that others have and must move the ball. Most people do not have the 70+ mph speed so you cannot rely on that.
The bottom line is this, and I’ve said it before. Yes, curve balls might work NOW. Will they work later? Don’t bank on it. I avoid teaching curve balls (unless they also have a drop/rise to them) because I want them to think LONGTERM in their careers. The hitters are given new tools and training aides every day. There are software programs which help them and technology is booming for them. They are given more and more firepower while pitchers have the same restrictions and strike zone. The hitters are ONLY getting better with this new age stuff and pitches which are not moving up/down will be come obsolete in the girls game sooner rather than later.
Press Mute on your TV and don’t be poisoned by the TV announcers when you watch games. Anything thrown INSIDE is a ‘screwball’, OUTSIDE is a “curve”, HIGH is a ‘rise’, and LOW is a ‘drop’… according the announcers. But watch the best pitchers and see if their ball is changing directions upward and downward more than side to side. I think with the best ones, you will see that to be the case. TV is a little skewed though because it’s sometimes hard to see how much movement is on the ball but you should get the general idea. Or even better, go watch it live when the US team comes to your area. You’ll see what I mean.
Trust me, the hitters are getting better every day. We can’t feed the ball in the line they are swinging. It’s that simple.