Welcome to the House of Pitching Newsletter.
There is are many ongoing debates in the softball world. Not the least of which is whether or not your pitching coach needs to have actual pitching experience to be a qualified coach. While I’ve been a fastpitch softball pitcher my entire life, I don’t think that automatically means I can relate well to kids and teach them what I know. I’ll let the parents and students I have be the judge of that. But this argument is ongoing. Never ending. And it strikes me as odd that sometimes people demand their pitching coach have a pitching background, yet will take hitting lessons from someone who’s never batted in softball. For purposes of the argument, what’s the difference?
I do think there are some things that can only be passed down from pitcher to pitcher. But even that gets cloudy in today’s softball world where most pitchers have every aspect of the game done for them. Most pitchers don’t have to learn how to hone their instincts or learn swing mechanics of hitters because someone else is calling their pitches for them. It’s usually someone on a bucket in the dugout. For the most part, girls today are programed how to throw, not how to pitch. And there is an enormous difference. Instinct is mother’s milk for pitchers (not throwers) and only experienced pitchers can share the udder with young pitchers as to how to hone them.
This is a shame because in doing this, pitchers are not taught how to mentally prepare for things. They aren’t taught how to react to adjustments a hitter is making. How to approach a good hitter. How to fool the great hitter. Instead, they rely on information coming from the dugout.
Not many people like pitchers. We are the butt of jokes. But we are needed so we can afford to be quirky. But in that quirkiness is the need to learn how to be deceptive. How to approach the game, the hitter, and the situation. I can tell you that pitchers do have instincts… irregardless of whether those instincts are shaped and molded. It’s hard, almost impossible, for a pitcher to serve 2 masters: instinct and what is being called for them. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve given up a hit (and lost games on those hits) by throwing a pitch that I KNEW was not the right one for that situation yet I threw it anyway and still kick myself for it. I can tell you, there is no worse feeling than that as a pitcher.
A pitcher needs to deal with hitters efficiently and dispassionately. Never give anyone time to think or set a tone. We should come to the point, fast. Remember, a quality hitter is trying to set the pitcher up for their specific pitch, just as the pitcher is trying to set the hitter up. The same facilities to spot a hitter setting us up also affect normal thinking. This is how pitchers can be tricked too. I want a hitter to think that everything clear is bent, and everything bent is clear. For a pitcher wants the hitter to be trapped because their deception masquerades as the truth, which means doing or throwing something out of the ordinary at a given time when the opposite is expected.
The very qualities of a smart pitcher: suspicious mind, love of the ‘game within the game’ and attention to detail are the very qualities of a smart hitter. Each should be trying to provide disinformation to the other in an effort to get the edge. Great hitters are gathering intelligence during the course of the game, not singing and chanting in the dugout. It’s vital to push that intelligence to unreal thinking of the pitcher’s true strategy.
Strikeouts are great. We all love them. And sadly, too much emphasis is put on them. Striking out 21 batters per game says as much about the team you have faced as it does about the pitcher’s performance. And those who are hungry for stats will use those strikeout numbers as a badge of honor to college coaches. This is why the majority of college coaches do not recruit pitchers out of High School softball, instead they focus on summer teams, tournaments and competitions.
21 outs should be the pitcher’s goal above and beyond anything else. In the course of getting 21 outs, adjustments need to be made almost constantly. Everything from ground conditions to new balls being thrown into play to umpire’s strike zone changing to adjustments in the hitter’s strategy(s) all play a major role in how to get those 21 outs. A pitcher needs to be concentrating on changes being made to batters box positioning, hand placements on bat, to what is being said from the coaches in case he/she is relaying pitches being thrown to the hitters. Remember, coaches can read a pitcher’s pitches a few different ways: from the pitcher, from the catcher or from a middle infielder who thinks she needs to relay the signal to the outfield, even though almost zero time occurs between the shortstop’s (for example) and when the pitch is thrown, so what is the point? Besides, how many outfielders REALLY look at that??? So why give the coaches ANY opportunity to know the pitch? Anyway, I digress.
While this newsletter may be above your pitcher’s level of pitching in many respects, it’s never to early to have her start learning for herself. Learning what’s right, what’s wrong, and WHY. Remember there is a balance between a pitcher having confidence in what they throw and throwing to a hitter’s strength. I mean, as a pitcher I need to approach a hitter whom I know to be a great riseball hitter and say “OK lets see you hit MY riseball”. Yet, I need to balance that with not pitching to their strength. At the right time and situation, the right pitch will get any hitter out even if that’s their best pitch to hit. Confidence and instinct will help this for both.