Welcome to the House of Pitching Newsletter.
For the college world series time, I’m sure the internet message boards are full of various topics regarding teams, games, situational plays, etc. I admit, I watch the games from time to time but, my wife will not watch them with me anymore. It usually only takes me 1/2 an inning before I start screaming at the TV about something. Usually, it has to do with a pitcher’s mechanics or pitch selection but sometimes is has to do with what the commentators are talking about. But, I want to spend some time covering some of these things that drive me bananas. These are in no particular order.
This is Division 1 college and I’ve seen some of the worst pitching mechanics ever. Those that call me arrogant and an elitist will say that the girls must be doing something right since they got to Division 1 colleges! It’s hard to argue that point. But, I can tell you this much. The ones with the bad mechanics will never be the household names that people talk about for generations. Joan Joyce, Lisa Fernandez, etc. are names that people will talk about forever. It’s about time we realized that pitching in college no longer has the same meaning as yesteryear. 20 years ago, not every college had a softball program. Now, nearly EVERY college is playing softball. So, things have been watered down a little, in my humble opinion. But many of today’s pitchers have absolutely shocking mechanics and it’s scary to think of how good they could be if they pitched correctly. I’m going to site a couple of examples in a second but, in watching some of these mechanics.. it makes me wonder how the pitching coaches at these schools do not see/correct the most obvious mechanical flaws!
Using a right handed pitchers as my focus… how can so many of them step so far off their center or “power line”? Take notice of how many are not going straight to the catcher but, instead are stepping sideways. Not only does this take away the power going straight forward but, it puts the entire pitching motion off.
Pitching is a lot like golf. If one thing goes wrong in your backswing, the ball isn’t going to go where you want it to. When a pitcher does something wrong, they are likely to do several more things wrong as a result. One of the most obvious side effects of going sideways is the release point being affected. When a pitcher goes off to the side, they are automatically going to release the ball at their side instead of in front of the body. So, they are bringing their hip/leg through at the same time as their hand with the ball. The result of this is, she will be pitching AROUND her hips instead of through them.
Amazingly, this technique is actually TAUGHT by some pitching coaches. They call it “Slamming the door” or something like that. But, if you think of how our bodies work… the arm and leg should not go together. The ball should come first. Look at any still photo of the elite women’s (or men’s) pitchers at their release; you will see the ball in front of their body, almost directly under the bellybutton and the arm snapping ACROSS the body, not straight up. If arm/leg going together was correct, why don’t baseball pitchers step with the right leg at the same time as they throw with their right arm? It’s because they’d lose power that way. Want more proof?
In the east coast USA, we have a game called Modified pitch. Some of you may have seen “modified pitch” rules in your ASA rulebooks. Modified is a cross between fastpitch and slowpitch softball. There is no arch on the ball like in slowpitch and the pitcher is restricted in their movements to prevent the ball from coming too fast. One of the restrictions in modified is that the pitcher’s body is NOT allowed to turn sideways and the release must be done at the side of the body with the shoulders square to the catcher. This restriction is put in place to PREVENT pitchers from getting the snap of their hips. Instead, they must pitch around them and eliminate the power from them. Yet, a lot of these college pitchers are pitching with the hip and hand coming through together. As another bi-product of this, you will probably notice that many of these pitchers who throw this way
throw a lot to the side of their pitching arm. A right handed pitcher tends to miss inside on right handed batters a lot. Lefties will miss outside a lot to right handed batters. Again, this is because the pitcher is going around the body, not through it and the arm is automatically out of line with the catcher cause the ball to go inside.
Now, how can it be that these girls are playing Division 1 college ball and still getting signals from the dugout for pitches? I’m not sure who’s responsible for that but, if a Division 1 college catcher cannot read a batter, know the pitcher’s strength pitches and make the right call… there is a real problem somewhere. There are other variables that people don’t realize when someone other than the pitcher/catcher are calling pitches, like ball size/weight. While every ball is supposed to be identical, any pitcher will tell you they aren’t. Every ball is different. One feels heavy, another feels heavy, the next one has no seams, etc. How many times do you see baseball pitchers ask for a new ball after one is fouled off? It happens a lot because not every ball is the same. And if I’m holding a ball with no seams that feels heavy, how can the coach on the bench possibly know that? They can’t. I just can’t believe that college catchers, who’ve obviously been playing their entire lives, have not learned what to call and when in a game.
#3. I’ve seen more slap hitters than ever this year, yet every pitcher keeps throwing outside pitches to these batters. This is absolutely crazy to me. What is a slapper trying to do? He/she is trying to hit the ball to opposite field and beat out the throw from shortstop or 3rd base. They rely on their speed and are only looking for contact. Have you ever heard the expressions “Go with the pitch”? It means, you hit the ball where it’s pitched. If a pitcher throws outside, you take it the other way. If they throw inside, you pull it or try to hit it back up the middle. Since a slapper WANTS to hit the ball to opposite field, I don’t know why I would purposely give them the ball where they want it! Moreover, throwing riseballs to a slapper usually leads to more contact than dropballs. When a slapper is running out of the box, and the ball is rising into their field of vision, it’s much easier to see/hit. If it’s dropping, it’s falling out of the field of vision and harder to make contact. Remember, a slappers job is CONTACT. A pitcher’s job is to make it as hard as possible for them to make contact. And when they do hit it, we don’t want them hitting it to the opposite side of the field. I throw down/inside to slappers 99% of the time. I’d rather them pull the ball to 1st or 2nd, which is an easier play to get them out than the long throw from opposite field.
Is this 100% accurate? No. Of course not. There will surely be times we can get slappers out with an outside pitch or a riseball. But, softball is a game of percentages. Part of winning those percentages is trying to keep the upper hand. There is no debate that it’s harder for a slapper to hit the ball to opposite field when it’s pitched inside and low than it would be outside. And, for what it’s worth… the great slappers will always bunt the change up. I avoid throwing them with less than 2 strikes. As they are running out of the box, good slappers will recognize the change and just drop the bat onto the ball for a bunt. And with the pitch speed being slow on the change, the ball isn’t going to go very far which usually means it’s a great bunt. Play percentages and you’ll win more than you lose… unless you’re in a casino. Then you rarely win no matter what.
The best pitcher for playing percentages is, without a doubt, Cat Osterman. She does this by throwing drop after drop after drop. The percentages say, the hitters will beat that ball into the ground if they make contact. It’s very very rare that a good drop pitcher gets beat by the long ball. She exemplifies that. Show the riseball but live on the drop.
Well, that’s it for this month. It’s hard to believe that summer has just begun and I’m already getting inquires about fall/winter lessons/clinics. I guess it’s never too early to start preparing. If hosting a clinic is something you’re interested in, drop me an email. It doesn’t take much to organize one, it just takes a local person/people to be contact persons for questions, directions, etc. It’s also a great way for leagues, teams, clubs to have a fundraiser or player recruitment opportunity.
I hope everyone is has a safe, fun summer of softball.