Daily Archives: June 1, 2007

Sacrificing speed for control

Here’s another one that’s said a lot that drives me crazy. A pitcher will be in pitching a game. Apparently couldn’t find the plate if it was made uranium and she had a Geiger counter, so her coach advises her to “slow it down and throw strikes” or something to that effect.

I understand why it’s being said. If your pitcher keeps walking everyone it’s going to be tough to win the game. But having your pitcher slow down her motion in order to gain control is extremely counter-productive, both for her and for the team. If she has been working very hard to learn to be an effective pitcher, asking her to completely change what she’s doing is going to set her back. You’d actually be better off taking her out and putting someone else in there. After all, if speed doesn’t matter and you just want strikes, that isn’t that tough of a goal. You can put pretty much anyone in there to lob meatballs in order to avoid the almighty walk.

What got me thinking about this one is an article that re-ran recently in a business newspaper called Investors Business Daily, or IBD for short. In addition to the usual business articles about corporations and such they like to run articles about leadership and success. It just so happened that I picked up the issue where they were talking about a particular major league baseball pitcher who had the very same problem we’re discussing. He threw hard, but he was wild.

According to the article, when the pitcher had been in the league a couple of years “He’d go six or seven innings, throw 160 pitches, walk seven guys, strike out 15.” His strikeout-to-walk ratio ran close to 1:1 for several years, starting in the minors and continuing to the majors. He could chuck his fastball in the high 90s, which helped keep his ERA low (and kept him in the majors) but it could go anywhere. Think Nuke Lalouche in Bull Durham. He was also advised to slow down and get the ball over, ut he kept working at it, making changes in his mechanics to improve his control instead. It took a while, but he eventually harnessed his speed, and in six years made four All-Star teams, finished in the top 10 in Cy Young award voting five times (winning one) and dominated the game. The pitcher’s name? Randy Johnson.

In the same article, pitching coach Brent Strom is quoted as saying “With a pitcher like Johnson, who throws very hard but wild, you’re better off letting him be wild for a while. There’s a saying: ‘The best way to ruin a pitcher is to try and make him a pitcher.’ We take these guys who are a little wild, and we immediately want to slow them down to get more control. Invariably guys go from throwing 98-99 mph and wild to 91 and still wild. Taking away what a pitcher does best is the wrong thing to do.”

Yes, it can be hard to watch the girl you thought would be your ace walking half the Western world in a single game. But assuming she is practicing and taking lessons to learn her craft, you’re not doing her any favors by telling her to slow down. All you’re doing is taking away the one thing in her that made you want her in the first place.

Control is not a goal. It’s not something you have to work at separately. It is a result of good mechanics plain and simple. Encourage your pitchers to use their bodies properly to throw the ball and you’ll see plenty of strikes. Maybe not today, but it will happen if they work at it properly.

And don’t even bother telling her to “just throw strikes.” That’s a waste of breath, because unless she’s just emerged from a cave for the first time ever she knows she’s supposed to be throwing strikes. It’s just a lot harder than it looks.

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