Where do coaches come up with this stuff?

I am often amazed by the things I hear from my students regarding what their team coaches tell them. Sometimes the statements are just jaw-droppingly stupid.

Last night was such a case. I was working on the changeup with one of my students. She threw a real nice one, about thigh-high and well-disguised. I complimented her on it, and she told me one of her team coaches told her that “a good changeup should hit the plate.” Huh? I was stunned.

Why in the world would you want to make your changeup hit the plate? If you are throwing it well, one of the good things that can happen is it causes the hitter to freeze. If that occurs and the pitch comes in for a strike, well, you get a strike. If it hits the plate, it’s a ball. Why in the world would you not want to get a free strike?

I can only think of a couple of reasons a coach might make that statement. One is he may never have seen a real changeup and thus doesn’t realize what it’s supposed to look like and what it can do. Even if a changeup gets hit, if it does its job and fools the hitter it’s usually for a weak ground ball or pop fly. Of course, if you’re just slowing your arm down and giving it away you might want it to hit the plate so it doesn’t hit the grass behind the fence.

Another reason would be if the pitchers are throwing it too high. Asking them to try to hit the plate might be a cue to help them bring it down. It’s mechanically unsound and unlikely to work, but at least it’s well-intentioned.

The third reason, of course, is that the coach is simply speaking of things which he knows not. As Mark Twain once said, “Better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you’re a fool than open it and prove it.” Apparently this coach didn’t watch Taryne Mowatt lead Arizona to a WCWS championship by throwing changeups for a strike. A change that hits the plate is what you  would call a mistake.

For this pitcher, I gave her my standard instruction for dealing with this sort of thing: say “OK,” or “I’m trying,” then continue to throw it for a low strike. In other words, save this coach from himself. Maybe someday he’ll learn.

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on October 6, 2009, in Coaching, Pitching. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I can understand this at the earlier ages. I don’t know the age of the girl you worked with, but the younger they are, and therefore, the slower their fastball is, the more this is understandable. The idea is to make the change-up look just like a fastball and one of the keys to this is having a release point and delivery be similar. If it is a young girl with a weak fastball, then the change-up is even slower, meaning it may have a hard time even reaching the plate. That is completely fine in my book, for a young girl. Make the change-up look like a fastball and let it drop down. Hopefully the batter thinks fastball and starts to swing and can’t hold it up even once they realize the ball is dropping too low. What you do not want is for the girl to start releasing higher to force it to be a strike. Now it no longer looks like a fastball and she is laying it in there like a big meatball. I’m working with 7 & 8 yr old boys on this and tell them there is nothing wrong with a change-up dropping behind the plate. I reinforce with them how important the release point is when they throw it and not to worry about where it goes. Now if this is an older girl who can throw a change-up fast enough to reach the strike zone on a line, then I totally agree with you – nothing wrong with throwing it for a strike. If it is an 0-2 or 1-2 count, then I probably don’t want it thrown for a strike, but as long as she disguises it well, then there is still nothing wrong with throwing it for a strike.

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  2. In this case the girl was 16U, so even based on what you’re saying it’s well past the point where she ought to be trying to put all her changeups on the plate. Understand I don’t mind if it happens to hit the plate because it loses velocity or whatever. Against a very aggressive hitter that might work out just fine. But I don’t think it should be the goal in a game, even at the early ages.A good softball changeup should be coming in as a low strike. If you’re achieving that, telling someone to change that to make it drop on the plate is misguided, in my opinion. Now, in baseball it may be different because you’re pitching overhand off a mound so the ball is going to have a down angle anyway. I can’t speak to that because I don’t know much of anything about teaching baseball pitching. But in softball with an underhand release, purposely trying to hit the plate is a waste of time. As I said before, if you do it right you’ll freeze the hitter. At that point, better to have a strike than an obvious ball.

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  3. At that age, I agree, a good change-up is not one that hits the plate. Low and through the zone is the goal. My philospohy on a change-up is not to throw it as a low strike (meaning the zone) for everyone though (ie. younger girls). To me it is to throw a pitch that looks like a fastball (well disguised) that has much less velocity and gets the batter to hit a soft grounder or outright whiff on it. If that means it hits the plate because she isn’t strong enough to throw it for a strike (via the zone) without changing the release point, then so be it. If she has to release it higher to make it go through the zone as a strike, even a low one, then that isn’t a very good change-up, those will get crushed by the better hitters. Might still work on some batters but it isn’t a good one, at least imo. All I’m trying to say is that if this had been a young girl, then maybe her release point to make it look good means it has to hit the plate. That obviously wasn’t the case here, and even if it was then I don’t like the wording, but it could have been understandable… to me anyway.

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  4. I agree with Mike’s point and think it was well stated. Good form and release point are more important at a younger age and if gravity ends up getting the best of the pitch, well, that will go away as the pitcher grows.At 16U and up though, at best, I would want a pitcher who could throw the changeup for a strike when, and only when, she wants to. Until then she can throw the change slightly out of the zone and get hitters to chase. She has to be able to throw it for a strike though, at minimum when she wants to or else hitters will be able to the choose to layoff all changeups if they are all out of the zone.

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  5. I think you guys are misreading what I’m saying. It’s not horrible for a changeup to hit the plate, but it’s not what I want as the goal. The goal, even at young ages, should be to throw it for a strike at the knees, or at most mid-thigh. You should also be able to do it in a way that the hitter can’t tell it’s coming. If you do that it will be plenty effective without any other adjustments. If you have to throw it out of the zone to be sure it doesn’t get hit you’re not doing it right. That being said, if it falls out of the zone on its own now and then, that’s ok. Keeps the hitters honest.

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  6. I did not say nor did I mean to imply that a pitcher has to throw the change out of the zone to be sure it doesn’t get hit. That’s not what I said at all. What I was saying is that a good pitcher should be able to throw the change for a strike when she wants to and throw it off the plate when she wants to also.

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  7. I would agree with that. Not only with the change, but any other pitch too. They say Cat Osterman’s strength is she doesn’t throw a lot of strikes, but hitters swing anyway because all the pitches look like they will be strikes.

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  8. Ken,I am awed by the fact there are coaches out there that make 9 and 10 year old girls do pushups if they do something wrong during practice. Some coaches explain this is a correction technique. Do the coaches now a days think this is motivation for a 9 and 10 year old girl. I am as competitive as the next coach but is this the way we are to coach our girls?Kevin

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