Monthly Archives: June 2014

Pitching: hitting your spots not the be-all and end-all

Hitting spots is not the be-all and end-allBack to focusing on softball with something that’s been on my mind for a little while. It never ceases to amaze me how obsessed coaches often are with whether their pitchers hit their spots. Especially at the younger ages.

It’s almost like that’s the only thing they know about pitching. Anytime a pitcher gives up a hit (or even comes close to it) some coach is likely to yell “you need to hit your spots.”

There are a couple of flaws in that thinking. The first is that the value of hitting a particular spot when it’s called is directly proportional to how good the person calling the pitches is at setting up hitters.

I’ve known of coaches who basically call low and outside fastballs 90% of the time. I’ve heard about coaches that call screwball after screwball because, well, they saw screwballs work on TV. I’ve seen coaches refuse to call the changeup because they prefer that their pitchers throw heat.

The problem with that is predictability. If you’re throwing to the same location all the time it probably won’t take long for hitters to figure it out and adjust. Speed kills, but as we saw in the last WCWS, even a 70 mph pitch isn’t enough alone to overcome good hitters. So sure as shootin’ a 45 or 55 mph pitch won’t be. You need a mix of speeds and locations.

There’s also an art to setting up a hitter. It takes time and effort to learn how to do it. For example, when a hitter fouls a ball straight back, a good follow-up pitch is a changeup. Of course, if you do it every time you become predictable.

When you get ahead in the count 0-2, you don’t want to throw a strike – you want to throw a ball that looks like a strike. Maybe a curve, maybe a high fastball or rise. But again, you need to mix it up to keep hitters from settling in.

An inexperienced coach often doesn’t know that. So they’ll call that favorite pitch even when it isn’t appropriate. The pitcher would actually be doing the coach a favor by missing the spot, truthfully. I’ve seen more than one coach saved by a pitcher who didn’t throw what was called.

The other reason hitting spots is often overrated is that it isn’t the best measure of a pitcher. Coaches like it because it can be quantified. They also like it because they can use it as justification for elevating one pitcher over another – i.e., pitcher A hits her spots and pitcher B doesn’t, so A must be better than B.

But the truth is the single best measure of a pitcher is whether she can get hitters out. She may not put the ball exactly where the coach called it, but if she’s getting hitters out what difference does it make? Hitting spots alone doesn’t get hitters out. You get no credit for that from the umpire, just as having a perfect swing doesn’t entitle you to get on base. I’ll take a sloppy pitcher who can get hitters out over a precise one who can’t any day of the week.

That’s not to say pitchers shouldn’t work on hitting their spots – they should. If for not other reason than they may play for a coach who actually does know how to call a game – or better yet how to teach a catcher to call one. If they can put the ball right where they want it they can really take command.

But coaches, don’t let it become your determining factor. See the whole picture and give some space to the pitchers who can get people out.

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Please resubscribe

One more little housekeeping detail. Because of the move to WordPress, I believe you will need to resubscribe to receive notifications of posts in your email. You can do that by going to the sidebar on the right and clicking on Follow Blog by Email. Those of you who were subscribers I will appreciate you doing it again. Those who were not, but would like to be, can do it easily. And now you’ll receive immediately notice when there’s something new posted. I promise I will never sell your email address or use it for any nefarious purpose. 

Thanks for hanging in there! Next post will be softball-related. I promise!

Welcome to my new blog site

Surprised? So was I when I found out my former blog supplier (GoDaddy) was shutting down their blog product. I’m sure they supplied plenty of notice but they send so much spam I usually ignore the emails. Luckily I saw it today, the last day to do something about it. 

So here we are, now on WordPress. Which is probably for the better because it’s the king of this sort of thing. 

While the location has changed, I can promise you’ll still get the same quality fastpitch softball thoughts, musings and ideas. For better or for worse. 🙂

So welcome! I look forward to continuing to serve you. 

Softball skills are analog, not digital

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All of the players, and probably most of the parents by now, are too young to remember when radio dials were analog. Getting your favorite station tuned in was an art. You’d move the dial quickly to get it close, then move it very slowly until it sounded just right. Better radios also had a “fine tuning” knob that let you make smaller adjustments.

Where it really compares to softball is that once you had the station tuned in perfectly, there was no guarantee it would stay tuned in. The analog signal could “drift” a bit, at which point you’d have to re-tune it in. As compared to today’s digital radios where you set the correct numbers and they radio does all the work to lock it in and keep it locked in.

That’s why I say softball skills are analog. It would be nice if they were digital – you tune them in and they stay with you automatically. But the reality is your technique can slip just a bit, especially during the long season when there may not be time to practice and hone things as much as you’d like. You get off a bit, you start to worry and guess at corrections, and before you know it you’re further off than before. Soon it’s nothing but static.

That’s where a little in-season correction can help. Whether you do it yourself or go to see your coach for that particular skill, taking a little time to re-tune the skills can make a huge difference.

The value of using a private coach is he/she can take a look from the outside and compare what you’re doing to what you ought to be doing. It’s a little faster and easier than trying to diagnose it yourself. But the key is that comparison.

If you’re trying to do it on your own, don’t think about what you’re doing. Think about what you should be doing, and try to get back to that. Find the sweet spot on the “dial” and tune your skills to that. Before you know it you’ll be back on track.

Again, it would be nice if softball skills were digital. But they’re not. Everyone needs a little fine tuning now and then. Understand that they’re analog and make adjustments accordingly. You’ll have a much happier season.

Pitching around the big hitter

Tonight I was watching a high school softball playoff game. It was a great game – a real seesaw battle where the lead changed several times. Each time you thought one team was down something would happen and momentum would change.

While it was entertaining, it also brought up a situation worth discussing – whether or not to pitch to the other team’s big hitter.

As I recall, it came up three times during the game. The team in the field held a one- or two-run lead, while the offensive team had runners on second or second and third (depending on the inning) when their best hitter came to the plate. This is a girl who is a total gamer and can really put the bat on the ball.

I was standing with a few of the other spectators, and we all agreed the smart thing to do with first base open and less than two outs is walk this girl and pitch to the next one. Time after time, though, the coach decided to pitch to her. Each time the hitter went 0-2, then knocked a hit that score a run or two. The offensive team went on to win by three runs – which was fewer than the total number of RBIs that hitter had.

I can understand maybe taking a chance and pitching to her early in the game – match strength for strength. (Although in reality the defensive team wasn’t throwing their #1 pitcher, who I think was injured.) But after getting burned once, it seems that discretion is the better part of valor.

In my mind, if you’re going to lose, make someone else beat you. Not the other team’s best hitter, especially in a playoff game. If the bag is open, put that big hitter on and take your chances with the next one. It doesn’t always work out, but your odds are better. If you’re  really worried, maybe even walk her with bases loaded. Better to give up one run than two or three – or four.

What do you think? Would you go intentional walk? Or would you gut it out and pitch to that hitter?

Softball poem by one of my students

Thought I would share this with everyone here. It’s a poem written by one of my students, who is currently a 14U player who will enter high school in the fall. It does a great job of explaining the “striving” aspect of our sport from a player’s point of view. 

As has been said numerous times before, kids are not just short adults. It’s good for us coaches to see the game from their perspective now and then to remind us of why we do what we do. 
The Feeling of Success
Time after time, 
Pouring heart and soul into the game.
Giving everything, but it always ends the same.
Time after time, 
Admiring the other team as they celebrate with cheer.
We shake their hands, glancing at their smiling faces;
But as they shake our hands, only sadness will appear.
Time and time again, 
Trudging away, noticing the team taking pictures in the background.
The trophies in their hands are a token of their victory,
As we proceed to the car without a single sound.
And time continues to go on,
Shaking off the loss and trying some more.
Motivated by victory, motivated by determination. 
Triumph is what we look for. 
And one day, there is that time. 
The time we worked so hard to get, 
And the feeling is like no other, 
Because we know we’ve truly earned it!
— Carly Manshum (reprinted with permission)
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