No need to sacrifice speed for accuracy in fastpitch pitching
One of the most widespread, ongoing debates in fastpitch pitching is: which comes first – speed or accuracy? In other words, should pitchers focus on developing all the speed they can and worry about accuracy later? Or should they first make sure they can throw the ball for a strike, then try to add speed later?
Part of the answer, of course, is driven by the needs of whoever is in the debate. Instructors tend to like to focus on speed, because in the long term the pitcher’s best opportunities will come when speed is maximized. You don’t see too many accurate pitchers throwing 48 mph getting offered scholarships.
Team coaches tend to want accuracy first, because they don’t want their pitcher walking too many hitters. “We can’t defend a walk,” they often say. Although some of their teams can’t defend a ground ball or a pop-up either.
So what’s the answer? In my mind, neither. Focusing on either speed or accuracy is the answer to the wrong question. What you really want to focus on is the mechanics.
The ball doesn’t care where it’s thrown. It’s an inanimate object, so it will go wherever the pitcher sends it. Which means accuracy isn’t a goal, it’s a result. If you do the right set of movements, you will throw a strike. Lock in those movements and you will throw strikes repeatedly.
Focusing on accuracy usually gets in the way of a good pitch. It causes pitchers to slow their arms down, or let the ball get ahead of the elbow on going into release so they can “guide” the ball at release. Neither of those options is conducive to accuracy or speed.
When you slow the arm down, you allow more time for something to go wrong. Not only that, but slowing the arm down causes a loss of momentum, letting you change where the arm is headed. Whereas if you’re using good mechanics and maintaining arm speed the arm will be carried toward the right direction automatically by the momentum that has been generated.
Letting the hand get ahead of the elbow at release prevents the whipping motion that creates speed. It also requires the pitcher to think too much, because pushing the ball through release means you can push it in nearly any direction. If you’re pulling it through release your options narrow considerably.
Having good mechanics makes the direction of the pitch far more automatic while enabling the speed to be maximized. You shouldn’t need to guide the pitch, or force it to go anywhere. If you really have your mechanics on lockdown you should be able to pitch blindfolded – a challenge I put forth to every pitcher sooner or later.
When you let go of your conscious thoughts of trying to guide the ball and just focus on doing the right things at the right time and in the right order, good things happen. You can then place your focus where it belongs – on maximizing the amount of energy delivered to the ball at release.
The result is speed AND accuracy, all in one nice, neat package.
What about a pitcher’s confidence, you say? If she’s struggling to throw strikes in a game won’t she lose confidence? Probably. But if she’s getting pummeled in a game she’s going to lose confidence too. Confidence comes from knowing you put in the work and doing what you do to the maximum of your abilities. The more you are able to take command of the game as a pitcher, rather than just surviving by pushing strikes across the plate, the more your confidence will grow. Because you will feel like you’ve created success rather than avoided failure.
For any pitcher, the objective should be to optimize the mechanics. Don’t worry about where the balls goes at first, except to use that as a way of diagnosing problems with mechanics. Fix the mechanics, and the ball will go where you want it to, as fast as you’re capable of throwing it.
With that mindset, you will have a solid foundation to build from.
Posted on September 3, 2017, in Pitching and tagged accuracy, mechanics, pitching, speed. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.
Such a selfish article. Don’t worry about throwing strikes because her defense won’t make the play anyway. Yes, do not worry about the 8 other girls that make up what is called a “team “. How is any of the other young ladies supposed to improve if none of the batters have a chance to hit. Not to mention everyone involved with this game will lose interest because the we are focusing on the pitchers improvement.
The pitchers job is to provide pitches to get outs. Any way possible. Yes, maybe the defense struggles just as the pitcher. Do not teach pitcher to be upset that the defense made a error, instead teach her to be happy that she got a ground ball that her infielder could have made a out on or a pop up that her teammate could have caught. Not every play will be made. It’s about providing the teammate with the opportunity to make the play to get outs. As a team.
I understand what you’re saying, but that’s not the way to develop a pitcher – focusing on getting outs “any way possible,” including foregoing mechanics. If all you want is strikes so the hitters can hit you can put just about anyone in there to lay the ball in.
For pitchers to develop they need to stick with what they’re learning, even if they’re struggling for now. Talk to any great pitcher and they’ll tell you that’s what they did. They have to learn the proper mechanics, and they have to develop confidence in them in game situations. That won’t happen if all you’re worried about is whether the team will get outs today. The team will benefit more in the long run if the pitcher learns to be the best she can be.
No one said anything about pitchers being upset if their teammates make an error. That’s part of the fielders learning their positions. I think you misread what I said there.
I am from a small town where very few girls want to put the large amount of work in that it takes to pitch. Not all are capable either. So each team really only has 1 advanced pitcher. An ideal situation is to have multiple pitchers to substitute and hopefully find one that is throwing hard and accurate but we don’t have that option. So what is the alternatives? Have a walk fest where batters don’t get strikes to hit, fielders don’t get to attempt plays for outs. Or have the pitcher pitch to stay ahead in count. That means alternate speeds, controlled strikes to get ahead in count then open up a bit. However, strikes and outs are priority. The advanced pitcher is getting work, the defense is making plays and learning situations, batters are getting opportunities to improve as well by seeing strikes. Seems like a much more positive game. No sir, you did not speak of pitcher being upset at defense for errors. I was stating that, pitcher can feel accomplishment by getting that ground ball she’s pitching for or that pop up.
You definitely have a tough situation. What I posted applies to pitchers who are putting in the work and trying to become more than just an athletic girl who pitches. They need time to develop, and they need game experience, even if it means giving up a few more walks for a bit. If they are dedicated to developing their mechanics, however, that situation will change quickly and they will be an asset. Accuracy is a result, not a goal for them.
What you’re describing is different. To develop good mechanics you have to put in the time and effort, and be focused when you do. If you’re not doing that then it probably doesn’t matter how you get the ball there. I’ve seen that in high school games, where a “volunteer” pitcher is doing the job because someone has to do it. I think it’s pretty common in rec leagues too. I would agree those pitchers just need to get the ball over the plate.
Agree with you on pitchers inducing ground balls and popups. It’s not the pitcher’s job to strike everyone out. To me, an ideal inning is three pitches – three popups to first base, so if the first baseman drops the ball she can pick it up and step on the bag. An out is an out no matter how it is created.
A pitcher who can rack up double-digit Ks every game is a wonderful thing to have. But it’s not essential. Smart pitchers who can induce weak contact are very effective at every level.
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