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How to Throw Strikeouts as a Baseball Pitcher
How to Pitch in Baseball
People think that you have to be able to throw hard to be a baseball pitcher, but velocity is only a part of being an effective pitcher. Other factors like pitch location, changing pitch speeds and using pitches that move (like curveballs or sliders) are also useful when pitching in baseball.
Fans of baseball know all too well some of the big name strikeout pitchers of recent and past history. I vaguely remember seeing Nolan Ryan strikeout Ricky Henderson to notch his five thousandth strikeout in Major League Baseball. I do remember that Ryan was able to overpower the opposing hitters with a fastball that often flirted with one hundred miles per hour on the radar gun. Of course he also had a nasty slider to compliment his blazing heater.
Younger fans will know about guys like The Big Unit Randy Johnson or probably Roger Clemens as guys who racked up a bunch of strikeouts whenever they pitched.
In today’s game it is not uncommon to see a pitcher hit 100 MPH on the gun, some teams might even have more than one guy who can do it.
To be successful on the mound a pitcher will work on his craft in many different ways, some we will dig into a little bit deeper.
To last a long time in professional baseball a pitcher will need strong mechanics to deploy; these mechanics will be their foundation and without them success would be very difficult. Too many pitchers have had poor or inconsistent mechanics which have led to some serious arm or shoulder injuries. Some of these injuries can briefly derail a promising career, others can end them.
Pitching places a ton of strain on an arm; this strain can be too much for the fragile ligaments in an elbow. I know the reports of pitchers getting elbow ligament replacement surgery, otherwise more commonly referred to as Tommy John surgery, have gone up over the years in professional baseball. This can be because of poor mechanics, too much throwing, not enough rest between pitching sessions or some combination of any of them.
One of the biggest things I tell any pitcher I am working with is to throw with their legs more than their arms, I know it sounds crazy but it is true. Pitchers generate a huge chunk of their power from driving off of the pitchers’ rubber on the mound and it is crucial to utilize those much larger leg muscles instead of relying on the smaller arm and shoulder ones.
Are you a fan of strikeouts in baseball?
My teenage son is working on his third season of pitching in his second year of high school baseball. In the off season I got him some additional training videos (because sometimes a Dad telling his son something won’t always sink in) and they too stressed the importance of using your legs to drive a pitch.
After watching the videos, and doing the exercises, I caught him for the first time and the ball just jumped out of his hand. He was able to generate more velocity by re-focusing how his legs were used in his mechanics.
In his last outing he threw almost one hundred pitches, last season he ran out of steam by the time he got to seventy because he was relying too much on his arm. I also told him that with his increased velocity he would record more strikeouts because the hitters had less time to react to what he was throwing. In this game he struck out five hitters, four of them were with fastballs he threw and their swings couldn’t make contact with the pitch.
Hitters have home runs to get their fans on their feet celebrating, for pitchers it is the strikeout. There is something about a pitcher striking out a hitter that gets a reaction from their fans and teammates. For a pitcher you won the battle and your opponent has no choice but to take his bat to his dugout and sit down, there is something exciting about these small victories.
The biggest downfall to a strikeout pitcher is a pitch count. Theoretically a pitcher can get through an inning with only throwing three pitches, one per hitter, but this is incredibly rare. Innings near ten pitchers is a very efficient inning for a pitcher and will allow him to stay in the game longer than if he was throwing twenty pitches an inning. For a strikeout pitcher having a ten pitch inning is difficult because striking out the side requires a minimum of nine pitches. Typically pitchers who record a majority of their outs via a strikeout don’t log as many innings as pitchers who pitch to contact, this is a byproduct of being a strikeout pitcher.
Another way of pitching, that might not be as cool as a pitches’ velocity, is focusing on movement. Many Major League hitters can catch up to any good fastball if it is thrown right down the middle of the plate. However, if you can throw in the middle nineties and the ball will have noticeable movement down or to one side of the plate it becomes an even more effective pitch.
Many pitchers have made a career out of becoming a master of pitch movement. They rely on convincing a hitter that the pitch is a good hittable pitch, right before it darts out of the strike zone and forces a swing and miss or make weak contact usually leading to an out.
Possibly the most important thing for a pitcher is location, even more valuable than velocity or movement. Pitchers focus on staying away from a hitter’s hot zone, the area where they like the ball and can cause the most offensive damage.
It is also important to be able to pitch inside or outside depending on where the catcher is setup; fielding positions are usually configured based on how a hitter is being pitched. If a pitcher misses his spot the hitter can hit it hard and possibly to an area of the field where the defense hasn’t shifted a fielder.
Where it gets incredibly enjoyable for a diehard baseball fan (like me) is when you see a pitcher who is great at all three and can utilize them at will. Witnessing these pitchers, being masters of their craft, is amazing for a baseball fan and I can’t help but be excited about it.