Friday, January 28, 2011

Breaking Up Home Plate

Though the course of a season, there are going to be games when a pitcher feels “locked in” or “in the zone” and other times when he struggles to find the strike zone with any consistency. While confidence plays a big role, if you are in a slump, how do you get out of it?

Depending on how long you have been pitching, it’s likely you have heard the expressions “quit trying to be too fine” or “quit aiming the ball.” Both are meant to remind pitchers their job is to throw and not aim.

Home plate is 17 inches wide so you do not have to throw a perfect strike on the very last inch of the outside corner. Though some pitchers think if they don’t hit the very edge, the baseball will be hit 400 feet and that is the problem.

When pitchers are scared of what will happen if the batter actually makes contact that is when it seems the walks start to pile up.

Here is some advice I used when I played to focus on the batter, home plate and cut down on my walks. Break up home plate. Focus on certain areas and pitch to the area, not to the inch. The count will dictate how many areas to focus on and the numbers of areas change almost every pitch of an at-bat. Let me explain.

At the start of an at-bat, break home plate into five sections – the inside and outside corners, down the middle, middle-in and middle-away. Each section is roughly three inches wide and now gives you a target to throw to rather than a corner to aim for.

If you throw a strike, stay with the five section plate. If you throw a ball, shrink home plate into four sections – down the middle makes up two, the outer fourth and the inner fourth. You have created a four inch area to target.

Say you throw a strike on the one ball, no strike pitch (1-0), stay at the four sections. If you throw another ball and the count is now two balls and no strikes (2-0), shrink again to three sections – the outer third, inner third and down the middle. Each area is now roughly six inches wide.

Falling behind to three balls and no strikes (3-0) really eliminates any zones as your focus should simply be throwing the ball over the plate.

I don’t want to confuse anybody, so here are rules to remember.

If you are even in the count (meaning there are an equal number of balls and strikes), use five zones. If you are ahead in the count (you have thrown more strikes than balls, 0-1, 1-2, 0-2), use five zones. If there behind in the count by one ball (you have thrown one more ball than strike, 1-0, 2-1), use four zones. If you are behind by two balls (2-0, 3-1) or you have a full count (it is important to throw a pitch over the plate rather than issue a walk), use three zones.

These suggestions aren’t written in stone. In fact, I often suggest to some of my current pitchers to shrink the zone after a walk. If you just walked a batter and don’t feel like you have the control you need or want, start out with three zones. Developing confidence in the middle of a game is important. Maybe in the first inning you start each at-bat looking at three zones, but by the third inning, you feel more in control and are back to four or five.

As you probably already know, we want to stay out of the middle of the plate at all times. Pitches thrown in the middle of the plate are typically hit the hardest and the farthest. The only time it’s alright to pitch in the middle zones is if we have fallen behind three balls and no strikes as discussed (though as you progress up the baseball ladder, hitters will swing on 3-0 counts, so you have to be careful).

If you struggle with control problems regularly or in the middle of a game, ask yourself if you are focusing on certain areas of home plate or are you aiming to an exact spot.

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