Pitching Techniques Simplified
The old axiom that “you could never have enough pitching” or
that “good pitching will always beat good hitting” is true even on
the youth level. I have made a point to develop my own
philosophy when teaching pitching. I’m the first one to admit that
I am far from an expert when it comes to pitching techniques.
But coaching youth baseball for as long as I have, I see some of
the same mistakes happen over and over again. Like I do with
hitting, I have always found that it is better to under coach rather
over coach as it comes to dealing with 10, 11, and 12 year-old
kids. Do not give the individual player too much to think about
when he is on the pitcher’s mound. I always have some kids on
my team who are superior athletes and their parents are paying a
fortune for pitching lessons at the nearby baseball facility. With
these kids, I try to leave them alone and try to find out quickly
who is receiving lessons. The majority of kids on my team every
year are not in a position to get these private lessons. With them,
I try to share my knowledge and keep it simple. Here are some of
the same things I see every year.
One of the biggest problems I see is youth pitchers being off
balance when they deliver the pitch. And a lot of times it is not
even their fault. Many coaches are hung up on having their
pitchers pitch from the full wind up. I have found that with
young players this throws them off balance a lot and they are
better served by pitching from the stretch position. Years ago the
great New York Yankee pitcher, Ron Guidry, was about to give
up on his major league pitching career. At the time, his manager,
Billy Martin, noticed his wind up was a little out of whack. He
convinced him to pitch from the stretch position. He did this and
it changed his pitching career around.
Another interesting story is Don Larson and his perfect game
in the 1956 World Series. He did not quite pitch from the stretch,
but pitched without a full wind up. As of late, the Giants’, Tim
Lincecum, has experimented pitching from the stretch for a full
game. For young pitchers, I strongly encourage them to stay away
from the full wind up, at least for the first part of the season.
They can always work it in as the season goes on.
As far as it not being the youth pitcher’s fault about falling off
balance on the full wind up, let me explain what I see almost
every year. In our league, our field maintenance board members
have always done an outstanding job. The problem is on some
days the field is used from 10am to 10pm. Of course there is
always the raking and basic “touch it up” stuff done between
games. But with all the games that go on, a hole develops right in
front of the pitching rubber. When the pitcher is in his wind-up
and pivots forward, his foot goes into this hole and his complete
body is thrown out of whack. He tries to regain his balance when
his foot ends up in the hole, but many times he is handicapped
trying to throw strikes. Of course many of you will say that it is
the job of the league to have the field in game condition. This is
true, but even filling in the hole between games I see the same
thing happen game after game. When the player is pitching from
the stretch position, he is already in front of the pitching rubber,
and when he delivers the ball his body is much more compact
and he has more control. I also think coaches worry that pitchers
who pitch from the stretch are sacrificing speed for accuracy.
This is an over-exaggeration, especially on the youth level.
Remember on the youth level, strikes are much more important
There are other basics that come up every year. Youth pitchers
will also start with their feet too wide or too narrow when they
are beginning their wind up. Their feet should be about shoulder
length apart. And many times they will start straight legged when
they should have some bend in their legs. Instead of using the
terms to my players like “bending your knees” I like to tell them
to have “soft knees” when they do their wind-up. I love to
reference the old cartoon character Gumbee, describing how I
like my pitchers to have that type of flexibility.
I used to correct pitchers if their initial step on the pitcher’s
mound is to the side rather than behind them, but I’ve changed
after seeing so many successful pitchers who do take their first
step to the side. I just want the players to make sure that this first
step is not too big as this can also throw them off balance. If it
sounds like I am adamant about my pitchers being balanced, it is
because I am. Many coaches will insist that their front leg come
up fairly high before it comes down as they release the ball. I
maintain every player will bring up their front leg at different
heights, and as long as they are effective and are not hurting
themselves, I leave them alone. With this said, I always look for
the pitcher to see if his front leg is not coming up as high as the
game goes on. If he is not bringing it up as high, this is an
indication of fatigue. Just as you have to watch the pitcher’s front
leg throughout the game, you have to watch the location of his
elbow. If the elbow is going well below his shoulder, this can be
problematic and can lead to potential injuries.
I have also noticed that when the front foot of the pitcher
does come down, many times it is not pointing directly at home.
plate where it should be. The player’s front foot will be going to
the left or the right and this will impede his accuracy. Coaches can
work on this in practice and can use props on the mound for the
pitcher to aim toward so he is doing the correct technique.
I try to learn a little more about pitching every year. Like
hitting, a lot of pitching is theory and if you talk to ten different
pitching coaches, you may get ten different theories. You can
discuss strategies with your youth pitcher but you must keep it
simple. On my team, we have a team rule for pitchers that if the
pitcher has 0-2 count on the batter with no one on base, he has to
throw a ball. I prefer to have my pitcher throw a slow pitch that
does not reach home plate, trying to get the batter to swing and
steal a strike out, than give up a two strike hit. This works, but
make sure you have your pitchers practice throwing a “short
pitch” so they don’t give up a hit on a mistake pitch. These
things, not last inning homeruns, keep me up at night.
Pitching techniques is not brain surgery, but in baseball it is
close. As youth coaches, you have to pick and choose exactly how
you want to approach pitching. Of course the better athletes will
be given more leeway, but I have found the best approach is to
keep it simple, and if you work less rather than more pitching
techniques, your pitchers have a better chance to be successful!
All Marty Schupak’s videos are also free on your local library’s Hoopla program.