There are two main goals a pitcher should have in mind with each pitch. The first and most important goal is to locate your pitch. The second should be to get movement on the baseball. We just talked about missing the barrel in a recent post, which is another goal to work on. The best way to help you miss the barrel is to work on developing late and sharp movement.

Let’s talk about a curveball. A big, loopy curveball looks like it is a great pitch, but the truth is it really isn’t. If we throw a curve with a huge break, it makes us think we have a really good one. But if you can see the huge break on your ball, so can everyone else especially the hitter. The loopy curveball allows the hitter time to see it, reload, and drive it. When you’re younger, hitters will struggle with it because they are not disciplined. But as you get older and begin to face better hitters, you’re setting yourself up for failure. So how do you work on it? As we have mentioned in an earlier post, you work on the spin. The curveball should be thrown just like you’re throwing a fastball. That way your arm action is the same and you’re not tipping your pitch off to the hitter. The difference is in the release. One way to think about it is to try and show the catcher your middle and index fingers as you pull down on the curve. Don’t try to make the ball break a lot. Throw that pitch hard and keep throwing it hard to work on developing a sharper break. There are a number of drills to help you work on the spin and a number of different grips. Find what works best for you.

A good 2-seam fastball is a must have in my opinion. Why? Because if you can throw inside to hitters with movement, it helps open up the plate. Here’s what I mean. If you’re a RHP (Right Handed Pitcher) and you throw a 2-seam inside to a RHH (Right Handed Hitter), it should move towards him/his hands. If your 2-seam has a late break to it, it is difficult for the hitter to square it up and may often get slightly jammed. This then gets into the hitter’s mind and he will also share that with his teammates. Now they have to respect the pitch inside and what does that do? It opens up the outside of the plate. It makes it easier for you because a hitter can’t just look for pitches on the outer half. A hitter also has to back off the plate a little to give himself a chance if you throw inside. But again, a slow pitch with a lot of movement gives the hitter a chance to see it. However, some movement is better than no movement.

A change-up should be throw exactly like a fastball with the only difference being the grip. Again, we want to find a grip that not only slows the ball down, but has some movement and sink. And of course we want to make sure the spin looks like a fastball and not like a knuckleball or slider.

Work on your grips and keep throwing the ball hard to help teach yourself how to develop tighter spin. The goal is not to see how much the ball moves, but how late the ball moves. It a pitch moves 10 inches and slow, it’s not as affective because it can be seen more easily. But if your pitch moves even one inch at the last split second, it will miss the barrel more times than not.

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Great pitchers have great tempo. They control the game, get into a good rhythm, and have a great mound presence. Tempo is what keeps the game moving and helps rid the feeling of the game dragging on and on. Your team feeds off that and it helps them focus better both offensively and defensively.

When you’re on the mound, some people think having good tempo means you get right back on the rubber as soon as you get the ball back from the catcher. Yes that helps speed the game up, but it almost looks forced and makes pitchers think more about getting on the rubber quickly as opposed to staying in control. Remember, you as the pitcher are the one who is in control of the game. That’s one of the main reasons pitching is so important. It’s totally fine to get back on the rubber quickly, get the sign for the next pitch, throw, and then repeat. If you can do that, great. But it’s also totally fine if you take a second or two to take a breath, clear your mind, take a look around, and then engage the hitter. Your mind can sort out a number of things within a couple seconds. This allows you to be fully in control of your body and mind before you get the next pitch. Now I’m not saying you have to do it this way, I’m just letting you know it’s ok to take some time out there. If you’re throwing strikes, getting guys out, and taking a few extra seconds between each pitch to get your mind right, no one is going to care. That is still keeping a good tempo.

What players and coaches can’t stand is when you walk slowly around the mound, rub the ball, take some more time, get on the rubber slowly, and throw a ball. Now you’re thinking too much which is why some coaches teach pitchers to get the ball back from the catcher and go straight to the rubber. It forces pitchers to have some kind of tempo, again to keep the game moving and your teammates engaged.

There are plenty of times when you need to take some extra time between pitches and in my opinion, do it and don’t feel bad about it. Now don’t do that on every pitch, but there are some pitches during a game that require more focus and more energy. For example, when you have runners on base, you feel more pressure. Those “pressure” pitches take more out of you whether you realize it or not. Those are times where you may want to take an extra couple seconds between pitches to make sure your mind is sharp and focused on the next pitch.

Having a good tempo but not being able to throw strikes, get ahead of the count, and miss locating your pitches, doesn’t do anyone any good. If you try to move too quickly to keep the game moving but aren’t in control, then having a good tempo is meaningless. You must be in control of your mind and your breathing before you’re ready to engage the hitter. This should only take a second for your mind to get where you want, maybe a few seconds during times of crisis on the mound. This allows you to be in control of the game which is what having a good tempo is all about.

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We all want to throw 95mph and blow it by hitters, but the truth is that’s not in the cards for most of us. It makes us feel good when we throw a pitch and the hitter swings and misses. It makes us feel even better if we can throw a fastball that the hitter can’t get around on in time; in other words, throwing it by him.

I will say it’s a great mindset to have if you tell yourself that you’re just going to throw it by this particular hitter. It means you’re confident, aggressive, and unafraid of the moment. But hitters will eventually catch up to your fastball if you’re not hitting your location or are struggling with your off-speed. No matter how hard you throw, eventually they’ll get the timing down. Think about the pros. How many times have you seen a hitter turn on a 95+mph pitch and drive it over the fence? Even 100mph? Happens all the time.

Homeruns and hits will happen, it’s just a part of the game. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a “plus” fastball, there are times in a game when the right call is to just rear back and blow it right by the hitter. But for the rest of us, we can’t always get away with that. This is why our goal shouldn’t be to miss the bat, it should be to miss the barrel of the bat.

The barrel of the bat is where the sweet spot is, so if a hitter connects with the ball on the sweet spot then it will most likely be a hard hit. A hitter’s goal is to hit the ball hard which is why they want to square it up on the barrel. When the ball is hit hard consistently, you have a better chance of getting on base. As pitchers, our job is to do what we can to prevent the hitter from hitting the ball hard. Simple concept, right? As usual, easier a=said than done.

So what does “Miss the Barrel” mean? It’s a mindset. We’ll talk more in depth later about why movement on pitches is so important, but it ties into this idea we’re discussing. We want to throw pitches that can move to make it more difficult for the hitter to hit it on the barrel. For example, a hard fastball that is coming straight into the zone is easier to hit than a fastball that’s moving left or right and/or sinking (changing planes). The idea is we want to try and develop late movement on our pitches. The later the pitch moves, the more difficult it is for the hitter to make an adjustment and square it up. Remember, we want the hitter to put the ball in play. That’s why you have a team behind you; their job is to make plays and help keep runners off the bases. If the hitter puts the ball in play but didn’t hit it on the barrel, it makes it easier for our team to make those plays. Besides, if you try to throw it by every hitter and try to strike them all out, your pitch count is going to be a lot higher a lot sooner. Think about it this way. If you strike a guy out, that means you have to throw 3 pitches at a minimum. In order to get 1 out, you have to throw a minimum of just ONE pitch. We save our arm when hitters put the ball in play within the first 3 pitches which is why a good goal to keep in mind when facing a hitter should be to get him out in 3 pitches or less. If that’s our goal, it means we are focused on making quality pitches and trying to get hitters to get themselves out, rather than trying to just strike them out. It also helps keep the tempo of the game going and keeps your teammates behind you more involved in the game. Your teammates like making plays for you, so let them. That’s what they’re there for.

You may be thinking that it’s easy for you to just throw it by guys since you have an above average arm and that maybe your team makes too many errors so you don’t want the ball to be put in play. We’ve all been there. The longer you play the game of the baseball, the better the hitters are going to get and the better your defense behind you is going to get. A good team trusts each guy to do his job and by pitching to contact, you’re telling your team you believe in them to make the plays. Sometimes that’s all it takes to make a team better, the belief in each other.

So remember, the goal is to miss the barrel. Some people say pitch to contact, which I don’t disagree with, but we want to eliminate hard contact. We want the guy to hit it off the end of the bat or closer to the handle, to hit the top part of the ball or get to much underneath it. The idea is to make the game easier for us as we are always looking for ways to simply the game. We’ve all been in the position where we told ourselves on the mound that we don’t want to let the hitter hit the ball, that we need to strike him out. Not true. We want him to hit the ball. The advantage is on our side. Depending on the level you’re competing at, a good hitter is hitting .300. That means he is getting out 70% of the time. I’ll take those odds any day of the week. Make him put the ball in play.

Do what you can to miss the barrel. The focus is on throwing strikes with movement to prevent the hitter from squaring the ball up. If you can do that, I guarantee you will start seeing yourself pitch deeper into the game. We all want to pitch more innings, right? The game will move faster. Hitters will get more frustrated. Your teammates will love when you’re on the mound and when the team believes in you, they suddenly start playing better for you.

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