One of the most exciting parts of pitching is the power to keep the hitter on their toes and guessing what kind of ball you’re going to send their way next.
The key to being a successful pitcher is to have a variety of tricks up your (throwing) sleeve 🙂 to keep the opposition guessing. Don’t be predictable – if you can get solid practice in your training drills and learn to mix up your pitching, the hitter will have no idea what to expect and you’ll have already won half of the battle.
Sure, a hard throw is a valuable thing, and throwing a fastball is going to make life hard for the hitter but if you throw a fastball on every pitch time after time, hitters are going to know exactly what to expect and get comfortable giving them the edge over you.
This is why pitchers need a strategy – it’s what makes pitching an artform and it’s one of the main reasons why people love watching and playing baseball.
In this guide, we’ve put together a list of considerations for pitchers to step up their strategies and win the battle at the pitching mound. These points mainly focus on the mental side of the game but also the tactical side.
Pitching Strategy #1: Know Your Opponent
There are many ways to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of the hitter you’re facing. If you’ve played against them before, you’ll have a rough idea of the way they like to swing.
Ask yourself the following:
- Do they like to swing early?
- Are they a pull hitter?
- Are they left-handed?
All of these considerations will give you a good idea of how to act.
This information can come from a number of sources. You may have faced that batter earlier in the season, or even in a previous season, so a good shared memory with your catcher is key.
At other times you’ll only have the previous innings to go off and at other times no experience at all. In these cases, it’s useful to have friends playing on other teams in the league who might be able to provide you with some information on the hitters you’ll be playing against.
Pitching Strategy #2: Watch The Pros
Start watching games, and I mean really studying the pitcher, and take notes.
What kind of pitches are they throwing against an upper-cut swinger, or against an all-round hitter. This will give you a blueprint for your own strategies.
It has to be said that this isn’t an easy thing to pick up because pitchers and hitters in the big leagues are always adapting their game plan, sometimes during an innings and predicting their behaviors can be tricky.
That said, if you study enough baseball, you’ll begin to recognize some pitching sequences and begin to grasp the tactics behind them. And then, take your newfound knowledge to the training field with some pitching targets to refine what you’ve learned and incorporate it into your game.
Pitching Strategy #3: Play To Your Strengths
What makes you a good pitcher? Maybe it’s your fastball with its unrivaled velocity, or perhaps you can throw a sweet knuckleball. Whatever you’re good at is going to give you the advantage, but it’s necessary to develop your weaknesses too in order to be able to mix it up at the pitcher’s mound.
Your strengths are going to score you strikes – they are the pitches with the best chance of being successful, so your game plan should save your best pitches for when it really counts. That’s not to say that you should throw “bad” or “weak” pitches at any point in the game.
Every pitch should have a reason and a method that ties into your strategy.
Pitching Strategy #4: Know The Situation
Let’s face it, sometimes game plans go out of the window.
You can approach a game with a set of tactics that just don’t work from the word ‘go’ and you need to make adjustments. Having a plan B is crucial.
The state of play can really impact your strategy and sometimes you’ll have to make tactical decisions on the spot in order to refocus.
Think about the following during the game – what’s the score? How long is left? How many runners are on the bases? Who’s up next? What are their strengths/weaknesses and how can they be exploited?
Pitching Strategy #5: Show The Batter Who’s Boss
Right from the off, your aim as a pitcher is to throw the hitter off their game. The leadoff hitter is the one that you want to intimidate. If you can contain the first batsman, you can really do some psychological damage to the rest of the team.
Be aggressive early on and aim for strikeouts in the opening innings to shatter the opposition’s morale and make them chase runs later in the game.
This will make them swing more wildly and erratically increasing your chances of getting more strikes. If you’re successful in the opening pitches, stay focussed – the last thing you want to do is get complacent and start giving away walks.
Another way to show the hitter who’s boss is to make them move around. Make them move their feet, their bat, and their eyes all the time to prevent them from getting into a rhythm.
Pitching Strategy #6: Mental Rehersal
You might think this is a load of garbage, but believe me it really works. If you can visualize yourself pitching the perfect ball straight into the path of your catcher’s glove, scoring a strike, it really helps you deliver the goods in real life.
Now, you can do this in the seconds leading up to the pitch, when you’re warming up, on your way to the game, in the shower, or the night before the game when you’re relaxing at home.
It’s something that professional athletes across all sports are encouraged to do as it really reinforces your technique.
Pitching Strategy #7: Optimize Your Timing & Anticipation
This is all about using your best pitches at the right moment. Ideally, you want to use your best pitches, or your best sequence of pitches against the more advanced hitters to prevent them from scoring runs.
You should be able to manage the weaker hitters without having to put in the extra effort so save your best for the big hitters and anticipate when they’re stepping up to the plate.
Timing is crucial – don’t rush your pitches as this can really throw you off rhythm. Breathe, think, relax. Take the time to work out your next move and remain in control. If things aren’t going your way, take a step back and a moment to talk to your catcher and get yourself back in the driver’s seat.
Final Thoughts On Your Pitching Strategy…
Pitching isn’t easy. Finding form and consistency is equally difficult.
If you get out on the field without a game plan, the likelihood is that things won’t go your way. The important thing is to be able to recognize that fact, remove yourself from the situation and assess what’s going wrong. Changing things up and getting back on top is what makes a great pitcher.
If you enter the field with a solid game plan and follow these steps, you’ll end up pitching like Clayton Kershaw and believe me, on those days the preparation and time you put into the tactics is all worthwhile.