Struggle to Miss Bats, or Dependably Get Outs: It’s Up to You

On pitching, we know the best way for a pitcher to get outs is to avoid allowing balls into play. This means the strikeout. Amateur pitchers, because of their lack of polish, development, and even need generally get into the middle of high school with two pitches: a fastball and some kind of breaking ball or change of pace.
Strikeouts are glorious, but the idea is to get the job done as efficiently as possible, and there are certain limitations and considerations that need to be understood by youths learning what they can do on a mound.
There are two provisos to my program today that you need to know: 1) I am not a kinesthesiologist or certified trainer. In other words, don’t blame me if you blow out your arm! I do not recommend anyone throw breaking balls under age 16. Pitching can be a dangerous activity, but it is also good for arm and bone strength and it has been shown that being active while young can provide benefits for a lifetime. 2) Not missing bats at lower levels does not impress baseball scouts. But that’s besides today’s point: you want to stay on the mound and you want to have better command and control.
Control is the ability to throw strikes. Command is the ability to throw quality strikes, to throw strikes where you want them to be located. There’s a big difference, and many pitchers never get to the point of good command.
My point here is that I want to help young pitchers to understand that they are going to play on many bad fields and there will be misplays behind them. We can talk about channeling emotions another time, but there is a strategy they can employ to have better control, to throw more strikes, and that is to work on a slider rather than the curveball as their feature breaking ball.
The slider is easier to control than the curveball, for a couple of reasons: First, the curve is necessarily an off-speed pitch. It takes time to learn how to throw off-speed deliveries with similar arm action–you don’t want to “telegraph” what’s coming by radically changing your motion to achieve the pitch. It’s a giveaway that will have the opponents jumping out of their spikes to take a whack at the offering. Second, it’s an elaborate set of movements to get the ball to have the action you are seeking. It takes a lot of practice to begin to control a curveball as a teenager. These are gross- and fine-motor skills combined. Three, if your hands are not inordinately large–with long fingers–it will be a struggle to consistently control the pitch. Pitchers with large hands are able to hold the ball more lightly while still maintaining control. With a lighter touch they are able to let the ball go more freely, which means the ball will spin faster, causing better movement as the seams are caught by air currents on its way home.
Finally, the slider may be a superior pitch. Because you’re throwing it hard there isn’t the same chance of advertising a change in arm action. Because it is thrown hard it can mimic or appear to be a fastball, but dips off or across the strike zone. So it is a combination, or synthesis, of what is good about both fastballs and curveballs: it has velocity approaching the fastball while providing the deception and action of a breaking ball. It is easier to throw for quality strikes. It is simpler to cut or “pull through” a fastball than it is to snap off an old-fashioned.
I get into the particulars in the video. On with the show!

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