Hitting Is Hard, But Pitchers Can Make It Even Harder
Everybody is always looking for an edge, some secret way to succeed where others have failed. In baseball it's a never ending quest. Looking for clues and reading long pages of statistics to find an advantage that's escaped everybody else’s gaze. There's always a new drill or a new training device that claims to provide that one benefit that's been holding an entire generation of players back from reaching the next level.
The one place that baseball players don't search deeply enough is the one place that sometimes truly explains the game, science. More and more there are massive studies and even concerted movements which are bringing new statistics and analysis to the forefront of baseball research. Moneyball was a popular book and an even more popular movie. Brad Pitt should win an Oscar for the simple fact that he made a movie about baseball budgets and complex statistics into a smashing Hollywood success.
Combining Science With Art
What does all of this have to do with how to pitch? It turns out that there are, in fact, a few secrets to success buried in hidden places (or scientific journals), you just have to dig around a little bit.
So what's the secret to dominating every hitter that comes to bat? Ready for it? Random speed variation.
Allow me to explain. There's a lot that goes into a batter's attempt at hitting a baseball. Since we're not interested too much in the science of that part of it, let's boil it down in the simplest way we can. A batter attempts to track a baseball with his eyes from the pitcher's hand, to the point of impact with his bat.
Unfortunately, this is impossible. It isn't physically possible for a human's eye to track an object moving as fast as an average pitch moves, at the angle that it is traveling through their line of vision. Most batters lose track of the baseball at about five to eight feet out from the plate. They simply lose site of the baseball with their eyes because it is moving too fast.
How To Use A Hitter's Eyes Against Him
How does this help a player know how to pitch?
Well the fact that it's impossible to track a baseball all the way to the bat means that the batter has to project how fast the ball is travelling in order for him to effectively meet it with the bat. Science shows us that the true job of the hitter at the plate is predicting the speed of the pitch, and basically guessing how high the ball will be when it crosses the plate.
The batter will know enough about where the pitch will be horizontally (in or out), because the bat is long enough to correct for any slight miscalculation. However, a mistake in predicting how high the pitch will be when it crosses the plate is deadly because the bat isn't thick enough to compensate for bad judgment related to the height of the ball.
What's the one thing that has the most impact on how high the ball will be when it enters the impact zone? The speed of the pitch.
How Does Random Speed Change Work?
In 2002, Rob Gray from Arizona State tested this theory with a virtual hitting simulation. In the first study, he randomly varied the speed of the ball from 70 to 80 MPH, and in the second test the balls were thrown at only two speeds: 75 MPH and 85 MPH.
In the first test, where the speed of the balls was random, batters hit 0.030. The decimal place is in the right spot there.
In the second test, where there were only two speeds being thrown, the batters faired far better and hit the balls four times as much for an average of 0.120. Random speed changes make hitting almost impossible.
We know how to pitch now then, right?
That's All We Need To Know, Let's Go!
We can go out and throw pitches with a lot of random speed changes and batters will only hit 0.030 off of us? Well not quite.
The pitches in Rob Gray's experiment were being delivered from a machine which gave the hitters no other cues as to how fast the pitch was going to be. On the mound, a pitcher will almost always give the hitter visual cues as to what pitch he's throwing and how hard he's throwing it. The game itself will also give the batter cues, and make it more likely that he'll guess the correct speed of the pitches.
Arm angle, arm speed, the count, the game situation, all of these will be factored in to make the speed of the upcoming pitch a little less random. Every pitcher also has tendancies that can be observed and studied.
The key, the true secret to dominating every hitter that steps into the batter's box, is mastering the skill of random speed variation. This is truly how to pitch to succeed the most often. Mastering the skill means two things; knowing when and how to vary the speeds of your pitches, and hiding the visual cues that might let the hitter know that a speed change is occurring.
So How Do We Pitch With Random Speed Changes?
Here's a few tips on how to pitch without tipping off the hitter to speed changes:
– Throw all your pitches from the same arm angle
– Throw all your pitches with the same arm speed
– Make your mechanics and delivery exactly the same for every pitch
– Hide any potential cues related to finger placement on the ball (i.e. fingers raised for a curveball or any other grip that the hitter might see before delivery)
The first part is very important also, we must be varying speeds and we must be doing it randomly.
This means using a changeup, splitfinger, or another change of pace pitch at random times. This also applies to breaking pitches. Remember, we want to eliminate as many cues as we can from the batter's mind. This means that things like count and situation should rarely prohibit the pitcher from throwing an off speed pitch.
In fact, throwing a change up in a “fast ball count” might provide the random speed change we're after and thus be the most effective pitch in that situation. Let's spell out a few of the keys to achieving random speed changes:
– Develop good off speed pitches that are delivered exactly like a fastball
– Use off speed pitches and breaking balls in counts and situations where they wouldn't normally be thrown
– Don't just throw two speeds, slow and fast. Develop pitches which land in between those two speeds and throw them just like a fastball
– Never become predictable, always vary the timing and counts in which you use off speed and breaking pitches
-- Throw all of your pitches out of the same tunnel, or hitter's vision circle. More on this later
Use Random Speed Changes To Elevate Your Performance
Out of all the things that pitchers can focus on, random speed variations may very well be the secret to success. We've established that truly random speed changes make it nearly impossible to hit. Therefore it should be every pitcher's goal to come as close to that as possible on the mound.
By the way, the experiment we mentioned above used only straight pitches. Develop a good changup off of an accurate and firm fastball, deliver it exactly like that fastball, and the hitters won't have a chance.
If you're wondering how to pitch the most effective way possible, look no further than the old changeup. A lot of pitchers never take the time to truly master a good changup, now science has proven that it could indeed be the secret to true pitching