Is Pitching Velocity The Enemy of Accuracy?
An interesting thing happens when people start talking about pitching, especially when they're talking about pitching velocity. It usually turns into a discussion of what somebody wants more; velocity or pitch-ability.
I'm going to define pitch-ability as being able to command your pitches and do a few other things to get hitters out. Those "few other things" include secondary pitches, good mental approach, throwing pitches in proper sequence, deception, and more.
I want to first say, that it should be very clear to you that it is indeed possible to train those "few other things" that I just mentioned even if you're spending most of your time on a faster fastball. We can make guys better at being smart, crafty, and deceptive pitchers while we're also jacking up the radar gun. This isn't too tough.
The first aspect of pitch-ability that we talked about though, is command, and that one is a little trickier. Most people assume that they can train one or the other; velocity or accuracy. Further, they think that one will negatively impact the other.
In some ways that is actually correct, but that shouldn't make you believe that you can't train both things very effectively.
Velocity and Accuracy Both Require Adjustments
First, it's important to note the following; many of the adjustments necessary for pitchers to throw with more velocity will require changes in the pitcher's movement patterns.
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That is to say that in order to throw the ball harder, a lot of pitchers will have to change the way they move and the way they throw. Particularly if the pitcher hasn't ever trained with a pitching velocity coach or been a part of a pitching program like Baseball Brains where they're trained to generate tons of energy on their way down the mound.
Changes to movement patterns (you may like the word mechanics) can definitely make it harder to control the ball in the short term. In this way, those who think that training velocity hampers their ability to command their pitches, are somewhat correct.
Second, a lot of coach's ideas about training accuracy revolve around slowing the pitcher down and teaching balance points and other atrocious mechanics. Essentially they like to teach them how to throw a dart; open the front side and push that thing at the glove.
If you think that these strategies make it tougher to throw the ball with high velocities, you're absolutely right.
Those are two truths in the argument that velocity and accuracy cannot be trained together.
I believe very intensely however, that if you stop the argument right there, you're leaving a lot on the table.
All Baseball Players Throw Hard and Accurately Every Day
When you're training a shortstop or a center fielder, are you training just one thing? Is it okay if the shortstop comes up and patty cakes the ball over to first so that he can be accurate? Is it okay if he explodes through the ball like a world class athlete and launches the ball twenty feet over the first baseman?
No, you have to train both. Your shortstop has to THROW HARD and be ACCURATE. So does every thrower on the team, from catcher to right field.
So why do we believe we can't do it with pitchers?
I've got an argument floating around in my head right now; "It's different because when we talk about pitching accuracy, it's much more precise than shortstop accuracy".
That's true, but it works on exactly the same principles. The training that it takes for a shortstop to learn how to command a baseball works the same way if he's standing somewhere else on the field. If that "somewhere" else is the rubber, he'll simply have to spend more time doing the training, but that doesn't make it different.
Ideas Don't Get Called Strikes, Where's The Action?
Specifically then, what the heck are we talking about doing?
First, I simply want you to understand that training a kid to throw hard does not disqualify them from being accurate. The two go together very nicely at every position.
Second, here are some quick tips about blending the two together:
Strengthen the body: This is where it all starts. In order to be athletic and explosive, you have to have a foundation of strength that will support it. An athletic move with no strength will be impossible to control. Many pitchers are trying to do things aggressively and their body simply can't hold it all together into release.
Ideas on strengthening the body: How To Work Out For Baseball
The core is ground zero for a body controlling ballistic movement: How To Strengthen Your Core For Baseball
Train front leg stability: Both legs really, but the front leg in particular. This isn't the same as strength but it does include strength. Balancing and stability drills on the front leg will create awareness in that leg and that will make it possible to explode down the mound while also controlling the direction of the explosion.
Read our article on Pitching 101: Teach Pitching Mechanics By Starting At The End
Learn how to throw wildly: Set targets five feet inside, five feet outside, same for high and low. Hit those targets while throwing the ball as hard as you can, and your body will begin to teach itself the adjustments necessary to move the ball back and forth and up and down. Slowly bring them in closer and closer until you're doing the same with the corners of the strike zone, and then back out again.
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Target train often, but with the right intent: Yes you can throw at targets and attempt to hit the strike zone, even while you're training velocity. To do it, throw to targets but never lose the intent to THROW HARD! So what if you miss, even if you miss a lot. You will slowly teach your body to hit the target, even while you're training velocity.
Increase pitching velocity in the offseason: It takes time to train skills; accuracy and velocity are both skills and combining them is a tough one to learn. Don't start a velocity program or start in with a new coach that's going to change your movement patterns a month before season. If you do, don't wonder why you can't throw strikes, adjustments and skill training takes time. Two months is more like it, but three is better.
Alright, there's the 5 tips I have for you for now. Please understand that velocity and accuracy CAN be trained together, but you must give it time.
Be patient, be consistent, and have a blast with the process of improving. It's okay to chart results, but observe only trends and don't become obsessed with short term or daily results. The true success of these strategies will show itself over time.