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Game Variables

Posted on April 18, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

With the Lokator System a pitcher's command can be graded, pitch sequences and selection taught, then practiced and put into competition with tools provided by the Academy. It is a big accomplishment to learn and execute in the bullpen, but games will offer many more variables for pitchers to recognize and react to.  Our goal for this blog is to identify and defend against the variables that make pitching in games so much harder than throwing a bullpen in practice.

Here at Lokator HQ we see pitchers hitting a higher percentage of Lokations in practice sessions than in game situations.  Each blog post will consider a different variable pitchers will have to contend with during a game that is not there in bullpens.  Without game success it doesn't matter how well you throw in practice! 

Throwing a bullpen in practice is similar to a hitter taking batting practice on the field.  Both are controlled environments where far fewer variables come into play.  Both BP and bullpen work can benefit muscle memory and confidence, but you must understand the different variables between practice and the game to be a successful pitcher.   

Its common for a pitcher to command multiple pitches and Lokations during bullpens, then struggle with those exact same pitches and Lokations in games.  In bullpens pitchers only have to think about themselves and the catcher's target.  This makes it easier to repeat mechanics, keep good rhythm, and stay focused on the current pitch only.  Confidence builds in the bullpen and when game variables are introduced pitch command isn't as good.  

Its also common for a slumping batter to hit multiple line drives and even home runs during BP before the game and then continue to struggle during the game.  In BP hitters are seeing pitches at the same speed, movement, and Lokation on every pitch.  This allows hitter's timing and mechanics to be consistent on every swing.  Confidence builds during BP and in the game when pitch command, sequencing, and selection are introduced its back to the slump.  

The first step is to recognize the difference between the bullpen and the game.  It is easier adjusting to game variables once pitchers understand what to look for.  Experience then becomes the teacher and the same mistakes are not repeated.

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Mound Inconsistencies

Posted on April 12, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

           

There are a number of different situations mound inconsistencies can come into play as a game variable. For younger pitchers there is rarely a bullpen mound that is the same as the game mound.  Normally starting little league pitchers warm up on the side down an outfield line without a mound at all.  Release points will differ when moving from a flat surface to a raised mound with a declining slope.  Pitchers should focus on finding game mound release points just as much as loosening their arm when throwing warm up pitches.

Normally when throwing a bullpen in practice you are going to start and finish the session without sharing the mound with another pitcher so you don't have to deal with other pitcher's foot holes, this is never the case in a game situation.   If you feel these holes are affecting pitch Lokation you must make an adjustment to overcome the situation instead of letting it become a mental block and loosing focus.

Adjustments include

  • Fill in the hole between pitches so your foot is flat on the dirt.
  • Make a bigger hole so you foot doesn't slide into another hole.
  • Move to a different spot on the rubber.  
  • DO NOT shorten or lengthen your stride

Other pitcher's foot holes in front of the rubber and in landing areas can affect 

  • Balance, if half of your foot is in a hole and the other half is not. 
  • Weight shift, if your foot is half on the rubber and half in a hole.
  • Direction, if you move to a different spot on the rubber.
  • Mental focus, if your too concerned with the mound.

Relief pitchers will have to pay special attention to game mound conditions because they are often the 4th, 5th, or 6th pitcher to throw on that mound.  Relievers also generally have less time to adjust to conditions when they enter the game because outings are much shorter than starters.  If you come in the game in relief make sure to inspect the surface for any holes you think might be a problem before you throw any warm up pitches.  There is no time limit for warm ups so don't rush through the allotted pitches, take your time and do some ground keeping if need be.

As pitchers get older, generally bullpen and game mounds are built with clay and have more stable surfaces, especially after high school.  But this general rule does not mean there will be no adjustment from the bullpen mound to the game mound.  Sometimes the home grounds crew will give the visitors bullpen a different slope on purpose to give the home team an advantage.  Other times the visitors pen is given the once over with a rake and called game ready.  Both instances will require a conscious effort to find a good release point during warm up pitches.

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Emotions

Posted on April 12, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

There is very little emotion in bullpen work during practice compared to game situations, mostly because competition has not been involved up to this point.  Emotions can play a big part in the outcome of a game and can be a huge key to success.  Learning to control negative emotions and knowing when to show positive emotion is the first step. 

There is a fine line between showing positive emotion like a fist pump after a big strikeout to end the inning and showing the other team up, like doing a little jig on the mound after the first out of the game.  Positive emotion in the right circumstances can fire up the team and build momentum in the game.  Showing the opponent up can actually light a fire underneath them and build momentum in the opposite direction.  

When things go bad on the mound, and believe me, things will go bad for as long as your in the game, you have to be able to keep negative emotions from showing in body language as much as possible.  There is rarely a good time to "show" negative emotion and these include kicking the dirt, slumping shoulders, rolling eyes, raising arms, etc.  These actions tell everyone in the park that you are loosing control.  It gives your team less confidence in you and the opponent more confidence in themselves.

When things are going well on the mound it will not be as challenging to control emotions as it is when things are not going your way.  But choose your spots wisely when it comes to screaming out a big "LETS GO", pumping fists, pulling the chainsaw cord, or giving Tiger's Woods patented upper cut.  More times than not you want to act like you've been there and done that before when possible.  If you don't show the positive emotional body language often, when you do, it will fire your team up even more! 

Recognize when game emotions run high so you understand when you need to defend against letting negative emotions show in body language.  We've listed a few examples of high emotional situations below: 

  • A tournament game
  • Close score, late in a game
  • Big rivalry games
  • Bad calls by umpires
  • Top ranked opponent
  • Big crowd

Use the Lokator Bullpen App to create competition among friends and teammates and work on controlling emotions internally and externally in practice.  Don't get too high or too low while competing and try to stay even keeled whether you are performing the way you would like or not.  Emotions do not show up in the scorebook but they can definitely help determine the outcome of the game.

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Scouting

Posted on April 12, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

Scouting reports are rarely used or talked about during bullpen sessions while they can play a much bigger role in the game.  When a hitter comes up to bat that has hit a first pitch fastball in the gap earlier in the game, your pitch sequence should be more likely to change for that hitter later in the game.  Whether you realize it or not, memory alone will act as scouting in the game much more than in practice.     

Up until now, the majority of pitchers and coaches have used the term scouting as a tool to represent what  the hitters' strengths and weaknesses are.  It is actually more important to practice with a scouting report of yourself in mind.  You should recognize what you do well first and then take the hitter into consideration.  If it is obvious that the hitter struggles with the change up and you can't come close to throwing a change up for a strike, what good does that do you?

You need to understand what you do well so you know what to rely on in game situations.  But it is also important to know what your weaknesses are so you understand what you need to work on the most during practice.  As the old saying goes, your either getting better or worse, and it's always beneficial to know what you're improving on and what you haven't been able to accomplish yet.   

The Lokator Bullpen App will be your own personal scouting service so you can practice with purpose instead of only using scouting for games.  Lokation statistics will tell you what Zones, pitches, and sequences you can command the best and how you rank among others in the database.  This revolutionary App will give you hard evidence of what you do best so you can apply it in games. 

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Umpire

Posted on April 12, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

There is never an umpire calling balls and strikes in the bullpen.  What you or your coach may see as a strike in practice, an umpire could call a ball in the game.  Depending on how you deal with calls you don't agree with, this variable could be a game-changer.  

It is important to get to know what kind of strike-zone the umpire has and use it to your advantage.  If they are giving you strike calls in the Chase Zones then live in them if you can command it.  If the Blues are not giving the you strike calls in Chase Zones then you need to adjust to their Zone and command sections of the Go Zones.

If you show negative body language towards a home plate umpire or argue with a call there is a good chance your strike-zone will shrink for remainder of the game.  Most umpires know when they miss a call although you will rarely hear one admit a mistake after the fact.  Umpires never reverse a strike or ball and rarely reverse any call so it most often hurts you to show everybody how bad you think the umpire is. 

Before the Lokator Bullpen statistics there was no competition invoved or documentation of how well you threw on the side.  Now with someone else keeping stats during your bullpen sessions that you may not agree with all the time, you can work on controlling body language and overcoming bad calls. Umpires are needed when competition is involved.  So by having someone record Lokator Bullpen stats, you can also mature towards umpires in practice.   

Umpires are also blamed for bad outings more often than they should be.  Very rarely does a pitcher come out of a bullpen session blaming someone else for what happened. You should learn to focus on your performance in the game and not the umpire, just like in bullpen sessions.  Document what you could have done better and pick bullpens out of the Lokator Bullpen App that apply.  Then practice it, check your scores, and make adjustments accordingly.

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Hitter

Posted on April 12, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

One of the most obvious variables that differ from the bullpen to the game is that there is no live hitter in the box when you throw on the side.  Bullpens do not simulate times when your confidence has been a little shaken and a good hitter steps in the box.  Recognize what state your confidence is in, the game situation, and the hitter in the box.  

Hot hitters or hitters who have good numbers against you can be especially troublesome for your ability to command Lokations.  Players you have confidence against or are slumping can help you command Lokations.  Sometimes pitchers struggle throwing inside off the plate in the Purpose Zones when a hitter is in the box.  Often times younger pitchers can be intimidated by the size of the hitter in the box.

Sometimes pitchers and catchers can give hitter's more credit than they deserve during games and nibble at the corners early in the count.  Maybe you are being too fine towards the edges of the plate with off speed while even or behind in the count.  Whatever the situation, you need to identify and practice pitch sequences with hitters in mind.

Try to imagine different hitters you've faced in the past during side sessions.  Remember sequences you used to get individual hitters out and execute them in practice as well.  Build an arsenal of patterns your confident in and command Lokations in relation to the count.  

Tag bullpen sequences you practice with the Lokator Bullpen App to certain hitters and file it away for safe keeping.  If you know a hitter loves to swing at the first pitch fastball then practice pitching backwards or executing fastballs towards the Chase Zones 5/6 earlier in the count.  Match successful sequences with faces!

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Game Situation

Posted on April 12, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

Game situations are the most diverse set of variables that differ from the bullpen to the game.  Every at bat in a game will represent a new pitch sequence so ALL bullpens should be thrown with sequential planning.  If you can only command one or two types of pitches in one or two Lokations, good hitters will recognize a pattern and anticipate a certain pitch in a certain Lokation.  This makes timing good and batting averages increase.  

Use the Lokator Bullpen App to calculate statistics and rankings for sequences you throw well, file them as your strengths, and put them in your game plan.  Bullpen sequences you do not score or rank highly on can be labeled weaknesses and worked on more often in practice, file those as works in progress.  You have to know your own strengths and weaknesses first when deciding how to approach each game situation. 

Throw bullpens to catchers and simulate at bats in different game situations with the pre-made bullpen sequences on the Lokator Bullpen App. After catchers memorize the Lokator design they will know exactly where to put the target.  Then the scorekeeper can judge hit and missed targets by where the catcher catches the ball and call situational innings from behind the mound.   

Game situations to simulate in the bullpen:

  • Different counts, outs, innings, and scores
  • Runners on base with and without speed
  • Various hitters at the plate
  • Errors in the field
  • Umpires with big and small strike zones 
  • Bunt situations
  • Early, on time, or late swinging foul balls

The more imagination you use for the game situation the better.  Younger pitchers seem to enjoy imagining pitching game 7 of the World Series for their favorite MLB team in the bottom of the ninth or pitching in the Little League World Series, while older pitchers can usually focus more on game strategy and recreating game scenarios.

 

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Weather Conditions

Posted on April 12, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

It is more common to encounter adverse weather conditions in games than in practice.  On practice days most teams will simply go indoors or reschedule if there is light rain, the field is wet,  winds are high, temperatures are low, or if fog happens to roll in. But on game days it is more likely teams will play through worse conditions than they are willing to practice in.  

During the course of a game weather conditions can worsen to the point where it seems like you're battling them and the hitter equally. The first step is to recognize what conditions you have to deal with and then continue to adjust as the game progresses.  Another factor to take into account is that playing conditions affect everyone on the field, especially the hitter, so conditions can also play a role in your game plan.

Rain and a wet field can make pitch command much more difficult than it is in a dry bullpen.  A muddy playing surface and high humidity has a bigger effect on the pitcher than the same conditions for the hitter.  Generally hitters have less movement with their lower bodies so footing isn't as big of an issue.  Hitters also have batting gloves and pine tar to help with the grip of the bat while pitchers only have the option of a wet rosin bag and a bare throwing hand.  

Adjustments for wet conditions include

  • Keep a tongue depressor on the mound to clean mud off your spikes
  • Keep a mini rosin bag in your back pocket
  • Aim for a bigger portion of the Go Zone early in the count
  • Throw a lower percentage of breaking balls than normal
  • Communicate with umpire about mound conditions 
  • Ask for a new ball as often as needed 

In cold temperatures the pitcher has a slight advantage because they are in constant motion while on the mound and don't have to swing a bat that could possibly ring the hands.  Hitters are generally more vulnerable to the pitch inside on a cold day compared to a warm one.  Once you jam a hitter early in the game or see them shaking their hands after a foul ball, generally a bigger percentage of the outer part of the plate is open.  Watch the body language of the hitter to see if they are struggling with the cold.

Adjustments for cold conditions include

  • Toss between all long innings on the side
  • Keep a hand warmer in your back pocket
  • Challenge hitters inside more often
  • Get the most out of warm up pitches before the inning
  • Ask umpire if you can warm hand with breath on the mound
  • Keep pitch count down and work quickly

Windy conditions can give either the hitter or the pitcher a big advantage.  Obviously if the wind is blowing out the ball will go further off the bat and with the wind blowing in the ball will get knocked down.  From the mound, wind strength and direction can play a role within the game plan.  

When the wind is blowing out there will be more air resistance on the pitch as it moves to the plate, this will increase movement on all pitches.  Pitchers and catchers can adjust by accounting for extra movement when choosing pitches and Zones to aim for.  Usually more movement on the pitch allows pitchers to be more aggressive in the Go Zone.

When the wind is blowing in there will be less air resistance on the pitch, this will decrease movement on all pitches.  Pitchers and catchers can adjust by accounting for less movement when choosing pitches and Zones to aim for.  Usually less movement on the pitch makes pitchers be a little more fine with Lokations and could possibly call for more variety in pitch calling.  

Make sure to practice throwing bullpens in as many adverse weather conditions as possible.  Challenge friends and teammates to go outside and compete throwing bullpens against each other with the Lokator Bullpen App when weather is bad but playable.  Compare Lokation results in bad and good weather.  As always, make adjustments accordingly. 

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No Coach

Posted on April 12, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

Throwing bullpens in practice is where you will get much of you're pitching instruction from the coach.  A pitching coach normally stands behind the mound or off to the side and gives mechanical tips, calls pitch Lokation and selection, gives sequential patterns, and general advice. We use physical props and a helpful hand approach when talking mechanics and they are obviously not possible in a game situation. 

During games coaches are allowed one short mound visit per inning and if they make a second trip during that same inning the pitcher is automatically removed from the game.  In most leagues a coach is only allowed two total visits for each pitcher and on the third the pitcher has to be removed.  

When you take the mound in a game you have to be your own pitching coach.  While pitching you undoubtably become the leader of the team, you control the pace and momentum of the game, you're in charge of the running game, and your body language represents the whole defense.  You are the most important person on the field when you pitch, no question about it!      

In games you have to make adjustments without being told by a coach.  A coach can relay pitch calling signs to the catcher or bark keywords to refresh memory but that is basically the only help they can give from the dugout. You have to identify and defend against all the different variables that arise during games on your own.  Success depends on adjustments you learn to make in game situations.  

Game-time adjustments include:

  • Pitch Lokation
  • Pitch Sequencing
  • Pitch Selection 
  • Pitch Signs by Catcher with runner on 2nd
  • Umpire's Strike-zone
  • Game Situation
  • Weather 
  • Defensive Alignment
  • Mechanical
  • Hitter's Current Game Success  

There are too many in-game adjustments to form a complete list but you get the idea of the categories you must take into consideration and prepare yourself for.  It is important to recognize these types of situations while you are in the game, be conscious of the decisions you make, evaluate afterwards, and learn from the experience.  There is no better teacher than experience!

Take note of your in game experiences and apply game imagery to bullpen sessions while using the Lokator System.  The better you know the System, the more prepared you will be when you take the mound and the game is on the line. 

 

 

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Defense

Posted on April 12, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

Team defense can be a deal breaker when it comes to pitching in the game while it is never a factor practicing in the bullpen.  Errors by teammates always seem to come at the most inopportune times and you have no defensive control when the ball is put in play and you're not involved.  You can back up bases, communicate on pop ups, and cover bases when infielders leave their position, but overall, your reaction to errors is very important. 

The first type of reaction to a defensive miscue is body language.  Body language is defined as the process of communicating nonverbally through conscious or  unconscious gestures and movements.  Positive body language can build team momentum and morale.  Negative body language bring momentum to a halt, turn teammates against each other, and give opponents more confidence.  

Emotions run much higher during games than in bullpen work so it is much easier to let negative body language get the best of you between the lines.  When a fielder makes an error or a bad play they feel bad enough as it is.  When fielders see a pitcher raise arms, shake their head, go down to a knee, roll eyes, take their hat off, etc, their confidence and sometimes effort will decrease after the error.  This is called "showing your teammate up" and it has no positive effects!

If you are able to keep negative body language in check it can give your team confidence that you have things under control.  It shows poise, maturity, and allows you to stay focused on the task at hand.  A great way to show leadership is to give a word of encouragement to a teammate after an error or between innings.  A pitcher's body language is more important than any other position because they are the undisputed leader of the defense and are watched more than all others on the field.  

The next step after an error and you've kept your cool on the mound is to command Lokations on the very next hitter.  When you get out of the inning and strand the baserunner it will always give the fielder who committed the error a sense of relief.  It will build momentum, show leadership, and frustrate the other team for not taking advantage of opportunities.

You can also help your fielders make the plays before the ball is even hit.  Listed below are ways you can help fielders stay in rhythm behind you and make a higher percentage of plays.

  • Command the Go Zone in 0-0 counts
  • Keep a good tempo between pitches
  • Keep your pitch count down
  • Promote contact
  • Limit walks

Do everything you can to keep fielders in rhythm and alert before they even get an opportunity to make a play.  If they boot it then you should not show negative body language towards your teammate at any time.  After the fact, make sure to stay focused, command Lokations one pitch at a time, and pitch your team out of the situation. 

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