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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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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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Fielding

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

Throwing bullpens in practice will not simulate the duties you have on the mound in the game as a fielder.  There are a number of fielding situations if not executed correctly, could cost your team a win.  Once you release the ball you are the closest fielder to the hitter so you have to be in a position to defend yourself against line drives up the middle and field your position. 

Come backers up the middle can have a big impact on the momentum of the game.  Say you are pitching late in a tie game, with a runner on first base, and one out.  If you are not in a good fielding position a one hopper up the middle will normally result in runners on first and third with one out. If you are in a good fielding position a one hopper back to you will generally result in an inning ending double play.  

Fielding bunts is another game variable that can't be reproduced during bullpen work.  Generally sacrifice bunts and bunts for a hit happen in close or low scoring games, so errors can be especially costly.  An unbalanced followthrough can make getting to and fielding bunts much more difficult as well.   

Covering first on ground balls to the right side of the infield is used more often when the pitcher's mound is 60.5  feet from the plate and the bases are 90 feet apart.  But even young pitchers can develop good habits during games by hustling towards first on all ground balls to the right side of the field.  The most important part of covering first base is getting a good jump off the mound.  

Backing up bases isn't physically hard to do, but in the heat of battle when you are dealing with runners circling the bases while giving up hits and runs it can be harder to make yourself get into position.  This game variable ties in closely with body language.  If you have bad body language, sulk, pout, or start arguing with an umpire you are probably missing your assignment and giving the opponent a better chase to get extra bases.  Not to mention it makes you and your team look terrible. 

A runner on third in a close game can sometimes make a difference when selecting pitches to throw during the sequence. If you have the confidence in your catcher to throw off speed pitches in the dirt with a runner on third and the ball gets away, you have to be ready to point out the ball, cover home without blocking the plate, catch the throw, and apply the tag. Almost any legal slide will take your legs out if you move too far across the plate, practice this for your safety.

Whenever you pick a runner off the bases you will likely be a part of the rundown that follows.  You have to understand which base to go, how to close the distance toward the runner, get out of the baseline when you don't have the ball, catch, throw, and apply the tag.  These are all important skills that are not learned in the bullpen.

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Holding Runners

Posted on April 11, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

Bullpen sessions do not simulate the feeling of pitching late in a tight game with a fast runner on first base looking to get into scoring position.  When you are focused on being quick to the plate and holding runners close, your attention can gravitate more towards the runner than the hitter.  This is a whole different situation than commanding pitches in the comfort of the bullpen.  

Good base-runners can wreak havoc on timing, tempo, and rhythm in a game situations.  There is such a small margin for error on release points of the ball in pitching, the smallest amount of rushing towards the plate can cause you to loose command or leave the ball up in the Danger Zone.

You almost always make the most important pitches of the game from the stretch, very rarely does the solo home run beat you.  That being said, you also have to recognize who is a threat to run and whether the game situation calls for you to pay close attention to runners.

Below we have listed some general rules of when to: 

Pay Attention to Runners

  • Late in a tight game with good base-runner on first
  • In bunt situations, cut down secondary leads
  • Lead off batter gets on base in a close game
  • In off speed counts with good base-runner on
  • With 1 out and a good base-runner on second
  • When your catcher struggles throwing runners out
  • When you can't get the ball to the plate in under 1.3 seconds  

Focus on the hitter

  • When you have a big lead or are way behind 
  • When the runner is slow
  • When you have 2 strikes on the hitter and 2 outs in the inning
  • When you slide step or are very quick to the plate
  • When you're struggling with command
  • With bases loaded, second and third, or third base occupied

When throwing bullpens in practice make sure to spend an equal amount of time pitching out of the stretch.  Concentrate on changing the amount of time you come to the set position so the base-runner cannot time you and get a great jump.  Work on being quick to the plate on pitches where you are paying close attention to the runner and then take a little more time getting the pitch away when you're focusing on the hitter.  Simulate looks towards base-runners when throwing pens.

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