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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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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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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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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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Adrenaline

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

         

You will rarely have an adrenaline rush during bullpen work while the exact opposite is true during games.  Most pitchers get a handful of adrenaline rushes during every game and it's something that is hard to be mirrored in bullpen work, so you must be able to recognize when it happens and know how to use it or defend against it.

Most people associate adrenaline in sports with extreme sports like the X games, skydiving, bungee jumping, or dare devil stunts.  People who participate in these activities have been coined adrenaline junkies.  But just because adrenaline isn't normally associated with baseball or softball, it doesn't mean it can't play a huge role in the game.

Adrenaline is a hormone that is released into the bloodstream in response to physical or mental stress when your mind feels fear or injury.  You will most likely have an adrenaline rush when you first take the mound, face a tough hitter in a big situation, have a hitter charge the mound, almost get hit by a line drive, hear the crowd cheering, and any number of other situations.    

When adrenaline is released into your bloodstream your heart rate and blood pressure increase, lungs and pupils expand, and blood is redistributed to muscles throughout your body. Other symptoms include the feeling of butterflies in your stomach, shaking knees, tingling feet, sweaty palms, shortness of breath, and an increase in energy.

Adrenaline can be a disadvantage or an advantage during games.  

Disadvantages

  • Speeds tempo and makes rhythm, balance, and timing difficult
  • Can cause overthrowing
  • Makes off speed pitches harder to command
  • Makes body language harder to control

Avantages

  • Give extra energy when fatigued
  • Adds MPH's on fastball 
  • Can help temporarily with pain
  • Can help agressiveness        

Prepare for this burst of hormone by first identifying when it is happening and then deciding whether it is hurting or helping in the situation. If it is a disadvantage, like making your tempo speed up too much then take a deep breath, refocus, and remind yourself to keep your weight back.  If it is an advantage, like hearing the crowd cheer for you while your ahead in the count 1-2, you may want to throw a fastball instead of an off speed pitch to take advantage of an extra MPH or two. 

The Lokator Bullpen App will help stimulate adrenaline surges by promoting competition between friends and teammates.  If you have the competitive fire burning inside, then the stress and fear of loosing will be all that is needed to stimulate a game-time adrenaline rush. 

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