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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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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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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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