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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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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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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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