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Focus on Base Runners or the Hitter?

Posted on April 17, 2015 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

It's always part of pitchers job to control the running game.  This includes a number of different skills such as:

  • Knowing runners speed
  • Having a good pick off move
  • Disrupting runners rhythm by changing set times 
  • Being quick to the plate

It is also important to know when to focus on the hitter.  If pitchers get too preoccupied with runners in situations where the runner shouldn't be the main concern, they can loose focus on the hitter and an inning can get out of control.

Situations where the hitter should be the main focus mainly depend on the game situations such as:

  • It is a more than a 3 run game 
  • With 2 outs and 2 strikes
  • Struggling with pitch command
  • Bases loaded 

Situations where the runner should be focused on mainly depend on the game situations such as:

  • Close game
  • Steal second base with 2 outs
  • Steal third with 1 out 
  • Sacrifice bunt 

Pick and choose times to focus on the runner.  The more pitchers focus on runners the better chance they have of making a location mistake to the hitter and getting in deeper trouble.  If the situation dictates that the runner needs to be held close to the bag, don't be afraid to slow the game down a little, disrupt a runners timing, and give the catcher a chance to throw a base stealer out.

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Pitcher, Catcher, Coach Communication

Posted on July 16, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

What is the best way to communicate a game plan?  Before every series in Major League Baseball there is a meeting between all the pitchers, catchers and pitching coaches.  Usually some position players sneak in if they have played previously for the opposing team or they play a middle infield defensive position.  With the current defensive shifting trends of today I wouldn't be surprised if the whole infield attends. But the most important relationship is between the pitcher and catcher.

In my experience the meetings consisted of the pitching coach going down the list of opposing hitters and reading a sentence or two about what the scouting department thinks is the best way to get each hitter out.  Then other pitchers or a veteran catcher will generally chime in about which pitch Lokation, selection, and sequencing that had been successful in the past.  

Sometimes there are some pretty vague terms being thrown around the room at some pretty high levels of baseball.  Some of the phrases coaches say are like "hard in, soft away", "will chase behind in the count", "pull hitter", "likes first pitch fastball", "will chase breaking ball", etc.  

Before I invented the the Lokator System, sequences had never been spelled out and named.  Instead of coaches talking about just pitching a hitter away, they can now easily distinguish between outer third of the plate in the Go Zone and the edge of the plate in the Chase Zone.  

Inside off the plate in a Purpose Zone is different than inside for a strike in a Go or Chase Zone.  Catchers can call pitches in the bottom edge Strike Zone in the Chase Zone 4 when the count calls for more aggressiveness on the plate or in a double play situation.  It is easy for catchers to communicate Freeze Zones when calling pitches to hitter's with a slow bat compared to a pitch lower in the Strike Zone.

Coaches who call pitches from the dugout can decide sequencing, pitch selection, and call a Lokation number when communicating a spot to hit.  Once the pitcher, catcher, and coach get familiar with the Lokator System, there won't be any confusion between where the catcher is giving the target and where the pitcher is aiming.  

It is also a good practice for catchers to relay the number of the Lokation of a hard hit ball to the coach after the at bat so coaches can make a note of where the hard hit pitch was.  It is so important to recognize whether the pitch was a mistake or whether it was a good pitch in a hitter's hot zone.  Recognition of your own strengths and weakness is the most important scouting report to learn, but to execute that, you must be on the same page with your catcher and coach. 

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2 Seam and 4 Seam Fastball Charts

Posted on May 13, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

When the catcher throws down the old number one and calls for a fastball there are a few general rules to be aware of when deciding whether to throw a 2 or 4 seam.  As you advance in the game your catcher is more likely to have a 2 seam fastball sign and a 4 seam fastball sign but when you are throwing to the Lokator you need to experiment with both fastballs to see what you feel most comfortable with.

As we learned in previous blog posts, the 4 seam fastball is generally a straighter pitch with a 1-2 MPH increase in velocity over the 2 seam.  The 2 seam or sinker generally has more movement than the 4 seam.  Some pitchers throw all 4 seam fastballs while others throw predominantly 2 seamers, but we believe pitchers should throw both.

Whenever you are trying to elevate the ball in the Red Box (RB) or in an opposite arm side Purpose Zone (7/8) a 4 seam is more likely a better option because you want to keep the ball up.  When you are throwing an arm-side Purpose Pitch there are a couple different factors to think about.  A 2 seamer could give you more movement and help you get the pitch inside further but you also take the chance on the ball moving too far in and hitting the batter.  On the other hand some pitchers feel more confident throwing the straight 4 seamer in there and taking movement out of the equation.

A 2 seam arm-side Freeze Pitch (9/10) is more likely to get inside on the hitter and has a better chance of jamming them, but it could also sink or move more than you expect and cause you to miss the Lokation.  An opposite arm-side Freeze pitch should generally be a 4 seam fastball for pitchers who are not yet learning advanced pitches.  If a beginner tried to command the 2 seam in the opposite arm-side Freeze Zone the ball would be more likely to move back over the plate and end in the Danger Zone.  You have to be very careful with movement of the ball in the Freeze Zones because both of them border the Danger Zone.

When targeting the Go Zone (1/2/3) it is our view that any pitch thrown down the middle of the plate (2 Zone) should have movement and this translates to a 2 seam fastball.  If you ask any hitter whether they would rather see a straight fastball down the middle of the plate or one with movement, every hitter would rather see the straight pitch.  The general rules say to throw the opposite arm-side Go Zone (1/3) with the 4 seam to keep the ball from moving back over the Danger Zone and throw the arm-side Go Zone (1/3) with the 2 seam to promote movement towards that side of the plate.  I personally threw 2 seam fastballs to the 1, 2, and 3 but I was a sinker ball pitcher, figure out what works best for you.

The same general rules apply for the Chase Zones 5 and 6.  Most pitchers throw the 4 seam to the opposite arm-side Chase Zone to keep the ball from moving back over the plate and on the outside edge.  It is more common to see pitchers throw the 2 seamer to the arm-side Chase Zone because the natural movement of the pitch will take it towards that edge of the plate. The Chase Zone 4 is best suited for the 2 seam fastball because the downward sinking action Under the Go Zone will be a huge weapon in many situations.  See the blog post "Benefits of the Ground Ball" for more information.

An easy way to start experimenting is to throw the 4 seam in higher Lokations (7-10) and Red Box to keep the ball up, change the hitter's eye level, and keep from getting more movement than you want.  Also keep opposite arm-side fastballs 4 seamers to make sure you can command that side of the plate without getting too much movement back over the plate in the Danger Zone.  Use the 2 seamer for the 2 and arm-side Go Zone along with the 4 and arm-side Chase Zone to promote movement towards that side of the plate.

 

          RHP Fastball Seam Chart          LHP Fastball Seam Chart

   

 

Once you get comfortable with the general rules shown above it is very important that you experiment with both fastballs in all Lokations.  We emphasis working on throwing the 2 seamer in Lokations 1-6 and to the arm-side Freeze and Purpose Zones.  Most hitters would rather hit a pitch 1-2 MPH faster compared to one with more movement. We will revisit this topic in a later post to describe a few more variations and strategies involving the 2 and 4 seam fastball.  See you there. 

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Command Off Speed Pitches in the Go Zone

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

Commanding off speed pitches in the Go Zone behind in the count will expand the number of pitches a hitter has to protect against.  Hitters don't know what to expect when you are throwing two or three pitches in the Go Zone, this makes timing more difficult.  When a hitter knows you can't command off speed in the Go Zone they will expect fastballs when ahead in the count, timing will likely be good, and a more precise Lokation will be required to get the out.

If you can't command an off speed pitch in the Go Zone, then hitters can eliminate those from pitches they will swing at.  When you get behind in the count 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 2-1, 3-1 (hitter's/ fastball counts) and can't throw off-speed pitches for strikes, then you are limited to throwing fastballs behind in the count.  The fastball is exactly what the hitter is looking for while they are ahead in the count.  This will decrease pitch possibilities and make the fastball look slower (decreased perceived velocity) because the hitter is expecting it.  

The fewer pitch possibilities a hitter must think about, the more likely he will expect or sit on the pitch he is going to see. This helps a hitter's timing and pitch recognition. This is why it is important to have the ability to throw the change-up or curveball in the Go Zone when even (0-0, 1-1, 2-2, 3-2) or behind in the count. 

Ideally, a change-up looks more like a fastball's flight path, which is why we recommend mastering the change up in the Go Zone BEFORE the curveball. Why not master the pitch that looks the most like a fastball and doesn’t put extra stress on your arm first?  On average hitters do the most damage when you are behind in the count.  It’s not a coincidence that almost every starting pitcher in the Big Leagues has an off speed pitch they can throw in the Go Zone in any count.  

Older pitchers should work on throwing breaking pitches at two different speeds so the hitter can’t immediately judge the speed when he recognizes the breaking ball out of your hand.  A "get me over" breaking ball with less velocity is good to throw even or behind in the count because the hitter is probably expecting a fastball.  It doesn't need the velocity or sharp break in a fastball count.  But throwing that same "get me over" breaking ball ahead in the count when the hitter is expecting off speed, they would have a better chance at solid contact.

The slower type breaking ball is also a good backdoor pitch Lokated in the arm-side third of the Go Zone when facing an opposite-handed batter. It should start up and away from the hitter in the Purpose-Zone and end in the Go or Chase Zone away from the hitter. The faster breaking ball will generally be a sharper, later break starting in the Danger or Go Zone and breaking towards a Chase Zone or an opposite handed batters back foot, used more often with 2 strikes. 

There is no need to paint the corners with an off-speed pitch when you are even or behind in the count.  This translates to generally targeting the 2 or 4 Zones when throwing an off-speed pitch while even or behind in the count.  Aiming for the middle of the plate and down (2 or 4 zones) gives you room for error when you have to throw a strike because if you miss six inches to the right or left it's still a strike.  As long as the pitch is below the top of the Go Zone with good arm-speed, a downhill plane, and correct velocity, the hitters chance for solid contact decreases. 

Generally when throwing off speed pitches behind in the count, you can get away with less precise locations.  If you threw a change up in the Danger Zone in a 2-0 count, it would be less likely to get hit than a fastball in the same area, especially if the first two pitches were fastballs.

In another example, if you are behind in the count 2-0 and throwing a fastball you might have it throw a fastball to the 1 or 5 to have a good chance to get an out.  But if you were to throw a change up in that same count you could target a bigger area such as 1-4 to get the same result because the hitter it most likely expecting a fastball while they are ahead in the count.

Throwing off speed pitches while behind in the count will allow you to throw at bigger areas because hitters are looking for the fastball.  You need better Lokation on the pitch when the hitter is expecting it or has good timing.  You don't need the best Lokation when the hitter does not know what to expect or timing is bad.  Good timing makes Lokation more important and bad timing allows for less precise Lokation.  Commanding off speed pitches in the Go Zone will disrupt timing every time.

 

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Targeting K Zones

Posted on April 16, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

Fastballs in the K Zone are very effective ahead in the count.  A fastball in the K Zone could be a two or four-seam chase fastball away from a hitter or a  two-seam fastball inside to the hitter.  Practice using the 2 seam fastball on both sides of the plate. 

In a double-play situation, a two-seam fastball could be thrown at the arm side third of the Go Zone and break to the K Zone after the hitter has already decided to swing. When throwing a two-seam fastball opposite arm-side, backspin is crucial to promote downward movement.  If the catcher's glove is set up in the K Zone and you hit the mitt, you have a great chance to get the strike call even if the hitter doesn't swing  

Hitters sometimes hit inside sinking fastballs at the K on the top of their foot or the inside of their ankle.  If this happens the last thing a hitter wants to see on the next pitch is the same pitch in the same spot.  Keep this in mind when a facing a hitter who fouls one off their lower body.

While ahead in the count, throwing a shorter, tighter, breaking ball, the pitch should generally start in the Danger Zone above the 2 Zone and break towards the K Zone.  Where to aim always depends on the size of the break on the off speed pitch.  

The K Zone is a great “backdoor curveball” Lokation.  This is typically a slower type breaking pitch that is thrown from a RHP to a LHB or vice versa.  This breaking ball is designed to end up on the outer part of the plate to the hitter and seemingly break around the strike-zone.  It's typically a slower breaking pitch has more break and has a better chance to start high and far enough outside of the strike-zone for the hitter to make the decision not to swing (give up) early in the flight of the ball.  Then it breaks over the outer Go or Chase Zone late in flight.

A change up in the K Zone should generally start in the outer-third of the Go Zone through the first half of the ball’s flight, and when the hitter has to make the decision to swing, the movement of the pitch will take it to the K Zone. Backspin, gravity, and natural movement will help the pitch break to the K Zone.

The K Zone can also be used opposite arm-side with the change-up although it is a much harder pitch to execute. Backspin is very important because a change-up with sidespin opposite arm-side can end up flat and in the middle of the plate just as the fastball will.

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Why Purpose Pitches make Off Speed Better

Posted on April 16, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

The fastball at the 7 or 8 will prevent the hitter from keeping their front-side in on off-speed pitches, making it more difficult to track off speed pitches down and away. Purpose Pitches will also open up a bigger percentage of the outer Go Zone on ensuing fastballs. 

When you command fastballs in the Purpose Zones, you will be more likely to get away with a mediocre curveball in the middle of the plate because the hitter is seeing two pitches coming out of the same slot during the first half of the balls flight. The same slot refers to the numbers 7 or 8 that a bigger curveball starts to break during the ball’s flight before ending in the Go Zone. When you follow a Purpose Pitch with a pitch away from the hitter, it is much harder to hit.

If you can't execute fastballs up in the Purpose Zones, the hitter can recognize the curveball earlier because of the height of the pitch. If hitters aren't seeing fastballs in the 7 or 8 Zones, they can eliminate any other pitch in that slot and recognize the pitch earlier. Therefore, fastballs at the numbers 7 and 8 will make all pitches away harder to hit because the hitter has to respect the fact that you will throw a fastball inside off the plate. 

When a left-handed pitcher throws a fastball hard and inside to a right-handed batter, it becomes much harder for the hitter to adjust to the change-up on the outer-half of the Go Zone and vice versa with a righty pitching to a lefty. What is the opposite of a hard inside fastball?  It’s an off-speed pitch away. Changing speeds and locations will disrupt the hitter’s timing more often than not.

 

 

 

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Recognize Breaking Ball Movement

Posted on April 16, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

When commanding the breaking ball in the Go Zone it's very important for you to recognize how much it you're breaking ball moves. Some pitchers have a tighter, shorter break compared to the bigger, slower break of others.  Once you become familiar with the movement of your curveball, you can determine where you need to aim the ball for it to end up in a Go or Chase Zone. 


For bigger breaking balls like a slow curve to hit the Go Zone, aim those pitches at the arm-side 7 or 8 Purpose Zone.  Start these pitches outside of the strike-zone and let them break back to the Go Zone.  For a smaller breaking ball like a slider to end in the Go Zone, start the pitch in an arm-side 9 or 10 Freeze Zone.

 

 

 

Strikeout breaking balls that end up in a Chase Zone or Under the 4 Zone should look like a strike to the hitter when they are making the decision to swing.

They should generally start in an arm side Freeze Zone and break to a Chase Zone or off after the batter has started to swing.  This means you will generally aim in the Danger Zone for bigger breaking balls to break to the Chase Zones or Under.  Aim the shorter breaking ball somewhere in the Go Zone to get the desired break towards a Chase Zone or Under. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When to throw the Purpose Pitch

Posted on April 16, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

Generally the best times to hit a Purpose Zone are when you are ahead in the count 0-1, 0-2 and 1-2.  Getting ahead will give you the option of throwing a ball in a Purpose Zone to set up an off speed pitch away.  You have more options of pitches to choose from while ahead in the count and the hitter has to protect against all pitches and the whole strike zone.        

There are situations to use this pitch earlier in the count. When a particular hitter has hit you hard earlier in the game the opposite way, pulls an outside pitch, or it is known they like to dive over the plate, it would be a good idea to run a pitch inside 0-0 or 1-0, 1-1, or 2-2, to send a message

Be careful throwing a really aggressive purpose pitch to weak hitters down in the batting order because of the possibility of hitting the batter. Base-runners are base-runners, and it can be especially costly if the runner has speed. It doesn't matter how they reached base when they cross the plate, it still counts as a run every time. 

A good alternative to the aggressive Purpose Pitch is a pitch around the letters of the hitter and over the middle of the plate.  You may be more likely to get a swing and a miss on this pitch compared to the Purpose Pitch.  Throwing the high hard fastball will speed the hitter's bat up enough to make them vulnerable to the off speed pitch down afterwards. 

Don't fall into a pattern of throwing a pitch away from the hitter every time immediately following a Purpose Pitch. Try following a Purpose Pitch with another inside fastball for a strike on the next pitch.  This is called doubling up inside on the hitter and it is a great tool to have in the bag.

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Change Up

Posted on April 16, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

After learning to command the fastball in all three sections of the Go Zone with the two and four seam fastballs, it's now time to work on the change-up in the Go Zone. We have included the change-up grip that has proven most successful among pitchers we've taught. 

The change-up grip is a loose grip without any of your palm touching the ball.  It's a feel pitch. It takes touch, almost like a basketball shot. You can't have a basketball in your palm with tight fingers gripping the ball and expect to drain a 15-foot baseline jumper. Hold the ball softly with your fingers and use touch so you can get the shooters roll.  It's the same concept with a change-up. 

Hold the change-up with your middle and ring fingers with or across the seams. Your thumb is directly under the ball between your middle and ring finger. The index finger and pinky are resting on each side. Try to always keep the pinky above the height of the index finger on the other side.  This will keep your change-up from cutting like a curveball. 

Create backspin on the pitch to promote vertical downhill movement rather than flat horizontal movement. If you imagine a straight line from the middle of the rubber through the middle of the plate, and concentrate on taking your hand down through that line before release, it will create good backspin and vertical movement on your change-up. 

There are three parts of deception to a good change up, fastball arm-speed, a downhill plane on the pitch, and 8-12 MPH decrease in velocity from the fastball.  It is important to recognize that as long as the pitch is down in the Go or 4 Zone, it will be a quality pitch.  It does not have to be on an inside or outside corner to be effective. 

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Breaking Ball

Posted on April 16, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

The Curveball Grip shown here is one of the most commonly used grips among professional pitchers. However, it is important to experiment with different grips that may work for you.  This particular grip has your middle finger and thumb with the majority of your total hand pressure. Your index finger should have little to no pressure on the ball with your thumb on the seam underneath.

Just before releasing the curveball, concentrate on pulling down on the top seam with the pressure of your middle finger while pushing up with the thumb on the bottom seam. This creates a higher percentage of top-spin, tilt, and depth on the ball for more vertical movement. The vertical movement you create will keep the ball off the plane of the bat and will look more enticing to hitters because the break stays on the plate instead of breaking sideways and off the plate.

As with all off speed pitches, it may take some time to get comfortable with the grip that works best for you.  Whichever grip you decide on, make sure you do not tip the hitters off by doing something like wiggling your glove while you secure your grip every time you throw an off-speed pitch.  As you move up the ranks in the game, hitters will pay closer attention to you movements and body language so they can get a better idea of what pitch is coming next.

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