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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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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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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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Benefits of a Ground Ball

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

There are many advantages to getting a ground ball over a fly ball or even a strikeout.  There are very few ground ball extra base hits and no ground ball home runs.  The wind blowing out plays little to no role when a ball is hit on the ground.  It only takes one pitch to get a ground ball out which will lower pitch counts and increase innings pitched.

Multiple ground balls early in counts keep your fielders and umpire in rhythm.  Your defense will be more active and focused, likely resulting in higher fielding percentages behind you.  The umpire will also be more likely to give you borderline calls if you are aggressive in the Go and 4 Zones early in the count.  Often times you have to prove to the umpire you can command the Go Zone before they will give Chase Zone strikes.

It is especially frustrating for the opponent when you can get ground balls early in the count the first time through their lineup.  If you can induce a grounder within the first couple pitches, they are not able to see, time, and track the movement all of your pitches early in the game. The longer the hitter stays alive in the count, the better chance they will have at solid contact.  Don't show your hand (all pitches) if you don't have to. 

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