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Sunday at the Players Championship

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

After watching all four days of the Players Championship on the PGA Tour, I can't help but see more similarities between pitching and golf.  Tiger Woods closed the deal and clinched the tournament title  and I wanted to write a little about how he got it done.  

Tiger managed the course brilliantly.  He avoided the big miss off the tee by using his 3 and 5 wood instead of the driver. On his approach shots he consistently hit greens in safer spots than the rest of the field.  He gave himself good looks at the cup by understanding what part of the green would give him the best chance to hit the putt.  Then he finished the deal when it came time to knock it down.

Woods hitting a controlled 3 or 5 wood off the tee box and shaping shots instead of blasting a driver every time was an example of him choosing Lokation over power and distance.  It reminded me of a pitcher who hits Lokations at 90% velocity and knows how to use the movement of pitches to their advantage instead of using maximum effort and trying to blow hitters away.  There were times when Tiger hit the driver but he chose his spots wisely.  The same should hold true with pitchers, know when that extra few MPH's is needed and use it accordingly.

On approach shots Tiger was obviously able to avoid hazards but he also knew where the slopes of the green were and which area around the green was the best place to putt from.  He kept the ball below the hole when possible and rarely missed to the short side of the green.  I compared this aspect of Tiger's game to a scouting report on hitters because he understood what the course was giving him and then executed a shot based on a many different variables, the same way a pitcher chooses pitch Lokation, selection, and sequencing.

When Tiger got to the green and started his putting routine it really became evident how much putting and pitching have in common.  The process of determining a line to hit the putt was comparable to choosing a Lokation to aim at.  The length of the putt and whether it was uphill or downhill determined the force of the ball strike just like a pitcher determines what speed to throw the ball.  Finally, when Tiger read the green for left or right breaking putt it reminded me of a pitcher accounting for the movement of pitches.

Managing a golf course and managing the game as a pitcher are comparable on so many different levels.  First, it's not always how far you hit the ball or how hard you can throw it, but can you control it?  Second, it's not possible to hit all Lokations or always have 2 foot birdie putts, but can you put yourself in a position to succeed?  Finally, when it is time to perform and you have taken all variables into consideration, can you execute the putt or pitch to close the deal?  Tiger did it all today.

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Damage Control in Pitching and Golf

Posted on April 14, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

Today I'm watching the final round of the Masters, my favorite day to watch golf all year.  Augusta National is the most beautiful, yet unforgiving golf course on the planet.  When golfers miss their Lokations during this tournament they are penalized more than on any other.  By the same token, pitchers are hit around when they miss Lokations facing great hitters.  In this blog entry I want to discus how playing an unforgiving golf course and pitching to a great hitter are similar.  

In pitching the opponent is the hitter, while the opponent in golf is the course.  When you face tough hitters, just as when you play tough courses, Lokation becomes the most important aspect of success.  Good hitters will take advantage of Lokation mistakes and make you pay by driving the ball for extra base hits or taking a walk.  Difficult golf courses will make you pay with penalty strokes after missing Lokations in the water, woods, or the short side of the hole.

Damage control is a huge key to scoring well on a hard golf course or getting a good hitter out.  You have to miss in the correct Lokations to give yourself a chance at success.  For example, hitting an aproach shot into a green with water on the right is comparable to facing a right-handed pull hitter on the mound.  You obviously want to hit your Lokation first and foremost in either situation, but if you don't, you want to miss to the left of the green or away from the batter.

It is very important to be aware of the correct miss whenever you are weighing your options on the course or on the mound.  The good news is that pitchers should have an easier time than golfers when it comes to damage control because in pitching it is rarely a mistake to miss low, as in the 4 Zone or below.  For golfers, missing in the correct Lokation will be more difficult because their damage control miss could be different everytime.  

Whether you are a golfer, pitcher, or both, the next time you are on the mound or course, pay special attention to where your misses end up and the result that follows.  You'll find out that if you are concious of damage control and make adjustments accordingly, you will have a lower score in golf and give up less runs on the mound.     

 

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Sunday Night Baseball Chatter

Posted on April 07, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

I'm watching the Angles play the Rangers on Sunday Night Baseball this evening and Orel Hershiser talked about four keys to a good pitcher.  He said that velocity, movement, Lokation, and changing speeds are the most important factors in pitching success.  When Dan Shulman asked Orel "which of those factors is the most important to you and if you couldn't have one, which would you give up?  Orel said the following

"I would give up velocity and take Lokation everytime.  The second thing I wanted was movement and then a change from one pitch from the next.  The last thing is velocity...  I have never heard anybody come out of a game and say I had great Lokation tonight but I got killed, but I have heard plenty of them say I had great stuff and got killed"

Then Shulman asked John Kruk what he thought was the hardest of those four factors for hitters to deal with.  Kruk said

"Lokation, if a guy can Lokate his pitches, especially with the fastball, no matter if it is 95 or 87 MPH, if you can spot it in, out, up, down, it makes it so much harder on the hitter because you can't get one area of the plate zoned in.  Then if he can change speeds, you're pretty much in trouble"

Orel continues

"If you can Lokate one pitch throughout a game then you can compete, if you can Lokate two then you will probably win the game, and if you can Lokate three then you will dominate the offense." 

 

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Pitch Lokation and Defensive Shifting

Posted on April 01, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

When discussing Red Sox manager John Farrell and the decision to defensively shift players in the field more often, commentator and former pitching great Rick Sutcliffe gave the following quote on Opening Day while calling the Yankee Stadium home opener.

"John Farrell is a big believer in all the (defensive) charts and putting together a plan and incorporating that with a pitcher who has command.  You can have all the defense that you want set up, but if you are not hitting the target with the ball, it's not gonna happen."

I thought this was a very good point because pitch Lokation is not often factored in during defensive shifts when it is actually the most important factor in determining where to play fielders.  There is no good defensive alignment for bad pitch Lokation.       

 

 

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Behind Plate Camera Angle

Posted on March 27, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

I am watching the Oakland A's play the Chicago White Sox in a Spring Training game.  One of the camera crew members backed the TV truck over the centerfield camera wires and they haven't gotten it fixed yet, so they are showing the game from the camera angle from behind home plate.  The game has an old school feel and it makes me imagine what it would have been like to watch a game on film from the mid 1930s to the late 1950s. 

The behind the plate angle pulls my eye toward the hitter more than the center field camera does.  It makes me pay more attention to the hitter's reaction because pitch Lokation cannot be seen as easily from behind the plate.  Watching the hitter can tell a story on how well they are seeing the ball and whether their timing is good or not.

The A's pitcher Jarrod Parker has thrown four perfect innings with five strikeouts up to this point in the game and he is commanding extremely effective off speed pitches in the Go Zone and 4 Zone.  From this angle I can see hitter's weight shift forward early on the off speed pitches and how his off speed command is making the hitter's swing late on fastballs.  

The worse a hitter's timing is, the less precise Lokation needs to be.  The better a hitter's timing is, the more precise pitch Lokation must be.  Tonight Parker has disrupted timing and had precise Lokation, a great combination that often ends up in a victory for the team.

We cannot forget to pay attention to hitter's body language and reactions as coaches, catchers, and pitchers.  A check swing on a pitch that isn't even close probably means the hitter isn't seeing the ball well and they're timing isn't the best.  When a hitter can take a very close pitch without flinching (quiet take) then it generally means they are seeing the ball well and their timing is better. 

The camera angle behind the plate can also paint a bigger picture of what is happening from pitch to pitch. It shows base runners getting leads and the jump they get when attempting to steal a base.  It gives viewers a chance to see middle infielders working to hold runners on second or the timing involved in bunt plays.  Fans are also able to see the pitcher changing his hold times in the stretch so runners cannot time the delivery and get a good jump.  

Generally as pitchers we want to gravitate towards our strengths more than the hitter's weaknesses, but don't ignore what the hitter is telling you about their mindset with body language during the at bat. Body language is the most frequently used and strongest form of communication there is.  Always remember to look for reactions from the hitter and use it your advantage if it fits in your skill set.  

 

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