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Go Zone 1, 2, 3

Posted on April 17, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

Zones 1, 2, and 3 are collectively called the Go Zone.  They are green to represent passage and should be the first Zones you get comfortable throwing in.  Pitches that hit the Go Zone are quality strikes no matter what pitch you throw. The 2 Zone is not as tall because it is easier to hit a pitch high in the strike-zone over the middle of the plate compared to a pitch in the 1 or 3 Zone (the inner or outer-thirds of the plate). Every pitcher wants to stay away from the belt-high pitch in the middle of the plate. 

To command pitches in the Go Zone, you must have a downhill plane on the flight of the baseball to reach the bottom two-thirds of the strike-zone.  When a pitch is thrown on a downhill plane the hitter is more likely to hit the top of the ball, producing a ground ball or a swing and miss.  Its more difficult for the hitter to recognize the velocity of the pitch and the pitch type when pitches are in or below the Go Zone. 

If the pitch is flat, or ends up above the Go Zone and below the letters, it is much easier for the hitter to square the ball at contact.  The objective of the hitter is to put the bat on the plane of the ball for as long as possible. When a flat pitch, or a pitch with horizontal movement, crosses the plate, it stays in the hitters bat path longer than a pitch with a downhill plane.

Flat planed pitches move horizontally early in ball flight compared to the short late movement of pitches with a downhill plane.  The earlier the ball moves out of the pitchers hand the more time the hitter has to recognize and time the pitch.  

Use the Go Zones to get ahead of the hitter in 0-0 counts, getting ahead puts the hitter in a defensive mode and makes them protect the plate.  Getting ahead in the count also gives you more pitch-choices a hitter is willing to swing at. As you get ahead in the count, pitch type, pitch Lokation, and sequence possibilities increase for the hitter. If you are unable to command the Go Zone in 0-0 counts and hitters get ahead in the count, the odds of them seeing a fastball go up.  

The further behind in the count a hitter falls (0-1, 0-2, 1-2), the more likely they will expand their strike-zone.  This means they will swing at a higher percentage of pitches toward the edges of the plate or under the strike-zone (4, 5, 6 Chase Zones).  It gives the hitter a sense of urgency.  They are more likely to protect the plate and expand the strike-zone while behind. Statistically this will reduce the hitter’s batting average and power numbers.

Getting ahead in the count 0-1 puts you on the offensive and gives you more control of the at-bat. Getting ahead puts the hitter is in a defensive mode and you have more options of pitches and Lokations the hitter will swing at. While behind, they must protect the plate and defend against more pitch possibilities.

If the hitter is behind in the count with two strikes they must protect the entire plate including the corners. That adds up to nearly 24 inches of space to defend. And if they must also consider two or three possible pitches in multiple Lokations, they're timing will generally be at its worst. This is why hitters are taught to shorten their swings with two strikes, so they have longer to recognize a pitch before putting a swing on it.

If you consistently get behind in the count, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 2-1 or 3-1, which are called hitter's counts, you must throw strikes to avoid a walk. When the batter is in a hitter's count, they can be very selective and look for the perfect pitch because they understand you have to throw a strike to avoid a walk. This narrows pitch Lokations and possibilities a hitter has to take into consideration and makes timing easier. 

When you are forced to throw a strike, the percentage of fastballs usually increases. When a hitter expects a fastball and gets a fastball, their timing is at its best.  This is when the fastball actually looks slower to the hitter than it actually is because timing is good.  We call this decreasing perceived velocity. 

When a hitter is ahead in the count they can look for one pitch in one area. This limits the areas they have to protect against and the number of pitches they are willing to swing at.  In a 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 or 3-1 count, a hitter can cut the plate into sections and decide beforehand which pitches he is willing to swing at. A fastball is the most common pitch a hitter will decide to “sit on” or expect.  Most professional hitters use this approach to some extent.

 

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Chase Zone 4

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

The 4 Zone is the most important edge of the strike-zone to command.  It is black to represent the bottom edge of the strike-zone and runs a close second in importance to the Go Zone. It is crucial to your success to miss down. If you're trying to throw a strike low in the Go Zone and you miss, you want to miss in the 4 Zone or below. It will be less likely to get hit hard and have a better chance of getting an out.  

Hitting the 4 Zone guarantees a downhill plane on the pitch. This will lead to more ground balls and swing and misses. It will also make it more difficult on the hitter to perceive the velocity of the pitch. When you miss targeted Lokations and throw above the Go Zone, the hitter will be more likely to get his bat on the plane of the ball for a longer period of time.

It is better to throw borderline strikes in the 4 Zone than to throw a sure strike above the Go Zone. It is as important to miss in the correct Lokations as it is to hit the spot your targeting. The closer the pitch is to the hitter's eyes, the easier it is for them to measure up the pitch and get the bat on the plane of the ball. This results in balls being driven in gaps and out of ballparks.

The two-seam fastball that starts in the bottom of the Go Zone will often end up in the 4 Zone. The late movement of the ball makes it dive below the Go Zone after the hitter has already made up his mind to swing. This pitch comes in handy in many situations including:

  • a double play situation
  • a man on third with less than two outs
  • throwing a fastball in a fastball count  
  • first pitch to any hitter

In these situations, you can think about the 4 Zone as the catcher sets up and gives the target. 

Be aggressive early in the count and work in or below the Go Zone, get as many one-pitch outs via ground balls to an infielder as possible. Roy Halladay has been very successful at throwing the sinking fastball in the 4 Zone to induce groundballs early in counts. It keeps pitch counts down, fielders in the game, and also produces the highest double-play possibilities. 

The 4 Zone is also a good place for curveballs and change-ups at any point in the count, any pitch that ends in the 4 Zone has spent time in the strike-zone during flight. It is impossible for a pitch to hit the 4 Zone and be called a hanging pitch. Hanging pitches are pitches that are easy for the hitter to recognize and make contact with. Hangers are usually above the Go Zone with little movement (Danger Zone) just waiting to get crushed. 

It’s important to command breaking pitches in the 4 Zone because it usually means that the pitch has good "tilt" or "depth". Tilt is the top-spin or vertical movement of the curveball while it is crossing the plate. A breaking pitch with good tilt will look more appealing than one with very little tilt. One with no tilt (flat) will go from side-to-side and move off the plate earlier for the hitter to recognize. This will make it easier for the hitter to take the pitch or get his bat on the plane of the ball if he decides to swing. Many pitches in the 4 Zone will result in a ground ball, a called strike, or a swing-and-miss. 

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Chase Zones 5, 6

Posted on April 15, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

The Chase Zones 5 and 6 are black to represent the right and left edges of the strike-zone.  Use the Chase Zones when the hitter is aggressive, which generally means they are behind in the count 0-1, 0-2 or 1-2.  It's a borderline strike but too close for the hitter to take with two strikes.  Even if the hitter decides to swing and makes contact on a pitch in the Chase Zone, generally they will not drive the pitch for extra base-hits or home runs. If they do not decide to swing, it is a perfect strikeout Lokation.

Targeting the Chase Zones ahead in the count it is making the hitter swing at a pitcher's pitch. As pitchers, we try to use the hitter's aggression to our advantage. Therefore, we try to expand the plate when the hitter expands his strike-zone (pitches he is willing to swing at).

The Chase Zones can be utilized to their fullest when ahead in the count. It wouldn't make sense to go for the Chase Zones every pitch because the margin for error is so small. This can lead to high pitch counts and walks if command isn't percise.  Targeting and missing Chase Zones too often can result in fielders losing concentration and ultimately making more errors. High pitch counts also mean shorter outings in terms of innings pitched. 

It can be harder to find a rhythm between pitches if you’re constantly dealing with base-runners and deep counts on the hitter (ex. 2-2, 3-2). The more base-runners you have to deal with, the less you can focus on the hitter, and the more opportunities they have to score. Get ahead in the count with the Go Zone and then expand to the Chase Zones after your ahead while the hitter is aggressive. 

When facing a hitter that is not disciplined at the plate and likes to swing at everything, target the Chase Zones earlier in the count.  There is no reason to throw a pitch down the middle of the plate if the hitter is willing to swing at Chase pitches in any count.  One of the biggest parts of scouting reports is to know which hitters are impatient.

When you prove you can consistently command the Go and Chase Zones, umpires generally will give called strikes more often on pitches in the Chase Zones.  When you are erratic and cannot command the Go Zone, the umpire will normally be less likely to call the Chase Zone pitches strikes.  Show them you can command the Zones and they will reward you with strike calls more often than not.  Umpires can find a rhythm calling strikes when you show them consistency in the Zone. 

With all pitchers, there will be some days where fastball command is very good, and some days where fastball command is a struggle.  It is important to recognize what type of command you have each day and aim accordingly.  For days that you have good command, target Chase Zones more often.  For days that command is a struggle, target more of the plate in the Go Zone. 

Below we have listed a few situations that may be good times for you to target the Chase Zones earlier in the count.  It is not always beneficial to aim for the Chase Zones early in the count but it is important to understand when it can work to your advantage.

  • A Free Swinger 
  • A Hot Hitter
  • A Base Open Late in a Tight Game
  • You have Great Command that Day
  • Umpire has a Big Strike-zone 

Too many pitchers fall into the habit of targeting Chase Zones in hitter's counts.  We also see pitchers aiming at the Chase Zones with pitches they do not have a lot of confidence in when in reality it should be the opposite.  If you don't have confidence in the command of your change up, then you should be aiming it in the middle of the plate and down (2/4 Zones) and letting a miss take it to a Chase Zone instead of aiming the pitch there.  There is little margin for error in the Chase Zones 5 and 6 because they are only as wide as the ball, while the Chase Zone 4 is 18 inches wide should be targeted more often with off speed when even or behind in the count.

 

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Freeze Zones 9, 10

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

Within each of the top corners of the strike-zone there are blue circles called Freeze Zones 9 and 10. They are blue to represent the hitter being "frozen" but they turn to Danger Zones with off speed pitches or with fastballs behind in the count.  If an off speed pitch hits a Freeze Zone it is called "hanging".  If a fastball is thrown there while a hitter is expecting a fastball it can get dangerous because the plane of the ball will be flat.  Flat planed fastballs while the hitter has good timing is asking for trouble.   

Freeze Pitches can be used:

  • as called strike
  • to aim a curveball for a strikeout
  • to aim a slider for a strike
  • jam the hitter in on the hands

When throwing off-speed early in the count (0-0) in the Go Zone, or getting a swing and a miss, a hitter generally looks for the same pitch in 0-2, 1-2 and even 2-2 counts. Whether they like it or not, in the back of their mind they remember the off-speed for a strike, and know they have to protect the plate with two strikes. 

Historically, 0-1, 0-2, 1-2, and sometimes 2-2 counts have been off-speed counts. This is when you have the opportunity to throw a fastball in an inside Freeze Zone. If the hitter is thinking anything other than fastball and you throw a hard fastball in the inside Freeze Zone for a called strike, the hitter ends up like a deer in headlights.  This sequential pattern has been coined “pitching backwards”.

When you can command off speed pitches in the Go Zone early in the count the hitter will generally expect that same pitch with in 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 counts.  If they are looking for the breaking pitch or change-up, a fastball in a Freeze Zone will look much faster and give them less time to react.  We call this increasing perceived velocity. 

If the hitter has to protect against a number of off-speed pitches, an 80-mph fastball could look like 90 MPH.  If the hitter does not have to protect against off speed pitches then a 90 MPH will look more like 80 MPH.  Command off speed pitches in the Go Zone, get ahead in the count, and then utilize the Freeze Zone fastball. 

When facing a hitter a second, third or fourth time through the line-up after getting him out on an off speed pitch previously, the hitter is most likely looking off-speed again when behind in the count.  When hitters anticipate off speed, the best they can do is foul off a Freeze Pitch.  Afterwards they are set up for the off speed pitch again.

The Freeze Zones can also be dangerous. If you are ahead in the count 0-2 or 1-2 the hitter is usually aggressive. If you miss in the Danger Zone, between the Freeze Zones with a fastball, an aggressive hitter will usually take advantage.  It is extremely important to miss off the side of the plate you're throwing to so it will travel through the Purpose Zone. Its like a buy-one-get-one-free deal, if you don't finish the hitter it still gets them off the plate to set up something away to get the out. 

Be cautious of missing too far in when way ahead in the count. It becomes very frustrating to hit a batter with a 0-2 or 1-2 count. But when you do hit a batter ahead in the count, the rest of the team will have that in the back of their helmets when stepping in the box later in the game. This will open up a bigger percentage of the outside of the plate.

The Freeze Zones are useful targets to aim at when throwing a breaking ball with a tighter, later break such as a hard curveball or slider.  Aim hard breaking balls for a strike in the Freeze Zone of your arm side for the pitch to end up in the Go Zone. Start a tight breaking pitch for a strikeout more toward the Danger or Go Zone and let it break towards a Chase Zone in hopes of a swing and miss or a called third strike.  It is important to recognize how much a short breaking ball moves when determining where to aim it.

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Under Zone (U Zone)

Posted on April 10, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

The grey area under the Chase Zones (4, 5, 6) and the Purpose Zones (7, 8) is called the Under Zone or the U Zone.  It doesn't have outlined dimensions like the rest of the Zones but it still very important area to understand and use.  Often times when a pitch is swung at in the U Zone the results are a ground ball or a swing and a miss, but the key is to realize how to get swings at pitches in the U Zone.      

The U Zone shares many of the same qualities as the Chase Zone 4 other than you will rarely get a called strike call from it.  It is a safe place to miss when you are targeting Go (1, 2, 3) or Chase Zones.  It is almost as important to miss in the Under Zone as it is to hit the Zones you are targeting.  The U Zone guarantees a downhill plane on the ball and makes it difficult for the hitter to match the bat plane with the ball plane, this will reduce extra base hits and home runs.  Damage control is a huge component of the Lokator System.   

Hitters who have trouble with the breaking ball are very good candidates to fish for the curveball or slider in the Under Zone, especially when they are behind in the count looking to protect the plate.  Most breaking pitches that end in the U Zone have good tilt or depth, meaning there is most likely vertical movement on the pitch as it crosses through the hitting area.  This will always make it harder for the hitter to make solid contact.            

When a hitter takes a fastball in the Go Zone they recognize what the pitch looks like while the ball is in flight.  If you can follow the fastball with an off speed pitch starting in the same spot of the Go Zone, they will be more likely to swing after tracking the flight of the previous fastball.  Whether or not you use a breaking ball or a change up, the off speed pitch starting in the Go Zone will most likely end up in the U Zone instead of Go Zone, making the pitch more likely to be swung at.  To get swinging strikes in the U Zone it is crucial to command the Go Zone with your fastball.

For older pitchers who throw a split finger fastball, the U Zone can be the most important strikeout area of the Lokator.  A splitter that starts in the bottom of the Go Zone and has a late tumbling action towards the U Zone can promote a ton of strikeouts.  Pitchers with split finger fastballs should also concentrate on commanding their fastball in all three sections of the Go Zone and  following them with splitters in the same slot finishing in the U Zone.     

 

   

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