How a Baseball Coach Should Manage a Youth Pitching Staff
Team try-outs will certainly leave you with a good idea of your potential pitching staff. Even so, the staff must be established as early in the spring as possible so that their skills can be honed. Start by observing each pitcher throwing to an equipped catcher with a non-swinging batter; many kids look like the next Clayton Kershaw until a batter steps up to the plate. Look for a combination of good mechanics, the ability to hit locations, and velocity. After you identify the players that consistently throw strikes, have them pitch a few inter-squad games to evaluate each under pressure.
Once the staff is selected, divide them into two evenly-talented groups and teach pitching drills on alternate days. For example, on Monday, Group A works on long-toss and change-up drills; Group B throws a short bullpen routine, or works on delivery mechanics. On Wednesday, switch groups then move on to a new set of drills for Friday.
On the Right: Teach them to pitch inside the shaded area; the red regions are hotter for the batter, the blue is tougher to hit. Avoid pitching within the ‘U’.
While pitching instruction is open to numerous interpretations, my best results have come through a combination of mechanics, grips, and location.
Mechanically, the key points are proper foot location on the rubber (slightly to the throwing arm side), proper knee (not foot) lift, gliding to the release point, placing the lead foot down on a line that is drawn from the back heel, keeping the arm in as close to an “L” position as possible, a glove tuck, a good hip release, and a full follow-through. Keep the delivery as simple as possible, eliminating all non-essential movements.
Drills to develop your staff include:
Throwing from one knee to develop follow-through, release point, and full arm extension;
Long-toss drills to develop arm strength and change-ups;
Starting from the proper lead foot landing position to master the “L” and correct arm takeaway; and
Throwing a modified bullpen to develop ability to hit locations (pitcher throws about 80-85% speed to a catcher, who is set up about five-to-eight feet in front of the plate; the catcher alternates corners with each successful pitch).
Regardless of the mechanical flaw, always try to break the method down into its simplest subpart and use repetition. Also, encourage a young or struggling pitcher to throw from the stretch instead of the windup. Often times the extra motion associated with the windup will make it difficult for a pitcher to achieve a balance point, which leads to further problems related to the correct throwing motion.
Location is the key to successful pitching. My philosophy calls for pitching to a “U” running from just under the batter’s hands, down to the lower half of the strike zone, to an equal position opposite the batter’s hands on the outside of the plate. This is really a variation of pitching to the inner/outer thirds, combined with a desire to keep the ball down. Only throw down the middle (and then low) if the batter is extremely weak or you have a strong sinker. Also, if you are going to bring the ball up, do so only where the batter has a bad upper cut swing or lunges.
Moreover, remember these tips for helping your staff handle opposing batters:
Pitch inside to young batters
If you must miss, miss low
Upset the batter’s rhythm by changing speeds
Get ahead of the batter in the count
That last point is perhaps the most important. According to Joe McFarland, author of Coaching Pitchers, in a study done at the college level, batters hit an average of .199 on a 0-1 count, versus .342 on a 1-0 count. Hitters are their fiercest on 2-0, batting .386.
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