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On Velocity Being the Most Important Thing

I am fortunate enough to have a handful of acquaintances who work in professional baseball that I can freely discuss things without fear of dismissal. One friend of mine is a minor league pitching coach, who got in a discussion with me about velocity and command. The conversation went like this:

Him: You should see some of the ridiculous crap we get. Guys who throw 95 MPH but can’t throw a strike to save their lives. Unreal. Command is so important, pounding the strike zone is so important.
Me: I agree with that for sure, but velocity is a floor – no one is going to look at a guy who throws in the low 80’s who pounds it.
Him: I dunno. Our organization is full of flamethrowers with no idea what the hell is going on. Give me the strike throwers.

20 minutes elapsed while I spoke to him about other non-baseball related topics, […]

By |October 17th, 2013|Sabermetrics, Training|2 Comments

Locating Up in the Zone – Better for Amateur/Recreational Pitchers

Pitchers at all levels of the game are told to locate their pitches in the bottom half of the zone so they can get hitters to swing over the top of the pitch and produce ground balls. As everyone knows, ground balls are the best way to prevent runs, since you can’t hit ground balls over the fence and it’s tough to hit them into the gaps for extra bases. Apologies to all coaches of youth, high school, and many college pitchers, but: You’re wrong. Pitchers should locate their fastballs and breaking balls in the top half of the zone to get the most success when competing against average youth, high school, and most college hitters.
Ground Balls: Be Careful What You Wish For
It’s happened to everyone – including me – you get a ton of ground balls, your defense boots the ball around, you end up giving up 1 or 2 earned runs but a plethora of unearned runs. When your coach comes and pulls you from the game, he says: “Nothing you could have done, kid. Defense just didn’t play behind you,” pats you on the butt, and tells you to get your running in.

Your teammates apologize for booting that easy ball in the hole, for not picking that ball at first base, and dropping that easy double play opportunity. Being a good teammate, you say “Ah, it happens. Get ‘em next time.” Then while running your poles, you reflect on how particularly unlucky you were that day. If only Bobby hadn’t lost that ball in the sun and Roger didn’t sail that ball from shortstop, you would have gotten out of that long inning. But were you unlucky? Think about it: You did everything you were supposed to – get a few strikeouts, not walk too many, and got a lot of ground balls. And what were you rewarded with? Hasn’t this happened before? What if you got fly balls instead? Don’t hitters swing and miss on your fastballs up in the zone – and when they make contact, don’t they often go for fly ball outs? How many home runs does the entire school have, anyway? Four? But what’s the team batting average – .380? Here are the two major reasons you want to get ground balls at the MLB level:

Sluggers often hit fly balls over the fence.
Defense at the MLB level is insanely elite.

Think about those reasons for a minute. Do either of those reasons apply to your high school league? What do you think the average HR rate on fly balls is in your league? I guarantee it’s not 11%. (MLB Average HR/FB rate.) We’ve already established defenders at the HS/College level are orders of magnitude worse than the Dominican and Venezuelan infielders of MLB (to say nothing of the local product), so why are you applying a heuristic to a completely different game?

Tons of data and a shattered myth after the jump… […]

By |May 14th, 2012|Articles, Sabermetrics|2 Comments

Why Have I Lost Fastball Velocity?

Pitchers at all levels can lose fastball velocity – the meal ticket – over a season and wonder to themselves: What’s the deal? If you’re one of those pitchers who is seeing a drop in velocity despite no mechanical changes and no apparent injury, I have a very simple answer for you: You don’t work hard enough in-season.

Consider what Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez does to prepare for his starts during the MLB season:
He’s special in that he plays long toss every day, and it’s not even the normal long toss. It’s almost an extreme long toss. He probably throws the baseball about 280 to 300 feet. For the most part you see guys go out — the longer guys — 200 feet, maybe 225 feet. In his case, he throws the ball with a lot of height — he really gets a lot of air under it — and […]

By |May 13th, 2011|Training|3 Comments