The Importance of the Baseball Pitch
“Wow! He has a great arm!” Pitchers have an important task in the game of baseball. Their assignment is to deliver the ball to the batter, within a certain area, without either hitting the batter or going outside the prescribed area. Since the pitcher is stationed, in professional games, 60 feet and 6 inches from the back of the home plate, this task is not, perhaps, as easy as it might sound.
When the mechanics are incorrect, injuries occur. When a pitcher’s arm (especially the elbow) develops problems, it is most often due to the way the pitcher throws the ball. This is often based upon how pitching was taught to them. Too much emphasis placed on velocity, for instance, can be detrimental to the shoulder and elbow of the pitcher.
At the same time, each pitcher is different, and there is no cookie-cutter method that will serve everyone exactly the same. The important part is to be certain the ball will consistently reach the plate where the pitcher desires it to go, and without injury.
Generally, the mechanics of pitching a baseball include standing up straight, using non-dominant leg for balance, stepping toward the catcher with toes pointed in that direction, and keeping fingers on top of the ball. Different coaches will have additional, more detailed recommendations (or requirements) for pitchers, but these are the basic steps.
When there are players on base, it is important to keep an eye out for them, and to pitch quickly to make it possible to potentially get base runners out.
To evaluate the pitching mechanics of any given pitcher, it is necessary to videotape using a high-speed camera, in order to be able to slow down the action and view it frame by frame. Since a pitch is a high-speed activity, this is the only way to see properly whether the pitching mechanics are being properly applied and how to adjust.
Some things to which attention should be paid when evaluating a pitcher’s mechanics include movement speed and natural movement (as opposed to slow, robotic movement), leg movement, angle of the front foot, sideways movement, stride length, head position, support foot’s contact with the ground, landing foot placement, finger placement on the ball, when the hands break, and posture throughout.
What makes up an effective pitch?
Predictability can be a detriment to effective pitching. If the batter is off-guard, it is less likely that a good hit will be achieved. The best way to do this is to change up the speed and placement of each pitch, but not in a predictable way.
It is important to make a note of whether the batter is left-handed or right-handed. The pitches should be different based on this factor, along with which hand is the pitcher’s dominant hand. If a pitcher throws the same pitch every time, it is certain that the batter will hit it. If one pitch is faster and another is slower, one is inside and the other is outside, then the batter is more likely to misjudge the timing and/or location of the ball and miss, or at least hit ineffectively.
Understanding the pitch count
The pitch count refers to how many pitches a pitcher makes. There is a limit on how many pitches each pitcher is allowed before being required to relinquish the post to another pitcher. This is to protect the pitcher from injury, as well as to keep the pitching fresh and in the best possible condition.
Different levels of the game use different limits. Little League, for instance, has a much lower pitch count limit than that set for Major League pitchers.
Until the 1980s, when the pitch count became more prevalent, a pitcher would stay in the game until he was no longer effective or until the game ended. Since the pitch count became popular, it is common for a pitcher to be removed from the game even if their pitches are still effective. This has caused some opposition, as some critics insist that using a pitch count is babying the pitcher and that is causing injuries rather than preventing them.
While a pitcher’s count may exceed 100 (the most common limit), it is becoming more and more rare for the count to exceed 125. The highest pitch count since 2005 in a Major League Baseball game was 149, by Edwin Jackson (pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks) on June 25, 2010.
The goal for a pitcher is to strike out the batter. Getting a strike on the first pitch to an opponent at-bat is a confidence-booster for the pitcher. It also serves to lessen the confidence of the batter, at the same time. This puts the advantage squarely on the pitcher.
Of course, the opposite is also true. If the first pitch is a hit or a ball, then the confidence boost applies to the hitter, instead, and the pitcher is affected negatively.
Studies have shown that the batting average aspired to is .300 (that is, three of every 10 pitches are hit). The record high of all time is Ted Williams, who played for the Boston Red Sox in the 1930s and 1940s; his record is .406, set in 1941. It is extremely rare for modern baseball players to achieve a batting average that high. The record since then is held by Ty Cobb at .366. The record low is .179 from 1991, by a player named Rob Deer.
A study of the first pitch strike situation discovered that – compared to a 2003 average across all teams of .268 – those who had a strike first went on to hit an average of .239. A number that may mean more to some people is 7.3% – the percentage of hitters who went on to hit a base hit after their first pitch resulted in a strike. That means that 92.7% of those who had a strike first did not get on base. That is a pretty significant number!
Strikes are important, also, because a goal for many pitchers is to pitch a no-hitter. This naturally means that every pitch that ends as a strike is one more toward that goal.