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I Had A What?

It has been a little over a month now, and I still can’t believe what has happened.

Sunday, May 13th was a  cool and rainy day. It was Mothers Day, and we decided to go to a movie. My wife wanted to see “Avengers”, and since it was her day, I went along.  I am not into movies like that, but it was her day.

The theater was FREEZING! Since I am not into that type of movie, I told my wife that I will wait in the lobby for her and my son.  I guess I saw maybe 30 minutes of the movie, but I was so cold, I just couldn’t take it.

I remember it was about 5:00PM and the movie was ending around 5:45. Sometime between 5-5:45 is when it happened. I was sitting on a bench in the lobby, and all of a sudden everything went dark, and then I was surrounded by thousands of people. They were looking at me and not saying a word. All of them were smiling, and some were waving at me. I have no idea how long this lasted, but when I came to, I saw my wife and son walking towards me. I got up and nearly ran my son over. He was in front of me, but I didn’t see him.

We went home, but I knew something happened. My wife said I kept repeating myself, but she thought I was  just joking around. Once I realized I was repeating myself, I stopped talking.  Something very bizarre happened, just not sure what.

We woke around 7AM on Monday and got ready for work.  I told Brenda that there was something wrong with my right eye. Seems there was a blind spot that wasn’t going away. She then took me to our optometrist. After less then 1 minute with the optometrist, he says I have had a stroke.

 

 

This is a beginning, not an end. Stay tuned.

On The DL

Looks like I could be on the DL for a while. I had a stroke on May 13th.

I will be back though. If you can, send a few prayers up for me.

Thank you.

The Fundamentals of Pitching – Pick-Off Move

More often than not, a base is stolen on the pitcher, not the catcher. If a pitcher gets lazy or forgets the runner, a runner with average speed will take advantage of that by stealing a base. The pitcher controls the tempo of the game, and he can also shut down a running game.  Simply holding the ball will disrupt a base runners rhythm, and varying your looks over to the base will throw off their timing.

Pick-Off Move – First Base

Righthanded Pitcher – It is all about the footwork. When watching a game live, or on television, it happens so fast that it appears that both feet  move at the same time. Actually, the back foot (right foot) disengages from the rubber a split second before the front foot moves.  If he moves his front foot first, it is a balk.

While the pitcher is at the “set” position, or some call it “at the belt”, he will lift the heel of his right foot first to disengage from the pitching rubber. He will then take a slight hop with is right foot and rotate his left foot around and point it at the target, which is 1st base. You do not want to jump and disrupt your motion, it is a slight hop just to get his “pivot” foot in a position to ensure an accurate throw to 1st base. Ensure his left foot is pointing at the target. If it is not, he will have to throw against his body.

The intended target should be the knees or waist of the 1st baseman. If you throw at the bag, you increase the odds of the ball and runner getting to the bag at the same time, which will make it difficult for the 1st baseman to make the catch.

Lefthanded Pitcher - The key to a successful pick-off move to 1st base for a lefthander is deception. What you want to do is confuse the runner to where he can’t tell if you are throwing home, or over to 1st base. Footwork is vital. For a lefty, your left foot is parallel to the pitching rubber. At the “set” position, your feet should be a little less than shoulder width apart. What you want to do is bring your right leg up, as you do in the balance point, but do not let your right foot break the parallel plain of the pitching rubber. In this position, you can either throw home or to 1st base. That is where the deception comes in. As a lefty, you are in the position to always have the runner on first in your sight. The key here is to vary your looks over to the runner. One time look home, back at the runner, then back home and deliver pitch. Then look home, and at runner, back home, then throw over to first. Keep that runner off balance by changing your look. You want to keep that runner close and off balance.

Pick-Off Move – Second Base

I will cover the basic pick-off attempt at 2nd base first, then cover a more advanced pick-off attempt. The basic pick-off to second is to at the “set” position, move your back foot first to disengage from the pitching rubber. Once you have disengaged, you will take a slight hop and turn your body to the glove side toward 2nd base. Your front foot will rotate around to the backside of the pitching rubber. You should straddle the pitching rubber. Make sure you do not lose your balance on the backside of the mound. You want to be sure you are in control of your pivot and have good balance. Get your head around to see your target. Make a good, quick and accurate throw to 2nd base.

An advanced pick-off move to 2nd base will take time and practice to perfect as this is a timing play between the pitcher and the middle infielder. It is called the “spin move” and you use what is termed the “daylight play”. The “daylight play” is you throw it to second once you see daylight between the runner and the bag. This has to be planned as the middle infielder will not be covering the bag. That is part of the deception.  The “spin move” involves lifting the front leg and rotate at the hip back toward 2nd base.  You will then step off the pitching rubber and throw to 2nd base. You do not have to come up and throw all at once. Make it appear to the runner that you are throwing home, then rotate your front leg back towards 2nd base. Chances are, when you bring your front leg up, the base runner will be in no-mans land.  What you do not want to do is rotate and throw immediately to 2nd base as the runner will take off toward 3rd base.  If he takes off once he realizes you are turning back toward 2nd base, hold the ball and run right at him. This will create a run-down, and I will cover the run-down when I get into infield defense. But for now, you want to run at the runner to make him commit to going toward 3rd. Once he has reached top speed running toward third, get the ball to the 3rd baseman in enough time where he can make the play.

Do not get in the habit of always showing the runner your best pick-off move. Vary your looks and your move. You can also come set and just hold the ball while staring the runner down. This will disrupt the runners timing, and also wear him down a little. You do not have to throw over all the time to be effective. Control the tempo.

 

On Deck – Fielding The Position

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The Fundamentals of Pitching – The Stretch

So, you have a good foundation to work from now that you have the windup down. Even if you have a flawless pitcher that is fundamentally sound, there will be times when a batter gets the best of him and will become a base runner.  When a pitcher has runners on, he will pitch from the stretch position. Pitching from the stretch cuts down on the amount of time it takes to deliver a pitch, plain and simple. The stretch also puts you in a position to try and pick runners off the base.

The Stretch

The stretch often times is the first pitching motion that pitchers learn.  It seems a lot less complicating than the full windup, and for the younger ones, it probably is.  For the younger guys, they do not have to worry about holding runners.  All they do is pick up their leg, separate their hands from the glove and throw. Pretty basic stuff.  If your pitcher feels most comfortable throwing from the stretch, make sure he is doing it correctly.

For righthanded pitchers, start with your right foot parallel to the pitching rubber and your back to first base. For a lefthanded pitcher, it is the opposite.  If you went through The Windup article, what you are doing is eliminating the first step (pivot), and starting at step 2, kind of. In step 2 of the windup, you bring your front leg up and pause at that point to gather your hands and leg.  You will not pause when you bring your front leg up in the stretch.

With your foot parallel to the rubber, bend down at the waist towards home to receive either your signal or location. Your hand is behind your back with the ball. Your glove hand is on your front knee, which is extended out in front down the mound, kind of like your stride. Keep the ball in your hand as this will allow you to throw over to first base at any time.

After receiving your sign or location from the catcher, you will bring your body to the upright position, foot still parallel to the pitching rubber. This is called the “set” position. You will join your hand with the glove at the waist, the chest, or anywhere in between in a smooth motion.   You must come to a complete and discernible stop.  Your feet should be a little less than shoulder width apart, and about 60% of your weight should be on the back leg.  At this point, you can only move your head to check the runners. If your shoulders move at all, you will be called for a balk. This does not apply to the younger players, but you may as well get them used to it at an earlier age so that by the time they are older and have to hold runners on, they will adapt easier.

At this point, you are ready to lift that front leg, just as you do in step 2, or the balance point in your windup. The only difference is, in the windup, you will bring your front leg up and gather, then pause at that point. When pitching from the stretch, you do not want to have a pause in any part of your delivery. As I mentioned earlier, you want to speed your delivery to the plate, and that does not mean throwing fastballs. If the runner is stealing, you want to give your catcher a chance to throw the runner out.

I mentioned earlier that from the stretch position, you will need to cut down on the amount of time on your delivery to the plate.  I was at Coolray Field this morning, and the coach from the other team left this hanging on the dugout wall next to the bat rack so all the hitters could see the amount of time it takes the pitcher to deliver the pitch to home plate. These are the notes the opposing team took of former Atlanta Braves pitcher, and now Gwinnett Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens, as well as the relievers that followed him in last night’s game. At the major league level, coach’s look for the catcher to receive the ball and throw to 2nd base in 2 seconds or less. So, if the base runner can get from first to second in 3 seconds or less, he has a good chance to steal the base.

Going from these notes, Valvarro would be the hardest pitcher to steal a base on, seeing as it only takes him 1.09 – 1.19 seconds to deliver the pitch to the plate. Chapman had the slowest time to the plate at 1.41 – 1.52 seconds to the plate.

Once you come out of the balance position, you will then get into the power position, rotate, and follow through just as you do in your windup.

On deck – Pick-off Move

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The Fundamentals of Pitching – The Windup

It has been referred to as the “5 gears”, the “5 Links of the Chain”, the “Pitchers 5 Step”, and many other terms. Quite simply, it is the windup. It is here where you separate the “Thrower” from the “Pitcher”. It is the mechanics. A pitchers mechanics are broken down into 5 steps. If one of the 5 steps were to break down, it could effect their entire motion.

I heard the term “5 Links of the Chain” in college from former Major League pitcher John Tudor, and I use that model when I work with pitchers. Then I heard former Major League pitcher John Habyan mention it at a Cal Ripken Jr. baseball clinic I attended. A few years back, I had a former Atlanta Braves minor league pitcher come out to a practice, and he mentioned the “5 Links of the Chain”. If 3 different former MLB players use that philosophy to teach pitchers, I feel pretty comfortable that what I am teaching is mechanically sound. Think of it like this, if one of the links breaks, it will effect the entire chain.

The Windup

I will list the 5 steps in chronological order. It is in this order that you will teach your pitchers the windup, and it is in this order that you will analyze your pitcher. There are variations to each step, and players will adapt to where they feel most comfortable. As a pitching coach, your job is to see to it that your pitchers throw strikes consistently. One pitcher will not look exactly like another, but as long as they are throwing strikes, their motion is smooth, and they can throw with no pain or discomfort, don’t get tied down with trying to make each pitcher look the exact same way. Look at Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum. They both look different, but they both win. Use this as your standard baseline to begin with, and let the individual player adapt his own style.

Feet – This is where you start, and this is the first thing you look at when analyzing or working with a pitcher. Where on the rubber do you place your feet? Quick answer, it doesn’t matter. Where ever the pitcher feels most comfortable and can throw strikes from should be your answer. Some like to stand on the far left, some on the far right, and some like it somewhere in between. Are there advantages to where you place your feet in relation to the rubber? Sure there are, but that is for when they get older. Right now you are building a foundation, so let them start where ever they feel comfortable.

Start with the heels on the rubber and their toes touching the ground in front of the rubber. I have seen some atrocious mounds with a huge dip in front of the rubber. If they can’t comfortably stand in the middle of the rubber and have balance, have them move to where they can. The pitcher will need to have good balance to prepare himself for the next move, which is the pivot. If the pitcher starts with just his toes on the rubber, when he starts to go back, he will will need to lift his foot, then place it back down in front of the rubber. If there is a ditch in front of the rubber, this will be difficult. I can not stress enough how important his set up is. Heels on the rubber with toes on the dirt in front of the mound.

As far as hand and glove position at this point is up to the pitcher. Some have the glove at their side with ball in their hand, and others have the ball in the glove. I recommend, especially for the young pitchers, to have their hand in the glove with the baseball. Whether they want to hold it at their waist or at the chest is again, personal preference. I want them to find their grip on the baseball before they start their motion as part of their set up.

Now that the pitcher has a good and stable set up, we are now ready to start our motion. The pitcher will take a small step back with his glove side leg, and pivot his foot to parallel with the pitching rubber. That step should be at about a 45 degree angle, or slightly off to the side of the rubber. Do not step straight back as this could cause the pitcher to lose his balance due to the backside slope of the mound. Again, I have seen less than ideal mounds where the back side slope of the mound starts about 6-8 inches behind the rubber. The pitching coach should note his tempo in his back step. Is it quick and violent, or is it smooth? You want a nice and smooth step. You want to have your pitcher keep his head over his pivot foot. A violent, quick motion usually means his head is going back with his step causing his momentum to go in the wrong direction.  Telling the pitcher to focus on keeping head over pivot foot will result in a shorter back step.

The reason for a back step is to prepare for the pivot. You want to pivot your foot to where it is parallel with the rubber. Do not get lazy on this move. If they just spin their heel on the rubber, or leave it at a 45 degree angle to the rubber, at their balance point, they will be pointing away from home. That would leave them open, and it is difficult to correct themselves if the first link is broken.

Balance Point – This is where the front side leg comes up. A quick test is to have your pitcher hold this position for a count of 5. If his balance point is correct, he should easily be able to hold it. Again, note the pitchers tempo. Is he controlling that movement, or is he rushing through this point because he can’t hold his balance?  At the balance point, his leg position should be slightly closed, or his knee should be pointing slightly back  toward second base, not third base (for a right-hander) or first base (for a left-hander).  If his leg is not slightly closed, he will open too soon causing him to land awkwardly and his forward motion will take him away from the catcher.

As the pitchers leg comes up, this is where he gathers his hands and leg. The pitcher should be comfortable and should have a slight pause at the highest point of his leg lift. At the height of his leg lift is the balance point. His hands should be gathered just above his knee and away from his body, and he should be leaning slightly forward from the waist. You may have seen pitchers who have a high leg kick and their hands are low, or a low leg kick with hands high. This is the step in their windup where they achieve balance and gather. Whether they feel comfortable with a high or low leg kick is up to the pitcher. If he is doing those 2 things (balance and gather) in this step, he puts himself in a better position to throw strikes.

In my experience, a pitcher loses his balance at this point because he is either straight up or leaning back slightly, or his hands are too close to his body, or a combination of both. If he loses his balance, he will rush to get to his release point and lessens his chance of throwing strikes. To keep and maintain your balance, you will need strong legs.

Power Position – If a pitcher wants to enhance his velocity, create movement, and throw strikes, it is crucial to get them in the correct power position. When the pitcher comes out of the balance point, the power position is formed when he does these 3 things;

  1. Removes ball from glove.
  2. Points the front arm and shoulder at target.
  3. Strides toward home.

Lets start with the first one, removing the ball from the glove. The hand and the ball come out on a slight downward angle, and then move upward creating almost a circular motion. The hands and fingers should be on top of the baseball. At the moment before his hand comes forward, he should be pointing toward center field with hand on top of the baseball. Having your hand on top of the baseball will create arm action. Arm action is created when you go from hand on top of the ball to hand behind the ball. You do not want to have your hand underneath the ball before your arm starts its move forward. If he has his hand underneath the ball, he will not be able to create correct arm action and will not be able to get into the “L” position (more on the “L” position in the next step). This is easy to spot as your pitcher will look like the old ‘Iron Mike’ pitching machine.

Next step is you will want to be able to point your front shoulder and arm at the target. The front arm at this point is very critical as it provides direction toward your target. If you do not use your front arm, you will be inconsistent throwing strikes and you will not be in a position to create torque in your rotation (the next link). Your front arm will be your glove side. When you have the hand with the ball facing centerfield, your glove side arm is bent inwards toward your chest.  This is the position that all fielders should be in when they throw a baseball.

In your stride towards home, make sure your weight doesn’t come forward before you are ready. The weight shift comes at the end of rotation and follow-through.  The stride home is just that, a stride. When a pitcher gets to far out front with his weight transfer, the term used is he is not “staying back”.

Rotation – The previous step talked about the pitcher keeping his weight back and creating torque. Now is when he starts coming toward the plate. This is the step where the hand goes from being on top of the baseball to behind the baseball. As his arm comes forward, the elbow should be slightly above the shoulder creating an “L”. I have had discussions with parents and coach’s about this, and their question is what if a pitcher throws from a 3/4 delivery? Do they still need to form the “L”? And my answer is yes. Keeping the elbow above the shoulder lessens the risk of injury. And when you are talking about someone that is not coming straight over the top, that is what is called their arm slot.  They still need to keep their elbow slightly above their shoulder, it is the arm slot that will differ from player to player.

Now, as the arm is rotating forward, his front arm, or glove side arm, should be retracting. In other words, while his throwing arm is moving forward, he should pull down and back with is glove side arm. This is what creates the torque, and where strong core muscles will create velocity as your torso is doing much of the work in this stage.

The hips should also be rotating in sync with the upper body, and your front foot should be facing your target when it lands. If your front foot does not rotate, it will block off your front hip which will change your direction towards the plate. If this happens, you will be throwing across your body. You want those hips to open, and your belt buckle pointing in the direction you want the pitch to go, almost like a batter. Clear your front side hip out of your way to open the path to the plate.

You want to make sure the pitcher is maintaining good posture all the way through this step. You want the pitcher to stay tall so he can work downhill. You do this by keeping your back foot on the rubber.  I mentioned earlier about bringing your weight forward too early, and this is where it usually happens. You can see this happen when a pitcher brings his back foot forward at the same time as his throwing arm. What you want is to release your back foot from the rubber a split second AFTER the ball is released. When a pitcher releases his foot and the ball at the same time, it is called “not staying back”.

Follow-Through – Just like when we discussed follow-through on a hitters swing, the follow-through for a pitcher is the result of the momentum the pitcher has created in the previous 4 steps. If your pitcher is not creating enough momentum, he will not have a strong finish. If he doesn’t have a strong finish, the pitcher is often times told to bend his back. You should ask, why isn’t he bending his back. More often than not, the breakdown occurred at step 3 or 4, not in his follow-through. In pitching, the breakdown is not happening at the point where you see it, it may have happened much earlier.

The follow-through varies from pitcher to pitcher. Some players consistently throw strikes, their form looks good, but their follow-through leaves them in a bad fielding position.  Some pitchers can control their follow-through where they end up in perfect fielding position. What do you do? Remember the role of the pitcher. Throw strikes…period. Am I going to tinker with a follow-through of a pitcher that consistently throws strikes to have him finish in the perfect fielding position? Nope. I will let him continue to command the strike zone, and let my infielders cover their positions.

In conclusion, a coach should always look at a pitcher and evaluate what he does. Look at his 4-seam and 2-seam fastball and see if he throws consistent strikes. Then, break down his mechanics step by step. Use these steps to not only build the foundation, but to also analyze problems a pitcher may have. Take it step by step.  Teach your pitchers these 5 steps so they will understand what you are talking about when you make a visit to the mound. And the old adage is true, if it is not broke, don’t fix it.

The observation period is critical. Before you can offer advice, you need to know what you are looking at before offering.

On Deck – The Stretch

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The Fundamentals of Pitching – Gripping the Baseball

The younger pitchers I have worked with just grab a baseball and throw. They do not need to understand how the seams of the baseball interact with the airflow above and below the baseball. They are too young to understand the physics behind it, but they are not too young to understand how to grip a baseball.  The first two grips I teach them are the 4-seam and the 2-seam grip. Arm strength and velocity will improve by throwing fastballs, and the fastball should be their foundation. As they mature and grow stronger, they will eventually start seeing movement on these pitches. And by being able to locate and change speeds, they will become an effective pitcher.

Gripping the Baseball

4-seam grip – This is the most important grip to teach to the young guys as this is the grip that you want your infielders and outfielders to use as the action on this pitch is mostly true, or straight to the target with very little movement on it. He should hold the ball across 4 seams. There are 2 ways to do this. When you look at a baseball,  the seams form a horseshoe. You will have an open end and a closed end of the horseshoe. For the pitcher with the smaller hand, it is better fit with the open end of the horseshoe closest to the index finger (as pictured).  Since the index finger is shorter, and it is closer to the open end, the seam drops down and allows the pitcher to make contact with the seam with both the index and middle finger. For the pitchers with a bigger hand, it doesn’t matter if your index finger is closer to the open or the closed end of the horseshoe. They can choose whichever is more comfortable.

Spread your index and middle finger apart, but not too far. The wider apart they are, the more velocity you will lose. The thumb is the anchor, so do not let it ride up and rest on the side of the ball.  This makes it difficult to throw strikes. The thumb should rest underneath the baseball. You do not want to jam the baseball in the back of the hand. Let the baseball “breathe”. Hold the baseball like it is an egg. Having your fingertips on the seams produces rotation, which helps with velocity and movement.

2-seam grip – This grip, unlike the 4-seam grip, will have some movement if thrown with enough velocity. The arm action is the same as a fastball, which is good because the hitter will not know what is coming unless he focuses on the rotation. The job of a pitcher is to deceive the batter. If I can throw a pitch with the same arm action, but one has late movement on it and the other one doesn’t, I will take that every time.

The pitcher should hold the baseball with the seams. Make sure your fingers are comfortably spaced apart. You do not want your fingers riding up on the ball. What I mean by that is as you get closer to the closed end of the horseshoe, the seams get wider apart, and your fingers will be wider apart as well. Just like the 4-seam grip, the wider your fingers are, the more loss of velocity you will experience. Whether you grip on the seams, or just inside the seams is a matter of comfort and preference.  Go with the grip that allows maximum velocity and movement, and you can consistently throw strikes with.

If you are a right-handed pitcher throwing to a right-handed batter, a 2-seam fastball will run inside. If you are a left-handed pitcher, it will do the opposite, run away from a right-handed batter.

Ideally, you would like to have movement with your fastball as this does not involve any unnatural movement of your elbow. You want to stay on top of the ball and release it naturally. Just remember, throw strikes. If you are having problems commanding the 2-seam pitch, go to your 4-seam. Throwing strikes takes precedence over movement.

On Deck – The Windup

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The Fundamentals of Pitching – Building a Firm Foundation

Teaching a player how to become a pitcher is probably the most intimidating skill set to teach in baseball. There are a thousand theories on how to pitch out there, and I am sure you have heard them all.  My theory is as long as you are fundamentally sound, you will have success on the mound. Success on the mound, especially for the young pitcher, is not measured by wins and losses. A pitcher can have a good game, but still lose because his fielders behind him had too many errors. Is it the pitchers fault because he threw too many strikes? Absolutely not. On the other hand, if the pitcher is wild and is not consistently throwing strikes, he is not giving his defense a chance to help him. A good fundamental baseball team must be built, and your pitching staff is its foundation.

The pitcher controls the tempo of the game. If a pitcher is wild and inconsistent, his defense will get lazy and be on their heels. If a pitcher is consistently throwing strikes, more balls will be put in play which will keep the defense on its toes. A good pick off move can shut down a running game, and a pitcher on top of his game can dominate. Nothing happens on the diamond until the pitcher releases the ball.

Besides the outbursts of “get your elbow up” from the parents in the stands and the coach’s in the dugout, probably the 2nd most often heard comment at a baseball game is “throw strikes”. Believe me, as a former pitcher myself, that is exactly what we are trying to do! Watch his delivery and see what is breaking down.  Get the young pitchers in the habit  of using proper mechanics.

Each pitcher will have their own style.  As long as they are fundamentally sound, let them develop their own style. Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay have completely different styles, but they both win.  The most difficult part as a pitching coach sometimes is to know when to coach, and when to not coach.

When I looked at pitchers, I looked for control first, not velocity. If he has good control, we can add velocity through drills. If he has good control and is throwing pain free, chances are his mechanics are pretty good. He is getting to his release point on time.  By focusing on his results first rather than his mechanics, you may be reluctant to tinker with his delivery, even if his mechanics are a little unorthodox. The key is to make sure he is pain free in his motion and is consistent.

I have a lot of writing to do on this topic, so time for me to get busy.

On Deck – Gripping The Baseball

 

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