3 Ways To Coach a Better Bullpen

Identifying Strengths
Positive Reinforcement
Ask the Right Questions
Final Thoughts

Identifying Strengths

Identifying your Strengths

Each pitcher is unique to their own personal set of strengths and weaknesses.  In the first couple of bullpens that a pitcher throws, it is possible to create a script that is designed to shine a light on strengths and expose weaknesses through tracking execution.  In a bullpen setting there is less stress when compared to a game and facing a hitter, so the consistency of execution can be tracked to modify pitch selection and location.

Cookie cutter approach to bullpens is having different types of pitchers throw the same script and thinking that every pitcher is getting the same.  development out of it. For individualization of a bullpen that fits the needs of a pitcher, there are a couple of things to identify first.

Primary Fastball

A pitcher’s repertoire or arsenal is determined by type of fastball.  There are predominantly two types of fastball that are used as primary weapons, the Four Seam fastball and the Two Seam fastball.  There are variations of each, but the premise behind core grips lays the foundation of what type of pitcher you are or are working with.  

A Four Seam fastball is a command pitch, a Two Seam fastball is a contact pitch.  This does not mean that one cannot use a two seam with a command intent or look for weak contact with a Four Seam.  We are only stating that a Four Seam tends to stay more straight and is easier to control.  While a Two Seam will naturally have more movement and can be more difficult to keep in the strike zone. 

OffSpeed Weapons

Once you have found the primary fastball it is important to identify the pitcher’s offspeed strengths.  In keeping things simple, we will break these into Changeups and Breaking Balls.  When using these within the script, you want to minimize the use of the best offspeed early on in the bullpen as it is something that the pitcher can fall back on for a ‘feel good’ round.  In other words, you just want to touch on the best offspeed to maintain it while spending more time focusing on better fastball command and developing the third pitch. 

Organized Randomness

There are things that you can do as a coach when scripting that will allow the player to focus differently and stay out of his own way.   You can alternate use of pitches, for instance, 1 Fastball and 2 Changeups followed by 2 Fastballs and 1 Changeup.  This is much different than throwing 3 Fastballs in a row followed by 3 Changeups in a row, in both cases the pitcher threw 6 total pitches and an even amount of both, but by alternating and blending usage the pitcher can gain valuable information of how his delivery is effected.  A rule of thumb followed by most professionals is to not throw more than 3, sometimes 2, of the same pitch in a row.  This is because a pitcher will start to alter mechanics to fit the grip/movement/shape of a pitch rather than build off his best fastball delivery. 

The structure of a bullpen always comes from the individual strengths of the pitcher.  It is important to note that quicker progression can be found when there is collaboration.  Let the player lead on what he thinks his strengths and weaknesses are, let them be a part of the conversation and take responsibility for the pitches they throw.  This can be a great exercise in finding out whether or not the pitcher knows what he is actually good at when it comes to executing pitches.