How To Call Pitches – A Guide For Youth Coaches & Parents

Oct 22, 2020 by Mike Castellani in  Youth Baseball Advice Youth Baseball Coach
How To Call Pitches

The following article was written by Mike Castellani, a current professional pitcher.

Read time: 2 min

 

One of the questions I get asked the most, by parents, is how to call pitches. Calling the “right” pitch consistently can be the difference between a quality start and a start that does not make it out of the first inning. The first way to handle calling pitches is to understand that each arm on your staff is different.  We never want to call pitches based on what the book might say, but rather we call pitches that allow the individual to be placed in a situation where he/she can succeed most often.

 

Here are some steps you, as the coach, should follow:

 

Step 1: Preparation

 

  • First step with your pitchers is to identify what their most accurate pitch is, and what their best “swing and miss” pitch is. For most young pitchers this will be fastball, curveball, respectively, but this is not always the case.
  • The next step is to identify which side of the plate your pitcher feels most comfortable throwing to, and this is done by seeing if their fastball has natural tail (armside run), or natural cut. Most pitchers will favor the side of the plate that is closer to their armside, since most fastballs tail.
  • Talk with both the pitchers and catchers about pitch calling, and allow them to shake off pitches they do not agree with. The best way for young players to learn is by self-calling games, and believe me if they shake off to a pitch that then gets hit hard they will listen and learn much more than if you had called the pitch.  Let the pitchers think for themselves and welcome a dialogue of pitch selection.  Afterall, our goal is to develop talent, by letting them learn how to think critically in pressure situations.

 

Now we get to the actual pitch sequencing.  This can be a challenge for a lot of coaches who tend to get repetitive I.E. throwing fastballs early and curveballs later in counts.  The easiest way to call pitches is to throw what the hitter is least likely to hit HARD. This is an important point. We as coaches are not trying to strike every hitter out, we are trying to throw the least amount of pitches and get our team back on offense.  Throwing a curveball and inducing a swing and miss, is not always the best plan of action, when a fastball would have gotten a ground ball double play.

 

Step 2: Learning to read swings:

 

Reading the Hitter's Swing

 

Hitters give away a ton of information even before they swing the bat.  Identifying individual weaknesses is key to effective pitch calling.  Here is a watch list of common hitter tendencies.

How far does the hitter stand from the plate?

  • Watching the feet of the hitter gives us pitch number one of any sequence. If a hitter is standing too far away from the plate we must throw him a fastball away and force him to move closer exposing the inside part of the plate for future pitches.  If the hitter stands too close the exact opposite is true.

Where does the hitter stride?

  • Watching where the hitter strides is also a huge key to beating him/her. If the hitter strides open or closed we can exploit that with fastballs.  If a righty hitter that strides slightly towards third (open) will struggle hitting fastballs away with any type of conviction, meaning you will get easy contact outs.  If that same hitter strides towards first (closed) they will struggle hitting inside pitches and will jam easily.

How is the hitter’s timing

  • The single easiest way to beat a hitter is by throwing the pitch they are least timed up for. So many young hitters sell out for fastballs that they get out in front of every pitch they see.  If we see a super aggressive hitter we need to think about throwing fastballs in and off-speed down.  Off-speed obviously makes sense, but the inside fastball maybe less so.  If a hitter is early on everything his contact point will be in front of the plate.  This means that with an inside fastball he can only hit the ball foul.  Even if he hits it 300 feet it will always be foul. Winning strikes on fastballs early sets up the breaking ball finale.  Take what the hitter gives you and use his aggression to gain advantage counts.

How does the hitter react to off-speed?

  • Very rarely do I ever throw the same pitcher twice. Mixing speeds is the key to pitching, but sometimes the hitter gives up his hand and we must exploit it. Identify a hitter being fooled versus a hitter just not being capable of hitting off-speed is vital to calling a good game.  Most hitters will be fooled on off-speed if their landing foot strides way too early for the pitch and they will thus swing through the pitch.  But if the hitter is striding on time with the off-speed and still missing then you have identified a weakness.  It is important to watch how the hitter strides on these pitches to pick up on inabilities. If we see a hitter stride early and miss, chances are he was simply fooled and will be sitting on the same pitch, although this time he will not miss.  If a hitter swings early on a curveball it is a good idea to come back with a fastball inside on the next pitch, since most hitters will subconsciously refuse to be beaten by the same pitch twice.  They will slow their timing and you can blow a fastball right by them.

 

Step 3: The right pitch in the right count

 

It is never a good idea to rely on the count to dictate your pitch selection, but here are a few rules of thumb to live by:

 

0-0 : This is a called strike count we are trying to throw our most accurate strike to our most accessible location.  Get ahead and welcome swings.  We will never get beat if every hitter swings first pitch.

 

1-0 : This is a hitters count so we must throw a fastball or changeup here.  Fastballs to locations a hitter does not like or changeups down the middle.  Again, we want swings but more importantly we want a strike. 2-0 is a bad place to be.

 

0-1 : Advantage count, hitters will be desperate to not fall behind further so the zone will increase. Fastballs on the edge of the zone in any direction work here.  Curveballs for strikes are effective as well.

 

1-1 / 2-2 : These are the most important counts in baseball.  The batting average difference from 2-1 versus 1-2 is astronomical.  In all neutral counts we are hunting a strike.  I personally like to throw the opposite fastball to the one I threw 0-0 here.  So if I went inside to start I will go away 1-1, or the opposite. This is a count for your best pitch.  If you have a good curve, use it.  We want to treat this count like it is make-or-break. Throw your best stuff and live with the results.

 

1-2 / 0-2 : Both big advantage counts we want to think fastballs up or away off the plate, or curveballs at the shoetops.  The pressure is on the hitter here, so make him have to take a tough pitch or foul it off.  We want borderline pitches that are a threat and not a waste. Swings in these counts are ideal, make them swing at pitches out of the zone, and if you give up the occasional hit doing so that is fine.  We do not waste pitches, EVER.

 

2-0 / 3-0 : These are disadvantage counts.  We need strikes.  2-0 we throw a fastball to our most accessible location.  For me that is an arm side of the plate fastball.  3-0 we are grooving a fastball.  Let the hitter swing 3-0, 50/50 hit versus out if he does.

 

2-1 / 3-1 : Disadvantage counts that can yield favorable results.  We know that hitters are hunting and swinging big in these counts.  They are expecting fastballs.  Most times they will be early and out in front, trying to pull a pitch.  Throwing inside fastball and change ups are keys in these counts.  If the hitter is aggressive he will foul off inside fastballs and pop changeups up. Use the hitters aggression to win you an easy strike or out.

 

American Baseball Camps writes these articles as part of our mission to help players get better & gain confidence. We also want to be a professional guide for youth baseball parents & coaches. You have a professional to go to for your taxes, finances, b2b needs, we want to be your resources for your ballplayers’ baseball career. Send us an email at americanbaseballcamps@gmail.com at anytime for youth baseball advice. We hope you’ll support our business by buying our book: At Home Baseball Development Guide or by attending one of our baseball camps across the country. You can see this by visiting our camps page.

 

Pregame Routine Of A Professional Pitcher

American Baseball Camps — 10 Tips for Little League Coaches

Apr 15, 2019

10 Tips For Little League Coaches

In our journey in baseball we have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly with coaches. The one that breaks everything, the one that’s all about himself, we’ve seem them all! Together we have collaborated with 10 helpful tips for Little League Coaches. Most of these are things that we’ve seen coaches do in our life that all the players really loved and responded well to!

#1 Be Consistent

Ever wonder why managers in the MLB never ever show emotion in the dugout. It is because they realize the power of staying even keel in baseball. Your players will play better if they can learn to be consistent. So you, as their little league coach, have to set the standard of consistency.

#2 Be Fun

The best coaches I’ve ever had were just as fun to be around as my friends on the team. Good coaches are friendly, and they make being at the ballfield more fun than it already is. Don’t be afraid to joke with players and make fun a bit. Boys and young men like that kind of stuff. Run fun practices, with fun games and drills. Keep the dugout lively, and show your kids by example how to have fun at the yard.



#3 Teach How to Handle Pressure

This Forbes Article on Success and Pressure reveals that top athletes are the ones that are the most comfortable under pressure! Put pressure on your players in practice and challenge them. The same old sissy BP and stand around isn’t making anyone better. Try running high intensity drills while teaching your players how to stay calm and focused in those situations. This one pays dividends for your players in baseball and in life, according to Forbes.

#4 Teach How to Handle Adversity

“Baseball is a game of failure” – Baseball Cliche of the Century

You’ve heard the quote a thousand times but don’t forget its implications for your players. Good coaches teach players how to handle adversity when it comes. Take terrible moments in baseball as coaching moments that your players can learn from. Be approachable, and offer advice in the right moments. Teach a kid how to handle striking out 4 times in a row, and he’ll be able to handle anything else life throws his way.

#5 Be Approachable

My D1 Baseball Coach is the best coach I have ever had, and it is because he is easy to talk to. The days of screaming and yelling and demoralizing young players are over. The best coaches are smart, consistent, strong, and approachable. Let your kids know that they can talk to you directly if they have any concerns at all (especially about playing time). This will remove all of the doubt that mom and dad are putting on a kid about his playing time, because before a problem even surfaces the player resolves it with the coach directly.

#6 Know the Game

Both D1 programs I have been at have preached this loud and clear to their players, be a student of the game. This applies to coaches as well. Being the most knowledgeable baseball mind on the field will not only give you an edge against other teams, it will develop a pattern of trust and respect among your players. Don’t be that coach that brags about his high school days and hasn’t learned a single baseball thing since. Be a student of the game, as you continue to become a better teacher of it!

#7 Teach your Players to Compete

One of the best drills for this is the errors game. Put the whole team at SS in a single file line. If you make an error you are out, and keep playing until one is standing. This will teach players to compete and it will develop their will to win. Two very important factors in the game of baseball.

#8 Teach Them who they’re really Playing Against

“In baseball there are really only two thing you are competing against every day — yourself and the game!” – Brian Cain

When you just compete against yourself and the game you take lots of factors out of the equation that can only hurt the ballclub.



For example, at the D1 level we have extensive scouting reports given to us on every pitcher we face the entire season. We have his pitches, pitch speeds, hold times, pick off tenancies, pitch tenancies, arm slot, and anything else you could possibly need to prepare for a guy. Here’s the kicker – we throw it out the window at game-time. Why? players play the best when they play against themselves and the game.

#9 Teach Them to Control what they can Control

“Be where your feet are” – Nick Saban

There are things in baseball that your players don’t need to worry about. The weather, the umpires, the kid on the other team that’s supposed to be 12 but looks 32; all of these things are out of a players control. So they aren’t worth thinking about in a game where focus on what you are doing is so crucial. Things that a player can control are: approach, plan, focus, work-ethic, dedication. These are the things that an athlete should be judged on. Physical errors are often out of a players control, mental errors are usually controllable. Teach a kid to just focus on the things that are within his control and he is much more likely to “be where his feet are” as Nick Saban is suggesting.

#10 Teach Them to Think about One Thing at the Plate

“The closest thing to thinking about nothing at the plate is thinking about one thing at the plate” – The Mental Game of Baseball by Harvey Dorfman

Eliminate distractions in your players’ minds as they are up to the plate. Figure out what their plan/approach should be at the plate and come up with a short phrase or word that they can focus on while in the batters box. “Weight back” for example, or “throw the hands.” While this tip seems trivial, it can make a world of difference for a hitter at the plate. Don’t believe us? Just ask Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn — This guy is huge on only one thought in the batters box!

– Guest Author: Nick Rotola Professional Baseball Player

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How A Young Ballplayer Can Make A Big Jump In His Career

Apr 18, 2019

How to Improve in Baseball

Introduction

From weighted balls to exit velocity, everyone has their gimmick that will get your son to the next level. But they are missing something, an “X-Factor” that current MLB players are recommending as the difference maker in a young ballplayer’s journey to Big League Fame.

A quick backstory. My name is Nick Rotola, I founded American Baseball Camps at age 22 and had to proxy business ownership to my brother because running a baseball camp company while playing Division 1 Baseball is “deemed illegal by the NCAA.” –> Trust me those guys are a little much but that’s a conversation for another day.

While at Oral Roberts University I got my Masters in Business Administration. After that I played my first season of professional baseball as a part of the Wichita Wingnuts, and like many ballplayers I love the game and will play until they tell me I can’t play anymore. Anyways, that’s enough of that, let’s get to what you came for…

Precursor #1: Make The Data Sing

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association releases a report every year showing the rise or decline of participation in each youth sport. Here’s the link to their report but you should know that it costs $600 to purchase so #buyerbeware.

What they found is that Baseball & Softball participation is on a rapid rise due to its popularity within the parents that are as conscious about their children’s health and well-being as any generation of parents to date.



Many parents have their kid in baseball because they feel their use of technology needs to be mitigated, while others are in baseball because its a non-contact sport and concussions are really starting to scare people. (Not to say you can’t get concussions in Baseball).

With that being said, there are more youth ballplayers than ever before. This, as with any rise in competition in business or in baseball, brings an inherent need to stand out. Ballplayers’ parents are shelling out thousands of dollars a year for showcase teams which are shouting: “We’ll help you get your kid to the next level.”

But, as someone that’s recently been to the next level – and as a ballplayer that has “actually read a book once” as Bull Durham depicts – I feel that I may have some insights that could save a lot of Ballplayer Parents a lot of time and money over the duration of their kid’s career.

Precursor #2: Let Him Play As Much As He Wants

Every parent should understand this one because it is the case in every single profession in the world, it takes repetition to become an expert. In fact, it takes a person 30,000 hours of doing something to be considered an “expert” in their field. This lines up nicely with the 27-30-year-old “prime” that they tag on ballplayers.

With this in mind, we learn two things for your young ballplayer.

The first is that the more he plays the better he will become. It’s not saying that he’ll get better from a benchmarking perspective so don’t go comparing your son to the coaches’ son Shortstop just yet. It means that every time he puts on his cleats, in theory, he’ll be a better ballplayer than the time before.

The second thing we learn from the expert analogy is that your son won’t be in his prime for a long time. Stop fussing if he went 1 for 4 and he should have went 2 for 4, its baseball, you have to be process oriented not results oriented.

Precursor #3: Don’t Be That Parent

Limit Screentime. Kids are on their screens an average of 6.5 hours per day, time that does almost nothing for them in their baseball career, and probably pumps enough endorphins in their bodies that they have a tough time appreciating and loving the game of baseball like they could.

Set Goals. It wasn’t until I saw a Division 1 Baseball game that I decided in my head as an 8th grader that I could do it. This is what it took me to reach “success,” and you can inspire the same goals in your kid. Whether it’s going to the High School he’d go to, or the College you’d love him to go to, get him to see with his eyes and imagine himself there.

Don’t Bring The Game Up On The Car Ride Home. No one likes that pushy salesman in life, and your kid doesn’t want it in his baseball career.

No Instant Gratification. Parents of top athletes exhibit positive emotions with their kid(s). In baseball, that means highlighting the positive and forgetting the negative. In baseball those great days don’t come that often, and if they do, they probably haven’t started throwing your kid sliders yet.



 

The X Factor: Confidence


You don’t have to pay for it, it’s not a gimmick or an Instagram Ad promising improvement, it’s just confidence. When you ask an MLB player what he would recommend to a young player he says “play with confidence.” When you talk to a sports psychologist like Brian Cain about how to perform better at the plate they’ll say “walk to the plate with confidence.”

Confidence is the key, and there are many things that you can implement as a parent to achieve tremendous confidence in your ballplayer over time.

To illustrate to parents how you can get your kid to make a big jump in his young career by improving his confidence, I’m going to yield to a staple in Management Theory’s “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.”

How Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs works, is that you have to solve the first layer before you can move on to the next, then the second before the third, and so on. So if you want your kid to increase in confidence let’s map out a plan to solve those bottom three layers.

1st Layer: Physiological Needs

We already talked about playing as much baseball as possible this contributes to his physical and psychological needs as well. Now let’s look a litter deeper at getting your kid prepared from a physiological perspective.

Brian Cain one of the worlds’ leading baseball psychologists recommends 9 hours and 15 minutes of sleep every night – not just the nights of competition. Studies show that increased sleep relates to better reaction times, more accurate reactions, and better able to handle stress.

Studies also show that its not only the length of sleep but the quality of sleep that leads to better athletic performance. Did you know that the blue light emitted from that screen that your kid is staring at for 6.5 hours per day watching YouTube videos could be ruining his quality of sleep and in turn his baseball performance? It does, and it is, and it needs to be reduced if you want this layer of the period to be met.

With regards to nutrition: studies say that an ounce of water for every pound of weight for people and then about 1.5 for every pound for athletes. Remove sugary drinks and add more water and you are off to a great start in helping him gain confidence. His mood will be better, skin, sleep, everything.

 

2nd Layer: Safety

The game has changed, you can’t coach kids like you as a parent were coached. Negative reinforcement has officially been trumped by positive reinforcement. If you want more on this from a big-time coach -> Listen to Head Coach Chad Holbrook of the University of South Carolina talk about safety and positive talk while playing.

How would you feel if your kid came into your workplace and was shouting at you telling you what to do as you were trying to do your job? Would you produce? Probably not.

This is an exaggerated example, but I believe it accurately describes how difficult it is to hit a baseball when you can hear your dad or mom shouting instructions from the stands. Cut it out, and allow your kid to play.

 

3rd Layer: Love/Belongingness

As noted earlier, don’t talk about the game on the drive home. Your kid needs to feel that he is loved and that he belongs in your family apart from his baseball success. It’s hard to believe that this is a big confidence factor but it absolutely is.

One of my best friends had a dad that only loved his son when he was playing baseball and playing well and I’m telling you from first-hand experience that it is a confidence destroyer.

Love on your ballplayer, regardless of the results. You are doing your part already by getting him to the 100 games a year, making sure he sleeps and eats right, and that your talk is positive. Now make him feel like you love him and that he belongs despite his success on the field. It’s hard to believe but many parents send this message of “we love you, but we love and praise you if you win.” It’s awful, get rid of it.

In conclusion… Kids are flooding into baseball like never before. If you want your kid’s next season to be his best season we’ve laid out tons of good tips on how you can do that. Here is our summary:

  1. Take care of his physiological needs first. Research says that parents of elite athletes limit screen time. We know that excess screentime can limit sleep and quality of sleep, we know that limiting screentime is easier said than done but trust us – it’s a great start. On top of that, replace water with tons of sugary drinks and you should be good to go for this one.
  2. Safety through positive talk. Be steadfast as a baseball parent! Kids will perform better if you can act as a positive safety net in a very tough game.
  3. Let him know that his success, and the way you treat and love him, are not related. Many parents have a tough time separating their kid’s success on the field from how they treat him, don’t do it, it’s only going to make the problem worse!

 

Thanks for reading! If you need any youth baseball advice we are always available to help at americanbaseballcamps@gmail.com, and we’ll do our best to respond quickly.

If your kid wants more baseball – we’ve got great low-cost camp options in many US cities. For Winter 2018 we have camps from Wichita KS to West Covina CA. Next summer we will have camps in many US Cities –> All camp registration is done online, you can find out more about our camps on our camps page.

– Guest Author: Nick Rotola Professional Baseball Player

Shop Upcoming Youth Baseball Camps (Ages 6-12)

American Baseball Camps Home Page

 

This blog was written by Nick Rotola of the American Baseball Camps team. Nick owns and operates Harvest Marketing Company, a digital marketing company offering Website, SEO, Google & Facebook Ad services. 




Nick Rotola
Camp Instructor

Youth Baseball Tips: 3 Practical Ways to Get Better

Apr 06, 2019

Visualize Yourself Being Successful

According to one of our favorite pieces of research the mind cannot distinguish between real and imaginary in sports. Another study we have found links how you perceive the ball when you hit to success. Those more familiar with success viewed the ball as bigger, and therefore hit better.

We are seeing that perception and reality are often treated the same by the mind. In other words, trick your mind by imagining yourself having success at the plate, then see the ball as bigger because you are familiar with that success, and hit better! You also will become more comfortable in situations that you have “already been in.” Why are older guys so much more comfortable when they play? They’ve played more. You want your kid to be more comfortable at the plate right? Have him hit 3 times more often by imagining himself in the box, and being successful.



I don’t know why more people don’t try this it is easier than it looks. Just have your youth baseball player when he’s laying in bed at night, or right before an at-bat, close his eyes & visualize driving the ball into the gap, or driving the ball the other way, or bunting for a hit. Wherever he needs to improve, teach him to visualize it, and he’ll be able to do it.

Play Up & Play A Lot

For this one we are going to use a well known example and a personal example. The well known is Bryce Harper. Bryce, like many big leaguers, played up growing up. His parents started him in t-ball at age 3 on his older brother Bryan’s team. Bryce continued to develop up to the age he was playing even into HS when he skipped his Junior year of HS, took the GED, and played up with his brother again at the College of Southern Nevada. In a rare interview with ESPN, while in HS, Bryce Harper and his parents attribute much of his success to playing up and to playing hundreds of games a year.

My personal example is Tampa Bay Rays Cather Derek Norris. This guy was coached by my dad in Wichita and played up his entire life. He played two years up with his older brother Nathan. Derek was always a really good player but never really stood out from the bunch, until he got to HS and played with kids his own age. Derek went on to become a HS phenom whom got drafted in the fourth round.

Have More Fun

Many of the guys I’ve played with at the Division 1 level have said that “baseball isn’t fun anymore with their head coach” and almost in the breath they say “we had the talent but had a terrible year.” Compare that to a team like Oral Roberts where I play, with a players coach that encourages fun at the field (as long as you’re still focused) and you see that we have a very successful program. I am telling you players play better when they have fun.



The moment that baseball becomes more about pleasing parents, or pleasing coaches, a kid loses interest. Make his practices fun, make his games fun, and make his tournament experiences fun. We’ve noticed with American Baseball Camps that kids don’t even notice they are getting really quality reps in and getting better when we make the games and drills as fun as possible. Make baseball fun again, and your kid is going to perform a lot better. This is confirmed by research from changing the game project.

 

– Blog written by ABC Founder Nick Rotola. American Baseball Camps offers baseball camps all across the US. View their Baseball Camps Page, or visit their American Baseball Camps Home Page.