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:
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.
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