Situational Pitching - 9 Strategies That Can Help You Win More Games

By Steven Ellis, former Chicago Cubs pitching pro

Picking the right pitch to throw to a particular hitter takes a lot of experience, effort and concentration. You must study every batter who faces you and remember their strong points and weaknesses, how you pitched to them in a pervious at-bat, and what they did with those pitches. Many pitchers spend their entire careers in baseball without gaining this knowledge. As a result, they never get beyond just being an average pitcher. You can have as much "stuff" as any pitcher, but if you don't have the ability to know and remember the batters your face and the situations you face them in, your chances of reaching the highest levels of the game are slim.

It's no doubt a hard task for someone just starting out, but it's absolutely necessary to learn the traits and hitting tendencies of the batters you face as you advanced in the game of baseball. If you can't find a particular weakness with the batters you face, you should talk to your coach before the game or even in between innings. Ask some of the other pitchers on your team who aren't pitching and watching from the dugout if they notice anything. This is what major league pitchers do, and you should, too.

When you are not pitching, watch some of the opposing pitchers to see how they work. You may be able to pick up some pointers and profit from their mistakes.

In my opinion, the change up is the most valuable of all your pitches. It helps to disrupt the hitter's timing, especially if he's seen a steady diet of your fastballs.

It's important to note that a majority of hitters at the lower levels of the game are "guess hitters." In other words, they try to guess what you are going to throw. They don't have a real plan at the plate.

When facing these types of hitters, you must cross them up by thrrowing what they don't expect. There are some clues or giveaway signs that can help you. Always look at the batter's box, and where the batter is positioned in it. Study the position of his feet. Study his bat position, the position of his hands, etc. You must change your pitch to meet the situation. That's called situational pitching. As the batter and the game changes, you have to change your pitch strategy and what you throw him.

When there is a runner on first base, and you know the next batter is a hit-and-run type of hitter, you must be careful not to leave your pitches outside, because that's what the batter is probably looking for. In this situation, try to keep the ball in on the batter's hands.

Lastly, always watch the count on the batter. If you are four of five runs ahead in a game and the count on the batter is two balls and no strikes, or three balls and one strike, or three balls and two strikes, make the hitter put the ball in play because you don't weant to walk him.

Remember that in any situation, you have a better chance of getting the hitter out by pitching to him and having your teammates help field the ball behind you on defense and make the play. But if the score is tied or it's a close game, don't give the hitter anything good to hit. Throw a strike if you can, but never give him anything you think he can hit over the fence.

Situational Pitching

The following are a sample of some pitching situations which may occur in a game. Even though it’s highly unlikely that all of these pitching situations would happen in the same outing, it’s very likely that over the course of a season, there will be numerous occasions upon which knowing what to do and why is extremely important.

For me, a closer in the Chicago Cubs organization, knowing what to do in the following 12 situations meant the difference between blowing a save – and losing altogether – in more than one situation.

The key to advanced situational pitching success is knowing what to do BEFORE it actually happens so that you’re prepared to react. The following are a look at what the hitter is trying to do, and what you must do to be successful.  

1. Lead-Off Hitter In The Game

Hitter:
Advanced hitters will look to capitalize on pitchers who struggle with their control in the first few innings of an outing as many often do.

The leadoff hitter in the game is looking to get on base any way possible and work the count so that the hitters on deck and double deck can see as many pitches as possible.

If the count falls in the hitter’s favor 2-0, the hitter will likely have the red light from his third base coach and will take pitches until the pitcher can throw a strike. Sometimes leadoff hitters will have the red light on 2-0 counts until the pitcher proves he can come back with two pitches for strikes in a row.

Because both the hitter and the manager are banking on control problems from the starting pitcher, the starting pitcher is going to want to be aggressive and attack the strike zone from the first pitch.

Pitcher:

Remember, leadoff walks score 80 percent of the time. The reason this statistic so highly favors the runner is because of the leadoff hitter in the game. He’s looking to walk. Get to second with one out. And score on the base hit from the three- or four-hole hitters.

So go out there and throw strikes!

Now I know that this isn’t any different than what you’re trying to do on every pitch, but one way to give yourself the very best ability to attack the strike zone early in the game is to be prepared before the game even begins.

For more, check out my book here...


 

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