Developing a pitching strategy will help you become a formidable pitcher on the mound. But what does having a pitching strategy mean? First, when you get on the mound, have you thought through how you are going to pitch to the opposing team? You may have a plan for certain hitter, but you must also have an overall plan that you can use throughout the game. You need to think through your pitching strategy and have a basic philosophy that you can modify for each game. Above all, however, in youth baseball the first strike is the most important pitch. Most runs score from runners who reach base through walks.
The main purpose of a youth pitching strategy is to keep the opposing team off balance. They shouldn't step into the box and know that the first pitch is going to be a fastball, or if you get ahead in the count you usually throw an off-speed pitch. You want them to off balance and not sure what you are going to throw in any given situation.
So what are some things you can add to your basic pitching strategy?
1. Get ahead of the hitters! Hitters start drooling when they step in the box with a 2-0, 3-0, or 3-1 count. They know you are limited with what you can do and you have to throw a strike. They will often shrink their zone and if you throw it in that zone, look out. Your pitching strategy should always be to get ahead of the hitters. In every league, at every age, a player will swing at bad pitches when they have two strikes on them. Even if they make contact with a pitch out of the strike zone, it rarely goes anywhere. A lot of younger hitters will not swing until the first strike has been called. If the first pitch is a strike, it changes their entire hitting strategy. They will usually take a swing at the second pitch if it's close to the strike zone and swing at just about everything on an 0-2 count.
2. Change speeds often, but don't fall into a pattern. Your goal shouldn't be to change speeds on every pitch, but to keep the hitters guessing. If you always follow a fastball with an off-speed pitch, then the hitters will learn that pattern and be expecting an off-speed pitch after each fastball. Changing speeds is one of the most important pitches from youth baseball through major league baseball. A curve ball is not necessary if you can keep batters off-balance with a good change-up. The change-up will prevent batters from timing your pitches and limit solid contact.
3. Vary pitch location. In addition to varying the pitches you throw, you'll also want to vary the location. It's nice if you have the control to throw the ball at the knees on a consistent basis, but being able to run the ball up in the strike zone can be effective and keep the hitters off guard. In youth baseball, a batter with two strikes will swing at pitches at his shoulders, if it is across the plate, and these players can rarely catch up to a high fastball. The same can be said for pitching on the inside or outside part of the plate. If you consistently throw the ball over the same half of the plate, the hitters will adjust and look for the ball in that location.
4. Pitch inside with your fastball. See if the hitters can handle the inside heat. This is a difficult pitch for most hitters to handle and it is the pitch they will be forced to look for on every pitch if you establish it. As you can imagine, if the hitter is looking for the inside fastball, all other pitches and locations will have a better chance of keeping the hitter off balance.
5. Throw your fastball with different grips. Come in sometimes with a 4-seam fastball and sometimes throw a 2-seam fastball to get some movement. Hitters can adjust to a pitcher that always throw a 2-seam fastball that breaks the same way each time. Give them different looks to your fastball and they'll think your fastball is jumping.
Once you have a basic youth pitching strategy, then you can adapt that for each game. Why would it change from game to game? The primary reason will be the type of stuff you have on a particular day? Each day is different and you need to be prepared to battle on days when you don't feel like you're throwing the ball very well. One day you may have all your pitches and you can throw them all for strikes. On another day your fastball may be average and your having trouble throwing your off-speed pitch for a strike. Days like that are going to test your mental toughness. Can you battle on those days and still be successful and give your team a chance to win? Mentally tough pitchers will.
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