This blog builds on some of the same themes that I discussed in my last post regarding self evaluation. Principally, that if you can’t accurately evaluate yourself and your performance then it is nearly impossible to truly improve your weaknesses. Put another way, if you don’t know where you are now, how do you know where you need to go. One of my favorite examples of this (stolen, like many of my examples, from Coach Ron Wolforth) is a map that you find in a
mall or shopping center. What is the first thing you search for when looking at such a map? Most likely it is the big red dot that says “You are here.” You can have all the information regarding what store is here and there but if you don’t know where that is in relation to where you are standing it isn’t a very big help.

The importance of being able to evaluate your performance certainly applies when it comes to pitch command. If a pitcher doesn’t realize that he is consistently missing high and to the arm side then how can he correct the obvious issues with his delivery in order to hit more spots? He likely can’t and will instead continue to miss high and to the arm side. As coaches, parents, or teammates it is sometimes insanely frustrating when a pitcher won’t adjust after continuously missing with a pitch to the same location. Many of us know that if a pitcher keeps missing to one location then he needs to adjust the target he is focusing on in order to bring his pitches back into the strike zone. To take my previously mentioned problem of missing high and to the arm side, a right handed pitcher who is having this problem should begin to move his target down and away, perhaps to the catcher’s knee, or if the misses are really bad, even to the catcher’s cleats. Eventually the pitcher will bring the ball back into the zone and can once again focus on the mitt of the catcher.

But what if the pitcher doesn’t realize where he is consistently missing? What if a pitcher in practice (or a game) thinks he is hitting or only narrowly missing his intended target, but is actually missing by 6 inches? You might think this is unlikely, but it is actually quite likely if the pitcher has a late disconnect. Late disconnects are bad not only because they can put more stress on the arm and because they can negatively impact command, but they are also detrimental because the late and sudden movement—often in a jerking motion—of the head causes the pitcher to less accurately judge where his pitch went. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise when you think about it—the head is jerking to the side, or down, or both, and the eyes are expected to watch the pitch arrive in the strike zone while moving so severely. Often times the pitcher’s eyes are taken completely off of the ball and have to re-pick up the ball flight after the jerking motion has ended.

Because these problems need to be fixed (both the late disconnect and the misperception of where a pitch is actually going) I recommend a drill that has proved very helpful. All a pitcher needs is a baseball, a pitching pad or target pad, and an observer (eg., a coach, parent, or teammate) in order to perform this drill. Have the pitcher get on the mound (or perform any other throwing drill, but the higher intensity and more game like the better) and have him try to hit a certain spot on the pad. After the throw, have the pitcher walk down to the pad and point to where his pitch hit the pad. The observer’s job is to simply watch the pad and see precisely where the ball struck and then once the pitcher points to the spot on the pad where he believes it hit, to then show where the ball actually did land.

You might be thinking that this is a simple drill and that surely you or your pitchers will easily be able to point to the exact spot the ball hit on the pad. And for some of your pitchers this might be true, especially those with better command—no, this wouldn’t be a coincidence for pitchers with better command to know more precisely where their pitches were landing. I have seen this drill done and it is always amazing how far the distance between the spot some pitchers will point to and the location the ball actually hit. These players are likely the ones with more command problems and almost certainly the ones with late postural disconnects in their delivery. They are the pitchers that will go from an “A” posture (think Nolan Ryan) to a “C” posture (think Tim Lincecum) within the few frames before release. This drastic movement of the head affects the eyes’ perception of where the pitch traveled.

As a pitcher performs this drill, with the intent being to be as accurate as possible in both throwing the pitch and pointing out the spot the ball hit the pad, the pitcher will begin to correct the late disconnect because he knows this hurts his ability to see the ball hit the pad. Over time you will begin to notice that as the disconnect lessons the pitcher becomes more aware of where the ball is striking the pad. Additionally, the pitcher learns to become more aware of the exact path of his pitches, which as I have talked about at length, is critical to being able to make adjustments. As a result, the distance between where the pitch hit the pad and where the pitcher believes it hit will begin to shrink. Now that the pitcher knows where his ball is landing he can better adjust to where he wants the ball to be located. This is one of the keys to having great command—know where you are throwing the ball and from there make adjustments. It all goes back to the map at the mall—know where you are currently so you know where to go next.

This drill is a great command teaching tool and a way to help improve/fix disconnects in the delivery. Further, in order to expedite the correction of a late disconnect in a delivery, this drill can be done while using the Connection Balls. Connection Balls can specifically help those whose late disconnects are a result of a weak glove side. The Connection Ball can be put between the glove side forearm and bicep to help firm it up, thereby preventing the drastic change in posture that accompanies a weak glove side disconnect.

It is also important to note that the goal of this drill is command oriented so you wouldn’t want to exclusively perform this drill because it does not necessarily encourage pitchers to be explosive and dynamic. Therefore, ideally this drill would be mixed in with other more explosive and velocity oriented drills. Over time you will see the improvements in command and mechanics.

Until next time,

Brian Oates