Pitching inside is somewhat misunderstood. Old-timers swear by it; hitters both say that they love and hate it; young pitchers are scared to do it. During my career, I made a living on the inner part of the plate, where I came to know the ins and outs (pun intended) of the pitch pretty well. Let’s explore the inside fastball and how to get more outs by utilizing it.
The Inside Fastball: What It Is
A pitch that is thrown on the inner-third of the plate, or closer, to the hitter.
Basically, inner-half isn’t inside. But if you cut the plate into thirds, the closest third to the hitter, all the way to the pitch that will hit him, are all inside. Maybe that’s a DUH moment, but clarifying what inside isn’t, is important.
Reasons We Pitch Inside
- When a hitter displays batspeed that is slow relative to your fastball
- When a hitter loves pulling the ball (more on this later)
- When a hitter is overly close to the plate
- When a hitter’s approach is to drive the ball the opposite way
- When we need a batted ball kept on the infield
- When a hitter is showing a lack of respect for you or your plate (I’ll explain)
- To get purposeful strikes
- To instill or destroy hitter tendencies
- To scare cowardly hitters, or make confident hitters into cowardly hitters
- Because they are hard to barrel up.
- When we expect defensive swings
- When we want contact
- When a hitter has a known injury
- When you’re feeling mean and want everyone to be aware of it
- When you’re trying to establish a dominant mound presence
When NOT To Pitch Inside
1. When You’re Not Confident You Can Make The Pitch
A pitch, in theory, isn’t worth a dime. Personally, I always struggled to pitch inside to lefties – it was hard for me to get the ball all the way to that corner of the plate, especially with a hitter in the box. It was both a physical and mental issue, but what really mattered was that I wasn’t good at it. So, even if inside makes sense on paper (as it often did with me, against lefties), it may not be a smart pitch in real life. If you’re going to miss that spot over the plate more often than not, then take your chances somewhere else.
2.When The Risk v Reward Is Too Great (Or Uncertain)
This piggybacks on #1. In 2014, I had a 4.03 ERA going into my last inning of the year. If I got out clean, I’d be below 4.00 for the season. I went inside with a cutter to a lefty who was well-known to hit bombs pullside, and it was a tiny ballpark – 290 to right field. I should have made him hit one out oppo. Instead, I went in, the cutter didn’t cut, and he hit a bomb. That sealed my ERA above 4.00 for the season. It was a stupid pitch call.
3.When the ballpark and game situation dictates it
See #2. Sometimes, pitching to the ballpark makes sense. Make a guy with big pull power take you deep the opposite way, if he’s going to take you deep. Don’t let him take the easy way out, as long as it doesn’t completely disrupt your game plan. Always pitch to your strengths, but sometimes your strengths are minimized or outright changed depending on the ballpark or game situation.
4. Early In The Count When You Don’t Expect A Swing
Inside fastballs can certainly be thrown early in the count. BUT – they are better used later, and in many cases the risk v reward is better going somewhere else early, while planning to go in later. More on this below.
Why You Don’t Pitch Inside Early In the Count
What I mean by early is 0-0 or 1-0. And know that this is NOT strict, but here’s my reasoning and experience with it:
- Hitters don’t tend to swing at inner-third or inner-corner fastballs on 0-0 or 1-0. They don’t like fastballs that close to their body, so they’re not expecting them on the first pitch.
- Umpires tend to not call inside fastballs for strikes nearly as much as ones away. This has been my experience over many years.
So, if you add these factors up, you’re going to find yourself falling behind in the count more often than not because if you make a good inside pitch, there is a decreased likelihood that the hitter will swing at it and the umpire will call it. You’re 1-0; what now? Fastball over the plate to catch up? Off-speed pitch that potentially gets you to 2-0?
Rather, it’s best to be more aggressive with your margin for error early in the count. Go middle, outer half or outer third more often, take your chances then – you’ll get more one-pitch swings, outs, and be ahead in the count more often. Think of it this way – if one of your first two pitches was going to be over the plate, and one was going to be on the inside corner, in which order would you prefer them? I think middle early, corner later is the better scenario.
Then, when you’re ahead, you go inside. And, when you do, hitters and umpires start swinging and calling it more.
Hitters Swing More Often At Inside Fastballs When You Get Ahead
The inside fastball is a pitch that is best utilized once you get ahead in the count. Hitters don’t like the ball truly in; when they say the like it inside, what they really mean is middle-in, or inner-half (the same thing). This lets them extend their arms yet still be in a good place to pull the ball into the gap.
And, remember that hitters expand the strike zone as they fall behind. So, if they won’t swing inner-third on the first pitch or two, if they find themselves 1-2 or 0-2, they almost definitely will. And, at that point, they’ll swing at inner-black, and at inside fastballs that would be called balls. Heck, sometimes hitters swing at inside fastballs that would almost hit them when they know they’re in danger of striking out.
But – they don’t swing at that stuff as much early in the count.
In part two we will discuss the specific locations:
- Up and In
- Under the Hands
- Down and In
- In-Middle (NOT middle-in)
- A better location for strikeouts than Up and In
All four locations are crucial and have different purposes and typical outcomes. Stay Tuned!