In 2014, I made my comeback from my Tommy John surgery. I had a mediocre season that year, barely enough to keep my job in professional baseball. Fortunately, I did get an invite back for the 2015 season. And, when I did, I made a vow and a plan to return a drastically better pitcher.
Let’s Compare The Two Years:
- 4.04 ERA
- 71 innings as spot starter and middle reliever
- 3.5 Walks per 9 innings (BB/9)
- 2.18 Strikeout to Walk Ratio (K/BB)
- 65% First Pitch Strike Percentage[/one_half_first]
- 1.80 ERA
- 50 innings as reliever (set-up man)
- 2.2 Walks per 9 innings (BB/9)
- 4.92 Strikeout to Walk Ratio (K/BB)
- 64.9% First Pitch Strike Percentage
- Selected as an All-Star[/one_half_last]
Here’s one important stat: strike percentage was CONSTANT across both seasons. Both my first-pitch strike percentage (65%) and my overall strike percentage (65-67%) were nearly identical in both years.
And, in case you’re wondering, velocity was nearly identical as well, at 90-94 both seasons.
But the question is this: if I threw the same speed and the same amount of strikes…what caused the drastic increase in performance?
How I Cut My ERA in Half, Doubled my Strikeout-to-Walk Ratio, and Earned an All-Star Selection:
#1. I Figured Out Who I Was.
Every pitcher gets outs in a unique way that is based on the following factors you’ll see below in a sample self-assessment of yours truly:
- Velocity: Slightly above average (as of 2014 at my level)
- Arm angle: High-3/4
- Spin rate: High
- Repertoire: 4-Seam Fastball, curveball, changeup, cutter
- Movement: Straight, high-spin fastball, Heavy-sinking changeup, above-average curveball, average cutter
- Control/command: Average
- Armside vs Gloveside: Armside
- Mentality: Aggressive
In Real Terms, Please…
Stated simply, after I started putting things together, this is how I would have described myself:
I was an aggressive pitcher who threw kind of hard, who had a fastball that often seemed invisible, who challenged guys early. I kept hitters off balance with a good 1-7 curveball (though I struggled to throw it for strikes), and occasionally got them to beat a cutter or changeup into the ground. I threw strikes by giving myself a lot of margin for error early, then allowed myself to miss inside and up when I got ahead. I would try to get ahead on the first pitch, move the ball in on their hands, then elevate a fastball or bounce an off speed pitch.
That was me.
And once I took the following self-actualization to the mound – and started executing a plan that reflected who I was – I started succeeding…really succeeding.
EVERY PITCHER NEEDS THIS! But, they need help figuring it out.
#2. I Started Reading Hitter Tendencies
This one is hard, and it’s not easy to just say, “I looked for this!” and “I look for that.” It’s a combination of listening, watching and experiencing it in games that works best.
In my online course, Ace of the Staff, I explain hitter tendencies in depth (photo above is from the course).
But, it wasn’t easy to figure these things out when I didn’t have anyone pointing them out to me. And, each hitter’s flaws and tendencies look different, even when multiple hitters share the same flaw.
But, specifically, as I got more experienced with hitter tendencies, I looked for the following:
- Slow bats – who couldn’t catch up to my fastball when I threw it in a very catch-up-able location (such as the middle of the plate)?
- Long swings – ditto for the above, plus, can they get to a pitch up? Can they get to a pitch inside? Where does the barrel of their bat “live?”
- Obvious approaches: What is the hitter trying to do, and how is he telegraphing it?
Choosing The Right Pitch: It Separates Pros from Amateurs
It’s not just the location, speed or break of the pitch. It’s choosing the right pitch.
And, I know that people recognize this as important, as people love talking about pitch sequences. I also love talking pitch sequences, but the reality is this: there are no pitch sequences.
Hear me out…
When you read hitters well, your sequence is a one-step at a time process. Sure, you map out what you think you might throw next, but you won’t know for sure if pitch 2, 3, 4, or 5 will make sense after you throw this pitch.
And, you want to throw this pitch based on what the hitter did on the last pitch, his last at-bat, earlier in the game, series or season.
Pitch sequence are created one pitch at a time, and each pitch is chosen because of the tangible information that we get from the hitter, not a theoretical guess of what order we should choose. To choose the right order, we have to watch, observe, and interpret hitter tendencies.
#3. I Became an Expert at Holding Runners
In 2015, the best season of my career, I was the setup man, which meant that I pitched in the 8th inning of save situations. My team struggled to score, so I was constantly embattled, holding onto 1-run leads. It wasn’t easy.
But, that experience forced me to get really good at holding runners, really fast. I couldn’t let anyone get to second base, because being on second base meant I was one cheap hit, one blooper, one 19-hop grounder away from blowing the lead I was trusted to protect.
So, I worked hard…really hard. I varied my timing like crazy, I picked over every time I sensed a strong running situation, and I was a fiend at protecting my off-speed pitches. And, I honed my delivery to where I was very fast to the plate without sacrificing my “stuff.”
Those runners I kept at first base? They didn’t come around to score, and THAT was what I was paid to do: keep guys from scoring.
Those Three Things Made a Huge Difference.
Physically, everything was the same between these two pivotal years in my career. But, learning who I was and how to optimize what I already had, how to keep a few extra runs scoring by holding runners better, and doing a better job asking myself -why?- on every pitch…these things made all the difference. But, it took a long time to put it all together.
Learn How to Pitch in Less Time, Without the Trial and Error.
My online course, Ace of the Staff, is available soon.
It covers all of the above, and more. Don’t wait until you’re 28 years old like I did to figure this stuff out. You might not get enough chances, enough opportunities to figure it out on your own.
Remember: no matter how hard you throw, or how nasty your stuff is today, you need to know how to use it.
Otherwise, you won’t be the guy your coach trusts when the game is on the line.