By: Casey Fisk
I don’t imagine that I’m the only coach who talks with both hitters and pitchers. I don’t know all of you, but I’m the only coach I know who intentionally disrespects each group to the other in order to instill honest confidence in each group. When I’m dealing with two-way guys, I give up the goods right away, telling them that I’m spinning the truth to benefit the group I’m talking to at the moment. I’m not really disrespecting anyone; I’m telling the truth about the deficiencies of each group, so you can get better and/or take advantage.
When talking with pitchers, the monologue goes something like this: “Have any of you ever watched a hitting lesson or BP? If you have, you wouldn’t ever fear a hitter.” Fear is that thing we seldom discuss, but it’s real, and it affects how pitchers perform. If a guy can pump strikes in the bullpen, but he struggles with a hitter in the box, take note. He’s afraid that the hitter will hit the pitch hard. That, or he’s afraid he’ll hit the batter (that’s a different article altogether).
You’re worried about getting hit? Wait up. Hold on! Have you watched these hitters hit? Hitting a baseball hard is really, really difficult. Most of the guys you’re facing don’t hit 8/10 balls hard off a TEE! Your pitch is delivered with movement, and you have guys with gloves behind you craving to have a ball hit in their vicinity. Look at your opponents’ batting average against you. I’ll bet it’s below .300. That means you give up around two hits per time through the batting order. How many runs can score off two hits? TWO at most, and zero is more likely, unless you got scared and walked a few guys along the way. Free base runners account for more than 50% of runs scored in HS-age baseball. I have 10 years of HS and 12 years of 16U-17U summer travel scorebooks to support that outrageous claim. Force the issue, and make the hitter hit. 100% of walks reach base.
The greatest pitching coach mind in the world is still beholden to the abilities of the pitcher. If he can’t throw to location consistently with at least two pitches, the coach’s hands are tied. As a coach, I’ve called pitches for 5 HS no-hitters. I’ve also called pitches in games we gave up 20+ runs. Either I’m bipolar in my understanding of baseball, or it’s not about me. There’s no question; it’s about the men on the field.
When talking to hitters, the monologue changes: “Pitchers are creatures of habit. Figure out their patterns, and they become incredibly predictable. Destroy predictable pitches.” A while back, I tweeted a cheat sheet for hitters, telling them what pitch is coming from a “normal” HS pitcher in each of the 12 counts in baseball. See if this rings true to you:
1-1: Opposite of whatever you just saw
Let me explain the 1-1 count. P throws FB for a strike and follows up with CB in the dirt. He’s coming with FB to try to get ahead in the count again. Alternately, the P throws FB for a ball and follows up with FB for a strike. He just showed you two fastballs, and he knows throwing three FB in a row is risky, so he’ll flip a CB or CH up there. Either way, it’s the opposite of the pitch that got you to the 1-1 count. Understanding count leverage is a HUGE part of successful hitting.
Then, I talk about pitchers “trying” to change speeds. I put “trying” in quotes, because a 10-MPH velo change results in a 0.06-sec flight time change, and you can’t start and stop a stopwatch in 0.06 seconds. The speed change is IRRELEVANT! That’s how I talk to hitters, anyway. In reality, the ball travels eight feet in 0.06 seconds, but they don’t need to know that right now. They need confidence, and understanding that the change in velo is workable (if their swing pattern is correct) gives them confidence.
Coaches: Don’t be afraid to point out to your hitters how predictable pitchers are. Also, don’t be afraid to tell your pitchers how badly your hitters struggle with the easy drills (tee work, flips, soft toss, etc.). Each group will benefit from the confidence you infuse into the other, and they’ll work their tails off to make you wrong about them. Pride and ego are powerful.