By Josh Boggs
Velocity is all the rage nowadays. Everyone seems hell-bent on throwing as hard as they possibly can. It seems every pitcher in the MLB throws 95+, so If you want to join that illustrious group, you'd better be doing the same. With that being said, there are some differences in what the radar gun reads and what the hitter sees. Essentially velocity has three different categories: Actual, Perceived, and Effective.
This is the easiest to understand of the three categories. Actual velocity is simply the reading on the radar gun. Although, just to clarify, the reading on the radar gun, especially at ballparks, is the
velocity of the baseball at or near pitch release and not in front of home plate as some have suggested to me. While the reading on a radar gun can be beneficial, understand it does not tell the whole story of velocity. To do that, we need more context.
This is where things get a little more interesting (and fun). Perceived velocity can vary from actual velocity because of essentially two factors: 1) A pitcher’s stride and 2) A pitcher’s release point.
How can a pitcher’s stride influence how fast a fastball appears to a hitter? It's simple, really. Based off what was said in the Aroldis Chapman Sport Science video:
we know the average stride length for an MLB pitcher is 87% of their height. We also know that 1ft of distance equals 3mph. So a pitcher with a stride of 7 feet (which would be a conservative estimate for Chapman or other taller pitchers) vs a shorter stride of 6 feet, the difference to the hitter is 3 mph. So while these two pitchers might have a radar reading of 95 mph, because the pitchers with a longer stride released the ball one foot closer to the hitter, he has less time to identify the pitch and decide to swing. The other factor I mentioned was release point, which is also closely related to stride length. The closer this release point is to home plate, the less time a hitter has to react.
Pitchers like Chapman and David Robertson get an unbelievable amount of forward trunk tilt and
flexion into ball release. This allows them to get a release point closer to home plate, thus leaving the hitter with a smaller reaction window.
This is something to keep in mind when working with a pitcher and understanding how to call a game as a catcher or coach. While the radar gun may read 95, understand a hitter may see that pitch at 92 or 98 depending on where the pitch is released. Either is acceptable,
it's just important that you are aware.
How often when watching a football game does the broadcast show the play caller on offense with a huge piece of paper in their hands? Do you know what is on this piece of paper? It’s the playsheet. Essentially these coaches have the most common scenarios and their best plays for each situation. This is a simplified way for him to follow his gameplan and relay the play call as quickly as possible. Now, what if I told you if you could have a very similar chart as a pitch caller? You’d think I was insane, wouldn’t you? Well I am at times but I’m right about this. How you ask? Simple. It’s called Effective Velocity. A hitter’s swing and timing is all the information you need to employ this strategy.
The concept is fairly simple. For a hitter to hit a pitch on the inside portion of the plate, he needs to hit the ball farther in front of the plate than if the pitch is on the outside of the plate. Since the pitch on the inner half needs to be hit farther out in front, hitters have to start their swings sooner, effectively reducing the amount of time to react. The opposite happens with pitches on the outside portion of the plate. Since the hitter has more time to react and still make solid contact, the pitch is effectively slower as a result. This same concept works with a pitch up in the zone versus down in the zone as well. As a pitch caller, we can use this to our advantage. Below is a chart providing a visual example of the velocity change.
For example, let’s say our pitcher has an actual mph of 90 mph on his fastball. A fastball up and in on a hitter would have an effective velocity (EV) of 93 mph while a fastball down and away would be 87 mph. As research by the founder of this concept Perry Husband tells us, hitters can cover about a 6 mph change in velocity and still hit the ball effectively. As a pitch caller we want to prevent the hitter from hitting the ball hard and this concept will help us do this, so long as we can read a hitter’s swing and timing. Where pitch callers often get into trouble is when we “speed up” or “slow down” a hitter’s bat speed in a way we didn’t want to.
Let’s use the same pitcher mentioned earlier as an example. If the hitter is late and fouls off the 90 mph fastball with an EV of 93, what we want to avoid is throwing a slightly slower pitch where his timing would be more ideal for hard contact. If we were to throw a fastball down and away following this pitch, the EV would be 87 and likely more in line with the timing of the hitter. As is often said, hitting is timing and pitching is disrupting timing. When we back up the higher EV fastball with the slightly slower EV fastball (even if both were clocked on a radar gun at the exact same speed) we allow the hitter to have better timing. We stayed within the 6 mph window we want to avoid. So what pitch should we have thrown? Simple, since the hitter was late
on a tough pitch up and in, we can repeat it or we can throw a wrench on the hitter’s timing and have the pitcher throw his 83 mph changeup down and away with an EV of roughly 80 mph. A 13 mph change from the previous pitch well outside the hitter’s timing window. The danger
comes when a pitcher misses location. If that 83 mph changeup is left up in the zone and gains EV, the speed of the pitch could add EV and end up in the hitter’s timing window. As with any pitch calling strategy, this only works if the pitcher is able to locate effectively. If as a pitch caller you know your pitcher’s actual velocity. Once the mathematical equation of EV is solved, you
effectively have your playsheet to attack hitters with a proven plan. Try this concept out with your pitchers once you understand the math, and see if your pitchers start to miss more bats and induce weaker contact.
If you would like more info, check out Perry Husband. Here’s a solid
video to get you started: