More often than not, pitchers should focus solely on velocity (and rightfully so) until they get to at least equal their peer group. Typically, scouts and coaches are more interested in the pitcher who throws 90+ rather than the pitcher in the 85mph range. However, having great velocity means very little if you can't locate your pitches. Hitters at higher levels can hit fastballs, regardless of velocity, if you throw it down the middle and coaches want nothing to do with pitchers who are nowhere near the plate. My take-home point: Pitcher's need to be able to command the strike zone and their pitches efficiently with a velocity base.
I believe command comes from 3 very simple factors:
- You Are Aiming With Your Mechanics, Not Your Eyes
This may sound crazy but it is absolutely true. Too many pitchers think too much on the mound, especially about their mechanics (the reasoning why is an article for another day), and as a result become easily frustrated causing even more of a decrease in results. Most coaches provide some form of cueing or correction after just one bad throw which will change the athlete’s intent from location to likely some mechanical change. If/when the pitcher misses again, it’s likely another line of cueing comes from the coach, giving even more info for the pitcher to process while the goal remains the same. If/when the pitcher makes some type of adjustment and hits his intended target, he may still even be told something else went wrong. The real problem with this type of instruction is the athlete’s focus will become internal very quickly while the mechanical change being cued may or may not even be responsible for the missed throw. After all, just one degree of wrist angle changes the ball flight by nearly one foot over a pitch.
So how SHOULD athletes adjust? Simple. Use your eyes! If you are consistently missing by 3-4 inches to the left, aim that much more to the right. Your mechanics change pitch to pitch, we know this because we can’t sign our name the same way twice, so don’t chase this idea of a perfectly repeated delivery. Instead, use your eyes as the site and trust the gun (your mechanics) to fire the baseball where it wants to go.
- The ability of the pitcher to "FEEL" their delivery and make necessary adjustments
It's vital for pitchers to be able to make adjustments during an inning, game, season, etc.. There will be times your mechanics will break down in some fashion. To maintain command it takes a special ability to diagnose your problem and fix it. When you, as a pitcher, miss low and away, do you know why? When you constantly hang a breaking ball, do you know what you did wrong, AND do you know how to fix it? Every pitcher has games when they struggle to throw a pitch for a strike. The difference between good pitchers and great pitchers is the ability to figure out WHY the pitch isn't being located and HOW to correct the issue. This is where “FEEL” comes into play.
I learned the term “FEEL” from Lantz Wheeler at BaseballThinkTank. He teaches that “FEEL” is a sixth sense a pitcher about their body while on the mound. When you throw an ideal pitch, do you have the awareness to recognize what your body felt like and the ability to replicate it or adjust accordingly.
For example: some pitchers struggle to keep the front shoulder closed long enough, causing them to “fly open” and often miss glove side. A pitcher who has a “FEEL” for their mechanics can recognize their shoulder is opening too soon and make an adjustment to keep the shoulder closed.
If you don't think this is a big deal, you're wrong. Pitchers who can make this adjustment during an inning and game are the ones who eventually get paid to throw a baseball.
- You are WEAK. Plain and simple.
You may be wondering role does strength play in command. Well, if you lack the lower body strength and coordination to be consistent and athletic in your delivery, how can you expect to hit a target consistently? If you lack a baseline of muscular strength, your movement quality will likely suffer quickly and drastically as fatigue sets in. So maybe instead of working on those towel drills and other movement drills designed for you to be a robot on the mound, get your butt in the weight room and work on your baseline strength and movement faults. Before you worry about mechanics, strictly clear orthopedics then movements then add strength and it fixes 99% of mechanical issues as the body can get in optimal positions. For more info on what your baseline strength levels should be, check this out from Josh Heenan.
If you can improve in each of these three areas, you'll start hitting more corners and pitching to less hard contact, I guarantee it. Many pitchers made a living with great command by learning the art of pitching. Yes, velocity is great, but being able to command the strike zone is a quality that extends careers and keeps your coach happy