This one is for baseball pitchers that miss wide of the plate, either right or left. A common thought on pitching is for the pitcher to get everything they’ve got going towards the catcher. In other terms, we want the pitcher to get all of their weight and momentum going in the correct direction. For example, I like to ask a pitcher how much they weigh. If the say “175 pounds”, then I say, “Well you need to get all of those 175 pounds going in the correct direction.” We do not want 25-50 of those pounds going in some other direction. Loss of effort and force in the direction of our goal (the catcher’s mitt) means lost velocity and control.
“Target line” is a term that many coaches use with pitchers. It basically means that there is an invisible line from the center of the rubber that extends through the center of home plate. As pitchers become more advanced, they can adjust target line on their own in order to hit different spots.
The real fight with this one is to get the player to understand how to perform the physical task of staying on target line with their front foot, and placing it into their muscle memory. The earlier that you teach this concept, the easier it will be. I start teaching this concept to players as young as 7. But a 15 year old that does not stay on target line may have 8-10 years of bad habits built into his muscle memory and it will take longer to correct.
How do we get the pitcher to target line?
Begin from set position or “stretch”. Make sure the front foot (strike point foot) has the ball of that foot has target line running right through it.
The foot in contact with the rubber (post foot) can either be even with target line or slightly offset (behind). It really is a comfort level thing for the pitcher.
After balance or knee lift, the front foot that started on target line should land slightly open(45°), but back on target line. If the foot lands totally open or pointing at the catcher, the hip will open up too early and a velocity loss will occur. Compare this to how a front foot should land when a player is hitting. A great tool to use to teach this skill is a balance beam or simply a 2×4. If don’t have either of those, draw a line in the dirt or use a line on a gym floor. Have the pitcher go from the stretch to strike point repeatedly. If the pitcher’s front foot lands off target line the beam will give instant feedback.
Encourage pitchers to direct their chin towards the catcher as well. This will prevent unnecessary force going away from target line.
From the wind up, young pitchers seem to start with their feet directly in the center of the rubber. Well, too often this encourages them to be off target line. I like to start righties on the left half of the rubber and lefties on the right half. As pitchers get older they can vary this position. For example, as a pitcher gets older throwing the ball right down the heart of the plate is not always the best thing to do. Adjust target line to meet their efforts to hit corners and also to come inside from the opposite side of the rubber.
Here are some cool clips from Don Cooper of the Chicago White Sox. A good friend and I were actually at this clinic. I’m a Cubs fan (and a new D’backs fan….Go Clay!!!) and even I’ll say he was an AWESOME speaker!!!
One question that I get all the time is, “My son or daughter’s arm needs to get stronger. What can I do?”
Well, I really think it depends on age. For players ages 5-11, I say…… “Mechanics, Mechanics, Mechanics”. Learning to use larger muscle groups more effectively is the key. This is difficult, because much of it requires balance and core strength, which the majority of these players ages 5-11 have very little. Teaching concepts, such as:
Getting weight on the balls of their feet prior to throwing
Weight slightly back
Reaching back and showing the ball as if someone was standing behind them. This is especially difficult with girls because they really have to fight “big ball, little hands”. I saw it when my daughter first picked up an 11″ ball, from playing with a 9″ baseball in t-ball. Then I saw it again this year when she transitioned into a league that uses a 12″ ball.
Eyes on target. I like to tell kids to pick a spot in their partners glove the size of a dime, see it, and throw to it.
Step with the glove-side foot towards the target. Although, I suggest refraining from telling them to “point their toe at their partner”. I believe that this eventually promotes players, especially future pitchers, to landing heavy (too much weight forward). Focus on getting the whole leg and foot going towards the target in a soft, but aggressive manner.
Extend the previous step by teaching a crow hop to help smaller bodies use momentum.
Getting elbows “equal & opposite” distance from each other after separation.
Release ball in front and let arm follow through after release. I like to tell kids to “waive good-bye”.
Finish with a “clean glove-side”. This simply means allowing the glove-side elbow to collapse as the throwing arm comes through its motion. When the glove-side elbow remains stiff , the glove will finish below the waist. Often times this will lead to players losing accuracy, usually high.
Lastly, make sure that their “playing catch” partners provide a good chest high target. You should emphasize that recievers of throws have their thumbs together at chest level in order to help their partner.
For older players (ages 12 & beyond) here’s a typical throwing progression that I’ve used:
Daily Throwing or “Playing Catch” Progression
On Knees; place throwing elbow on glove at chest high & elbow up; allow upper to remain still & only bend elbow and release the ball; make sure hand extends downward after release (hand should not look like it’s throwing darts); possibly use a ball with one ring of tape around it in order to emphasize proper rotation; 8-12′ apart; 10-12 reps.
Glide (Transfer weight on balls of feet); place feet on target line at a distance as thought they’ve already strided the glove-side foot to throw; opposite foot position of the previous step; rock forward-back-forward while maintaining the nose over the belly button; release ball to partner on 2nd forward movement; 20-30′ apart ; 8-10 reps.
Step & Throw (separation & strike point); Basically, just like #5 listed above ; now emphasize glove-side foot landing on the in-step ball of foot at about a 45 degree angle; 40-60′ apart based on age & strength; 10-15 reps.
Step Behinds; baseball pitchers only; for balance & target line; start in a stretch position; back foot steps behind front foot towards target; knee lift towards rear armpit & throw; great chance to work on touch pitches like change-ups; 45-60′ apart; 10-15 reps
Long-toss; gradually moving back from each other; using crow hops; emphasize “no rainbows”; straight throws as if they were an outfielder throwing through a cut-off man; the highest a ball should get is twice the players height; get to a distance where partners are one hopping each other; 100-130′ apart based on age & strength; 5-7 reps.
Run Daily; Running helps the arm recover.
On a regular basis, players need to do more than “loosen up”. To often this “loosening up” time ends up being a social session for not only the players, but also the coaches. Thus, this allotted time usually lasts longer than necessary with no goal in mind. Arms need to get stronger as the season progresses. Be patient. In turn, keep an eye on your team. If you’ve played 6 games in 5 days. It may be wise to have a light arm day. Rest is necessary. That’s you have your team “loosen up” with 5 minutes as the maximum, or do not throw at all.
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