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Pitcher question: Where to throw first pitch?

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  • Pitcher question: Where to throw first pitch?

    As a coach of younger players learning to pitch (ages 9-12), I insisted they needed to try to throw the first pitch right down the middle of the plate. It increases chance for first strike, decreases pitch count, many batters never swing at first pitch anyway, and even if they hit it into play, that is a GREAT result as it means one pitch was used and there's at least a 50% chance that results in an out for all but very gifted batters.

    However - I am now wondering if this makes sense at older ages. 13-14? HS? College? And how does the answer vary depending on the pitcher capabilities?

    This is coming up because my 13 year-old son, on his own initiative, has abandoned trying to go for a first pitch right down the middle. He has very good command and control and especially on days when his control is at it's best, he would prefer to never give a batter anything easy to hit. He confidently misses by an inch or two on the first two pitches, getting up to a 2-0 count, and not worrying about it, because he knows he can throw a strike at will. He walk rate has increased only slightly from prior years and is still pretty low, at around 1 walk every 2 innings.

    So for pitchers with good control - is it right to ALWAYS go for corners (except not on a 3-0 count)? Or is there still value in giving the batter the first pitch to hit?

  • #2
    Pitch selection is never a cut and dry answer. I would say your 13 year old is learning and is on the right track. I don't ever want my pitchers to throw it right down the middle unless the kid on the other team can't hit it there or we know the other kid is taking. I do however want them to get ahead and depending on pitcher ability I want them not to miss by an inch or 2 on the corners, but to hit that corner and get the strike call. In tournament ball the umpires tend to be paid to call strikes and outs so the missing by an inch or 2 works really well. In high school or league play you need to be able to get outs by throwing strikes where batters don't like them. This is just a general rule though as umpires vary and you can adjust accordingly.

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    • #3
      I think it depends entirely on the situation.

      If you have a pitcher/batter matchup where the pitcher can blow it past the batter, a fastball right down the middle is a great idea. If the batter is likely to be first pitch swinging, and he's able to hit the pitcher's fastball, then that first pitch right down the middle could get turned around in a hurry.

      Likewise, a pitcher who has above average velo (relative to the batters' abilities) is likely going to have a lot of batters taking pitches to work his pitch count and try for walks, especially if he's a bit wild. Whereas there will be less of an effort to wear down a slow thrower, and it's pointless to try for walks against a pitcher with great control.

      So I say it depends.

      I remember a game in 13u where my son was pitching against what was probably a better team. But their batters had a policy of taking the first pitch. So again and again, he'd throw that first pitch across the plate and get ahead with strike one. Unfortunately, he couldn't take advantage of the favorable count enough to get the win in that game. But throwing the strike on the first pitch was clearly the best approach. This was funny: I was sitting on the other team's side, and the moms were getting frustrated by their batters watching the first pitch for strike one. It's like everyone knew it was coming right down the middle, but they weren't allowed to do anything with it.

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      • #4
        And, this may just be me, but I like seeing a pitcher throw a curveball for a strike as the first pitch...

        Now you're up 0-1, they still haven't seen your fastball, and they know you're not afraid to throw a curve in any count.

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        • #5
          There are obviously alot of variables, but I'd personally rather lose when the other team just hit rather than nibble and walk guys (I LOATHE freebies). Throw strikes, first and foremost, make them earn it. As a pitcher gains better control and has a better arsenal, you can start working backwards like BBR said^^^^. If you can throw a CB for a strike, a hitter rarely swings at them, and if they do (expecting a FB) they look silly. My son had alot of success throwing a CB to get 2 strikes and finishing with a FB up, but most of his success with that strategy was after getting to the big field. At the youth level, if you can command it, absolutely do it, but first and foremost is throw strikes. Strikes are good, balls are bad.
          Ty Cobb-"Every great batter works on the theory that the pitcher is more afraid of him than he is of the pitcher."

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          • #6
            Situations change by hitter and their strengths and weaknesses as the pitcher, catcher and their coach recognize them. Once a kid has reasonable command it’s time to start staying away from the middle of the plate unless he can smoke hitters. It’s time to start working up and down and in and out.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by bman52 View Post
              Pitch selection is never a cut and dry answer. I would say your 13 year old is learning and is on the right track. I don't ever want my pitchers to throw it right down the middle unless the kid on the other team can't hit it there or we know the other kid is taking. I do however want them to get ahead and depending on pitcher ability I want them not to miss by an inch or 2 on the corners, but to hit that corner and get the strike call. In tournament ball the umpires tend to be paid to call strikes and outs so the missing by an inch or 2 works really well. In high school or league play you need to be able to get outs by throwing strikes where batters don't like them. This is just a general rule though as umpires vary and you can adjust accordingly.
              Makes sense. I may have been a bit unclear - he's not TRYING to miss by a an inch. He's trying to barely hit the corner, but he missed the spot he intended to hit by 2 inches - and it happened to land outside the zone. He sometimes gets behind 3-0 on the count doing this and still gets the batter out. The 3-0 count is the one where he does throw it down the middle because that is a count almost nobody swings at. Since he's started doing this, he's been getting very good results - but sometimes it drives up the pitch count a bit.

              The other nice thing about aiming for corners right off the bat is that he will very soon find out where (if anywhere) the umpire is being generous.

              I do like the idea of throwing curve ball first pitch. He does that very rarely - could stand to do it more.


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              • #8
                At that age group I'd say FB middle to middle out. Getting ahead of the hitter is key to controlling a hitter's at bats. I tell my pitchers that the most important pitch in baseball is "strike 1."
                Granny said Sonny stick to your guns if you believe in something no matter what. Because it's better to be hated for who you are than to be loved for who you're not.

                I am an ex expert. I've done this long enough to know that those who think that they know it all, know nothing.

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                • #9
                  I read a thing one time that said the most important pitch was the 1-1 pitch. I believe it!

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                  • #10
                    Pound the zone.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Cannonball View Post
                      At that age group I'd say FB middle to middle out. Getting ahead of the hitter is key to controlling a hitter's at bats. I tell my pitchers that the most important pitch in baseball is "strike 1."
                      That's what I certainly believed through age 12. But now starting around 13 or 14 years old, I'm seeing that pitch one down the middle gets pounded for a single or double. By that age, the decent hitters know that's the only good pitch they'll ever see - so they expect it and hit it.

                      The high velocity pitchers can throw it down the middle. The average velocity pitchers who throw it down the middle will get pounded, and especially on pitch 1. At least that's some of what I'm seeing.

                      Note that since my son stopped giving hitters something down the middle on pitch one, his pitching results are significantly better. Slightly higher pitch count per inning, but fewer hits, and roughly the same number of walks as previously.

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                      • #12
                        So, your son is proficient enough at that age to throw a breaking pitch for a strike to every batter? If so, great and have at it. In varsity hs ball, we threw a breaking pitch on 1st pitch to 3, 4, and 5. They have been told to take that pitch by hs. So, again, the most important pitch in baseball is strike one. We all have different philosophies. I want my pitchers to pound the strike zone. I want them to get ahead and then nibble that imaginary box but on the line for a strike. At 0-2 I still want a pitch that can be sold for a K. BTW, they make pitching zones you can buy or you can easily make one where your son can practice staying out of the middle.
                        Granny said Sonny stick to your guns if you believe in something no matter what. Because it's better to be hated for who you are than to be loved for who you're not.

                        I am an ex expert. I've done this long enough to know that those who think that they know it all, know nothing.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Joe my son is taking a very similar journey to your OP. If he has the control, and is playing another 13 and 14yo, first pitch curve for a strike. Most kids at this age with no strikes are looking for "their pitch," which is typically a fastball. They will leave a first pitch curve alone. It's a free strike 99% of the time if you have the control to throw it.
                          Never played baseball, just a dad of someone that loves to play. So take any advice I post with a grain of salt.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by pthawaii View Post
                            Joe my son is taking a very similar journey to your OP. If he has the control, and is playing another 13 and 14yo, first pitch curve for a strike. Most kids at this age with no strikes are looking for "their pitch," which is typically a fastball. They will leave a first pitch curve alone. It's a free strike 99% of the time if you have the control to throw it.
                            Got it. His control isn't as good with his curve as it is with his fastball, but he usually get's it in for a strike (if that's the intention). Often the intention is to purposely have it drop low to fall below the zone, but sounds like throwing a curveball right down the middle on a 0-0 count is something he should be trying.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by JoeG View Post

                              Got it. His control isn't as good with his curve as it is with his fastball, but he usually get's it in for a strike (if that's the intention). Often the intention is to purposely have it drop low to fall below the zone, but sounds like throwing a curveball right down the middle on a 0-0 count is something he should be trying.
                              If he is allowed to do it, I'd say give it a go. I'd be very curious the outcome. Id be shocked if he gets rocked throwing a first pitch curve at that age.
                              Never played baseball, just a dad of someone that loves to play. So take any advice I post with a grain of salt.

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