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Fastpitch Pitching Advice from Taylor Swift

This week’s topic goes hand-in-hand with last week’s blog post about the art of pitch calling. If you haven’t read that one yet I suggest you do; it’s brilliant.

All too often these days it seems like fastpitch pitchers are treated like a vending machine. Someone puts a pitch call in and pitchers are expected to spit it out with zero thought involved.

To me, and I think to most pitching coaches (PCs chime in here in the comments) that is absolutely the wrong approach. Instead, pitchers need to be playing along in their heads, thinking about what that hitter looks like, what’s worked on her in the past (if she’s faced her before), what pitches are working today (and how well), and what she thinks ought to be the next pitch she throws.

Then, if the pitch call lines up with what she’s thinking (more or less), she throws it. If it doesn’t, she takes the advice of the ubiquitous Ms. Swift to:

You had to know this was coming sooner or later.

I know it can be difficult. Sometimes nigh on impossible if the pitcher has a coach who believes in his/her own omniscience when it comes to pitch calling, whether that opinion is justified of not.

But if the opportunity is there the pitcher really ought to be the final deciding factor on which pitch gets thrown next. Just like a pilot is the ultimate decision-maker when the plane is in the air.

After all, it’s the pitcher who is going to have to live with the consequences of her pitch.

Of course, in order to do that effectively someone has to train the pitcher on how to set up a hitter and keep her off balance. In other words, how to make decisions on which pitches work best in which situations.

Sort of like learning which wines pair with which meals, but with softballs.

I like to do this during lessons. Team coaches can do it during bullpens. Here’s how.

Select a type of hitter and a situation. For example, no one on, no one out, left slapper leading off.

Then ask the pitcher which pitch she wants to throw. If she’s not sure where to start, guide her with some parameters such as whether the slapper is experienced or a newly converted righty, whether she runs toward the pitcher or toward first base as she comes out, if she stands tall or squats down, how good the defense is behind her, etc.

You can also give some general hints, such as slapping is about timing and slapper are usually trying to put the ball on the ground between shortstop and third. All of that will factor into which pitch to throw.

The pitcher then makes the call. If it’s a good one, she throws it and the outcome (ball or strike) leads into the next pitch call. If the pitch decision isn’t so good, the coach talks it through with the pitcher a little more to help guide her.

With some regular training the pitcher can become smarter, and thus an active participant in the pitch calling decision rather than just a robot programmed to follow directions.

(Robot voice) What…pitch…do…I…throw…now?

I understand that it’s difficult for a player to feel confident enough in her own decisions to try to overrule a coach by shaking off a pitch. Doubly if the coach is a parent or teacher or just someone who has a more authoritarian approach to their coaching.

But it’s a skill worth learning. And not just for softball.

There’s a pretty good chance that at some point in her life, that pitcher will face a non-softball decision that involves some risk, or perhaps even a moral dilemma. The easy thing to do will be to just follow along with whatever the person in charge says.

But the easy thing isn’t always the right thing. Gaining experience in being part of the decision process, and standing up for herself when she feels strongly another way, will help her avoid much more serious issues later in life than whether a particular hitter got on base in that at bat.

Again, I know it isn’t easy. But it’s worth learning.

Knowing when to shake off a pitch call, and having the confidence to actually do it, is an important of growing as a player, and growing up.

Don’t just be a pitching vending machine. When pitchers become an active part of the pitch calling decision they’ll find they have more success – and more fun.

Vending machine photo by Jenna Hamra on Pexels.com

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