How to Attack Hitters: The 4 Pitching Command-ments
There are Four Commandments that as you approach a hitter and a line-up throughout the course of a game from a purely process based standpoint that we are trying to accomplish.
- Commandment #1 = 1stPitch Strike
- Commandment #2 = 1st/2ndPitch Strike
- Commandment #3 = After Three Pitches
- Commandments #4 = Number of Pitches to Hitter
Not only are we trying to accomplish these four but we are wanting to accomplish each of the four at a certain percentage. Over time and working with many teams across the country the data has been conclusive that these are what we should be shooting for. I believe in playing the game within the game. The Four Commandments set up the pitcher to either win something or lose something on each of pitches early in the count.
Commandment #1: 1st Pitch Strikes – Goal 60%
It is no secret strike one is so important. Getting ahead of a hitter sets up a pitcher for controlling the rest of an at-bat. It puts the hitter on the defensive. I am still amazed at how many coaches fail to measure this one statistic though. From college to USSSA coaches pitchers deserve to know how they are performing in this area. We want to provide feedback to players on area of growth and strike one is a great place to start.
We always shoot for 60%. Anything less has a tendency to affect a quality outing and certainly affects the other three areas in this article. This would be true during a scrimmage, bullpen, or game. Our goals don’t change based on the competition or lack thereof.
Commandment #2: 1st/2nd Pitch Strikes – Goal 90%
Provided a pitcher throws a first pitch strike then they already have most of this “command”ment fulfilled. If they miss with a first pitch strike, then our mentality is to at minimum get to an even count on the hitter: 1ball, 1 strike. Statistically speaking, even if the pitcher is throwing strikes at a 50% clip and misses with the first throw then they should hit for a strike on the second pitch. We know this doesn’t always happen though. For instance if you flip a coin and the first time you flip it you get heads. Theoretical probability tells you that the next flip should be tails but we know from the real world that doesn’t always happen either. Every part of the math in me tells me to make this 100% but the realistic part of me tells me that we need to back off of it just a tad. This is the main reason we have settled on 90%. Lets face it, you are digging your own grave as a pitcher if you can’t get either of the first two pitches across into the umpire zone. That is why this stat needs to be so high.
Commandment #3: “A3P” (After Three Pitches ) – Goal 67%
Those of you that are familiar with the 1-Pitch Warrior System and have been using it will recognize the third “command”ment. After Three Pitches has been a staple of many programs across the country and needs to be included in the commandments. It is a measurement that lends itself to many coaching philosophies that I have heard sitting in all the clinics I attend:
- Get ahead
- Pitch to contact
If pitchers get ahead After Three Pitches with a 1 ball, 2 strike count or if the pitcher has struck a batter out on three pitches then they earn the “A3P”. Or if they pitch to contact, regardless of outcome, they would also earn an A3P. These are the only two ways to receive credit for an A3P.
We are aiming to earn 6 of 9 hitters through the order when it comes to A3Ps. This would produce a 67% clip or getting ahead and pitching to contact.
It is important to note that once the third pitch is thrown, this particular criteria is over just like it would be on the first two. You either do it or you don’t. Each one of the “command”ments provide a chance for a pitcher to win the pitch and win the moment. If we do this consistently enough then we end up winning at-bats, games, seasons, and maybe even championships.
Commandment #4: Number of Pitches Per Hitter (4)– Goal 60%
The thing I love most about the 4 Commandments is that the first three lead to the last. If I throw first pitch or second pitch strikes and earn A3Ps then I will have a very good shot at reducing the number of pitches I see per hitter. You can certainly take a game average but I prefer to have a goal for each hitter and stay in the moment rather than the game as a whole. However, I also don’t discourage taking an overall average when the game is over. Whether you do get an out or don’t record one doesn’t matter here. We are trying to stay as process-oriented as possible. So, if the pitcher gives up a hit after 6 pitches where they were unable to throw a first pitch or second pitch strike and also didn’t earn an A3P, then they know everything resets and there are new battles to win. The goal is that 60% of the hitters faced in an outing should see 4 pitches or fewer per plate appearance. This goal should match up with the goals for first pitch strikes and overall strikes. What I have found is the that the three goals should be very consistent. If they aren’t, then we start to explore what the problem is.
If pitchers are able to record as many 4 pitches or less per at-bats during a game, then this will keep their pitch count down and help them earn Quality Innings which is the culmination of these four criteria. For those of you familiar with the 1PW System, a “Quality Inning” is considered 13 pitches or less or a 1-2-3 inning.
I know there will be coaches who say that a walk on 4 pitches would be 4 pitches to a batter and would count as a positive for this category. That is true. I can see where they would have trouble with this. However, Intentional Walks do NOT fit with the 4 Commandments even if they are occasionally necessary. Remember our ultimate goal here is to earn a Quality Inning based on CONTROL: Throwing enough pitches to commit walks in one given inning whether they are 4 pitches or more won’t allow QI’s to happen. (If we are going to walk someone at all, might as well happen in 4 pitches rather than 6 because it keeps more bullets in your gun).
It is a process and a flow to get to an inning goal of a Quality Inning:
1st Pitch Strikes lead to 1st/2nd Pitch Strikes leads to earning A3Ps and low pitch count to hitters (4 or less) which ultimately leads to a great chance to earn a Quality Inning (provided defense plays their part). A Quality Inning is not just a pitching measurement. It is an overall team defense measurement that everyone plays a part in receiving.
The best example I could find of a pitcher who wasn’t your big time fastball or amazing stuff overall would be Greg Maddux. Greg Maddux faced 20,421 batters in his career. Just 310 of them saw a 3-0 count. That’s roughly one every three starts. That statistic includes intentional walks. If we only look at unintentional 3-0 counts, it lowers to 133 in 20,284 total batters. Roughly one 3-0 count every 150 batters! Greg Maddux knew the 4 Commandments and is a prime example that exceptional velocity isn’t needed for greatness. He was a master of getting ahead, staying ahead, and pitching many innings each season because he was able to keep his pitch count down during games. Location, changing speeds, and sticking to the process of the 4 Commandments will give you a great possibility of victory.
Play for the Present!
Coach Justin Dehmer