Followers of this blog know that Matt works out regularly in the off-season with Chad Rodgers, former Baseball America top prospect and current LHP for the Minnesota Twins organization. Matt is fortunate to have Chad as a mentor, friend, pitching coach and strength/conditioning sensei. Chad has recently teamed up with Show Me Strength and is a regular contributor to the site. Every time Chad puts up more wisdom, you can also find it here…
It has been some time since I made a personal entry on this blog. Much has happened since the last one. My son Matthew is now a strapping 18 year-old All-Star pitcher and Honors student actively in the hunt for a college baseball scholarship. As he finishes his Junior year with Final Exams this week, he has been faced with difficult challenges on all fronts including academics, athletics (facing showcase tourney teams loaded with D-1 commits who can absolutely HIT the ball), and the unexpected, sudden ending to a meaningful personal relationship (nuf ced).
In the midst of this, I gave him a Navajo bear-claw ring which I had originally purchased for myself a generation ago while dealing with overwhelming loss. At that time it was a symbol of inner strength to me, and I wanted to pass it along from father to son as a token of strength for him in this difficult yet all-important time of his life.
Anyone who is the parent of an 18 year-old can appreciate that the depth of my intended meaning in this act might not be fully appreciated for what it is, but giving this ring is a Sacramental: an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual thing. Therefore, here is what I mean to say to my son who embodies so much Promise:
“Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you.”
For Native Americans, the Bear is a life-giving Mother icon: Fiercely protective, clever, quick, big and powerful. A Native American with the word “bear” in their name was considered to be both an excellent provider and a powerful warrior.
For young men still discovering themselves and baseball pitchers in particular, the Bear represents many valuable personal qualities including power, courage, confidence, victory, freedom, protection, discernment, resourcefulness and unpredictability.
Yet in spite of its size and power, the Bear also prefers peace and tranquility which represent harmony and balance.
Be a noble Beast within yourself. Be the Bear.
The Importance of Self-Reflection
Self-reflection is key in any area if we want to become better at what we do. It is good to have feedback provided to you from someone else but it much more powerful when the reflection on our performance comes from the person in the mirror. Whether you are a great lawyer, friend, doctor, teacher, coach, parent, they all require us to reflect on what we do and how to make it better the next time. That is the essence of having a growth mindset. Use the following list of 21 questions to have your pitchers self-assess so that they can create purposeful practice between now and their next opportunity to pitch.
- Did you have any outside factors stressing you today?
- How did your bullpen go before your outing?
- Did you let your stress or bullpen performance affect your outing?
- How focused were you from pitch to pitch?
- If your self-control wasn’t where you wanted it to be how did you refocus?
- Did you feel supported by your teammates and coaches today?
- How would you rate your mental game today on a scale of 1 to 10?
- What were your 4 Command-ment numbers for today?
- How do you feel about them?
- What was your best pitch today?
- What pitch did you use in clutch situations?
- Did you pitch with a specific pattern in mind or plan for specific hitters?
- Was the first pitch used too often?
- What pitch was hit the hardest?
- Which pitch did you struggle with for command the most?
- Were you able to spot your pitches where you wanted?
- What things will you work on between now and the next time you pitch?
- What specific drills will you use to help your progress?
- What are your goals (process oriented) for your next outing? (4 Command-ments-based)
- What was your rose, thorn, and bud from today?
- If you could meet anyone and eat dinner with him or her, who would it be?
These questions can be condensed, combined, or cut out all together. That is up to you. The key is that most pitchers don’t self-reflect in a proactive way. They let a bad outing stir and build-up without analyzing their performance critically with a growth mindset. These questions can start that process toward getting better and setting a plan of action for the future.
Play for the Present!
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
The best captains and team leaders have the following top 6 critical qualities which fall on the “Committed” and “Compelled” levels of the Commitment Continuum pictured above:
- The Best Captains are the Hardest Workers: The best leaders are the team’s hardest workers. They invest fully in whatever they do whether it is practice, weights, conditioning or competition.
- The Best Captains Encourage their teammates: Instead of being all about themselves, they consciously connect with and help take their team to a higher level. They encourage hard work, build confidence and keep going when times are tough.
- The Best Captains are Honest and Trustworthy: The best leaders keep it real. They are honest with coaches and teammates and earn a deep sense of trust. Because being trustworthy is one of the most important traits of a leader, the best captains work hard to earn and maintain trust and respect.
- The Best Captains Respect Others: Along with honest and trust, the best leaders are high character people. They treat their teammates, coaches, opponents and officials with respect, even when they disagree with their decisions. They seek to help, uplift and serve their teammates.
- The Best Captains Care Passionately: The best leaders care passionately about the team’s success, their teammates, and their sport. They love the game and bring passion to everything they do. They play their sport because they absolutely love it. They are the first ones to arrive at practices and workouts, and the last ones to leave because they invest so much in the program.
- The Best Captains are Relentlessly Competitive and Compelled to Win: The #1 trait that consistently comes through in the best leaders is that they are highly competitive people. Winning is a big priority for them and they invest the necessary time and energy to maximize the team’s chances of winning. They bring a sense of urgency to competitions as well as workouts because they are fully committed to and serious about success.