Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services

How Baseball Coaches Can Help Their Pitchers Succeed

1020.   Recently, I offered a report in which I showed that, instead of fewer walks per nine innings or more strikeouts per nine innings, when baseball pitchers give up fewer hits per nine innings, they give up fewer runs per nine innings.

     Now, I want to discuss how baseball coaches can help their pitchers to give up fewer hits per nine innings.


A.   Eliminate the Negative

     The most important thing that baseball coaches can do is to not add to the pressure that baseball pitchers feel.   Their job is to help baseball pitchers focus only on the quality of the pitches that they need to throw to keep baseball hitters from getting hits.

     Baseball coaches have to understand that baseball pitchers have six pitches in which to throw three strikes before they throw four balls and, if they do not give up any hits, baseball pitchers have six At Bats in which to get three outs.

     Unfortunately, with every called ball that baseball pitchers throw, baseball coaches become more anxious and impatient.   Their anxiety and impatience add to the pressure that their baseball pitchers feel and makes it more difficult for their baseball pitchers to succeed.

     The next thing you know, baseball coaches are yelling, “Throw strikes.”   What do they think their pitchers are trying to do?

     Or, baseball coaches yell, “Don’t walk him.”   If, with every pitch, baseball pitchers are trying to throw strikes, then they are obviously trying not to walk anybody.

     When baseball coaches say anything other than encouraging words to their baseball pitchers, they take the focus away from what their baseball pitchers should be thinking and that is, “What pitch should I throw to keep this hitter from getting a hit?”

B.   Accentuate the Positive

     1. Three Balls, No Strikes Counts

     One way that baseball coaches can keep their baseball pitchers focused on what pitch they should throw is to tell their baseball pitchers that in three balls, no strikes counts, they should practice the first pitch that they should throw to the next batter.

     To me, the three balls, no strike count is the same as when football quarterbacks are back to throw and they cannot find an open receiver.   The best course of action for the quarterback is to not force a pass into coverage.   Instead, the quarterback should accept the reality that the play did not work, throw the football away and get onto the next play.

     For baseball pitchers, three balls, no strikes counts mean that these At Bats did not work.   Therefore, they should use the three balls, no strikes pitch as a free pitch to get ready for the next At Bat.   In general, I recommend that, on the three balls, no strikes count, baseball pitchers throw my minus ten miles per hour non-fastballs; either my Maxline Fastball Sinker or Torque Fastball Slider.

     However, if they throw a strike, then they are playing with the Casino’s money.   That is, they have another free pitch with nothing to lose.   Therefore, for their next pitch, I recommend that, because on the three balls, no strikes count, baseball pitchers threw non-fastballs, on the three balls, one strike count, they should throw the highest-intensity, highest quality appropriate two-seam fastball they can; either my two-seam Maxline Fastball or two-seam Torque Fastball.

     If they throw another strike, then they have the perfect humiliate-the-hitter situation.   That is, if they can come back from three-balls, no strikes counts with three strikes, then they can leave hitters baffled for the next several At Bats.

     Therefore, on the three balls, two strikes count, I recommend that baseball pitchers throw the highest-intensity, highest-quality minus twenty miles per hour that is the opposite of the minus ten miles per hour pitch that they threw on the three balls, no strikes count.

     That is, if they threw my Maxline Fastball Sinker on the three balls, no strikes count, then, on the three balls, two strikes count, they should throw my Maxline Pronation Curve and if they threw my Torque Fastball Slider on the three balls, no strikes count, then, on the three balls, two strikes count, they should throw my Maxline True Screwball.

     However, if they do not throw their three balls, no strikes pitch for a strike, then, at the very least, they have increased their probability of throwing that same pitch for a strike on their first pitch to the next batter.

     2.   No Balls, One Strike Counts

     Because, when baseball pitchers throw strikes on the first pitch of an At Bat, to succeed, they will only have to throw two high-intensity, high-quality pitches for strikes out of the next five pitches they throw.   Therefore, what they threw on the three balls, no strikes count to the preceeding batter helped baseball pitchers get the next batter out.

     3.   Let Pitchers Always Pitch Tough

     A few weeks ago, during the commercial break from one of my favorite shows, I channel-surfed to a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game.   Apparently, the Phillies were in the hunt for the National League wild card team slot into the playoffs.

     It was the bottom of the ninth inning, the Phillies had a one run lead, the bases were loaded and Phillies pitcher, Tom Gordon, had a full count on the batter.   This is a tough pitching situation.   Would Mr. Gordon still pitch tough or would he lay a fat one in there and hope the batter will get himself out?

     Between pitches, the television director kept showing the anxiety of a particular Philly fan.   When, on the three balls, two strikes count, Tom Gordon threw a curve low and outside that walked the batter, the Philly fan jumped out of his seat screaming who knows what and stomped up and down the steps in the aisle next to his seat.

     Then, to this fan's disgust, the Phillies manager left Mr. Gordon in the game.   After two more curves induced two infield pop-ups that ended that inning without any more runs scoring, the Phillies went on to win the game in extra innings.

     Mr. Gordon pitched tough.   He did not give in to the hitter or to the pressure to throw strikes.   Instead, he threw pitches in which he had confidence that if he threw them for strikes, then the hitters would not get hits.

     Not only did I credit Mr. Gordon for knowing how to best handle this extremely difficult pitching situation, but I also credited the Phillies Field Manager for understanding that Mr. Gordon knew how to continue to pitch tough in tough situations.

C.   Gene Mauch

     When I played minor league baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies, whenever I could, I drove to Clearwater, FL and sat near the home team dugout.   As I listened to what the then Phillies Field Manager, Gene Mauch, said to his players, I knew that I wanted to play for him.

     Therefore, in 1970, I maneuvered a trade from the Houston Astros to the Montreal Expos, where Gene was then managing.

     1. No Intentional Walks

     Early in our time together, Gene signaled to me to intentionally walk Willie Stargell.   I called time out to talk with him.   I asked Gene whether, if I promised that I would either get Mr. Stargell out or walk him, would he trust me to pitch to him?

     Incredibly, Gene said, okay, but you had better either get him out or walk him.

     The freedom that Gene gave me to throw high-intensity, high-quality pitches and Mr. Stargell anxiety to drive in runs resulted in a pop-up to the first baseman.   That pop-up forged a trust between Gene and I that enabled me to have a major league career I did not dream possible.

     2. Two-Way Communication

     It also created a situation where I felt free to offer my ideas to Gene for his approval.

     3. Open Bases Are Defensive Weapons

     Later my first year with Gene, he seriously asked me whether, to get a free out from teams who sacrificed bunted their base runners on first base to second base in the late innings of close games, I intentionally walked lead-off batters.

     I told him, “No, but I did like the free out.”

     Gene countered, but now you have a base runner in scoring position.

     I said that, when batters stepped into the batter's box, if I did not always pitch tough, then they were in scoring position.   Therefore, when I had base runners on second base and one out, I thought, if I continue to pitch tough and I get two outs before I walk three batters, then I am out of this inning.   To make sure that I did not give up any hits, I could go after these next three batters with my highest-intensity, highest-quality pitches.

     Gene asked me to explain.

     4.   Individualize Defensive Alignments for Baseball Pitchers, Not Hitters

     I told Gene that with one out and base runners on second base, he set up the defense to prevent weak ground balls from getting through the pull infield and weak pop-ups from falling in front of the center and opposite field outfielders.

     However, with one out and base runners on first base, to try to get double plays, he had the shortstop and second basemen move closer to second base and home plate.

     Unfortunately, because I always tried to jam batters or get them to swing early, I could not get hitters to hit ground balls where he had the middle infielders standing.   Instead, I got weak ground balls into the pull infield hole and shallow pop-ups to center and down the opposite field outfield line.

     Lastly, I told Gene that I needed the same defensive alignment all the time.   That, with no base runners, to prevent extra base hits, he moved the pull corner infielder closer to the line, but left the pull middle infielder straight up and he moved his outfielders deeper.   Therefore, the weak ground balls to the pull side of the infield that I give up found the pull infield hole and weak pop-ups I gave up fell in front of the center and opposite field outfielders.

     I again asked Gene to trust me.   I said that, if he would close the pull infield hole with the mid-infielders and move the outfielders closer to the infield and toward the opposite field line, then I would promise not to let them hit the baseball up the middle in the infield or up the pull alley over the outfielder’s heads.

     He agreed and, as a result, in the five full years and parts of three other years, only one of which included most of the year, I finished fourth, second, seventh and fifth in the Cy Young Award.

     5.   Give Relievers Room for Error

     Because Jarry Park in Montreal did not have a bullpen, all pitchers sat in the dugout.   Late in the game, after we batted, Gene would frequently walk to the relief pitchers end of the dugout and tell me that, if the first batter got on base, then I was in the game.

     Sometime in 1972, after I started to become the baseball pitcher I thought that I could be, I asked Gene, if you have so little confidence in the pitcher that you would take him out of the game if the first batter gets on base, then why are you letting him pitch to the first batter?

     Gene looked at me, thought for about two seconds, and said, you’re right, you go start this inning.

     From then on, before we batted late in the game, Gene would walk down to the far end of the dugout and say, you have the next inning.   And, that decision resulted in today's closers entering games at the beginning of inning instead of with base runners on base.

     6.   Give Pitchers Five At Bats

     When I threw my eight warm-up pitches, I typically follow the same routine.   I used the first two pitches to gently increase blood flow to my pitching arm.   I used the second two pitches to ‘blow out the carbon’ in my pitching arm.   I use the next three pitches to practice my non-fastballs.   And, I finished with whatever pitch I planned to throw as my first pitch to the first batter in the inning.

     Nevertheless, the first few pitches in innings are never the highest-intensity, highest-quality pitches with the best control that baseball pitchers can have.   It takes baseball pitchers time to get used to the mound, to ‘feel’ their releases, to recognize how well their pitches are moving and so on.

     When I pitched, I had a rule about how to get into each inning.   Within the first five pitches that I threw each inning, I made sure that I threw one of each of the three types of pitches I threw.

     There are four types of pitches: Fastballs, Breaking Balls, Reverse Breaking Balls and No-Spin.

     During my major league baseball career, I threw only one type of fastball; my two-seam Maxline Fastball.   I wish that I had the velocity to throw my four-seam Maxline Fastball through the batter’s loop, but I did not.   I wish that I knew how to throw my Torque Fastball, but I did not invent that pitch until 2003.   Therefore, I had to be very careful with when and I threw my fastball.   That is, I had to make sure batters did not expect my fastball and I had to make sure that I located it well.

     I also threw only one type of breaking ball; my two-seam Torque Fastball Slider.   I wish that I knew how to throw my four-seam Maxline Pronation Curve, but I did not invent that pitch until eight years after my major league career ended.   I would also have liked to have known how to throw my two-seam Torque Pronation Curve.

     However, I did know how to throw my four-seam Maxline True Screwball, my four-seam Torque True Screwball, my two-seam Maxline Scruker, my two-seam Torque Scruker, my two-seam Maxline Fastball Sinker and my two-seam Torque Fastball Sinker.

     I did not believe then, nor do I believe now, that baseball pitchers should spend valuable time practicing No-Spin pitches.   Baseball pitchers have far too much to learn about throwing the other three types of pitches to waste their time with knuckleballs and no-spin forkballs.

     But, I need to get back to what I was saying about getting into each inning.

     I would rather baseball pitchers walk lead-off batters than throw pitches that they might hit hard.   If they do that, then, with every pitch, baseball pitchers are learning how to improve the intensity, quality and control of their pitches.

     Therefore, unless pitchers cannot throw high-intensity, high-quality pitches, they should have the full opportunity to finish their inning.   To me, five batters represent full opportunity.

     The secret to successfully managing baseball pitchers is to take them out of games before they lose their ability to throw high-intensity, high-quality pitches and before batters bat against them for their fourth time in the game.   As a head baseball coach, I liked it when baseball pitchers were mad because I had taken out game before they felt that they had lost their intensity and pitch quality.   To try to get me to leave them in games longer, in their next games, they pitched with greater intensity and quality.


Good Luck Everybody
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