Monday, August 22, 2011

Pitching Inside

By Jim Bain

Should the names Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale or Sandy Koufax immediately ring a familiar bell, you'll understand the importance of the issue of pitching inside. For those who must ponder these names, and hundreds of others, or have only seen them in print as Hall of Fame pitchers, this article may prove rather eye opening.

Home plate measures 17" across at the front and widest part, then tapers back to the familiar point. The plate is colored white, with the white portion of the plate ringed with a black edge, which is where the saying "the pitch caught the black" originated. This measurement has remained constant for a 100 years or so, since it's official design and shape was officially adopted by major league baseball, and I wanted to re-establish the fact that nothing physical has changed before continuing.

From a pitcher's perspective, that entire plate area represents the strike zone, but is not necessarily where they want to locate their pitches. I'm not saying you don't have to throw strikes over the plate, of course you do, but the Strike - Ball count is a huge determining factor of whether you want to locate the ball over the white, or black, part of the plate.

Pitching strategy from pee wee league to major league level, teaches and stresses the pitcher learn to get the batter out on "your pitch", and your pitch is not a strike. "Your pitch" is a ball located 2" to 3" off the plate, any more unless the batter is totally fooled by a breaking ball, is too far and won't normally entice a swing.

The idea is to get a batter to swing at a pitch he either can not reach, thus striking out, or can barely reach, which will induce a nubber off the end of bat resulting in a weak ground ball to the infield. Batters, even at the major league level, experience difficulty not swinging at Close pitches with a two strike count, and usually 2" off the plate appears too close to take.

Alright, where is this leading? It's leading to the issue pitchers 20 years ago could claim and pitch to a Home Plate measuring 21" to 23" wide, while pitchers of today throw at a Home plate 19" to 20" wide. That additional 2" can easily be the difference between becoming a 20 game winner, at the major league level, or a wash out from the minor leagues.

Why the difference? Because pitchers of today are afraid to pitch inside, losing not only the additional 2" of plate, but suffering a huge tactical disadvantage. As a hitter, if I know the pitcher will not throw a pitch inside on my hands, I can move closer to the plate, which allows me to make solid contact with the pitch 2" off the plate, instead of swinging and missing.

Why are pitchers afraid to throw inside? Because major league hitters have become whiners and cry babies and have forced an environment if a pitcher throws inside, he's trying to hit the batter. I'm not saying this is 100% untrue, but I'll venture 97% untrue. You must remember these pitchers, for the most part, have pin point control and consistently locate balls 2" off the outside part of the plate, why not the same control on the inside?

The claim that every pitch inside is intended to hit the batter is nonsense. Twenty years ago batters were accidentally hit as they are today, but pitchers like Bob Gibson, didn't try to hide the fact he was throwing at you, but there were reasons for pitching "far" inside.

1. If a hitter stood too close to the plate, he'd squeeze the strike zone on the pitcher, making it smaller and gaining an advantage over the pitcher. The pitcher threw Inside in order to move the batter back off the plate and regain, what he considered, his additional 2".

2. If a hitter took an extraordinary amount of time or effort digging in at the plate, sending the signal to the pitcher he was preparing to tee off on a pitch. The pitcher simply loosen him up and forced him out of his dug in position, by throwing inside.

3. The inside pitch was occasionally used as a "display pitch." Much like a pitcher who has difficulty throwing a curve ball, he still throws the pitch, not really intending to throw it for a strike, in order to put the fear or question in the hitter's mind he may have to try and hit a curve ball.

4. There is of course the final reason. Call it Pay Back, Restitution or a Penalty for embarrassing the pitcher or showboating. For instance, if a batter hit a home run, dropped his bat and gingerly ran around the bases, it was considered " no foul."

However, if the batter stood at home plate admiring his home run, slowly trotted around the bases or smiled at the pitcher as he rounded the bases...he'd better be prepared to take a pitch to the ribs the next time he batted. There was a respect issue there.

We've actually covered a lot of ground here, from history to strategy to purposes of pitching inside to hitters. Although I'd never condone, nor teach the action of purposely hitting a batter, I do believe in the pitcher throwing inside. It's part of the pitching zone, it's a tactical advantage and it's an excellent pitching strategy. If you don't teach your pitchers the intent and advantage of pitching inside, you're doing them a great disservice.

Jim Bain, former Minor league baseball player, who since retiring has dedicated his life to teaching baseball to youth, shares his advice on running baseball drills on his exciting info packed website:

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