Monday, October 19, 2009

Disguising your Baseball Pitch Like CC Sabathia

The Major League Baseball post season is nearing an end. The League Championship series are in full swing with two great match ups. The Los Angeles Dodgers are taking on the Philadelphia Phillies and the Los Angeles Angels have the formidable task of attempting to overcome the New York Yankees.

Baseball particularly in the post season is dominated by the pitching. Great batters are successful only around 30% of the times they come up to bat but great pitchers on the other hand can dominate and beat the batter 80% of the time. A great pitcher needs to be able to throw a variety of balls, so that he can beat any batter and can throw to the batters weakness.
  • There are 3 pitch varieties, the fastball, breaking ball (slider or curve ball) and the change up.
  • The pitcher must then be able to throw each of the 3 pitches listed above to hit 4 different targets: high inside and outside and low inside and outside.
  • The pitcher also needs to understand the batter he is up against, his strengths and weaknesses. Is he left or right handed? Does he have an open or closed batting stance?What did the batter do on his previous at bat?
  • Finally the pitcher also needs to throw pitches according to the pitch count. This is often called pitch strategy. The pitch strategy will change as the number of strikes and or balls change. For a detailed description of pitch strategy have a look at this article by Tom House.
In the first game of the American League Championship final between the Angels and Yankees , we watched CC Sabathia of the Yankees put in an excellent display of pitching. He pitched to all corners of the plate and varied his pitches with the pitch count and player.

Below is some video of Sabathia pitching strikes to the Oakland A's in August this year. Watch for the variety of his pitches, fastballs, breaking balls and change ups, as well as the numerous targets he hits, inside and outside, high and low, to both right and left handed batters.

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Sabathia is one of the best in the MLB this year and his ability to pitch a variety of pitches is one of the main reasons for this.

However it is also important when throwing these different pitches that the player is able to disguise the type of pitch he is going to throw. If the pitch is well disguised it gives the batter less time to react to the pitch and reduces their chances of getting a hit.

Lets look at the video of Sabathia again. Notice that his action is always the same for every pitch, whether it is a fastball or a slider, whether he throws high or low. Focus on Sabathia only as you watch the video.
  • Sabathia covers the ball with his glove at the start of every pitch.
  • He rotates his shoulders back the same amount each time. He also lifts his front knee to the same height on every pitch.
  • He seems to stride forward to almost the same position on each pitch.
  • His arm comes through at the same speed and height for all his pitches. Most of the pitches he throws in the video above are in the 83-84 mph range, but the 2 faster pitches 88 and 97 mph look very similar to the others.
  • His follow through for all pitches also looks the same. His head remains looking up and forward.
  • He even completes the routine after the pitch in the same way by pulling up his shirt sleeve.
We all know from our experience that the video above is not the best for analyzing Sabathia's technique or timing. The best footage would be from the batters perspective, but from the angle we have, it certainly looks like each pitch is very similar. If the batter is able to read the pitchers mechanics and guess at the pitch to be thrown, he will have that little bit more time to modify his swing and get a hit. By throwing different pitches using the same technique and timing, Sabathia is able to delay the batters decision to swing and therefore is able to beat them more often.

The best technique for throwing all types of pitches is the same, there should be no need to vary your technique to throw a different type of pitch. To throw a curve ball, slider or any other type of pitch the variation is in the grip and in the final position and snap of the wrist, not the pitching mechanics.

To pitch like CC Sabathia, concentrate on the pitching mechanics. Fool the batter by showing him or her the same mechanics on every pitch. We will follow up with a video analysis of good pitching mechanics soon. In the mean time enjoy the post season and World Series. Keep an eye out for Sabathia and see if you can spot any variations in his mechanics with each pitch.

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