It’s the time of year where all the hard work done in the offseason and preseason comes to fruition – especially with your Pitchers. How can you be reasonably confident that the kids you throw to the wolves will be able to throw strikes?
One way we’ve overcome this anxiety is by throwing multiple 25 pitch bullpen seasons prior to our first game, in fact we conducted them weekly from February through March. We then “scored” a few of them to gauge how many strikes were thrown by each Pitcher. Any Pitcher throwing over a certain % of strikes combined in these sessions is then “qualified” to take a mound during a tournament game.
We chose 25 pitches as that is our target over 2 innings of work. We then selected a % of strikes that we need to achieve, and another target we want the kids to shoot for – which is higher than the first target.
Most of our Pitchers in-game performance has seen 5-6% less strikes thrown than the % thrown during the bullpen sessions. You’d think the opposite would be true, however early on this season it is not. Some of those struggles are mental, some are due to umpire zones, some are due to mechanical breakdowns, and on and on. We’re anticipating that with continued work, those mechanical and mental issues will resolve themselves and the strikes should increase.
It’s important to set a target for your Pitchers to shoot for, but it is also important for you as a coach to understand that these young arms may not always hit that target. So what is your game day plan?
If you set a goal of 50% strikes thrown in your bullpen, can you live with 45% strikes thrown during a game? What if you set your target at 60% – could you live with 55% strikes thrown? What if none of your Pitchers hit that goal?
Inspire confidence in your Pitchers as they progress into the season. Let them know how they are doing with strikes thrown – both in bullpens and games. Schedule additional sessions to work with some of your struggling Pitchers to help them mentally and mechanically adjust. Once you get the kids throwing strikes in bullpens, you should see similar results on game day.