One Great Changeup and a Hitter’s Perspective

By Dan Gazaway
I love it when a pitcher has a great change. The Circle Change just happens to be one of the deadliest changeups out there. The reason: It not only slows down, it has wicked movement.
The Circle Change has a screwball type movement and it breaks down and away. It appears to look like a fastball and is very deceiving to a batters eyes.
To throw this pitch pronate your wrist and forearm slightly inwards. Your arm slot and arms speed is the same as your fastball. Place your fingers in the same position as you do with your fastball (thumb and middle finger split the baseball in half). Next, make a circle with your thumb and index finger. The tighter the circle the more drop you will have. However, your wrist and forearm angle is more important than the grip with this pitch. The most difficult part of this pitch is the forearm angle.
Gripping The Circle Change
The smaller the circle, the more downward movement you will have on the pitch. The slight wrist and forearm pronation is important when throwing the circle change. I recommend starting to throw this pitch making a C-shape instead of a circle when you first try this pitch. You will not find success with this pitch unless you throw the circle (or okay sign) toward home plate; that is what truly slows the pitch down. Most pitcher’s think they are throwing a circle or a c-change just by gripping the pitch correctly. The C or Circle is thrown at the catcher. Again, Keep your arm speed the same so that the pitch will be deceivingly slow to the hitter.
Arguably the most challenging pitch to learn is the circle change because of how the pitch is released. While the pitch can be tricky to learn, do not alter your body movement or motion in any way while attempting to throw it. Instead, work hard on the wrist and forearm angle.
I recommend just playing catch with it practicing the release.
Releasing The Pitch:
Throw the circle change early in the count and try to get a ground ball out of it. Remember, it is best to throw fewer pitches in an inning than to try and strike everyone out. The best change-up counts are the same as the split-finger fastball counts 3-1, 2-1, and 2-0. Also, whenever a fastball is in order a changeup can be thrown in its place. Becoming a successful pitcher simply means you mess with and throw off a hitter’s timing. When you are successful at doing that you will get any hitter out.
A Hitter’s perspective on a changeup.
“Besides the slider, a good change-up is terribly frustrating for most hitters. Because of its resemblance to a fastball initially, it can be particularly deceiving in fastball counts. I’m not sure why I don’t see more good change-ups in youth baseball today, but it’s a very much underutilized pitch.
Hitters hate facing pitchers who change speeds well, it’s tough to get good timing on anything. For a great example of this, you have to look no further than Jamie Moyer, who at age 45, helped his Phillies win a World Series championship in 2008. His signature pitch throughout his entire career has been his outstanding change-up. With a fastball that rarely ever reached 85 mph, Moyer’s ability to keep hitters off balance has paid off big time.
Circle change-ups with movement are deceiving and I would argue are nearly unhittable if thrown in the right location and in the right count. Being a pitcher also throughout my collegiate career, I relied on the change-up a lot to keep hitters off balance. Early in my pitching career I was leery of developing it because the thought of throwing a pitch slower to hitters seemed backwards. Wow, was I mistaken as it became my best pitch!”
Dan Gazaway is the owner of The Pitching Academy http://www.facebook.com/ThePitchingAcademy  and has been coaching pitchers for over 15 years.  His instructional products have been a valuable resource for many coaches, parents and pitchers of all ages.  His website is http://www.thepitchingacademy.com. Get their FREE pitching grips ebook here (use coupon code thepitchingacademy) Want nasty movement on all of your pitches! Get your copy of the pitching grips and workouts DVD. Disc 2 of our best selling 4 Disc series.
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Throw Hard Son… How Dad?

By Dan Gazaway
Have your parents or coach ever told you to throw hard?I’m sure they have.It’s common to hear from the stands. “Hey, Dan throw hard.”

The problem with screaming this from the stands is that the majority of the time you are trying to throw hard, you just haven’t been taught exactly how to do it.
So, where does velocity come from?
Velocity comes from the ground up, from your feet to your fingertips. Your body has to do everything mechanically correct so that you can maximize your throwing potential.
The great news is.. once you know how to throw correctly.. you will not only throw much faster, you will throw much more relaxed, you will feel a lot less pressure in your throwing arm and you will most likely last longer every game you pitch.  Throwing late in the game gives your team a higher likelihood of winning.
Here are a few pitching tips that will help you add some “pop” to the ball:
1. Make sure all of your momentum goes toward home plate: any time your momentum goes anywhere else but toward the plate, you lose MPH and can put more pressure on your throwing arm.  
2. Throw with your legs: Be explosive to foot strike gathering momentum a long the way. Too many pitchers aren’t explosive and don’t generate any power with their legs. They are what I call “arm focused” pitchers.
3. Lead with your hips: When you lift your leg make sure your hips lead the way, not your front shoulder. This will help you generate better momentum toward the plate.
4. Rotate your hips: After foot strike be quick to get your hips all the way around. To help you do this, get on the “tip toe” of your back foot quickly. This helps bring your hips around. Be sure to keep your foot on the ground all the way to release of the pitch as you continue your momentum toward the plate.
Now those are all great tips and of course there is much more to velocity than what I’ve just mentioned here. In my pitching mechanics and coaching pitchers DVD I go into great detail (simplified detail) about how to add MPH to your fastball demonstrating all of the techniques I just mentioned and many more.
Have a great season!
Dan Gazaway is the owner of The Pitching Academy http://www.facebook.com/ThePitchingAcademy  and has been coaching pitchers for over 15 years.  His instructional products have been a valuable resource for many coaches, parents and pitchers of all ages.  His website is http://www.thepitchingacademy.com. Get their FREE pitching grips ebook here (use coupon code thepitchingacademy)

How to Throw Pitches

By Dan Gazaway

One of the most enjoyable parts of pitching is learning how to throw different pitches. Admit it! You enjoy making the batter look like a fool swinging at a curveball they weren’t expecting; or lunging three feet forward to try and reach your change. It’s a fun part of pitching and it is a necessary part. Your job as a pitcher is to keep the hitters off balance so they don’t get a good jump on the ball. Great pitchers master this craft.

The three most important things to have in your pitching arsenal are change of speed, movement and location. If you have those three with three great pitches; you will experience success on the hill. You will keep the hitters guessing what’s coming. With this success formula, if you don’t get a ton of strikeouts you will get a lot of pop ups and ground outs. You will also have a better chance of keeping your pitch count much lower which, perhaps, is the biggest bonus.
 
Here’s the sad fact. Most pitchers that throw off speed pitches run the risk of injury. I have written previous articles and I have been blogging on this very topic all over the internet right now. I think it is very important that young pitchers learn how to throw different pitches because they won‘t have success otherwise (every hitter catches up to any fastball). However, I don’t think it important enough to learn other pitches until they have learned how to throw with correct pitching mechanics first.
Here are some things to avoid when you are learning how to throw an additional pitch:
1) Avoid twisting your arm just before release of the baseball
2) Avoid changing your arm slot “forcing” a better rotation on the ball or downward movement
3) Don’t Change your fastball mechanics: As a pitcher you want to be deceiving. It is very difficult to deceive an experienced batter when you look different each time you throw a certain pitch. You are only informing the batter what to expect.
4) Avoid changing your arm speed to take a bit off the pitch. The only thing that changes is your wrist and forearm angle when you throw a different pitch. Your fastball is thrown with the palm facing home plate, curveball is like a “karate chop” at release and the C Change is when the C is thrown directly toward your 4) Avoid changing your arm speed to take a bit off the pitch. The only thing that changes is your wrist and forearm angle when you throw a different pitch. Your fastball is thrown with the palm facing home plate, curveball is like a “karate chop” at release and the C Change is when the C is thrown directly toward your target. You don’t need to get fancy and start messing around with all of the other “stuff” that is only going to harm you in the long run. My advice is to keep pitching simple while you learn how to throw pitches. Spend time learning all you can about the pitch before you just go out and try throwing it.

Dan Gazaway is the owner of The Pitching Academy http://www.facebook.com/ThePitchingAcademy  and has been coaching pitchers for over 15 years.  His instructional products have been a valuable resource for many coaches, parents and pitchers of all ages.  His website is http://www.thepitchingacademy.com. Get their FREE pitching grips ebook here (use coupon code thepitchingacademy)

Velocity Concerns Before and During Puberty

By Dan Gazaway

It’s been my experience, teaching many pitchers throughout the years, that velocity comes with maturity and when proper mechanics are incorporated in a pitcher’s delivery.

Many coaches are concerned if their athlete is on the low end of the totem pole when it comes to hurling the heat.  For good reason to, velocity is important, however, it’s very difficult to tell how much potential a pitcher truly has until after they mature if your only looking at velocity.  There are so many other things to consider when rating a pitcher.

As I was working with one of my students tonight who just turned 16 (I started working with him when he was 12) I remembered him battling with velocity until he was about 15.  Throughout many of the lessons he would bring up how slow he threw, his father would often ask if his boy really had what it took to pitch.

This pitcher is a late bloomer, but he stuck with it and it has paid off big time for him. Now he is throwing hard and his pitches are moving a lot more.  I honestly think he wouldn’t be the pitcher he is today if he wouldn’t have been annoyed by how slow he was throwing.  He is dedicated and has worked very hard to be where he is now.

I still believe he will put on another 5 mph by the end of this year because its just that time for him and his mechanics are solid.  Most of his momentum is going where it needs to go and there is hardly a wasted movement in his delivery.

I’ve taught several pitchers like him that mature late.  Many think they don’t have what it takes to be a pitcher because of velocity alone, but that simply isn’t the case during adolescent years.

If you yourself aren’t throwing as hard as some of the other boys your age and you have a strong desire to pitch, stick with it.  Keep working very hard on your mechanics, core strength training, speed and agility etc. and you may just surprise yourself and others later. Have you noticed that some kids that seem to have a natural ability to throw a baseball early on don’t seem to have the work ethic to make it far?  Those that have weaknesses in sports, but have a burning desire to do whatever it takes to overcome it, seem to make it further than those that have it easy in their youth simply because they think they don’t have to work as hard.  The fact is, those that put in the time and dedication are the ones that succeed the most.

I recall I was one of the fastest pitchers in our little league from 10-12 years old; then a crazy thing happened, it seemed like I couldn’t throw hard anymore.  All of the other pitchers in my grade were throwing hard and I couldn’t; it didn’t help that I was 6 months younger than everyone.  But what happened? I turned into one of the slowest, if not the very slowest pitcher from about 13-15 years old.

I remember hearing in the dugouts “man this kid throws slow”; then I would strike them out or they would hit a slow roller.  Luckily I had an awesome coach and great pitching coaches who believed in me and kept me pitching most every game.  Later on, within 6 months to a year, I became one of the fastest pitchers again.

Stick to proper mechanics, keep a solid work ethic and believe in yourself and you’ll always know you gave it your all with no regrets.  That work ethic will follow you wherever you go in life.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy (www.thepitchingacademy.net). He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net.

Slump Busting 101: Hitting Mechanics

By Nate Barnett of The Pitching Academy

The word “slump” is taboo in baseball.  Nobody likes that word, and players try their hardest to avoid speaking it.  Ever.  But, slumps are a part of the game of baseball.  You can’t slump-proof your swing, and you can never predict when one will occur.   A couple years ago, Miguel Olivo summed up what those who have slipped into the depths of a hitting funk go through.  He said, “When you’re hitting, you just go play. But when you struggle, that’s when you start wondering. You go to the batting cage all the time. You’re like, ‘My feet … my hands … they’re going to throw me this pitch,’ then you’re caught in the middle.”  The good news here is that hitters can implement a few strategies both physically and mentally to help reduce the duration and frequency of a downturn in their offensive play.  Keep this essay handy; there will be a time it will serve as a much needed blueprint to beat a slump.  Now, let’s dive in and uncover the mechanical strategies that make up Slump Busting 101.

Most hitters try to solve a slump by messing with their mechanics.  Unfortunately, this type of tinkering rarely solves the problem. Guys will often adjust their stance, stride, etc. without understanding fully the reason for doing so, let alone what is causing their offensive troubles in the first place.  To discourage the random mechanics tinkering without proper fundamental knowledge of hitting mechanics, think of it this way.  I’m not a auto mechanic by any stretch of the imagination.  I know how to open the hood of my car, find many off the major parts inside, though if something stops working, I lack the knowledge and ability to fix the problem.  This is why I pay a mechanic to diagnose and solve the problem.  It wouldn’t make a lot of sense for me to start unplugging things, or taking apart pieces of the engine and replacing them unless I had reason to believe the given part was responsible for the mechanical issue at hand.  Likewise, it doesn’t make sense for a hitter to change a portion of his swing mechanics without having solid evidence that the change will improve the problem.  There are a few things one can do for the physical part of hitting to quicken the recovery out of a slump.  Hitters should be encouraged to consider the following modifications to swing approach:  remove the stride, reduce their swing speed in practice, and work on hitting pitches to the opposite field.  Below I’ll explain my reasoning behind these three methods and why hitters who employ these strategies bust out of slumps at a much quicker rate than those who do not take these suggestions.

Because most mechanical issues for youth hitters stem from poor mechanics in the lower half of the body, eliminating the stride temporarily is a step (pardon the pun) in the right direction.  While I think that a stride is a great way for hitters create some timing during an at bat, it comes with some challenges.  Often during a slump a hitter’s timing is off.  Because of this, excess movement in a swing doesn’t help the situation, it tends to hurt it.  By eliminating the stride for a while, it allows the hitters to reduce the amount of moving parts in his swing.  In short, it simplifies things.  Once confidence has been regained, I would then bring back the stride.  The only caution to this would be to make sure the hitter retains some rhythm in his pre-pitch routine.  This will help him relax as well as maintain better timing with the pitcher.

The second modification necessary for slumping hitters is to cut down the speed of each swing in batting practice.  The reason for this change is so hitters (once they understand mechanics) can identify the areas that need attention.  More often than not guys who are having a tough time at the plate will press a little in batting practice and try to muscle up everything.  This tensity in the body does not allow the hitter to relax and let his muscle memory guide his swing.  There is nothing wrong with swinging at 75% capacity.  Many times, reducing the swing velocity has a calming effect on hitters which promotes relaxation of his muscles at the plate.

Along the lines of staying relaxed and not trying to do too much at the plate, working on hitting the ball to the opposite field takes much of the pressure off of a hitter.  Since most hitters like pulling the baseball, the more they struggle at the plate, the more many try to pull the baseball.  The thinking is that if they can just hit a few balls deep into the pull-side gap, or out of the park, they will snap out of the funk.  This thinking is backwards.  There is nothing wrong with pulling the ball, but there is everything wrong with pulling the ball when you have a tight, non-relaxed swing.  More often than not, the results will be a tense swing that produces top spin hits that hook badly and don’t carry into the gap.  Or, if hitters are really struggling and trying to pull the ball all the time, the results will often be continuous weak pop-ups to the opposite field side.  Focusing on hitting the ball the other way takes the pressure off of the hitters to force a slump to end.  It allows for the hitter to see the pitch deeper in the strike zone and work on keeping the hands moving through the strike zone.  Combining this step with a reduced swing speed, greatly hastens the pace of recovery out of a slump.

The hitting mechanics portion of a slump is only half of the battle.  Solving the second guessing and doubt that goes on in the brain of slumping hitters is the second half of the anti-slump equation.  That portion is the topic of another Slump Busting 101 article.  Work on the three mechanics-related fixes discussed in this article and an offensive rebound is likely to be just around the corner.

Nate Barnett is a hitting, pitching, and mental skills coach residing in the Puget Sound area in Washington State. He played in the Seattle Mariners organization and is co-owner of the The Pitching Academy.

Don’t Be a Slave to Stats!

By Nate Barnett of the Pitching Academy

Baseball is possibly the most statistical game on the planet. Everything a player does is tracked and evaluated based upon some series of stats. While extremely helpful in many scenarios, statistics have a way of eating away at the minds of many athletes if not understood properly. When the swing is feeling good, stats are the hitter’s best friend; there’s no better feeling than going 4-4 at the plate with a couple doubles. On the flip side, there is nothing worse than going 0-4 with two strikeouts. Throw in the additional dynamics of youth insecurities, coach pressures, playing time, etc. and you have a recipe for a mental meltdown in any given game. My proposal is that there is another way to evaluate the offensive play that is not based on the traditional hits to at bats ratio. Instead of placing value on the number of hits each game (results thinking), I argue a hitter can do more for the improvement of his game and mental stability by evaluating the choices made (process thinking) during each game.

First, let me lay out why results thinking can be inaccurate in measuring offensive success. In any given game there are two things that are controlled by a hitter: the mechanics of a swing, and the thoughts and choices of the mind. That being said, the hitter has no control over the defense running down a ball in the gap for a long out. Additionally, he has no control over the pitcher’s ability to hit his spots and change speeds. Because of these couple inconsistencies, it makes little sense to place high value in the number of hits each game. Balls hit hard would be a better way to measure success, however, this become subjective. I remember playing a couple games where I crushed the ball four times. Two of the balls were caught at the wall, and the other two the right-fielder didn’t have to move but a few steps to pull down my line drives. In the books I went 0-4. If number of hits in a game is where I placed all my value, I could become frustrated real quickly. Frustration creates tense muscles, and tense muscles produce poor un-relaxed swings.

There is a better way; a method of evaluation which is far more accurate in determining things that are important to the improvement of the hitter. I’m referring to the choices made each at bat. I’ve written an article on how to develop a plate strategy that breaks down how each hitter can determine what I call, a hot zone. I suggest reading this article before proceeding. If you’re short on time, I’ve provided the condensed version in the remainder of this paragraph. This is the zone that spans a range over the plate where a hitter has the highest percentage of success if he swings at pitches in that zone. Each hitter will have his own hot zone, and can only be defined by becoming aware of what locations he tends to hit better than others. To determine this, place six baseballs across the front edge of home plate. The ball that is the closest to the hitter we will call the #1 ball. The baseball furthest from the hitter is the #6 ball. Next it’s important to evaluate which three or four pitch range tends to produce the most balls hit hard. For example, I had the most success when I swung at balls in the #2-#4 range. Sometimes #5 balls I would hit hard of they were up on the zone. Most youth hitters will find that the #3-#5 ball range suits them best. In the following paragraph we’ll use this model hitter who has a hot zone of #3-#5 that he is most comfortable with.

In this new method of evaluating the performances in each game, I want to walk you through the following hypothetical at bat in which we will keep track of the pitches swung at, and pitches not swung at. Each correct choice in every at bat we will assign a point to, and each incorrect choice we’ll take a point away. The first pitch comes over in the strike zone and is a #3 ball. Our hitter swings at it and fouls the ball off. One point is awarded for making the correct choice and swinging at a pitch in his hot zone. The next pitch comes across and is a #5 ball, but is a little high and out of the strike zone. The hitter lays off this pitch and now is awarded with another point for making the correct choice again for not swinging at a ball out of his hot zone. The 1-1 pitch is thrown over the inside corner, a #1 ball, and our hitter swings and hits a blooper to shallow right field and gets a hit. We remove a point for swinging at a pitch out of the hot zone. The at bat ends with two points being awarded in three attempts. For youth hitters, a 67% success rate on the choices made up at bat should be the standard of a successful at bat, regardless if he reaches first base or not.

I need to add a couple more points of clarification on this system of evaluating success. Any time a hitter is ahead in the count, that is, 0-0 (often a good pitch to hit), 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1 then pitches only in the hot zone should be offered at. Once a hitter is even in the count or behind in a count, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 3-2 he must expand his zone. This should be done gradually on a 1-1 count to instead of a #3-#5 range to a #2-#5 range, or whichever direction on the plate is most comfortable to expand to for the hitter. Then, with two strikes, full plate coverage (balls #1-#6) must be taken into account.

In summary of this philosophy then, balls swung at in the hot zone (regardless if they are hit or not) count as a point. Balls swung at that are outside of the hot zone (depending on the count) result in a loss of a point. Balls let go that are outside of the hot zone result in adding one point. Balls let go that are in the hot zone result in a loss of a point.

The reason this philosophy improves a hitter is twofold. First, it keeps track of the important part of each at bat, pitch selection. Ted Williams once said, “A good hitter can hit a pitch in a good spot three times better than a great hitter can hit a ball in a questionable spot.” Likewise, Branch Rickey was quoted in saying, “The greatest single difference between a Major League and minor-league batsman is his judgment of the strike zone. He knows better whether to swing or take a pitch.” Therefore, it’s important to place high value on pitch selection, for without this, hitters are doomed to increased failure the better pitchers get.

Secondly, this philosophy is healthy for the brain. In a game of constant failure, increasing the success rate will only improve confidence and relaxation at the plate. The byproduct of this then is an increased amount of actual hits. It’s a well known fact that hitter must be relaxed and free of over-thinking to have success. The philosophy in this essay does just that; it allows your mind and body relax and concentrate on hitting the right pitch at the right time.

Implementing this philosophy takes practice, mostly the adjustment in the brain that an 0-4 day in the books can still be a successful day at bat. This mental change does not come easily, it take time and practice. Give it the time and attention it deserves and practice it diligently.

Nate Barnett is a hitting, pitching, and mental skills coach residing in the Puget Sound area in Washington State. He played in the Seattle Mariners organization and is co-owner of the The Pitching Academy.

Fixing throwing mechanics

Recently, a baseball coach inquired through our “Ask the Coach” link on our CoachDeck “Extras” page, (www.coachdeck.com/extras). His questions are below:

1) My son (11 yrs-old) has been playing ball since tee-ball and he’s developed a bad throwing technique.  He keeps his elbow bent and in close to his body when throwing. I keep telling him that he needs to keep his elbow up when throwing…but he’s so used to this bad technique that he can’t stop.  It really effects his power, distance, and accuracy.  Plus, it just looks bad…like he’s shot-putting or throwing “like a girl”.  Are there any drills I can have him do to fix this?
2) I have a boy on my team that has great speed on his pitch…but he has very little accuracy.  It’s like his release point is way early…and his balls sail.  However, occasionally he’ll lay a strike right down the middle that looks great.  I don’t know what I can tell him to get him to be more consistent with his release point. Any ideas?

One of our resident pitching experts, Dan Gazaway of The Pitching Academy, has provided us with some feedback, and even videos to explain and correct the problem:

Answer #1: Nothing gets rid of these habits better than using an elastic band to track mechanics and arm motion. Here is a sample video of how he can use elastic bands to help with dropping the elbow and keeping a good equal and opposite going. Here is a quick video explaining equal and opposite first.

The solution to question  #2 is the elastic band: Here is another video that will help.

Another excellent drill I would highly recommend is this knee drill where you can focus on arm slot.  Look at minute four of this video and I show how to do the knee drill.

Thanks, Dan! Visit The Pitching Academy for more great tips and free information.