February 2018 - Pitching: Keys for Success
Updated: May 10, 2018
Q: Over the last four years, the Allentown Railers of the local Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League have been hugely successful (three straight championships: ’15-‘17). Much of that success can be traced back to the dominance of their pitching staff (led ACBL in fewest runs allowed from ’15-’17, fewest hits allowed from ’15-’17, fewest walks allowed from ’14-’17, and most strikeouts from ’14-’17). What do you think has been behind this level of success for Allentown Railers’ pitchers?
In Allentown, it obviously starts with the players we recruit. Some of the key things I'm looking for are guys that don't walk people, who can command two pitches, who have the ability to get outs on their own, and who are able to understand and embrace their role once they join the team. We're one of the few teams in the league that has set roles for the entire pitching staff. These roles can change based on performance, but they are set prior to the season starting. I'm not necessarily just recruiting pitchers with the best “stuff,” but also guys that fit into important roles. Obviously, top-of-the-rotation starters and back-end relievers are premium pieces of the staff, but it’s also essential to have multiple “looks” out of the pen. In other words, opposing hitters won’t see back-to-back guys coming out of our pen with the same arm slot or repertoire. We are constantly mixing up our bullpen looks to keep hitters off balance.
- Dylan Dando, Allentown Railers Manager
The Railers pitching staffs have been very successful and led in almost every pitching category over the past several years for a couple of reasons. The number one reason is that we don’t walk people—we have guys that are able to go out on the mound, and execute our game plan. The second reason is that Dylan and I are able to control and coordinate the defense’s positioning and the decisions of our battery pitch-by-pitch, which simplifies things for the pitchers. We tell all of our pitchers just to worry about what they can control—focusing on executing one pitch at a time. The third reason for our success is that we’ve had numerous talented pitchers who have not only been capable of executing our game plan on a regular basis, but they have been coachable enough to buy into our pitching philosophy—that’s a recipe for success. Finally, our overall philosophy has been to make batters try to hit “our pitch,” or in other words, pitching to our strengths. Well-located fastballs and sliders away have always been Railers staples.
- Sean Heimpel, Allentown Railers Pitching Coach
Q: What do professional scouts look for in pitching prospects? What are some of the components necessary to be a pitcher at the professional level?
All talent evaluators have different priorities when evaluating a professional prospect, but velocity and physicality are probably the two qualities most universally agreed upon in the industry. It’s funny, when I first saw Andrew Bailey (2009 AL Rookie of the Year who I drafted and signed out of Wagner College in Staten Island, NY) throw a baseball, I just knew that he was going to be an impact Major League pitcher. In his case it was what I considered textbook arm action that would maximize velocity, life, movement, and deception on his pitches. That’s the first thing I look for in a pitcher: how he throws the baseball. There are arm actions that enhance pure stuff and command, and there are those that can hinder them. As in all aspects of MLB, the very best can make a difficult thing seem effortless. Bailey repeated an on-line delivery that produced 95-96 MPH cutting fastballs that reminded me of Mariano Rivera’s devastating pitch. He was also very physical, created a downhill plane, and consistently filled the strike zone. He showed tight rotation and bite on his curveball. He battled, was very aggressive, and had a bulldog mentality.
So, I look for pitchers that I believe to have plus pitches, or at least have a chance to become plus. The ability to miss Major League barrels, along with the ability to induce ground balls are two essential qualities that every prospect needs. Being athletic enough to repeat a low-effort, on-line delivery is also very important. Those factors will give the prospect a chance to eventually have the command necessary to pitch at the big league level, where it becomes important to keep the ball off the middle 12 inches of the plate when facing the best hitters in the world. Secondarily, I look for fierce competitors who believe in themselves and show no fear. Mental strength, with the ability to deal with adversity, is critical to rise through the ranks to the top of the baseball world.
While these “tools” are critical to obtaining a professional opportunity, it will become important in order to be successful that every pitcher develop his “Pitchability,” which is described as displaying the mechanics, delivery, command, and situational game instincts to maximize efficiency and perform above their raw pitch grades. That last attribute can give the pitcher who doesn’t have a ML tool belt become a very successful college pitcher.
- Jeff Bittiger, Pro Scout (Oakland Athletics) and LVBA Baseball Ops Consultant
Q: What do college coaches look for in pitching recruits? What does it take to be able to succeed as a collegiate pitcher?
The number one thing a coach is going to look at is velocity. When it comes to pitching, velocity isn't everything, but the simple reality is that if you throw 70 mph as a junior or senior in high school, you're not going to Vanderbilt. Therefore, one of the biggest factors that will decide the level you project at is velocity. The next thing would be how projectable you are in general. Basically, college coaches are not only looking at what you can offer right away, but also where they can see you fitting into their program in two or three years. Colleges coaches will also look at mechanics, for example arm action and recruitment of the lower body. Body language and mound presence also play a big role in how a coach views you. Coaches like to see guys that look confident and have an idea of what they are trying to do.
Here are a couple of keys to being successful as a collegiate pitcher:
- Have good mound presence
- Be able to locate all of your pitches, and get ahead of batters
- Form a daily routine, and put the work in
- Be a confident, mentally tough competitor
- Pat Kregeloh, LVBA Director of Baseball Ops, Coach/Instructor
College coaches look for pitchers who are tough, resilient, and who compete in everything they do. Whether it’s a workout, a bullpen, or the most crucial pitch of Friday night’s game, a coach is going to trust his pitchers who compete the hardest. Working hard to prepare for your next outing is also vital towards making a coach want to give you the ball. When you’re on the mound, you have to believe that you are better and more prepared than the person in the batter’s box. Most pitchers have comparable physical abilities at the collegiate level, but the pitchers who are mentally strong have the greatest chances for success.
Another key aspect of succeeding as a college pitcher is having the ability to slow things down. On days when you don’t have your best stuff, and things aren’t going right for you out on the mound, the ability to slow the game down, to step off the back of the mound and re-focus yourself is invaluable. Pushing through and overcoming adversity in a timely manner can translate to success as a pitcher at the collegiate level.
- Karl Keglovits, LVBA Coach/Instructor
Q: What do you think are the most important traits for successful youth pitchers? What are the key components of LVBA’s pitching philosophy?
Throwing strikes would be the number one trait. That starts with having a feel for your delivery, and the ability to repeat it. A basic fundamental delivery is the starting point, and then obviously an individual style will come later. From there, fastball command is the key. Before we move on to secondary stuff we have to control and then command the fastball. Building a fastball is our top priority. In terms of arm action, kids throw the baseball many different ways. We try to work with each player’s individual arm action and build off of that, unless it's a health issue. We place a major focus on arm action, and work to address it if it’s problematic, but we don't try to build robots at LVBA.
We have a basic philosophy with all of our pitchers: pound the zone and compete without fear.
- Dylan Dando, LVBA Owner/Director
There are a couple of key traits that we look for in our youth pitchers here at LVBA. To start with, we want guys that are willing to put in the work required to be successful. We also teach our guys not to allow their emotions to control them, and try to help them learn how to handle adversity. Finally, we look for players who are coachable, who are willing to listen to our mechanical and mental instruction. This allows us to teach them proper throwing mechanics at young ages, and then discuss how to go after hitters in certain situations and counts as they get older. Personally, I always want a guy on the mound who truly wants the ball, no matter who he is facing!
- Rick Frankenfield, LVBA Coach/Instructor
Make sure young players are using safe and proper mechanics; this is the starting point for consistency and success. We have always monitored pitch count and overall usage to protect the arms of our young pitchers. As our guys get older—especially with my 17/18U guys—we work to prepare them to pitch in front of recruiters, and guide them through an established gameday routine.
Here are a few of our other main priorities for our pitchers:
- Always warm-up—establish a routine
- Learn a safe, repeatable delivery and motion—establish your arm angle and timing/tempo
- Establish fastball command before moving to any off-speed
- Become comfortable with your basic pitch grips (4-seam, two-seam, change)
- Have fun while learning the game—watch MLB games, and study what the best guys in the world are doing at your position
- Put the work in to succeed
- Scott Snyder, LVBA Coach/Instructor