With the many levels of experience regarding baseball coaches out there and the information available to them, it is my belief that things can get a little over-taught at times. Moms and dads in youth baseball, high school, college, summer ball, and lessons are environments for learning that are headed up by everyone from willing volunteers to baseball lifers. I get it, people want to be innovative, and there are a lot of folks out there with really good information, but in our game today, too many aspects are being over-taught and overemphasized.
My experience in the game starts with the early days of youth baseball and finishes in Major League Baseball. The one thing I can say I was a MASTER at was listening to post game talks (boy were they long!) that recapped games and highlighted training techniques. This seems to be something I remember at every level, whether I was running around youth fields or playing with future MLB Hall of Famers. I shared dugouts with some of the greatest players and minds in the game, which led me to my current calling coaching my own organization and eventually college baseball.
One trend I started seeing was the many robotic mechanics and how all pitchers started looking the same. I'm all for uniqueness and deception and never want to take that away, so I am more into the ‘whatever works’ mindset. Until it doesn’t, that is –– then adjustments need to be made. This concept brings me to my "50/50 Talent-Mental" approach to pitching. With slight tweaking of mechanics and a full understanding of a pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses, he/she can truly unlock the word all of us coaches seek- consistency. Your players truly don’t understand how important that is to us coaches. We need that and love that!
Here’s an example. If you have a kid in college that throws 80 miles-per-hour, they already know what they have. Sure, we will try to get their velo up, but at what expense? Losing command? If their command is there, then all they need is the mental information to perform. Pounding home that thought of not making that fastball any faster or that off speed any nastier, just 100% of your capabilities. Nothing else...
One practice we utilize to develop that mentality is a pregame check list of hitters’ abilities/tendencies and plan. Combine the baseline talent you have with that information, now you have a plan of attack. Coaches want pitchers to throw strikes of course, and need to find ways to get that point across without just yelling "throw strikes!"
What coaches forget to do at times is making sure their pitchers understand the "ego side" of being on that mound. If we can keep that pitcher understanding their performance output, and from not needing any more, they have half of the plan executed. You don’t want to get into a ‘hunting velocity’ state where your pitchers are trying to do something outside of their abilities. This leads to that fastball flattening out and becoming much more hittable, and that off-speed staying up in the zone.
Many players like having a plan, which simplifies things and doesn’t require them to think on the fly. After all, only the elite can make in-game adjustments on the fly. So that specific plan of attack is the most important part of the "50/50" aspect. I can go on and on about this because I love the game and have seen so much good/bad baseball in my life. I'm not saying the old school or new school way is better than the other. What I am saying is that the sooner a pitching coach can identify talent level and performance output, the better chance the "50/50" effect becomes beneficial to the team.
One disclaimer for this concept: it's not what you say, it's how you say it. So take this and twist it how ever you want, but please help me help these players start understanding what they are, what they need to be, and how being consistent can help the team and in turn, themselves. Self evaluation and application to the task at hand is paramount, thus contributing to the ‘one pitch at a time’ mentality. Hope this helps!
Frank Rodriguez is a former major league pitcher and has been an assistant at SUNY Maritime, where his pitchers set several program records in 2018 (ERA, opponent batting average and saves) and helped lead Maritime to its first-ever NCAA Division III Tournament appearance in 2017. Rodriguez has coached at the ProSwing Training Facility Port Chester, N.Y. and with several area high schools and travel teams. He pitched in the big leagues for the Boston Red Sox, the Minnesota Twins, the Seattle Mariners and the Cincinnati Reds. He was the last junior college player to win the Dick Howser Trophy, earning that accolade in 1991 while at Howard College.