When a pitcher starts struggling to throw strikes, their first instinct is often to change their mechanics.
However, this approach isn't always the right answer. Anatomy tells us that to fix a "control" issue, strength and stability may need to be addressed before we make significant changes to our mechanics.
Command issues can be extremely frustrating, so getting this point across to younger pitchers can often be a challenge. However, I believe the idea of creating better "control and command" through strength training needs to be more common. This approach reflects a different side of addressing mechanical issues that many pitching coaches may never take into consideration. Before we dive into how the weight room can help you improve your control and command, let's define those two terms.
Command vs. Control
Even though command and control are similar, they're not quite the same. These two skills are necessary for any pitcher who wants to elevate their game to the next level. So, what's the difference?
To have control over one's pitches means the ability to throw strikes. Not just out-of-the-zone swings and misses, but actual called strikes. To have control, a pitcher needs to exhibit the ability to throw a fastball for a strike at any time during an at-bat. In other words, "consistency" is control.
Once a pitcher gains control over their pitches, they must then move on to learning command. Pitchers with good command have the talent to place their pitches anywhere they want within the strike zone. They're able to throw not just strikes, but good strikes. This is more about how the ball is coming off your hand and how you're locating the ball.
This article will focus mainly on control. While you must possess control before command, the former relies more heavily on attributes we can train inside the weight room. Having better control means your brain does a good job calling on the right muscles at the right time, allowing to you to exhibit the strength needed to maintain a stable platform from which to throw. So really, when we're talking about control, we're talking about becoming more stable. To get more stable, we must get stronger.
When a pitcher lacks the ability (stability) to maintain pelvic position, it's hard to make an efficient rotation at front foot strike while still maintaining driveline to the plate. The outcome is usually missing high and arm side. In other words, a lack of control.
A lack of strength and stability alters and creates less than optimal movement patterns. This in turn will create inconsistent throwing patterns and problems executing pitches (as in throwing strikes with control).
Many times, a pitching coach will spend hours working on arm slots and mechanics to address this issue, when the athlete's poor hip or core stability is the true culprit. This can lead to a lot of wasted time and frustration from both the player and the coach. Until these issues are fixed, both may be banging their heads against the wall.
Now, let's get into how we can create strength and stability to help drive control.
1. Train Single-Leg Strength
Training single-leg strength helps create good, consistent ball and socket congruency (femur centered in the hip) at foot strike as well as a strong stable platform to throw from. Enter an exercise like the Split Squat:
- Builds single-leg strength.
- Improves flexibility in the trailing leg.
- Improves stability and control through the hip, knee and ankle, etc.
2. Improve Anterior and Rotary Core Strength and Stiffness
After the lower half, the core/rib cage positioning is probably the most important part of the pitching delivery. These areas are at the center of the body and serve as a platform for the shoulder blades to move upon which dictates where the hand will be when the ball is released. It also gives us the stiffness needed to "hold" the upper body in place while the lower half starts to rotate.
Many young athletes can barely perform a proper Plank, let alone try to stabilize their core while throwing a baseball as hard as they can. Working on some good anterior core strength can be just what the doctor ordered. Let's throw in some serratus work while we're at it to work on upward rotation, as well. TRX Forearm Flutters are great for this.
3. Include Rotational and Anti-Rotational Movements in Your Program
Being able to control when your body rotates, or preventing itself from rotating when it shouldn't (think rolling an ankle or tweaking a knee), is a key part of ensuring you have good control and stability throughout your body. An example of a rotational movement would be a Wide-Stance Cable Rotation. An anti-rotation movement would be core stability at stride length.
4. Rotator Cuff Strength and Firing Time
The cuff has to be strong and timed up to center the humeral head (ball) on the glenoid fossa (socket) while the arm is accelerating. Perturbations work great to help teach the smaller stabilizers to fire quicker and more efficiently as opposed to using the bigger prime movers such as the lat and deltoid. Firing time of the cuff is just as important as cuff strength in regard to injury prevention.
Our goal here at RPP is to make sure movement quality and strength has been optimized to get improvements before even considering touching your mechanics. But every pitcher is different. Determine what the needs are first, and then prescribe the correct training effect from there.
- 2 Upper-Body Workouts for Pitchers That Build Strength and Durability
- 5 Exercises Pitchers Should Avoid—and Several They Should Do
- How to Throw Harder: 4 Exercises to Gas Up Your Fastball