Pitching "Down"

Hi. I have a question, but first some background.

My son just tuned 9. In the 2010 season, as an 8 year old, he played “up” in Little League Minors, which is 9-12 year olds. There, he pitched in 7 games from the Little League 46’ mound. And, just now, he finished the 2010 Fall Ball season, which is also 9-12 years olds. There too he pitched in another 7 games from the Little League 46’ mound. So all in all, in 2010 he’s played only on regulation Little League fields and pitched only from regulation Little League 46’ mounds.

Now, a local pitching coach has a 8u “travel” team (they don’t really travel much; other teams from around the state travel here) and he wants my son to pitch for his team now that Fall Ball is over (apparently my son is eligible even though he recently turned 9). Aside from my desire to give my son a rest before the regular season starts up again in February, I am concerned that my son has now been “conditioned” to the full Little League 46’ mound and this travel team pitches from a shorter 39’ or 40’ mound. Also, my son’s been pitching to 12u kids, and would now be facing diminutive 8u kids.

Here’s my question: Does anyone have any experience with a youth pitcher - say 10 or under - accustomed to pitching from a certain distance to a certain size player, suddenly pitching “down” from a significantly shorter mound to significantly smaller kids? Is this good? Bad? Of no consequence?

My gut tells me that a 9 year old in that situation, facing a different “visual” from what he’s seen this past year, might alter his delivery somewhat. And since he’s going back to the 46’ mound in February, what good can come of it?

Thanks for your input!

My son turned 10 in August and played 2 yrs in 9u playing up the first yr.
We pitched mostly @ 44-46 ft. depending on the tournament sanction. During one tourn. the mound was mistakenly set at 40ft and it made it harder on the batters than it did on the pitchers. I dont think the distance will impact too much and pitching to a smaller batter with a smaller strike zone will make him a better pitcher. I personally think the kids need a little break from it and it sounds like if he plays with this team it would be a full year of non stop baseball JMO. Something you might consider especially since he is a pitcher.
Good Luck!!

I cant imagine that it would negatively impact your son, it could allow him to focus on location a bit more and allow his velocity to develop at the shorter distance.

south paw,

For several reasons, I wouldn’t do what you’re considering.

First, a just-turned-9 kid doesn’t need to pitch a whole lot under competitive circumstances. A little bit of pitching is definitely fun, but he’s had that first experience. If he really enjoyed it, I would personally opt to use a long off-season to continue to play lots of low-stress catch with him and do a little work to improve and/or maintain his mechanics. Maybe a little father-son conditioning, too–nothing to stress him out or “work him hard”–he’s a little kid–the two of you should be working out under the disguise of having a good time with each other.

Dropping down to a shorter pitching distance against less experienced kids (big, big difference between 8 yos and the 9 - 12 range in minors) is not going to help him at all, IMO. Even if he does really, really well at that level it will only be worth a shrug of the shoulders and an I-told-you-so. Plus a certain amount of justifiable resentment from the parents of true 8 yo opponents who face your more experienced 9 yo.

If he has unexpected trouble at the lower level for whatever reason (not comfortable with the shorter distance, afraid of hurting little kids via the HBP, little kids have smaller strike zone, etc, etc), what’s that going to do for him? It won’t be a confidence-builder…

Look, the glory from sporting triumphs should be taken in very small doses from ages 7 - 12 because it doesn’t last and it can get in the way of real learning and improvement. In that age range most of the meaning of glory and triumph is completely lost on kids anyway–it is mostly the parents and coaches who want that stuff in adult-sized doses.

If you can resist the urge to over-play/over-pitch your son in competition at a very young age, plus continue to work with him diligently, father-and-son style, through the next 4 -5 years…he may really get to experience the glory of triumph on the baseball diamond at an age where he understands it and treasures the memory of it.

I just remembered a situation of my youngest when he was on a AAA 10u team, we had a kid that was 9u playing up and he was a good pitcher and a good shortstop but when all the other kids grew he didn’t for 11u and the distance, especially in the field, really effected him. Ended up a 2nd baseman that year just cause he didn’t have the strength for the field. On the bump he did well but didn’t really have the true velocity to make things work at that age. He played 11u the next year on another team and he did so much better. The distances are usually set because that is when the players are able to handle it, your son might be able to now, but what about when he can’t. I would hope that the challenge to be the #1 pitcher, or #4 hitter or have the spot he wants will be plenty of motivation.

A few thoughts on this matter from observing my son these past few years from age 9 and 10
. . . it’s very frustrating to pitch well and lose because the other kids cannot field or catch
. . . my son never throws his best if the catcher cannot catch his pitches. He pitches down to his catchers abilities!
. . . it’s more enjoyable for the pitcher when his teammates can field a ground ball, make the throw from short to first and make a defensive out. If there’s no defense, then he PRESSURES himself to strike out EVERY batter.
. . . it’s frustrating when the 2nd baseman doesn’t move for a ball hit one foot away, or watches the pop up drop at their feet
. . . pitching is most enjoyable when the catcher can catch
. . . it’s frustrating when the 1st baseman yells on every throw “don’t throw the ball so hard”
. . . it’s frustrating to have different strike zones depending on the pitchers skills; a postage size strike zone for the kid that throws strikes and a generous strike zone for everyone else. It’s called keeping “balance.”
. . . it’s more challenging to pitch a few (or one) good inning(s) against the best hitters than to pitch six shut out innings against kids who haven’t a chance at hitting the ball. At age 9 in the Minors, he was pulled from a game in the 2nd inning 'cause the other team would not stand in the batters box. It is no fun pitching to kids who are afraid.
. . . enjoy the off season away from baseball. So far he’s taken summer (swimming, being a kid) and winter (basketball) breaks from the game, and when he returns he throws harder, better and has more love for the game.

Shoshonte, it’s interesting that you should mention the pitcher who feels that he has to strike out every batter he faces because he can’t trust the fielders behind him to make the plays. I saw another post in another section which dealt with just this problem—but, oddly enough, nobody ever mentioned a sure solution. It is simply this: there has to be sufficient fielding practice, at all levels of the game—whether at age 11, 21 or 31, a shortstop or second baseman has to at least be able to field the ball and throw to first! :roll:

Thanks for all the great input. Everyone makes valid points.

laflippin, though, really read my mind and expressed pretty much what I have been thinking, that is:

  • My son is young - just turned 9 - and has already pitched enough this 2010 calendar year: in 7 games as an 8 year old in 9-12 Majors in the Spring regular season and in 7 more games as a 9 year old in 9-12 Fall Ball. With the Spring regular season practices starting up again in February 2011, he needs a break now. He’s playing soccer at his school now and that’s enough for now.

  • Going from 12u to 8u and from 46’ to 39’/40’ is a huge difference and he has little to gain and much to lose. If he does well, it’s “So what?” If he is not comfortable at the shorter distance or with the smaller strike zone and does poorly, it would hurt the confidence he’s developed this calendar year pitching “up” in 12u Little League Minors and in 12u Fall Ball.

  • “Glory” at this age is relatively meaningless; long term development - and health - are not.

shoshonte also made some interesting points on the affect of poor fielding and poor catching on youth pitchers:

  • Poor fielding can adversely affect youth pitchers mentally and emotionally and thus their performance on the mound. And, going from 12u to 8u, my son would obviously not have the fielding he’s accustomed to (not that it’s always been great :lol:).

  • Youth pitchers also can “pitch down to the catcher’s abilities”. Part of it may be a subconscious “playing down”, but part of it too is simply frustration with endless passed balls and the runs that ensue. That takes a heavy toll on a pitcher’s psyche, especially youth pitchers who don’t exactly have their emotions in check. Here, too, going from 12u to 8u, my son would obviously not have the catching he’s accustomed to (and once again, not that it’s always been great :lol:).

So thanks to all. My son is not going to play for that 8u travel team. He’s got soccer now, Santa is coming, and after the New Year we’ll start gearing up for the February regular season practices.

south paw,

Baseball people are constantly predicting things–how their team is going to do next season, who will be the next Cy Young winner, who is going to be the first guy in the bullpen to fall prey to this year’s best new practical joke…

Let me predict for you that you and your son are both going to have a great journey with baseball for years to come.

You sound like a smart, thoughtful dad and you should have no real trouble navigating the sometimes-turbulent waters of youth baseball.

There’s a lot of information, opinion, and philosophy swirling around on the internet forums and in all of the baseball leagues that exist…some is very good, some not-so-good. It seems as though you’ve already figured out that you need a properly functioning b.s.-meter…that’s more than half the battle, IMO.

My personal struggle has always been that classic grapple with knowing when to just back off entirely versus knowing how to read the changing signals that can basically say, “Dad, I’m confused and I don’t yet know enough about how the world works to figure out this problem by myself”.

In some other thread(s) at LTP, there has been a lot of discussion about the good vs. not-good of skills/training lessons for youngsters who enjoy baseball…

If you can afford to gift your son with lessons, and if you feel confident that you can tell the difference between high quality teaching versus low quality teaching, an experienced pitching coach who can shorten lots of trails for you and your son can be a terrific benefit for him (both of you are included in this, on purpose…the best private coaches always seem to engage their clients’ parents in the learning process, too).

Again, this is of course tied to an individual’s personal financial situation and individual attitudes about what is interesting, fun, important, and worthwhile in life. Some of the best times I had with my now-16 yo son were vacation trips to San Diego and Los Angeles when he was 9 - 14 yo. They were vacations that had nothing to do with Sea World, Disneyland, or Universal Studios—they were father-son vacations designed to coincide with hands-on 3 - 4 day pitching clinics given by one the best pitching coaches in baseball.

For years, that was our idea of a fun, interesting, and completely worthwhile vacation…if my son suddenly decided to give up baseball tomorrow, I would not regret one moment of that time we spent at those clinics, or any of the $$ that I spent on taking vacations that way.

Best of luck!—like I said, I’m predicting a great baseball journey for your young son and you.

[quote=“shoshonte”]A few thoughts on this matter from observing my son these past few years from age 9 and 10
. . . it’s very frustrating to pitch well and lose because the other kids cannot field or catch
. . . my son never throws his best if the catcher cannot catch his pitches. He pitches down to his catchers abilities!
. . . it’s more enjoyable for the pitcher when his teammates can field a ground ball, make the throw from short to first and make a defensive out. If there’s no defense, then he PRESSURES himself to strike out EVERY batter.
. . . it’s frustrating when the 2nd baseman doesn’t move for a ball hit one foot away, or watches the pop up drop at their feet
. . . pitching is most enjoyable when the catcher can catch
. . . it’s frustrating when the 1st baseman yells on every throw “don’t throw the ball so hard”
. . . it’s frustrating to have different strike zones depending on the pitchers skills; a postage size strike zone for the kid that throws strikes and a generous strike zone for everyone else. It’s called keeping “balance.”
. . . it’s more challenging to pitch a few (or one) good inning(s) against the best hitters than to pitch six shut out innings against kids who haven’t a chance at hitting the ball. At age 9 in the Minors, he was pulled from a game in the 2nd inning 'cause the other team would not stand in the batters box. It is no fun pitching to kids who are afraid.
. . . enjoy the off season away from baseball. So far he’s taken summer (swimming, being a kid) and winter (basketball) breaks from the game, and when he returns he throws harder, better and has more love for the game.[/quote]

Everything you said above and the concerns south paw expressed are indeed things that are factors affecting pitchers. But, they’re much more concerns of dads than of the kids who are pitching. Sure they’re negative things, but kids don’t generally hang on to either the positives or negatives for very long.

When my boy was younger, I recognized the same things, and even went so far as to create some stats to see just how much those things affected his performances. The 1st thing of course was to track EMBs(Errors Made Behind), and UNPs(Unnecessary Pitches). Sure enough, the fielders behind him kicked a heck of a lot of balls cause him to throw a heck of a lot of unnecessary pitches. Of course another was PB’s, SB’s and FPct that showed pretty much the catcher’s performance. Sure enough, his catchers didn’t do a slam bang job either.

And for a couple years, I sounded a lot like what you two do, and for good reason. Its all true! Then one day as I was talking with my friend who was a 20 year pro pitcher and 12 year ML pitching coach. I was going on about how my kid had been so unlucky about having such poor catchers and fielders and how they had kept him from realizing his great potential, and that’s when I got my first real whack between the running lights with a 2X4.

He’d listened attentively, nodding his head in agreement as I was going on for at least 10 minutes, listing all the psycho babble and cliché’s I’d learned, and when I was done he went over and grabbed us a couple of longnecks. As I was enjoying the taste of the ice cold beer, he gave me THE ADVICE. If things are so bad, make him stop pitching. That was it, and of course that sent me into a soliloquy that was just about exactly opposite of what I’d just spent 10 minutes complaining about. I was coming up with things like they were just kids, it happens to everyone, etc. and IOW rationalizing why those things really didn’t matter.

When I’d calmed down again, he asked THE QUESTIONS. Does a pitcher have any choice about who his manager puts behind the plate or in the field, and if he doesn’t like them can he just refuse to throw the ball? WHOA! I’d never thought about it before, but he doesn’t.

After grabbing another beer for each of us, he told me to let it go. Its just part of baseball. And, no matter who’s playing behind a pitcher, or who he’s throwing to, its not his worry. His only job is to do as good as he can no matter what the circumstances, and let the manager worry about how the defense plays. If he can’t deal with that little bit of adversity, he really should quit pitching.

I thought about that for a bit and realized what I was doing wasn’t productive at all. In fact it was probably just the opposite. Players already know when they’ve screwed up, and I’ve seldom seen one who didn’t feel bad about it. Although I wasn’t screaming and hollering at the kids who had screwed up, in my mind I was blaming them, and that’s just wrong.

Even now I still wince when a player screws up, and I’ll point out to a pitcher’s dad that his support wasn’t as good as it could have been, but I no longer blame anyone. In a standard baseball game, there are always things that could have been done better, so no one play or player is every to blame totally for a loss.

laflippin,

Thank you so much for your kind words. I certainly hope and pray my 9 year old son and I have a long and fun journey in baseball. So far so good!

Like you said, though, there’s a lot of BS out there, and it’s tough to separate the wheat from the chaff. The hardest part so far has been having to say “No” so many times to my son’s friends, to their parents, and even to other coaches: “No” to year round baseball; “No” to an invitation to play on a 10u travel team while Fall Ball is in progress; “No” to playing down on a 8u travel team after Fall Ball ends; “No” to throwing year round (a recommendation of a pitching coach); etc. They’re just kids! It’s insanity out there!

As for private pitching lessons, I do utilize them occasionally, basically just to get another perspective. I pitched through high school and have studied up on teaching pitching to youth, and as such I am my son’s pitching coach. But as with anything else, it’s always good to get other opinions. There are three local pitching coaches I have gone to sporadically, taking a little from each. Sometimes I heed their advice, sometimes I don’t. For example, after studying up on the issue - much of it here on this forum - I decided to switch my lefty son from the throwing arm side of the rubber to the glove side of the rubber. One pitching coach didn’t like it but after my son’s control improved he decided it was for the better!

I forgot who it was, but a pitching coach who was selling pitching instruction materials once said something along these lines - and I think this may be the best “professional” pitching advice I’ve come across: “Don’t make me your guru. Go to other pitching coaches, too. But don’t make them your guru, either. Take from each of us what makes sense to you.”