What does “Pitching to Contact” mean? How does one measure whether a pitcher is doing it or not, and compare one pitcher’s ability to do it to another pitcher?
Here is my response on the thread on BBFev, I think you and I may differ in some areas, particularly ability to accomplish it and at what level but fwiw (In response to a high school coach who advocated this as his “normal strategy”);
I consider pitching to contact as a “per pitcher” thing. As in some kids are saavy enough to understand and produce late movement and will vary speed and location that uses the hitter weak spots to produce “weak contact”. I wouldn’t necessarily use a kid who just lets it fly to be real fine (Not nibble but locate aggressively…i.e. claim an unhittable strike location) and if a kid has a plus wipe-out pitch but say…telegraphs location or his other pitches aren’t great (Get me over hook…etc.) I’m not certain I could play to my strategy over their apparent strengths/weaknesses. My preference is a guy who can control a game in Maddux-esque fashion but getting that sort of production has to be way hard…how has your teams fared W/L wise? Do you emphasize pip’s and other defensive strategies to exploit your pitching sequence approach and how well as a rule has it been understood (As in players adjusting to location per pitch)? How do you coach/train your pitchers to the idea and what things do you do to facillitate them getting better at it? I’ve found that when you are able to integrate a whole team strategy it energizes the squad and “things” get to happening.
I think that as an over-all strategy, I like the theory, I guess I don’t have the years of experience on the high school field to give me total confidence it’s where I need to be in every instance…that I can win consistently without a pitcher or pitchers who have that approach and skill as a pitcher.
One day, in one of my “curbstone consultations” with Eddie Lopat, something occurred to me, and I said, “You know, I was thinking about this the other day—the way you approach pitching to hitters. Kind of like judo, isn’t it?” He replied, “You could say that. The principle is the same—using the opponent’s power against him. You make the hitters supply their own power. You don’t give them anything they can hit. You take their power and turn it back against them.” He elaborated by describing what he used to do with Walt Dropo, who fancied himself a power hitter. What Lopat would do was take even more off his stuff, and it always ended up with Dropo either striking out or hitting a weak grounder to the first baseman and returning to the dugout foaming at the mouth, and invariably third baseman Bobby Brown would crack up.
Lopat told me, “You don’t overpower the hitters, so you have to outthink and outfox them. You make them go after your pitch, what you want them to hit. Make them put the ball in play—if they can get a piece of it.” And we both would burst out laughing as we envisioned what would happen to the batter who tried to get a piece of my slider.
Now, as it was then, there are pitchers who go at it both ways—serious high cheese, or the good breaking and offspeed pitches. Whatever gets the job done. 8)
Great question and I think you’ll get some great definitions,
For me in College I was taught, try to get hitters to put the ball in play, preferably on the ground, within three pitches. That means not looking strikeout, but rather making your best pitch in a hittable zone. Be aggressive in the zone and don’t nibble on the corners. Keep the ball down and make them hit ground balls. All you want to do is get outs, and it doesn’t matter how you do it. Don’t try to be too fine, trust your stuff, stay low in the zone. Strikeouts will come with this philosophy.
A good pitcher’s pitch the majority of time is going to get a good hitter out. Our PC told us that 80% of hitters will get themselves out.
The idea of pitching to contact is to get a hitter to put the ball in play which in turn allows the starting pitcher the chance to pitch deeper into games, and allows a reliever in theory to be able to be used more on consecutive days.
To me the ultimate Pitch to Contact guy was Maddux late in his career, I can remember him going 8 or 9 innings on 78 pitches when he was with San Diego.
Or at least that’s my thought process on it.
For me in College I was taught, try to get hitters to put the ball in play, preferably on the ground, within three pitches. [/quote]
That’s as great a way to describe it as I’ve ever heard, plus it gives a way to measure it as well.
That’s also an excellent and easy to understand a philosophy.
What makes those two things not just a good philosophy, they’re what any pitcher at the HS level should be able to shoot for and attain to some degree.
I don’t think that’s its so much the hitter will get himself out, but rather that there’s a limit to how much damage a hitter can do, just because of all the thing that have to happen in order for him to get a hit.
I happen to agree personally, but I’m afraid the lion’s share of opportunities for pitchers in today’s game go to pitchers who don’t follow that formula.
A pitcher that “pitches to contact” (adopting Wales’ definition) is going to be an efficient pitcher but there is one fly in the ointment so to speak that is going to rear it’s ugly head from time to time. That is his own fielding ability and the competency of his fielders. Errors will result in frustration. This is something my own son had to get a grip on because I taught him the philosophy of using as few pitches per inning as possible, targeting the bottom of the strike zone. I told him we wanted everybody hitting the top of the ball. The kid was a ground ball producing machine because he threw from the way up high to way down low. He only had two home runs hit off him in the ten or so years he pitched that I know of but you could count on infield errors in every game. Especially come backers to the mound. If you have to give the opponent 4 or 5 outs in an inning then the advantage of pitching to contact is neutralized. You also better be very competent at holding runners because the opponent is going to try to steal and hit and run to minimize the affect of all those ground balls.
I know nothing about being a fly ball pitcher.
And that, dear readers, is why PFP—pitcher’s fielding practice—is of such paramount importance.
When a pitcher steps off the rubber, s/he becomes a fifth infielder and has to be able to do the things infielders do. Even catching high popups at or near the mound. I remember the day that Eddie Lopat (and what an incredible pitching coach he was!) showed up one day with a bunch of guys who he said were kids he had rounded up for the purpose, some to be infielders, a guy with a bat, and a couple of strong-armed fellows to roam the outfield so they could practice grabbing caroms off the wall and firing in to the infield. I got more out of that afternoon’s workout than most pitchers do in a month.
Lopat described what we nowadays call “pitching to contact” in this way: “Get the ball over the plate and make them hit it. Make them go after YOUR pitch, what YOU want them to hit.” He didn’t have to say any more, but I mentally added “if they can get a piece of it”. It really doesn’t matter whether a pitcher goes after the batter with serious high cheese or gives said batter a chance to get himself out. As long as the pitcher does it and gets out of the inning without being scored on.
If you can field your position, the infielders are likely to do the same thing, and that makes for a tighter defense with few if any errors. Which is why I said that PFP is of paramount importance. :baseballpitcher:
Very true, but the errors are part of the game, and only experience will mitigate them to the point where in MLB what they look for in pitchers is their ability to induce balls hit on the ground.
If more coaches of low level ball would maintain a mixture of “hard throwers” in order to get K’s, and “control pitchers” to induce contact, the fielders would learn how to field a lot sooner than they do now.
The frustration part of it is going to happen, just like the frustration that comes from not being able to hit an off speed pitch. The only way to overcome that frustration is to quit caring which is very bad, is to grind it out and learn how to overcome the deficiency.
An out is an out -
A bunch of hard-throwing ‘strikeout’ pitchers get hit to the warning track all game - and still maintain a low ERA.
It seems like people forget what separates the absolute best from just hanging on - Maybe one walk, maybe one ‘inside’ fb that didn’t go inside, etc.
And there’s something else—the difference between a 2-1 victory and a 3-2 defeat. One bad pitch.
Think about it. A grounder that finds a hole, or a bloop single that drops between two fielders. A wild pitch or a passed ball. A curve that hangs, or a knuckleball that refuses to knuckle—or a fast ball down the middle or middle in, where the pitcher didn’t want to throw it but the batter was looking for it. And it matters not whether one pitches to contact or not. I have seen more home runs hit because the pitcher made a bad pitch and put it right where the batter was looking for it.
Think about it—and avoid it if you can.