My pitching coach spent a lot of time talking with me about the ins and outs of strategic pitching, and one of the most important elements of this was knowing the batters’ weaknesses as well as their strengths. When I was going to start a game, he would sit down with me and go over the opposing team’s lineup—he wanted to know about the proclivities of the leadoff hitter, whether he was righthanded, lefthanded or a switch-hitter, how he stood at the plate, whether he might try to bunt or hit to the opposing field, did he hit with his foot in the bucket or crowd the plate, did he have a short compact swing or a long slow one, all sorts of things like that, and he said that this would tell me how I should pitch to the guy. He went through the whole lineup that way, just as he would do when he was going to start for the Yankees in a game (he was one of their Big Three rotation).
He also reiterated one of the key principles: Move the ball around, high, low, inside, outside, AND CHANGE SPEEDS. And, of course, stay away from the middle of the plate—most batters are looking for a pitch in that area. He told me, work the corners. Most important, figure out what the batter is looking for—and don’t give it to him!
I was one of those exasperating, infuriating sidearmers who used the crossfire extensively. I had picked up on it early on, and I had fallen crazy in love with it, and he showed me how I could make the most of it—I’ll never forget the day he was helping me with my circle change, and he said to me, “I know you’re going to crossfire it. You use that move with everything you throw.” Batters never knew whether or not I was going to use it, and that really threw their timing off.
Yes, you mentioned that this sort of thing was one of the more advanced aspects of pitching, and I say that it’s not too soon to start teaching the kids about it—about deception on the mound, outthinking the batters (and it doesn’t matter whether one has a fast ball or not; if they start hitting it you have to use your noodle in such situations). A kid who does this is way ahead of the game. And yes, keep the ball down! 8)