Your warmups tell me everything I need to know. In their first lesson new kids are always surprised when I watch them warm up the fastball. Then I proceed to tell them what other pitches they throw, challenges they face in games, and all about their strengths and frustrations.
It’s really pretty simple. Simple observation tells me so much. When coaching travel ball, I would always watch the opposing pitcher as she prepared for the game so we would know what to expect. I really don’t need to see her pitch. All that is necessary is to watch her go through her routine.
There are certain drills that cause very common problems with glove control. An observer who knows a something about pitching immediately knows that this is pitcher usually relies on “down and out” pitches and a changeup. My kids would adjust their position in the batter’s box to make those pitches “fat” and have fun.
Sometimes I see the kid trying to get off the mound by bending down at the waist, coming off the mound in that way leaves her hips behind. Okay, this kid is going to miss high and low a lot. She will use so much energy trying to get the hips back into an athletic position that most of her energy never gets to the ball. This creates a timing nightmare. If hips are late, the ball goes low, so she compensates by trying to change timing and the ball goes high. My batters will just force her to bring it into the zone. No worries about the inside and outside pitches. She will not have great movement. And she is likely to get tired quickly. Be patient and win in late innings.
Then there is the kid who was trained to “hide the ball”. We always love batting against them because it limits them so much. They start out with both hands on the same side of the body, which guarantees the glove side will fly outward as she tries to launch. Putting both hands on one side of the body forces the hips and shoulders to be turned, then somehow she has to straighten the shoulders to get a strong drive, open the shoulders again, and resist the body’s tendency to recoil during the stride, which would force her into a spin. She may drag heavily or get extremely tense in order to keep the body in line. Like so many kids with unnatural form, she will often have knots under the shoulder blade and will land on a locked leg unless she works hard to prevent it. Either way, her endurance will be questionable, so take a lot of pitches and you can usually win in later innings when she tires.
Then we see the kid who has been taught to open the hips and square back to face the catcher. That means she cannot effectively go up or down, and everything will have a spin that causes pitches to “tail”. She is throwing “around the hip” so it limits her tremendously.
If I see a kid doing a walk-through, but she actually runs into it and falls through the pitch, this is a kid who probably does not know how to use her hips to create resistance well, so she will “shoulder” the pitches, meaning her movement, endurance, and speed are very questionable. Sit back and make her work.
Then we see the “crane” drill. She is likely to have a crowhop, or at least she will leave the back leg stranded because of it, which makes it extremely hard to have a fast arm and usually limits deceptive pitches to down and out. Pulling out a weighted ball? Usually her speed will be very poor, that shoulder will be overactive and it is pretty easy for the batter to know what pitch she is trying to throw very early by simply reading the shoulder. Often, shoulder and lower back issues result, so take her into the late innings and see if there is dropoff.
Falling off to the side a lot? She is normally a screwball pitcher and, in an attempt to compensate she will pull ball around the hip and create a tailing curve. The screwball was a good pitch early in her career, but now that habit of leaning has limited her to the point that she has few options in pitch selection. Go to the front of the box and hit the ball before it breaks.
If she grabs her spinner, watch carefully. If you observe the shoulder from a distance, and if you can easily tell what pitch she is trying to throw, it won’t be a strong pitch. She will tip your batters so early that they know exactly what is coming. Just tell your hitters what certain body language means. However, she is light and quick with the spinner, watch out. This one could be good.
Finally, if she warms up five or six different pitches, relax. Every pitcher thinks she has that many pitches, but the best pitchers have a couple of dominant pitches and another pitch that plays off those. I am far more worried about a kid who works to get a couple of pitches exactly right than one who is all over the map.
For every rule there are exceptions. Some kids are successful despite major issues. The question is not whether they are good, but how good could she be if she did not have to put so much effort into overcoming issues? By the time kids get to college, exceptions are extremely rare. There are superior athletes who are so big or strong they can go against some of these rules and still succeed. They may have other little tricks up their sleeves which help them win, such as an incredible ability to locate the ball, or a motion that is so unorthodox that batters struggle with it at first.
Finally, realize that rec and travel ball are far different from college softball, so just because she gets away with things now does not mean her success will continue. She rarely plays 7 innings now, and these teams do not have time or knowledge to scout her and spend all week preparing for her. The vast majority of our new students come running to us because the things that worked in the past are ineffective, or they are now in pain.
As she ages, realize that you will not surprise people anymore. Colleges know absolutely everything about her and share that information, so weaker pitchers and those who cannot adjust are quickly eliminated. That is why most schools have one pitcher carrying the load and the same 4 sitting on the bench, game after game. Additionally, remember that you play 7 full innings in college softball and you will face great hitters all of the way through the lineup. There is no time to relax. They are constantly adjusting to you, your endurance is tested much more, and these hitters have seen it all. Little tricks, unorthodox form, or just trying to blow it by them no longer works.
As you look at these things, evaluate your own pitcher with a very open mind. Remember, people are out there scouting her and preparing game plans to beat her. It is not about hiding the things she does, but about helping her pitch correctly so there is no weakness for the scout to identify. When that happens, her odds of winning escalate greatly.
Footnote: We need to add Certified Instructors in many markets. If you are a former college player with pitching experience, contact us about our training program.