NY Sports Day

Coppola: Pitching and the Numbers Game

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Baseball has always been a game of numbers. Three outs, nine innings, runs scored, home runs, RBI, batting average, 162 games. With all the stats that have been collected over so many years we can compare Babe Ruth to Henry Aaron to Barry Bonds. Did I just include Bonds in the same sentence with Ruth and Aaron? Ouch!

Well you get the picture. Stats have been an important part of baseball forever. A major part of the game for players and fans. But today so much emphasis is put on numbers that we never knew about, cared about or flat out can’t understand. It has somewhat changed the game for fans as well as players. The most used number today is the gun time. We see pitchers turning around to look at the scoreboard to see how fast they just threw a pitch. The people who run ball clubs are obsessed with gun times. The harder a pitcher throws the more they want him. Why? To excite fans?

Sure. It is amazing just how hard some of these guys can throw a baseball. But that number is not that important to me. What I want to know is, “Can he pitch?” Does he have command of his pitches? That is can he locate that heater where he wants it? The Hall of Fame is filled with pitchers that probably never threw better than 90 to 95 on a gun. They didn’t obsess about gun times because they didn’t exist for many years in baseball.

The obsession with trying to throw as hard as they can, for as long as they can, over and over is the reason for all the pitcher related arm and oblique injuries in baseball today. Recent surveys by sciencedaily.com puts it at about 34% more than everyday players.

So how do they become a pitcher instead of a thrower? Look at the best pitchers today. They all will add and subtract speeds on all their pitches. Those are important numbers. The hitters will see as much as 10 different speeds on a slider, change up and curve from these elite pitchers. Movement of a pitch or what is known as life is what batters have trouble with.

Aroldis Chapman throws 100 -103 MPH but gets hit if the ball has no movement or life. I believe that if pitchers concentrated on movement, location, command and changing speeds and lose sight of the numbers game they would win more games.

These bigger and stronger than ever pro athletes can throw more pitches than they do now if they slowed down and learned how to pitch instead of trying to break the sound barrier with every ball they throw. Big league hitters are not afraid of speed. But put some movement on a fastball, paint the corners and hitters will struggle to get the meat of the bat on the ball.

The number of outs, the number of scoreless innings and the number of wins are numbers that mean something.

Editor’s Note: William Coppola just completed his 40th year in the game of baseball. He has been a coach, instructor and last week completed his third season as an associate advanced scout with the Atlanta Braves organization.


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