Scout’s Eye: Baseball 101 – Throwing vs Pitching and “The need for speed.”

If you look up the definition of pitching a baseball or it’s origin, “The term “pitch” (which literally means “to place”) comes from the early days when an underhand delivery was required, as with “pitching” horseshoes. The original rules specified that the ball was to be “pitched, not thrown to the bat.” The fact that so many pitchers from Little League to the pros rely on throwing instead of pitching, goes against everything baseball has been since it’s infancy. Big gun times are crowd pleasers, yet the biggest, hardest flame thrower in baseball today, Aroldis Chapman just showed how 102.3 MPH straight fastballs can be hit and hit hard. So much so that he for now has lost his closer role with the Yankees. When he threw four consecutive 102 mph straight fastballs to 20 year old Boston rookie Rafael Devers last week the kid must have thought he was in the batting cage back in AAA Pawtucket as he deposited it in the Red Sox bullpen. He was not expected to have this many blown saves and at 5 years / $86 million, he needs to earn it all against the Red Sox at this point in the pennant race with them. His command has always been just ok and he has shown his vulnerability in games that matter a bit more now that he has been with two teams who compete for championships. “You’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy.” Well at least not Cincinnati. Forget the pitching coach, call in the team psychiatrist!

If you study the best “Pitchers” in baseball today, you will see that they don’t just throw for the gun. Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber and now Luis Severino, are all capable of blowing the fuse on a radar gun. Instead, they work the strike zone. Up and down, side to side, adding and subtracting speeds on all their pitches, using deception in their delivery and pitching with command. Former big league pitching coach and guru Billy Conners once told me, “The pitchers job is to get out of the inning. It’s all about getting outs.” In the case of Severino, he struggled last year and worked at learning how to be a “Pitcher.” Getting away from trying to blow everyone away and now uses that power arm when he needs it.

If you watch Tom Seaver in video from his great HOF career, you will not see gun times. Baseball people just knew he threw hard. His curveballs sometimes looked like lollypops, but the way he changed speeds and locations with his fastballs made his off speed pitches hard to hit. When he had to, he could throw very hard. That was when pitchers needed to pace themselves. See back then when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, pitchers were expected to complete nine innings and throw 140 pitches in a game. Funny how they were very rarely on the DL and had long careers. But that is a whole other story for another day.

When will the “Need for Speed” thinking in throwing a baseball come to an end? Never, it has become this obsession that fans, coaches, owners, scouts and players can not get enough of. It is like a drug that holds them hostage and It has taken the game in a whole other direction. The thrower on the mound (He is not a pitcher too me) doesn’t need to think anymore, just throw. Throw as hard as you can for as long as you can has been the state of baseball “Pitching” for the past ten to fifteen years now and is not going away anytime soon. I admit that it is more fun to watch fireworks than watch an artist paint a picture. But paintings last forever in your mind and fireworks eventually smolder and die.

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