Amanda Scarborough was a two-time All American at Texas A&M who played in two Women's College World Series. She has been coaching pitchers for 12 years and is the Founder of Pitching Angel. She offers online pitching courses for pitchers and pitching coaches all over the world.
How to gain your pitcher’s trust and increase her confidence to win
By: Amanda Scarborough
Let me first start by saying, there's really no perfect way to call pitches! It takes trust, communication, and trial & error, all the while taking into consideration the incredible amount of variables with how your pitcher is feeling that day, your opponent and, of course, the umpire.
You can call the best pitch, the pitcher can execute it to perfection and it can still get hit. You can also call the best pitch and the pitcher throws it right down the middle. There are so many variables. Have patience along the way.
Start with the things you can control – that’s laying out the expectations you have for your pitcher about pitch calling.
Throw to a pitcher’s strengths – start there. You can either throw to a pitcher’s strength or throw to a hitter’s weakness. When you get BOTH, then you’re lucky that day and playing to matchups. It doesn’t always work out that your pitcher’s strengths will match up to a hitter’s weakness. I am much kore inclined to throw to a pitcher’s strengths rather than first attach a hitter’s weakness. Maybe from being a pitcher myself, I have it engrained in my head that MY best pitch can get out a really good hitter, even if my best pitch her also a strength of hers. A pitcher will have the absolute most confidence in her strengths. And because of that, more times than not, I would much rather pitch call to my pitcher’s strengths than be so wrapped up in a hitter’s weaknesses.
My overarching expectation about pitch calling is that the pitcher is in charge of her own game. She has responsibility (even at a young age) for her actions and is reminded the ball is coming out of HER hand. A pitcher needs to know.
She needs to learn to take ownership of her own actions, her game and her choices by:
a) knowing it's an agreement about what to pitch, not a dictatorship.
b) having full awareness if she actually did indeed execute the pitch that was called precisely
Lay out clear expectations to your pitcher.
7 Expectations to Communicate to a Pitcher
1. A pitcher needs to know she is in charge. (She has the ball in her hand and is accepting the responsibility to take control of the game.)
2. Pitch calling is not a blame game, it’s a game of team-work and communication. (Pitcher, catcher and pitch caller all have a fair say, opinion and perception.)
3. A pitch must be honest about the actual pitch location of the pitch she throws. (In my opinion, a pitcher is much more likely to not hit a spot than the “wrong” pitch is to be called.)
4. When a pitcher agrees to a pitch, it means she is fully committed to the pitch. (By accepting the pitch call, she is agreeing to be all in behind the pitch).
5. A pitcher must know what her strengths are – in general and o game day. (Awareness of her strengths give her the most confidence and highest probability to get outs, while understanding strengths might vary and change for every game day)..
6. A pitcher must know, understand and accept the importance of count leverage and working ahead. (First pitch strike % is an important stat, and it’s a stat that does not lie.)
7. A pitcher must be consistent with her pitches (Pitch calling is nearly impossible if you don’t know what to expect from your pitcher each time she goes out.)
Communicating these expectations from the very beginning when working with a pitcher lays the ground work for a solid pitch calling relationship to move forward and attack hitters with full trust and transparency working all together as a pitch calling team.
7 Pitch Calling Tips
1. Let her know she can win with what she’s got. Does your pitcher know you believe in her to WIN? Do you actively point out pitches in bullpens & practices that are good pitches AND point out the situations that pitch would do well in? Find the positives in the bullpen for them to translate to a winning mindset in the game. Encourage her to take on the mentality that she can win any day with what she’s got working that day.
2. Allow her to shake off. Does your pitcher have the ability to shake off? Why or why not? This goes back to the beginning philosophy of giving a pitcher ownership in her game. Allowing to shake off is a reflection of ownership, trust and a way for a pitcher to learn from failure. It's ok for her to shake off and fail. She will learn. Her pitcher’s intuition will strengthen from her failure and she will be better the next time.
3. Hold pitches back for later in the game. Why show a team every pitch your pitcher has in the first two innings? They're coming up with a plan and taking in information, just like you are. Save a different "look" for the later innings. There's no need to empty out all of your bullets in the first two innings, if you don't have to. It's a different story if they're hitting your pitcher and you need to mix things up early. But if they aren't, save a pitch or two for later in the game.
4. Communication pre, during and post game is essential. Do you communicate before the game? Do you communicate during the game in between innings? Do you communicate after the game? Over communicate about how things are working, how things are feeling and how things are looking with the catcher, pitcher AND pitch caller. Each has a different view, opinion & value to add to the overall game plan. Find value in teamwork and teach them their opinion matters. Over time, the team work will strengthen so much.
5. Do Pre Game simulations. Do you come up with a plan before the game? Vocalize the plan, share the plan and simulate the plan in the bullpen before the game even starts. The experience of executing the plan gives a pitcher more confidence and gives a plan of attack to go at the hitters, thus giving more confidence. This becomes easier to do when you are facing teams you are more familiar with and you know how you want to approach them.
6. Notice a pitcher’s mistakes and help her correct them with your pitch call. Do you notice where she is missing? Are there patterns? If there are, see if there is a location you can call to help overcorrect the issue. By giving her a different target to look at and focus on, you can help her correct the mistake simply by your pitch call. Don't get frustrated with the misses, use them to your advantage.
7. Scout hitters when you can. Whenever you can, take a look at hitters you will play to see if there are TENDENCIES. Tendencies don't mean 100% of the time, but they can be telling of a hitter's approach. Does she like pitches up? Does she take 1st pitch strike? Watch opponents in other at bats and see what their tendencies are so you can come up with an attack.
These are tips that will make a difference in the relationship you have with your pitcher with increased communication, trust and a clear understanding of your belief in her.
These expectations and tips are all things you can have in your control before entering the game with other variables like a team’s offensive approach as well as the umpire!