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Baseball pitchers play the mind game

Don Fennell   May-04-2018

Photo by Don Fennell


After a quicknod to the catcher, the pitcher sets, winds up, and throws. As the batter swings, the ball finds a small corner of the plate.

Strike one.

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Re-adjusting, the second pitch, a fastball, is low and outside. The batter doesn’t bite.

Ball one.

With the count now even, the pitcher must decide what to select next; a breaking ball that the batter fouls off.

Strike two.

The mind game that defines every showdown between the pitcher and batter is now well underway.

“On top of all the mechanics and development of velocity, accuracy and pitch selection is the head game,” says Matt Winograd, pitching coach of the U18 Midget AAA Richmond Chuckers. “I believe the No. 1 component of a successful pitcher is the mind. Although a pitcher is surrounded by a team, the pitcher stands alone most of the game.”

“One of the hardest parts of pitching is recognizing your motion and redirecting your focus to correct these areas,” he continues. “Pitchers often get caught in a mind game that they need to get this player out. In reality, a pitcher needs to trust one's mechanics and make the next pitch. What happens after that pitch is related to how prepared the pitcher's mind is prior to that pitch.”

Pitching is unique, says Winograd, and as such there is no single blueprint though he accepts there are mechanics that will help develop one’s pitching ability.

“But everyone has a unique body and power set up,” he says. “Look at players in the Major Leagues. Tim Lincecum, Gregg Maddux, Clayton Kershaw, Jamie Moyer, Aroldis Chapman. All of these players have dominated with such unique deliveries. At the root of each delivery is a very consistent checklist of mechanical steps that I teach, to provide players with an opportunity to succeed.”

In addition to developing mechanics, Winograd focuses heavily on teaching his young pitchers to understand their application. He says once they can recognize where they deviate from a checklist, they can makes the necessary tweaks and enjoy more opportunities to succeed.

“One of the hardest parts of pitching is recognizing your motion and redirecting your focus to correct these areas,” he says. “Pitchers often get caught in a mind game that they need to get this player out. In reality, a pitcher needs to trust one's mechanics and make the next pitch. What happens after that pitch is related to how prepared the pitcher's mind is prior to that pitch.”

As former New York Yankees’ manager Yogi Berra is famous for saying: “90 per cent of the game is half mental.”


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