During game competition, opposing teams will spend considerable time and effort attempting to gain an advantage by picking signs. Players both in the dugout and on the field will try to steal the coaches' signs, read your catcher's movement, or catch a tip from your pitcher. This week's tip focuses on preventing a team from picking up information from the pitcher himself.
There are several key points which opposing dugouts will look to when trying to predict what pitch will be thrown. In the following three examples, we will highlight the problem first and then cover what simple changes or efforts can be made to avoid the problems.
Problem #1 - Pitcher leaves the ball exposed before coming set.
Seen primarily in the younger ages, some pitchers show the ball before they begin their motion. In the windup, some pitchers hold the ball outside of their glove, relaxing against their plant leg. However, this problem is most common while in the stretch position. Pitchers will hold the ball in the same position, or behind their back, fully exposing their grip on the ball to the batter, the dugout, or the first base coach. For the offense to pick the pitch, they attempt to recongnize the grip (say a fastball), and then carefully watch to see if the pitcher makes any adjustments as he takes the ball into his glove. If they recognize that no movement is being made, or that the ball is clearly rotated on the way to the glove, their next task becomes relaying that message to the batter.
Solution #1 - Keep it simple... avoid this error by starting with the ball in your glove. With the ball in your glove, you can grab the ball and adjust your grip accordingly when you come set. This is true for both the windup and the stretch positions.
Problem #2 - When throwing a specific pitch, the pitcher obviously adjusts his grip, or makes repetitive and recognizable movements.
Many pitchers will consistently start with a fastball grip. If the catcher calls for a fastball, they will immediately begin their windup without moving their hands at all. Then, when an off speed pitch is called; they will rotate the ball in the glove before beginning their motion. It will quickly become noticeable to an observant offense that the pitcher is only adjusting his grip on certain pitches.
Another common motion that can tip an offense is a recognizable adjustment or motion. For example, let's look at a pitcher, set in the windup position. When a curveball is called, the pitcher will dig into his glove to get his fingers over the top of the ball. You'll see the wrist rotate and perhaps even the forearm lift ever so slightly. If a team can detect a pattern after four or five of the same types of movement, they may be able to recognize a certain pitch.
Solution #2 - A solution to both of these tips is to hold the ball in your glove with either a neutral grip or a random grip.
Neutral Grip - This grip allows the pitcher to quickly and easily move to any of his pitch grips with little movement, and smooth actions. Over time, a pitcher will find a grip that is most comfortable (somewhere in between their two or three pitches) which will allow them to grip each of their pitches with minimal movement. They can avoid any major movement of the wrist and forearm, and begin each pitch sequence with the same grip.
Random Grip - The random grip results from not adjusting the ball after receiving it from the catcher. There will be no consistency to how, and how much the ball is rotated or adjusted with regard to any single pitch. Instead, for each pitch, the pitcher will grab the ball, recognize the grip, and adjust accordingly. Sometimes there will be a quick adjustment, and other times the pitcher will need to rotate the ball several times. Just be careful that your actions don't signal the pitch as you grip the ball (i.e. digging for a curveball).
Problem #3 - Finger Pointer
This problem arises when a pitcher extends his index finger when gripping for specific pitches. Most commonly associated with the digging motion of grabbing a curveball grip, a player will unknowingly lift their index finger only when they dig. It sounds silly, but athletes will often do this without realizing that they are moving their finger at all.
Solution #3 - Simply solution to a simple problem... instruct your pitchers to keep their index finger inside the glove while pitching. Pitchers that use either an open-back glove, or a closed-back glove with a finger hole, should be taught to keep their fingers inside the glove while on the mound.
Remember, opposing teams don't need to pick all your pitches to be effective. An offense can gain great advantage by only knowing when one of your three pitches is going to be thrown. This can be the difference between strike three on the inside corner, and a batter turning on the ball and ripping a ball down the line. The problems that offenses look for are tiny movements, and can be avoided by small, common sense, adjustments.