Step 1: Creating a Baseline
First, we need to know where a player is currently at with his arsenal. Start by recording all pitches using Rapsodo and Edgertronic during 1-2 short bullpens at the beginning of the process. After completing this, you should be able to generate a bullpen report via Rapsodo that looks something like the image on the right.
This will show you the movement profile for every pitch type in terms of Horizontal and (Induced) Vertical Break. This is a good graphic to gauge how your pitches move compared to one another. Along with this, the numerical data from Rapsodo is important. I would recommend during each bullpen to have someone designated to write down the Velocity, Pitch Type, Spin Rate, Spin Axis, Horizontal Break, Vertical Break, and Spin Efficiency of every pitch thrown to put into an Excel sheet. From this, you can create an average of each of these metrics for each pitch type. This is your numerical baseline.
You can now quantify how each pitch moves and can compare these movement patters via a graph (above). [Some pitches have distinct movement groupings even though they are the same pitch type. This is seen in the curveball above. Here, you would want to create an average for each grouping rather than just the curveball as a whole].
Now, consider the Edgertronic video you took. After reviewing the video, you should save an “average” pitch, one whose metrics fall along the most frequently occurring values for that pitch type. [Again, if there are distinct groupings, treat them as different pitches even though you are calling them both the same thing]. By doing this you will be able to see both visually and quantifiably what characteristics each pitch type possesses.
Step 2: Evaluating Your Baseline
Time to dive into the numbers and movement graphic. Speaking to the movement graphic, we typically do not want two pitches moving the same way. This is redundant, does not maximize the potential of a pitcher’s arsenal, and makes it easier on the hitter. We can tell if this is happening by looking for an overlap of two colors. In the graph to the right we can see that there is an overlap between fastball and 2 seam as well as slider and one grouping of curveballs. These are going to be our areas of concern.
I’m not going to talk about what should be different, such as whether it’s better to increase Vertical Break on the fastball or maybe Horizontal Break on the 2 seam. This is a case by case type of adjustment based on hundreds of unique variables. It is best to look at all characteristics of each pitch such as Arm Slot, Spin Rate, Spin Axis, etc… Ultimately, we are looking for separation between pitch types with no overlap (in most cases). This can be seen between sliders and the lower grouping of curveballs as well as fastball and changeup.
But what if there is no overlap? Does this mean the pitcher has a great arsenal and doesn’t need any adjustments? Absolutely not. More than likely, at least one of his pitches is not seeing the whiff numbers you’d like, or its movement isn’t reaching its full potential due to axis or spin efficiency. There is always something to improve
Step 3: Designing Your Goals
Let’s say we looked at all the data and video. Our findings say we should alter our fastball to have more vertical break and make our curveball more consistent to avoid similarity between it and the slider. How do we do this? Rather than saying you “want more Vertical Break on the fastball and a more consistent curveball” say, “I want +18 inches of Vertical Break with +2 inches of Horizontal Break at 89mph at 90%+ Spin Efficiency on my fastball. I want my curveball to have -16 inches of Vertical Break with -6 inches of Horizontal Break at 72 mph at 90%+ Spin Efficiency.” Now we have a tangible goal to aim for rather than “a better pitch”.
Next, think about what the ball flight would look like on a pitch that satisfies your goal values. I often use a spin axis ball created by Rapsodo to provide myself a visual. An example of a spin axis ball can be seen here on the left.
Think what axis the ball would spin on in the X,Y, and Z direction to obtain your goal.
Now that you have a quantifiable goal and a picture in your head as to what the ball flight should look like to achieve this goal, it is time to let the athlete know your plan.
Step 4: Communication
It is going to be tough to tell your athlete to throw his new pitch if he doesn’t understand how to make the changes to get there. Sit him down and describe what his baseline numbers said versus what you are now aiming for. Then, explain what the ideal ball flight is going to look like for the pitch you have in mind. Use the spin axis ball to do this and if possible, find some video.
Next, show him the video of where he currently is at. Detail why his current release is not getting the job done and what changes you are looking to make. Focus on wrist angle, finger pressure, and seam orientation here. When the athlete knows you have a plan laid out with quantifiable goals for them to reach, he is going to have a better feel for the end goal and be more confident in the process.
Step 5: Putting in The Work
Set aside time for the athlete (ideally 30+ minutes) to get his work in. You should have a bullpen set up with a Rapsodo, target, and a high-speed camera. You will need yourself to record the video and coach, but likely also someone else to record Rapsodo information via Excel.
Have the athlete start throwing with the goal you’ve set for him in mind. Let him work things out for himself for the first couple of pitches, especially if this is your first session. After a few pitches, you can suggest a guided cue. Internal cues effect everyone differently, so it would be unwise to expect a phrase like “get on top” to work for everyone. Sometimes you need to be creative with the way you think and unfortunately sometimes it is throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks. When you see a favorable result, make sure you take notes on not only what cue you told the athlete, but also have him describe what he felt on that pitch and what he was telling himself.
It is important to review the video after EVERY pitch. This expedites the process exponentially. If you review film at the end of every session for 8 weeks you will have 8-16 review sessions depending on how often the athlete throws. If you review after every pitch, you will have 20+ review sessions each time the athlete throws. Let them see their ball flight and adjust pitch to pitch.
Pitch design is a daunting, time consuming process. Both the coach and the athlete need to be bought in. If you have a session where the athlete throws 15 pitches in 30 minutes because he was figuring out the disconnection between what needs to happen and what is actually happening after every throw, so what? This is much more valuable than guessing what’s happening at release and reviewing it after the entire session. By having the athlete really think about what happened and why on a certain pitch, it will also increase their ability to adjust in game. Reverse engineering the problem from the result will be a process they will have completed 1,000 times in practice.
Adam Schuck is a Student Assistant at Iowa University. He is a great follow on Twitter @adamschuck44. If you like this blog, please make sure to share it on social media!!!!!