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"My Kid Gives Up Too Many Hits!"

Dan Spring was drafted in 2003 by the Detroit Tigers, and has spent the last 10 years providing instruction for over 17,000 youth baseball players. He currently runs the Spring Training Baseball Academy in Palos Verdes, California and runs the Eye Black Academy, a youth baseball instruction site.

One of the most frequent concerns I hear from parents bringing their young pitchers to me for private instruction has to do with velocity.

"My kid doesn't throw hard enough."

"How do I make my kid throw harder?"

"She's pretty good at throwing strikes, but she needs to throw harder."

Well I can tell you with absolute certainty that at all levels of the game, youth baseball (ages 6-12) included, velocity is vastly overrated.

I can guarantee you that the coach who falls in love with what the radar gun says, and I’ve seen TONS of them over the years, wasn't a pitcher.

High level pitchers know that a poorly executed pitch that misses its spot, no matter how hard it was thrown, is usually not going to get the job done. And despite the fact that you may see scouts aiming radar guns from behind home plate when looking at a prospect, most are looking for 3 qualities in the pitcher.

In order of importance, they are:
1) Location
2) Rotation
3) Velocity

Location is about how consistently a pitcher hits his spot - how well he "commands" his pitches.

Rotation is about the quality of the movement a pitcher can put on the ball, whether it be his fastball or his off-speed pitches.

Velocity is simply what the radar gun says.

In youth baseball, the only one of these 3 pitcher traits that truly matters is location. More broadly, can the pitcher throw strikes with any consistency?

Young pitchers shouldn't be throwing breaking balls or worrying about cutters so we can ignore "rotation" until they are teenagers.

At all levels, velocity is worthless unless the pitcher can throw a strike and it's even less important because there is very little a young pitcher can do to increase velocity. The majority of gains in MPH that a young pitcher will see simply come as a result of natural physical maturating.

The physical gap between ages in youth baseball can be dramatic; we've all seen the 12 year old who looks like they came from the office, and we've all seen the 12 year old who still looks very much like a child. If both players described here have the same relative athletic ability, the bigger kid will likely throw harder, not because they are "better" but simply because they are bigger and more physically mature.

But by the time the boys are both 16, the size gap will have shrunk dramatically and the difference in size and strength will have largely evened out.

So, as parents, what should we do with this knowledge?

1) Don't worry about the "size gap." We have no control over when our kid will hit their growth spurt so comparing size and strength at a young age is a worthless use of our time. If you feel compelled to do anything about this, just continue to make sure your player has a healthy diet.

2) Focus on skill development and mechanics. You know why? Because your kid will come out ahead in the long run, regardless of his size. "Big kids" or "super talented kids" who rely on their maturity and have success simply as a result of physical ability will find that when the size and athleticism playing field has leveled in a few years, they never really learned their craft because they never had to. Without the ability to locate and command pitches, their once dominant fastball is now entirely average and they lack the skill to effectively get hitters out. On the other hand, the player who learns the correct mechanics and how to throw strikes at a young age will be a far superior pitcher once he grows into his body down the road.

3) A ball thrown 100 mph is worthless if it's not a strike. I actually played with a guy in the Tigers organization who routinely hit 100 on the radar gun. The problem was, he literally had no clue where it was going. My teammate spent 6 years in the minors with arguably the best fastball on earth. Why? Because he couldn't throw it for strikes. Luckily for him, he matured as a player from the mental side, took a few miles an hour off his fastball, and starting commanding the pitch in the 96 mph range. And where did he end up almost immediately starting to throw more strikes? Yup, in the MLB.

4) The best pitchers in youth baseball give up the most hits. Wait, how can that be? Think about it for a second. When a pitcher throws a pitch in the strike zone, it results in one of two things; either it's a strike (called, swing and a miss, foul ball) or it's put in play. And every time the ball is put in play, that's a good thing because that's where most of the outs come from. Of course, young defenders aren't going to make as many plays as Big Leaguers, but it doesn't mean that the pitcher's strategy of throwing strikes and forcing batters to put the ball in play is wrong.

Here's some math to support my philosophy. In 2013, MLB hitters struck out a total of 36,426 times - more than in any other season in the history of the game. There were a total of 2430 regular season games games that year and assuming 54 outs a game (27 for each team), MLB hitters got out 131,220 times that season. That means, roughly 28% of outs were recorded by strike out, or in other words, 3 times as many outs came as a result of the ball being put in play.

So if as coaches and parents, we don't encourage our players to "pitch to contact," then we're really not teaching them to pitch.

In my vast experience as a coach of the under 12 age group, when you tell a pitcher to "strike this batter out" what do they try to do? Throw harder! And when ANY pitcher tries to "throw harder" what happens to their command? Yup, more balls and walks! Last time I checked, it’s impossible to get anyone out while they're jogging to first base after drawing a walk.

Dan Spring was drafted in 2003 by the Detroit Tigers, and has spent the last 10 years providing instruction for over 17,000 youth baseball players. He currently runs the Spring Training Baseball Academy in Palos Verdes, California and runs the Eye Black Academy, a youth baseball instruction site.

Baseball

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