Harper, the head instructor at Pitching Solutions in Fort Worth, Texas, has a lot of parents sign up their kids for in-depth mechanical work.
“Parents always say, ‘Really, how fast do you think he’s throwing?’” Harper said. “My favorite response is, ‘Well, it’s somewhere between 50 and 100.’ They die laughing, and say, ‘Seriously.’
Young pitchers want to light up the radar gun and impress scouts with their strong arm. Mom and dad want the same thing.
Harper’s main message to the kids and parents is that control is much more important than velocity. They start to understand where he’s coming from after he explains himself.
To drive in Harper's point, check out this video of hall of famer Bob Feller racing a fastball against a motorcycle. He seemed to do OK despite not knowing his velocity.
“I tell them all the time, I say, look, you can watch the major leagues, you can watch the World Series, you can watch whatever you want to watch, and these guys that throw 98 to 100 — half of them don’t know where it’s going,” Harper said. “They know where the strike zone is, and they feel like if they can throw it that hard in the strike zone they’re going to be successful. Guess what? You’re going to have to go and salute the ball as it goes over the fence if they don’t have any control over the pitch.
“I tell them all the time, a guy throwing 90 that can hit his spots, low and outside, under the hands, move the ball around, move the batter’s eyes up and down, those guys are going to be a lot more successful than those guys throwing 98 right down the middle.”
Harper prefers that kids sign up for instruction by around age 9 or 10. That way he can teach proper mechanics at a young age before the pitcher develops any negative habits. Harper taught his 24-year-old grandson how to pitch at an early age, and he is now in the Colorado Rockies farm system.
The best way for a young pitcher to learn control comes down to one word.
“Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition,” Harper said. “There’s no substitute for actually doing the particular thing that you’re trying to learn.”
Harper’s favorite exercise for pitchers trying to learn control is to take a tennis ball, go on the side of their parents’ garage, pick out a brick, get 10 to 15 feet back and throw the tennis ball at that specific brick.
“I make them from the first throw when they come to see me and are warming up, to get in the habit of not throwing a baseball that’s not at a target,” Harper said. “I tell them to throw it at the middle of the chest of their partner, throw at his nose, throw at this shoulder or that shoulder. But every time they throw a baseball, be throwing at a spot. That’s the only way to develop it. It takes years to do that.”
Once Harper gets his student on the mound, he drills them. He starts them off by throwing a pitch low and outside. He engrains in the pitcher’s mind that it’s important to command that area because that’s going to be his bread and butter pitch. Harper then instructs the pitcher to throw inside with a two-seam fastball and then toss a changeup to mix it up.
Harper notes his grandson received a college scholarship having never thrown a real curveball until he stepped on campus at Texas Tech. He had an awesome fastball and could command his changeup very well.
Harper makes sure his pitchers hit their spots with a fastball before even attempting to lock down an off-speed pitch.
“I’ve had college coaches say, ‘Hey, we’re looking for command. We can teach anybody how to spin the ball and throw a curveball,’” Harper said. “The command of the fastball takes years to develop.”
Harper stresses to his students that if they keep the ball down with two-and four-seam fastballs, develop a changeup and change speeds then they’re going to be successful. Inducing ground balls instead of fly balls is the ideal scenario.
“I jokingly tell them all the time, ‘I’ve never seen a groundball go over the fence,’” Harper said.
From GameChanger and Greg Bates.