So I’m watching Kyle Gibson pitch to the Mariners tonight and he is “mixing up his pitches” with lots of change ups and breaking balls and some 91 mph sinkers–and getting knocked around the ballpark. His manager had finally seen enough and made a rare trip to the mound not to make a pitching change, but to deliver a message: THROW YOUR FASTBALL–and throw it HARD. Gibson has been a different pitcher since the visit: mostly fastballs at 94-95 mph.
Here’s the deal about pitching: if you can’t make a hitter concerned about your fastball nothing else will work–even if you throw your secondary pitches in good spots. You’ve heard Blyleven, Morris, all of us, actually, say that everything works off the fastball. What that means is that you have to convince hitters that they must respect the speed of the fastball-and that you can throw it for strikes-before the other pitches will be effective.
Here’s why: hitters want to hit fastballs and, especially, don’t want to be jammed by a fastball. So, if you establish your fastball ability you create a little velocity anxiety in the hitter and the tendency to start swinging a little early. Especially, if you pitch hard inside the hitters quickness anxiety gets even more acute. THAT is what sets up pitches of different speeds and trajectories. If hitters don’t fear getting beat by the fastball they will wait longer, sit on off speed pitches, look out over the plate–all the things you don’t want a hitter to do.
Think about the great fastball/change up pitchers you have seen for the Twins, Frank Viola and Johan Santana. They had great change ups, but what made them so effective was that they would throw fastballs to make hitters get in a hurry to hit them, then throw the change up. It was the back and forth speed changes that made them so good.
Here’s a way to sum it all up: in the old days the change up was invented and called a “change of pace.” That meant a change of pace from the fastball pace. In other words, in order to throw a change of pace…YOU HAVE TO ESTABLISH SOME PACE!