Expanding The Strike Zone
Pitching, as we all know, is a chess game rather than a battle of strength. Sure, it helps when you can throw 100 mph and absolutely dominate hitters, but if we are being realistic, not everyone can throw 100 mph. Most pitchers, even the ones who throw gas, have to rely on their secondary stuff and location to get hitters out because velocity only goes so far. And good hitters can time you up after seeing a pitch or two. Odds are if you keep throwing the same pitches in predictable locations, you’re ERA is going to rise. This is where expanding the strike zone comes in handy. Not sure what that means? Don’t worry – I’ll explain.
If you’re a pitcher, you will hear these common phrases more often than not: “earn that spot!” or “pound the zone!” and the one we are talking about today, “extend the strike zone!”. To put this is in lame terms, it basically means to throw a ball. Sounds dumb, right? I mean, the whole reason we pitch is to throw strikes. Well, in certain cases, it could actually help to throw a ball or two. The best times to “extend the zone” are when you, as a pitcher, are way ahead in the count. Way ahead means you’ve got the batter 0-2 or 1-2 (0 balls, 2 strikes or 1 ball, 2 strikes). Now think about it. When you’re hitting and the pitcher quickly gets you down 0-2, you get a little bit of anxiety. You start to second guess your mechanics; you start to run a million different scenarios of what pitch he is going to throw next. It’s the perfect spot to be in as a pitcher. And if you have 2 or more pitches, you have a lot to play with.
Now, once we get to this spot, it’s time to “extend” the zone, meaning you really want to get this guy to fish for something and get the K. You don’t want to get egregious and chunk one to the backstop or anything. The idea is to throw your fastball or secondary pitch and “just miss”. Maybe even bust them inside or throw a curve or slide piece in the dirt. This not only increases your chances of getting them to roll over, pop up, or swing and miss, but if they take the pitch, you’ve messed with their sight of the plate. I’ll give you an example of a sequence where this works.
Pitch 1: Foul Ball (0-1) - Fastball
Pitch 2: Swing and Miss (0-2) – Slider
Now, you have plenty of wiggle room. Let’s toss a wayyyyy inside fastball. Don’t hit him/her (this would kill the whole idea), just enough to make them go “whoof” and make them a little uneasy in the box. Maybe even back up off the plate a bit in fear.
Pitch 3: Ball (1-2) – Fastball
Now, let’s say we achieve our goal and they move a little back in the box. Now, think about it. That outside corner of the plate is now much further than normal. And if he backs up, it makes that outside corner strike seem way outside, but in reality, it catches the plate.
Pitch 4: Strike 3 – Fastball
Odds are he will either take it and strike out, or swing and miss since he would have to give a terrible swing to even attempt. And you did it all by throwing a ball.
If you look at stats, 70% of strikeouts on ANY level of baseball are on balls. Not even strikes! Pitchers should use this to their advantage. Make quality pitches and play with the batter’s head. You can test this out in any situation and if I were you, in your next bullpen sessions, start incorporating these methods in. The best way I learned how to make this happen in games is to throw my bullpens with intent. I started by warming up, getting a quick feel for my pitches in all spots, then I ran simulated batters. Not only did this help me hit my spots (and intentionally miss), but it helped me get a good idea of what pitch sequences I should throw. So go out there, throw some balls, extend the zone, and DOMINATE!