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Pitching Strategy – Inside or Outside the Plate

Pitching strategies in baseball, particularly the decision between pitching inside or outside, involve a combination of physical skill, psychological tactics, and strategic acumen.

Here’s where the strategy deepens. Imagine the plate as a territory to be conquered. If you, as a pitcher, only claim the outer half, batters will adjust, lean over, and start invading your space. That’s why dominating both the inside and outside of the plate is crucial. It’s like a chess game; you need to be two steps ahead of the batter.


The Power of Inside Pitches: Establishing Dominance

Throwing inside – near the batter’s body – is not just about aiming for strikes. It’s a psychological tool. It tells the batter, “I own this plate.” When you throw a fastball – or as we like to say, ‘gas’ – inside, even if it’s not a strike, you’re sending a message. This approach isn’t about intimidation; it’s about establishing presence and control.

The Case for Pitching Inside

  1. Essential for Pitchers: Expert opinion strongly suggests that pitchers must throw inside consistently and with purpose. Limiting oneself to only one side of the plate can severely disadvantage a pitcher and limit their potential​​.
  2. Overcoming Fear of Hitting the Batter: Pitchers often avoid inside pitches due to the fear of hitting the batter. However, hitting batters is an accepted part of the game, and it can psychologically impact the batter and their teammates, making them more cautious and opening up the outside half of the plate for attacks​​.
  3. Predictability and Control: By only pitching outside, pitchers become predictable, allowing good hitters to adjust. Pitching inside, on the other hand, enlarges the strike zone, changes the hitter’s perspective, and makes the inside fastball appear faster than the outside one​​.
  4. Balancing Inside and Outside Pitches: It’s crucial not to over-rely on either inside or outside pitches. Varying pitch location between inside and outside, as well as alternating between fastballs and off-speed pitches, can significantly confuse batters and give pitchers a considerable advantage

Crowding the Plate

In baseball, ‘crowding the plate’ is a tactic used by batters to gain an advantage. When a batter stands unusually close to home plate, it can present various challenges for the pitcher.

This position can shrink the strike zone, making it harder for the pitcher to throw strikes, and it can give the batter a better reach for outside pitches, turning what would be balls into potential hits.

Thus, pitchers facing batters who crowd the plate must adjust their strategies. This situation can be intimidating, as it increases the risk of hitting the batter with the pitch, which would allow the batter to advance to first base. However, there are effective ways to counter this tactic.

Strategies to Counter Crowding

  1. Inside Pitches: One strategy is to reclaim the inside part of the plate. Throwing pitches on the inside corner can push the batter back and reestablish control over the strike zone. It’s a delicate balance, though, as pitchers must avoid hitting the batter.
  2. Breaking Balls: Utilizing breaking balls, like sliders or curveballs that start inside and break away, can deceive the batter. These pitches can tempt the batter to swing at what initially appears to be an inside pitch, only for the ball to move out of reach.
  3. Changing Eye Levels: Mixing up pitches high and low can disrupt the batter’s rhythm and comfort at the plate. This variation makes it difficult for the batter to settle into a consistent hitting stance.
  4. Fastballs High and Away: Throwing high and away fastballs can exploit the batter’s position. Since the batter is closer to the plate, reaching a high and away pitch becomes more challenging.

Mental Aspect

Pitchers must maintain their composure and confidence when facing a batter who crowds the plate. It’s as much a psychological battle as it is a physical one. Staying focused on the game plan and not being intimidated by the batter’s stance is crucial.

Golden Zone – The Outside Corner

The ‘outside corner’ of the plate is often seen as the golden zone for pitchers. Why? Because it’s tough for batters to reach and make solid contact.

However, pitching exclusively to the outside corner is like playing the same note on a guitar – soon, it becomes predictable.

The Case for Pitching Outside

  1. Higher Percentage of Pitches: A significant number of pitches, including 98% of off-speed pitches and over half of fastballs, are intended to be away from the batter. Some pitchers may even throw up to 90% of their fastballs outside​​.
  2. Avoiding Hits and Home Runs: Pitchers often avoid throwing inside due to the fear of hitting the batter, giving up easy hits (especially with an aluminum bat), or conceding home runs​​.
  3. Batters’ Adaptation: Hitters often expect pitches on the outer half, making it easier for them to adjust to inside pitches rather than the other way around​​.
  4. Pitching Around a Hitter: This strategy involves throwing balls just outside the strike zone, either to induce the batter to swing at a bad pitch or to intentionally walk them. This approach is particularly useful when the defense can afford an extra base runner​​.
  5. Fastball Location and Movement: Pitchers like Max Scherzer use a combination of fastball location and movement, along with off-speed pitches, to prevent batters from leaning over the plate. This disrupts the hitters’ timing and reduces their ability to hit the ball forcefully

Practical Tips for Pitchers

  1. Practice Makes Perfect: Work on inside and outside pitches equally. Use bullpen sessions to hone this skill.
  2. Mental Game: Understand that pitching inside is not about hitting the batter, but about owning the plate.
  3. Control is Key: Aim for precision. A wild inside pitch can be dangerous, but a well-placed one is a strategic weapon.
  4. Read the Batter: If you notice the batter leaning or crowding the plate, it’s time to switch things up.
  5. Develop a Routine: Find a pre-pitch routine that helps you focus and stay calm on the mound.

Coaching Advice

Building up your pitchers’ confidence is very important, especially when it comes to throwing inside pitches – it’s a big deal and they’ve got to be good at it. At the same time, it’s all about pitching safely and in control. You know, keeping things in check.

Practice makes perfect, right? So, throw them into scrimmage games where they can try out these skills in a setting that feels like the real deal. And hey, don’t forget to keep the pep talks coming! Pitching inside can be a bit of a head game, so your pitchers will need all the positive vibes and guidance they can get.

Closing Thoughts

The evidence points to a holistic strategy in baseball pitching, one that skillfully incorporates both inside and outside pitches, as the most effective approach. Pitching outside, a common and sometimes effective tactic, must be balanced with the crucial act of pitching inside. This dual approach not only expands the perceived strike zone but also injects a layer of unpredictability and mental challenge for the batter.

Such a strategy expands the batter’s range of challenges, complicating their ability to anticipate and connect effectively with the ball. It’s a dynamic that especially young players and coaches should embrace as a rich learning opportunity. Each pitch contributes to the intricate tapestry of a baseball career, demanding continuous practice, unwavering confidence, and a strategic mindset aimed at outmaneuvering the batter. In baseball, as in many aspects of life, striking the right balance is key.

It’s widely acknowledged that the outer corner is a pitcher’s prime target. However, over-reliance on outside pitches can backfire, as batters might start anticipating these throws, adjusting their stance to make contact. Commanding both the inside and outside territories of the plate becomes essential in maintaining a batter’s imbalance.

Effectively throwing close to a batter, whether it results in a strike or a ball, can strategically clear the way for exploiting the outer half of the plate. It’s important to address a common concern among youth pitchers: the fear of hitting a batter. Coaches play a vital role in reinforcing the understanding that it is the batter’s responsibility to evade such pitches, not the pitcher’s burden to avoid them.