Keep It Simple: Hit the Glove
By Rick Peterson
Pitching coach, Oakland Athletics
Youth coaches might believe there is a long list of sophisticated secrets that a major league pitching coach knows and imparts to his players. To be sure, there are numerous tiny adjustments an experienced coach can make with veteran pitchers. But primarily, the advice coaches should give their youth and high school pitchers is the same advice I give the staff of the Oakland Athletics: Hit the Glove.
Sounds easy enough. See the target and throw the pitch to it. But it is much more difficult to do consistently than might be imagined. The reason is that there are numerous distractions for a pitcher, distractions that take the pitcher's focus away from simply hitting the glove.
I have a starter on this year's Athletics who battles this concept constantly. He possesses all the fundamental skills: His mechanics are fine, he has developed good pitches, he has the stuff. He holds runners and fields his position well. He is in great physical condition. He long tosses, does rotator cuff exercises and lifts weights. He tells me, "My arm is fine. I feel good." I tell him, "You're not paid to feel good. You're paid to hit the glove."
His problem is mental and emotional discipline. The object is to focus on one pitch at a time and hit the glove. But he is out there trying to figure out what is the problem. What's wrong? His mind wanders away from the immediate goal and becomes his worst enemy. During his bullpen sessions during off days as well as pre-game, he is on the glove. Only in the game does that change. So when a coach sees a pitcher accomplish a task in a certain environment, then fail to accomplish the task in another environment, it's time to look at the environment.
A lot of people feel that if a pitcher has a good delivery, he'll hit the glove. Not really. A pitcher will have a better chance of hitting the glove and will stay healthy, but handling the pressure and not losing focus is aside from sound mechanics. A pitcher must reflect and recall times when he was hitting glove. When you are in a groove, when you are in that zone, when you are hitting glove, how do you pitch? What are your thoughts? Your thoughts are on hitting glove. So why would you think about anything else?
With a major league pitcher, sometimes a coach can be more forceful. I've said: "If your foot is on the rubber and your thoughts are on anything else but hitting the glove, you need to do something else. This year, I told the following to my pitcher who is having problems: "Let's pretend there is a rule change in baseball. Our pitcher will go in direct competition with the other pitcher for 15 pitches an inning. If you hit the glove, you get one point. If you miss the glove out of the strike zone, it's no point. If you miss over the middle of the plate, it's minus two points. What would your focus be then? Hit the glove."
A game is no different than that fictitious contest. Another way of putting it is to focus on the process (hitting the glove) rather than the outcome (getting the hitter out). So his solution is the accomplish the task. Focus on what he does when things are going well. As a coach, I avoid using the word "don't." Rather than tell a pitcher, "Don't walk this guy," I say, "Hit the glove."
I'll say it again: Hit the Glove!