Any business consultant advising a potential client will advise that the first  – and most important decision they will make in the process of starting up – is the location of their business. Where will you generate the most traffic? 

Pitching in the major leagues successfully is like that too. It’s not the velocity of the pitch, it’s the location of the pitch that matters. Nearly all hitters who reach the big leagues can turn on a 100mph fastball if it’s in their wheelhouse and the best hitters can do it even if the pitch is not in that zone but still catches the meat of the plate.

The difference though for a pitcher then, unlike a business , is that he wants and needs to be out of “traffic” in areas of the strike zone that fall in what’s known as “the black” part of the plate. Easier said than done.image

In July of last year, I wrote a column titled The Lost Art Of Pitching that received some attention but did not delve deeply enough into the subject matter. So today, let’s look deeper because what our eyes and hearts see is not often what you get when it comes to successful pitching and pitchers……..

As always, a look back brings us to a better understanding of the present. Warren Spahn (363 wins – the most everimage for a lefty) and Whitey Ford ( 236 wins and a.690 career winning percentage), both in the Hall of Fame, rarely threw even a 90 mph fastball.  Over the span of their careers, they faced the likes of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, and Stan Musial. They did not have overpowering “stuff “, instead they had pitching savvy.

Today, a high school or college pitcher who doesn’t hit 90 on the gun is not even looked at as a potential draftee. Hit 95 and they line up in droves with their checkbook out and a ready pen in hand. The prevailing thinking is that we can teach him how to pitch, but right now we want his arm. Except for one thing…….you can’t always do that. 

Because for many, for once a thrower always a thrower. Take, for instance, Noah Syndergaard one of my favorites imagein all of baseball today.  According to, he averaged 95 on the gun for 60% of his pitches in 2015. Quite impressive and he continues to light it up this year adding a nasty 93mph biting slider that according to George Brett, “Nobody can hit, including myself “.

But the question here is this. Noah Syndergaard is 23……. What is he learning today that will enable him to pitch with the authority he has now when he is 32……or 40 when the sheer power of his pitches is no longer there………or will he have to start all over again like imagesay a CC Sabathia who continues to struggle because he (simply) never took the time to learn how to pitch. Everything was easy when he was blowing hitters away with 95 heat. Not so much anymore when he is ranked  number 63 out of 77 starters in the major leagues in average velocity last year.

On the flip side though, we have Bartolo Colon and Mark Buehrle, both of whom have won more than 200 games in their careers ranking in the lowest five of all starters in terms of the average velocity of each pitch they threw last year. This is not rocket science……these guys have learned the art of pitching. They paint corners and they change speeds of pitches on the fly. It comes instinctively to them. And by the way, last year’s NL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel is near the bottom of that list too.

But it’s not as if someone anointed them when they reached a certain age and their abilities to throw hard vanished…… And suddenly they became what they are now…….hardly so……they saw the challenge and they gripped it before it gripped them while recognizing the need to adapt to changing circumstances.

Unless you imageare a physical phenomenon like Nolan Ryan who still clocked 95 on the radar gun when he retired in his mid forties, the need to adjust as the aging process goes on should be apparent to any athlete. 

Just today, an article discussing the continued struggles of former Cy Young winner Adam Wainwright appeared in Bleacher Report . And what’s the reason given for his ongoing demise…….you guessed it……..a loss of velocity. Here’s an excerpt……

“Wainwright didn’t suddenly start lighting up the gun against Cincinnati, but he did take a step forward. And given that a fastball at 91-ish miles per hour and a cutter at 87-ish miles per hour is right about imagewhere Wainwright was with his heat in 2014 and 2015, that’ll do for a sign of progress.”

“Trouble is, though, this velocity spike didn’t do Wainwright much good. He went into Saturday’s start with a whiff rate of just 6 percent and a strikeout rate of 10 percent. Only six of his 74 pitches (8.1 percent) against the Reds drew whiffs, and he struck out two of the 27 batters he faced (7.4 percent)”.

So much gobblygook. Whatever happened to what I used to incessantly hear from my high school coach when my pitching line read nine strikeouts and six walks……”Damn it Contursi, make ’em hit the ball “. Well, I never did and it didn’t get me very far, did it? 

imageHowever, I do remember the surge of adrenaline that came when I pumped a high hard one past the best batter in their lineup. And maybe that’s the problem.  Velocity and strikeouts is what packs the ballpark on a day Matt Harvey is pitching , as opposed to the likes of a Bartolo Colon who makes the hitters hit the ball where it can usually be fielded.

Still, there comes a time when a pitcher needs to make a choice and either learn how to pitch or continue on in the hope that the loss in velocity is only a temporary thing, when in fact it almost always is not………




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