Sunday, November 06, 2005

Forget Uncle Charlie

Now I had two smelly overweight scouts crowding me behind home plate. Dallas glided his 6’5”, 230 pound frame into a cadence that was ready to eat innings. Although he was sluggish in the pen, his arm began to look more lively and fluid which each new pitch. On the surface, his mechanics were smooth, effortless and consistent from one pitch to another. His delivery was at high three-quarter angle with pretty much the same release point every time

Through two innings of work, I could tell he had about five pitches: Heater, cutter, sinker, curve, and splitter. His heater had a tendency to ride high in the zone from time to time. Both his cutter and sinker painted each of the corners nicely. The splitter was extra special since it came out looking like a fastball until it dropped off the table causing the batter to contort in ways you thought were humanly impossible. His curve, however, was very unpredictable control-wise and needed the most work.

I was happy to see Diego giving him fits. Dallas eventually struck him out but not before a nine pitch battle. I’ve known for a long time that Diego had a hole on the inside about waist high. Dallas finally threw enough pitches to find it with a sinker. I guess you could say that Dallas had won the battle but Diego won the war.

After just two innings of work, it was obvious that Dallas had thrown way too many pitches. 48 to be exact. He was routinely falling behind in the count which put added pressure on him to throw strikes. At first, it looked like he wasn't going to handle the pressure. He would punch the ball into his glove, kick the rubber in frustration, and blow off several choice expletives. But after a while, I noticed that his anger was a source of motivation. It also seemed to intensify his concentration. He was able to deliver the strike when he needed it. There was no question that he got better instead of worse under pressure.

Unfortunately, my radar gun told a slightly different story. Dallas was taking something off his pitch to get the location he needed. His heater dropped to around 87 MPH. In essence, he was trying to place the ball tentatively instead of attacking the plate with confidence. The two other scouts noticed it as well. A certain kiss of death at the next level.

But at this level, he had only given up two hits, two walks, and no runs. The third and fourth innings were pretty much a repeat with slightly less pitches thrown. Nevertheless, Dallas had thrown a total of 91 pitches through four innings. His coach did the right thing and sat him down for good when he came back to the dugout. No sense wasting his arm. Through four innings, he had given up four hits, three walks, and one run. It was Diego who actually lined a curve ball to the right field corner scoring a man who had previously hit a single but stole second.

To me, the catcher called too many curve balls early in the count. Dallas should have called off the curve and thrown his heater. All four hits came off his curve ball. He had plenty of motion but zero deception. In fact, I’ll have the check the video to confirm this, but I believe he was raising his elbow causing a higher release point. If a batter sees a different release point and knows a curve is coming, it’s a huge advantage.

The good news is that movement and secondary pitches can be tweaked and taught. Velocity on the other hand, is something you’re born with. Fortunately for Dallas, his genetic code registered a 94 MPH fastball. Unfortunately for me, the name “Dallas Parker” will be spreading much faster than that.

"It is better to throw a theoretically poorer pitch whole-heartedly, than to throw the so-called right pitch with feeling of doubt..." --Sandy Koufax, in A Thinking Man's Guide to Baseball by Leonard Koppett.


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