We all want to throw 95mph and blow it by hitters, but the truth is that’s not in the cards for most of us. It makes us feel good when we throw a pitch and the hitter swings and misses. It makes us feel even better if we can throw a fastball that the hitter can’t get around on in time; in other words, throwing it by him.
I will say it’s a great mindset to have if you tell yourself that you’re just going to throw it by this particular hitter. It means you’re confident, aggressive, and unafraid of the moment. But hitters will eventually catch up to your fastball if you’re not hitting your location or are struggling with your off-speed. No matter how hard you throw, eventually they’ll get the timing down. Think about the pros. How many times have you seen a hitter turn on a 95+mph pitch and drive it over the fence? Even 100mph? Happens all the time.
Homeruns and hits will happen, it’s just a part of the game. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a “plus” fastball, there are times in a game when the right call is to just rear back and blow it right by the hitter. But for the rest of us, we can’t always get away with that. This is why our goal shouldn’t be to miss the bat, it should be to miss the barrel of the bat.
The barrel of the bat is where the sweet spot is, so if a hitter connects with the ball on the sweet spot then it will most likely be a hard hit. A hitter’s goal is to hit the ball hard which is why they want to square it up on the barrel. When the ball is hit hard consistently, you have a better chance of getting on base. As pitchers, our job is to do what we can to prevent the hitter from hitting the ball hard. Simple concept, right? As usual, easier a=said than done.
So what does “Miss the Barrel” mean? It’s a mindset. We’ll talk more in depth later about why movement on pitches is so important, but it ties into this idea we’re discussing. We want to throw pitches that can move to make it more difficult for the hitter to hit it on the barrel. For example, a hard fastball that is coming straight into the zone is easier to hit than a fastball that’s moving left or right and/or sinking (changing planes). The idea is we want to try and develop late movement on our pitches. The later the pitch moves, the more difficult it is for the hitter to make an adjustment and square it up. Remember, we want the hitter to put the ball in play. That’s why you have a team behind you; their job is to make plays and help keep runners off the bases. If the hitter puts the ball in play but didn’t hit it on the barrel, it makes it easier for our team to make those plays. Besides, if you try to throw it by every hitter and try to strike them all out, your pitch count is going to be a lot higher a lot sooner.
Think about it this way. If you strike a guy out, that means you have to throw 3 pitches at a minimum. In order to get 1 out, you have to throw a minimum of just ONE pitch. We save our arm when hitters put the ball in play within the first 3 pitches which is why a good goal to keep in mind when facing a hitter should be to get him out in 3 pitches or less. If that’s our goal, it means we are focused on making quality pitches and trying to get hitters to get themselves out, rather than trying to just strike them out. It also helps keep the tempo of the game going and keeps your teammates behind you more involved in the game. Your teammates like making plays for you, so let them. That’s what they’re there for.
You may be thinking that it’s easy for you to just throw it by guys since you have an above average arm and that maybe your team makes too many errors so you don’t want the ball to be put in play. We’ve all been there. The longer you play the game of the baseball, the better the hitters are going to get and the better your defense behind you is going to get. A good team trusts each guy to do his job and by pitching to contact, you’re telling your team you believe in them to make the plays. Sometimes that’s all it takes to make a team better, the belief in each other.
So remember, the goal is to miss the barrel. Some people say pitch to contact, which I don’t disagree with, but we want to eliminate hard contact. We want the guy to hit it off the end of the bat or closer to the handle, to hit the top part of the ball or get to much underneath it. The idea is to make the game easier for us as we are always looking for ways to simply the game. We’ve all been in the position where we told ourselves on the mound that we don’t want to let the hitter hit the ball, that we need to strike him out. Not true. We want him to hit the ball. The advantage is on our side. Depending on the level you’re competing at, a good hitter is hitting .300. That means he is getting out 70% of the time. I’ll take those odds any day of the week. Make him put the ball in play.
Do what you can to miss the barrel. The focus is on throwing strikes with movement to prevent the hitter from squaring the ball up. If you can do that, I guarantee you will start seeing yourself pitch deeper into the game. We all want to pitch more innings, right? The game will move faster. Hitters will get more frustrated. Your teammates will love when you’re on the mound and when the team believes in you, they suddenly start playing better for you.