The Ultimate Guide to Power, Precision and Long-term Performance
by Nolan Ryan
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Control determines your effectiveness -- whether you're pitching inside or outside. It's really a double-edged sword. When you pitch inside and your location is off, well, two things can happen: either you hit the guy (missing inside) or throw the ball right over the heart of the plate (missing outside). But you run the same risk pitching to the outer half of the plate -- too far out and it's a wild pitch; too far in and the hitter gets a good pitch to drive.
If you do have enough control to throw to both sides of the plate, though, pitching inside will increase the effectiveness of your outside pitches and give you more of the outer part of the strike zone to work with. You don't want a hitter leaning over the plate, anticipating that you're going to throw the ball where he wants it.
Of course, some hitters don't like the outside pitch. This is especially true of righthanded hitters who have short arms and a compact swing. But tall righthanders prefer the ball out over the plate -- they just extend their arms to make contact. And lefthanders look for the ball over the middle, generally down and in. All hitters have their distinct strengths and weaknesses. You can't generalize about a hitter's favorite pitch -- just believe in your ability to get the guy with your best stuff. Don't compromise. It's your move; you have to be the aggressor or you'll lose that mental edge.
Getting ahead in the count is the key to being a winning pitcher. If you can throw strikes right from the get-go, then it makes your job so much easier. Most hitters lose confidence and alter their style in a 1-2 or 0-2 situation. (Wade Boggs is the exception; he'd rather hit with two strikes because it helps him to concentrate, and Wade says he has a better grasp of the strike zone with an 0-2 count. But guys like Boggs are few and far between.)
I like to get ahead of a hitter by starting him off away, especially if it's the first time I've faced him in that particular game. My theory is that you pitch in when you're ahead in the count, and pitch outside when you're behind. Say I have a 2-1 count on Dave Winfield. In that spot Dave is going to look for a ball to pull, something he can drive into the gap in left-center or smack over the fence. So I'll throw the pitch -- whether it's a fastball or curve -- on the outside of the plate to neutralize his power. If I'm ahead 1-2, though, he'll just want to protect the plate and be more likely to look for a pitch away -- that's the perfect time to bust him inside. Is Winfield guessing fastball or curve in this situation? Well, my pitch selection -- and what Winfield expects me to throw -- depends on so many variables: Am I throwing my breaking ball for strikes? What did he do in his last at bat against me? All of our experience with each other goes into these decisions.
Let's say I mess up and Dave hits a long home run over the center-field fence in Arlington Stadium. I can't let the failure of that last pitch to Winfield affect the success of my next pitch to Dante Bichette, Lance Parrish, or whoever is batting behind Dave in the Angels' lineup.
You see young pitchers struggle with this type of situation all the time. One guy gets a rally going with a double ripped down the line. Then, before you know it, the pitcher who gave up the double refuses to throw the ball over the plate, or won't throw that pitch again at all. If you go back and analyze it, the pitch that was tagged was probably a mistake; the pitcher gave his opponent something to hit instead of making a quality pitch to a good location. But if you have confidence in yourself, you'll know those mistakes are the exception rather than the rule, and you'll let yourself make that quality pitch the next time instead of blocking your own success with negative thoughts.
In game five of the 1986 playoffs, for instance, I tossed Darryl Strawberry of the New York Mets a low fastball and he smashed it for a home run to tie the game. Yeah, the pitch was in a good location, down and in. But it was a 3-2 fastball. Strawberry knew that in a one-run game I wouldn't want to walk him, so Darryl was confident that he'd see a fastball. And being a good fastball hitter, he took the best pitch I had to offer, made solid contact, and hit it out of the park.
Now, I can't lose confidence in my fastball just because Darryl Strawberry hit a home run off of it. I had to analyze the game situation and realize that he hit a home run because of his conviction that he was going to get a fastball. If I threw him a change-up for a strike he probably would have swung and missed, but I couldn't take a chance on walking him; if you walk a guy to start off an inning, then the whole way the game is played changes in a hurry. The opposing team has all sorts of options for advancing the base runner into scoring position, and before you know it you're playing catch-up.
If it seems as if everything is going against you (and this happens to the best of us), just step off the mound, take a deep breath, and think about what you're doing -- allow yourself enough time to regroup. I really believe in that. Don't get so wrapped up in the emotional end of things that you lose direction; remember, never let the failure of your last pitch affect the success of your next one.
Copyright © 1991 by Nolan Ryan and Tom House. Excerpted with permission.