When Ray Miller was the Orioles' pitching coach he used to say his pitchers needed to "work fast, change speeds and throw strikes." Now that Rick Peterson has taken over as the Orioles' director of pitching development, that phrase could become "work down and get quick outs."
Peterson can cite plenty of stats that will show Orioles pitchers the benefits of keeping their pitches low in the strike zone this year.
"Our pitching philosophy is, No. 1, to pitch to the bottom of the strike zone," he said. "The batting average in the big leagues at the bottom of the strike zone over the last decade is .220. No. 2, it's ending an at-bat in three pitches or less before a two-ball count, and/or, if not, that we have a two-strike count putting us in a position of advantage. All two-strike batting averages in the big leagues are under .200 with the exception of 3-2, which is about .210 or .220.
"If you look at the premier pitchers in the game, their batting averages (down in the zone) get as low as .170, .160, .150. When Tim Lincecum won the Cy Young in 2009, his batting average at the bottom of the zone was .117, off the charts.
"It is critical to pitch to the bottom of the strike zone, especially early in the count to get ahead. Obviously, you can expand up once you get two strikes, hopefully getting guys to chase pitches."
The veteran of 12 seasons as a major league pitching coach with Oakland, the New York Mets and Milwaukee said there are ways pitchers can improve their efficiency in keeping the ball down.
"First of all, you clean up their delivery, allowing them to get to the bottom of the zone," Peterson said. "One of the drills we have is our pitchers pitch up the backside of the mound. They actually pitch uphill. By pitching uphill, it's an overload effect that forces you to keep your stride length intact and you soften your front knee at contact and it helps you get your release point more out in front to get to the bottom of the zone more efficiently.
"We want pitchers to refine their deliveries and philosophically, I'll use the analogy, get their black belt in the pitching delivery so that they've mastered and can repeat their release point to execute quality pitches.
"We are putting an emphasis on more of the changeup over breaking balls. We still want breaking balls and plus curveballs and sliders and some cutters. But the emphasis is fastball-changeup."
The Orioles recently put 38 of their pitchers through biomechanical analysis and Peterson said he is just now getting the results of that testing. He gets DVDs with a full report on each pitcher.
"After we get the results, we can sit down with the player and give them feedback and lay out a plan. Give them some adjustments based on the analysis that will be vital to help them optimize their performance," he said.
Peterson believes that are a lot of major league pitchers out there with inefficient deliveries and that is not surprising to him.
"A very high percentage and that is normal," Peterson said. "When you look at biomechanical analysis you see a lot of issues that can be modified. If you have seen PITCHf/x reports, they will show a big league pitcher and where his release point is. When you see guys that are really good, there is a small cluster of their release point. They have a consistent release point.
"One of the very bottom lines in effective pitching delivery is that at foot contact your arm needs to be in proper position, you need to be on time. It's a yes or no, black or white. You are or you're not. If you are late, that cluster of your PITCHf/x reports will be all over the place. That will also put you at risk of injury."
Peterson is confident that if the biomechanical analysis suggests that a pitcher needs to make some adjustments that it can be done and that it will not take very long.
"They can be made very quickly once you go through a series of drills that put you in proper position on a consistent basis. Let's say you were 20 pounds overweight and your diet was poor. How quickly, if you cleaned up your diet and got on a conditioning program, within 30 days you could see a noticeable difference. Very similar concept here." he said.
Coming later today: Peterson talks about the mental side of the game and pitch counts for minor league hurlers.
Minor league guy: I guess at first glance and maybe even second or third, this is funny. A regional TV network identified a minor league player as "minor league guy" on the screen Saturday.
But what it really is, is unprofessional and lazy. There are a lot of changes in spring training games, but it is their jobs to keep up with them. Then we come to find out it was one of the Cardinals top prospects.
At that point I don't imagine it was too funny to the player's family or the Cardinals organization.