Saturday, September 7, 2013

The UCLA Fastball - Pitching up in the strike zone

After watching UCLA pitchers dominate in the 2013 College World Series, my son Henry noticed that they got a lot of hitters to swing at the high fastball – like in Little League.

We refer to the high heater as the UCLA fastball.

At UCLA they refer to the high fastball as the "one spot."

The traditional low fastball can lead to errors

Pitching coaches over the years have emphasized locating pitches low in the strike zone – to induce ground ball outs. But grounders can be difficult to field and players rush the throw, so routine ground ball outs sometimes turn into errors. And hard grounders become infield hits.

So keeping the ball low in the zone to induce ground balls it's always the best strategy.

Mixing in the high fastball yields outs

High fastballs, on the other hand, can lead to swinging strikes, pop-ups or easy fly outs.

This was the case in the recent Little League World Series. Players swung at the high pitches because they looked good to them. While the lower fastballs, over the plate, turned into hard grounders,  line drives or home runs.

With the new bats used in high school and college, fly balls are rarely home runs – they are typically fly outs. Many high school umpires call a high strike zone, but they don't call strikes around the knees – so pitching up in the zone can be a good strategy for pitchers.

Changing Locations

A good approach is to vary the location of the fastball and change where the hitter is looking. That's the strategy that Adam Plutko used while pitching for UCLA.

High fastballs worked for UCLA in the College World Series

UCLA baseball: Adam Plutko bewilders another team

Plutko underwhelms. Teams are tantalized by his high fastball, which mostly results in pop-ups or lazy fly balls. He has 28 career victories and is 2-0 in College World Series play. - Chris Foster, Los Angeles Times

CWS : Plutko pitches UCLA past LSU | Perfect Game USA

"We worked all week on fastballs chest high. We had a pretty good game plan, but when he threw the fastball up, it was hard for our guys to lay off of it," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "I thought we crushed three balls as hard as we could."

The tale of the tape on Plutko is impressive. He induced 13 fly balls and six ground outs in the contest, improving to an astonishing 6-0 in the NCAA postseason in his three-year college career.

From a stuff standpoint, Plutko was his typical self. He threw his fastball anywhere from 88-91, but stayed very much in the strike zone, elevating his pitches and striving for early contact, the exact recipe that has allowed him to become one of the more decorated pitchers in UCLA history.

Throughout UCLA’s 3-1 win in game one of the College World Series finals, Plutko elevated his fastball on purpose to change the eye level of Mississippi State’s hitters.
“A lot of people don’t think I throw fastballs down in the zone. But that’s completely false,” Plutko said. “I throw up in the zone because I throw down in the zone as well. It plays off each other.”
The Bruins call it the “one spot.” It’s an elevated chest-high fastball over the plate.

2013 College World Series - Game Recaps and Box Scores

Locating Up in the Zone – Better for Amateur/Recreational Pitchers

Kyle Boddy of Driveline Baseball makes a case for pitchers locating pitches up in the strike zone, counter to what most coaches teach.

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