Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Game strategies for a switch pitcher

Coaches typically don't have a good strategy on how to use a switch pitcher in games – since they are so rare. It's easy to develop a strategy if you treat an ambidextrous thrower like two different pitchers. Here are a few strategies for ambidextrous pitchers that will work in games.

Little League Switch Pitcher ...
Throw Strikes ...
A young ambidextrous thrower should be able to throw at least 50% strikes with both arms before pitching in a game. I prefer the 60% strike average. Remember the goal is to get outs, not to walk the bases loaded.

Game Strategy
Pitch from one side only in a game to gain experience and maintain a rhythm. Use a standard fielding glove for pitching (ambidextrous gloves are too large and heavy for young pitchers).
This strategy keeps things simple and allows the pitcher to focus on throwing hard and in the zone. 
If the pitcher struggles to throw strikes or get outs, then they could try switching to the other arm (if their head is still in the game and they still want to pitch). 
Note: Switching arms between every batter will disrupt a pitcher's rhythm and is a waste of time for youth pitchers. Remember, pitching is not a circus act. Respect the game.

High School Switch Pitcher ...
A HS switch pitcher can be treated like two different pitchers – a starter and a closer. Because of their ability to throw strikes and get outs, ambidextrous pitchers are likely to throw a complete  game.

It's very important to warm up properly, with both arms, prior to taking the mound

Since HS batters often struggle to hit off of good left-handed pitchers, I recommend starting out the game throwing lefty. Throwing lefty also works well for keeping runners from stealing second base (if you have a good pickoff).
In a game: The coach can have the switch pitcher throw to the entire lineup left-handed, then switch to the right arm when the opponent gets to the top of the order. This way batters aren't able to figure out the pitcher.

This strategy works well for switch pitcher Henry Knight, who pitched on varsity since his freshman year. He averaged 76% strikes in his junior year and had a 12:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

By staying with one side at a time for an entire inning, the switch pitcher gets in a grove and acquires valuable game experience with the non-dominant arm. If the pitcher struggles to get outs, then they can switch to the dominant arm and be their own relief pitcher.

Another strategy is to pitch the first four or five innings lefty, then throw the last few innings right-handed. Or throw 3 innings lefty, then 3 innings righty, and have another pitcher close  the 7-inning game.

College Switch Pitcher ...

At the college level, ambidextrous pitchers are used as a starter, or middle reliever. 

In a game, a college switch pitcher will typically pitch an inning with one arm only, since it's easier to warmup one side. 

Occasionally, starters will face right-handed batters as a right-handed pitcher; and lefty batters as a lefty pitcher. Relief pitchers will rely on the platoon advantage to get outs.

Some pitchers will alternate games throwing lefty and righty, depending on the number of pitches thrown.

Pro Switch Pitcher ...

At this advanced level, ambidextrous pitchers will mainly be used in relief to get outs.

In a game, skilled switch pitchers face right-handed batters as a right-handed pitcher; and lefty batters as a lefty pitcher. They do a warm up routine before throwing both ways in the bullpen.

On coaching Pat Venditte

Pat Venditte, successful right-handed and left-handed pitcher for the Double-A Trenton Thunder, presents a significant matchup problem for any opposing manager in the late innings of a game. ...

But if he confounds opposing managers, Venditte's own pitching coach in Trenton, Tommy Phelps, has a much easier solution to instructing the switch-pitcher. He just treats coaching Venditte like coaching two separate pitchers.
"Exactly," Phelps told me as we spoke just outside the Thunder video room Tuesday afternoon, prior to Trenton's game against New Britain. "I treat it as two different deliveries, two different pitchers. You know, in his case, his keys for one side may be different than the other side. So I treat them both totally different."

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