Thursday, May 18, 2017

Does the pitch count double for a switch pitcher?

Question:

Do you know if there are USSSA rules allowing a pitcher to throw a certain amount of innings with one arm, and start over the inning count with the other in a different game possibly? Or has that been looked into by the larger youth baseball organizations?

A: Typically, the pitch limit is per pitcher, not each arm. So, a Little League ambidextrous pitcher has the same pitch count as any other pitcher (the count does not double). This is true for most leagues that I have researched.

Advice: Stick with the standard pitch count in youth leagues. This is the safe approach.

Comment: I like to see a few kids pitch in games, rather than one pitcher. Kids enjoy a chance to pitch in a game, even for one or two innings.

As a coach, it was a better strategy to rotate pitchers and keep the arms fresh. It also kept the hitters off balance when they had to adjust to a new pitcher. Once hitters see a pitcher a second or third time in a game, then hitting becomes easier.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

How Henry Knight learned to throw with both hands

Henry Knight - Ambidextrous Pitcher

Switch pitcher Henry Knight - Columbia City Reds, Seattle


Switch pitcher Henry Knight was a starter on varsity for four years in high school. He threw six different pitches, for strikes with both arms, and posted a league best
12:1 Strikeout-to-Walk ratio.

Coaches and umpires couldn't tell if he was a natural righty or lefty.

This post is about Henry's experience learning to throw with both arms since he was 9 years-old.


Reason for Switch Pitching: Just for fun

How he got started:

A natural righty, Henry Knight started throwing left-handed when he turned 9-years-old. As a Seattle Mariners fan, he was inspired by LHP Jamie Moyer, who kept batters off-balance by changing speed and location. He threw a slow "Bugs Bunny changeup" that made the best hitters look silly. Moyer was  fun to watch.

Henry thought that it would be fun to face batters as a left-handed pitcher – like Moyer, so he asked for a lefty baseball glove for his birthday and that's when it all started.

Note: Most ambidextrous throwers start when they are three to five years old, not by choice, but are  encouraged to throw with both arms by their dad. Some natural left-handers start throwing right handed so they can play shortstop or catcher. A few players start throwing with their non-dominant arm after an injury to their natural throwing arm. Billy Wagner, a natural righty, broke his arm twice when young, then started throwing left-handed.

Knight pitching lefty
Making practice fun

Initially, Henry practiced throwing balls left-handed into a large bucket at home – trying to hit the bucket in 8 out of 10 throws. He also made a game of knocking down water bottles lined up by a fence. The  target practice made a game of learning to throw lefty and helped Henry to develop accurate throws.

Switch hitting made ambidextrous throwing easier to learn

He was already a natural switch hitter, since 5-years-old, so throwing from both sides was not that difficult to learn. Henry started throwing left-handed two or three times a week in the off-season. This allowed him to rest his dominant right arm for several months, which is recommended by physical therapists.


Pitching Lessons

Once Henry could throw well with both hands, he thought that it was time to take lessons, so he signed up for a pitching clinic at Bellevue College.

Coach Mark Yoshino, a former lefty pitcher, taught Henry proper throwing mechanics, pitching grips, throwing drills, plus how to change speeds and location. Several college players worked with the pitchers on throwing drills, including how to throw long toss.

Henry participated in the clinic as a left-handed pitcher and the coaches said that he looked like a  natural lefty. The pitching clinic motivated Henry to work hard on throwing with both hands.


Proper Warmup is Very Important!

Pitchers learned dynamic warmups and arm exercises to get ready to throw. Coaches stressed the importance of proper warmup before throwing a baseball. Warmup to throw – not throw to warmup.

Knight pitching right-handed

Practice, Practice, Practice

After six months of regular practice, Henry became proficient at pitching with both arms (70% strikes). On flat-ground, he practiced throwing his four-seam fastball, 2-seamer, and change-up with the same arm speed.

He also threw long-toss twice a week – using all three grips.

Advanced Pitching Lessons

In the offseason, Henry was ready to learn how to throw a breaking ball. His dad wanted him to learn a safe way to throw a curveball, so he would not strain his arm like other kids in the league. After researching options, he decided to take a class from Pete Wilkinson - a local pitching expert. Pete taught Henry how to safely throw a curveball and locate a changeup.

More importantly, Henry learned how to make adjustments on the mound, so that he could be his own pitching coach.

Throwing a Breaking Ball

Although Henry learned to throw a curveball when he was 13, he didn't start using the curve in games until his junior year in high school. A college coach encouraged Henry to work on developing his fastball & changeup from both sides, and wait until high school to throw the curveball.  Tyler Davis, an All-American college pitcher, said it would be better to focus on throwing hard, and work on developing a changeup using the same arm speed.

Throwing Hard Daily

In the offseason, Henry focused on throwing hard every day and using the same arm speed with different pitching grips. Playing "burn out" was one of his favorite activities.

Controlling the Glove Side

One important lesson was how to control the glove-side in order to make accurate throws. Many young players yank the glove sideways or way behind their back, causing the shoulder to rotate early which can lead to inconsistent throws or wild pitches. By controlling the glove arm, a pitcher can really improve their pitch location.


Be Your Own Pitching Coach  

   Throw strikes!  Just play catch!  Relax! 

In Little League, I often hear parents and fans yelling instructions to the struggling pitcher. This sideline coaching is distracting and doesn't help the pitcher to throw strikes. 

A better strategy is to learn to be your own pitching coach. Learning how to make simple adjustments on the mound helps a pitcher to consistently throw strikes. 

By using self coaching techniques, Henry was able to throw 75% strikes and consistently locate pitches in the strike zone.


Two Pitchers in One

I would suggest to develop two slightly different pitching styles from each side. Henry would try to emulate Jamie Moyer from the left side, and Greg Maddox from the right. His overall strategy was to throw first-pitch-strikes and put the ball in play (weak contact) to keep the count down. Find out for yourself what pitching style and arm slot works best. 


Throwing BP

During the regular season, Henry helps to throw batting practice (BP) from both sides. This experience gives him confidence facing some good right- and left-handed hitters.


Pitching in Games

First Start as a Switch Pitcher

Henry got his first start as a lefty pitcher, in Pony League, when he was 10-years-old and retired the first three batters. The next inning, he switched gloves to throw right-handed and did not give up any runs. Players where yelling "Watch the new pitcher!" when Henry was warming up in the second inning. 

Gloves and Pitching Strategy

Six-finger ambidextrous glove
Until recently, Henry used two separate gloves for pitching left- and right-handed. The first inning of a game he would use his left hand to pitch, then the following inning he would switch to throw right-handed. The league only allowed 10 year-old players to throw up to two innings per game (no pitch count rule).

If he struggled throwing left-handed, then his coach would call time and bring the other glove to the mound so that Henry could pitch right-handed. Being his own reliever was a great way to get out of a jam and build confidence.

During his second season of pitching left-handed, he worked on hitting the corners and started striking out more batters. The low inside change-up was very effective against right-handed batters. His approach is to locate the ball low in the strikezone, change speeds, and use movement to keep hitters off-balance.


Pitching in High School

Henry Knight made the varsity baseball team as a freshman and pitches against the best players in the state. As a sophomore he only gave up one earned run throwing left-handed and posted 22 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched.

As a relief pitcher on varsity, he tallied a 2-0 record.

In the off-season, Henry worked out regularly with high-velocity pitchers at Driveline Baseball in Puyallup. Kyle Boddy worked with Henry to develop a custom throwing and arm care routine for an ambidextrous pitcher. The program included a long warmup routine, workouts with weighted implements, long toss,  focused bullpens, video analysis and post throwing arm care. Henry also threw hard daily, on flat ground, alternating days throwing right- and left-handed. This throwing program kept him in shape and healthy throughout the season.

Over four years on varsity, Henry posted a 12:1 Strikeout-to-Walk Ratio
Now that's having command of his pitches.


Pitching Highlight

In the summer league, he threw 11 innings in a game as a switch pitcher, allowing only one earned run while throwing 94 strikes.


Knight threw nine scoreless innings with 87% first pitch strikes.




..

Switch Pitcher
In baseball, a switch-pitcher is an ambidextrous pitcher who is able to pitch with both the right and left hand from the pitcher's mound. (Wikipedia)
...

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Double take - Venditte's debut with the Ms

Throwback to 2016...

Call to arms: Ambidextrous Venditte shines in debut

By Greg Johns / MLB.com | @gregjohnsmlb | August 30th, 2016
Acquired from Toronto in early August and promoted from Triple-A on Saturday, Venditte impressed in his first foray with the Mariners.
"You want to show these guys that you can get outs," he said. "When you come in throwing with both hands, for the guys that haven't seen you before, you want to show them that you're here to win. They'll see what I'm about the next month here, but to get off on the right foot was big."
Manager Scott Servais certainly liked what he saw in the 54-pitch outing from his versatile new reliever.
"Venditte did a great job mixing and matching and doing what he does," Servais said. "It's pretty remarkable when you sit there and watch how he does it."

Friday, February 24, 2017

Mizuki Akatsuka - Switch pitcher in Japan


Mizuki Akatsuka

Rare switch pitcher and switch hitter from Japan.


Rikkyo University in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan.
(freshman in 2017)

Age 19

Pitches: fastball, off-speed, and breaking ball

Velocity: 140 kph or 87 mph right-handed; 135 kph or 84 mph left-handed

Dominant arm: right

Glove: 6-finger custom glove like Pat Venditte

Goal: Mizuki Akatsuka wants to be the first ever switch-pitcher, and switch-hitter to play in Nippon Professional Baseball,


Japan has a college player that can switch-pitch, and also switch-hit

Image result for 年生になる赤塚瑞樹 バッティング
Mizuki Akatsuka.
Ambidextrous pitchers are very hard to come by these days, let alone stay committed with it for quite a long time… but doing both switch-pitching, and switch-hitting at the same time? Now that is pretty much out of this world. But, nope, not anymore! Because in Japan, we have Mizuki Akatsuka (19 years of age) that can do all of that. Akatsuka is in college right now (first-year student), currently attending in Rikkyo University that is located in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Why are switch hitters rare?

Henry Knight switch hitting in the Mickey Mantle state tournament.
(composite photo by Tim Knight)
Switch hitters are rare in baseball, especially at the youth level, 
since it takes extra work.

Hitting is not easy. In fact, hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in sports.

Switch hitting takes coordination, balance,  and practice to develop the skill.

Switch hitters need to take a lot of quality swings from both sides – facing right- and left-handers – to become good.

What did Mickey do?

"My dad taught me to switch-hit. He and my grandfather, who was left-handed, pitched to me everyday after school in the back yard. I batted lefty against my dad and righty against my granddad."

Mickey Mantle, Hall of Fame switch hitter



Switch hitter vs Switch pitcher

One issue for a switch pitcher is what to do when facing a switch hitter – do you throw right or left-handed?  Fortunately,  this situation rarely happens since switch hitters are rare.



Switch pitcher Henry Knight practices switch hitting


List of switch pitchers who can switch hit  >>


“You know the tough thing about switch-hitting?” - Pete Rose, the all-time major league hits leader says. “Don’t practice the new way so much that you get out of the original way. There’s only one switch-hitter in the history of baseball that I know of that was a natural left-hand hitter, and his name was J.T. Snow …”  

“You’re going to bat left-handed two-thirds of the time.”
– Pete Rose
(source: usatoday.com)


Learn what age to start switch hitting >>
................................................................................

Little League 
There are only a handfull of regular switch hitters in the local Little League. Typically, these kids are natural right-handers who also learn to bat left-handed.  They are rarely ambidextrous and do most things right-handed - eat, write, and throw. Most of these players start hitting from both sides of the plate in tee ball.

Many kids try switch hitting when they are young, but give up after they keep striking out. Switch hitting isn't as easy as it looks. Kids aren't willing to spend the time needed to hit well from both sides of the plate. Hitting off a tee is boring to many young kids so they don't get enough reps to become a good switch hitter.

Young hitters want instant success, so they usually stick with their dominant side.


High School 
The best hitters practice in the off-season to develop their skills. Popular sports like football, soccer and basketball compete for a kids practice time, making it less likely you will see many switch hitters in high school. 

Henry Knight batting left-handed
.. and right-handed




















Rare Ambidextrous Players ...

Most of the ambidextrous pitchers are also switch hitters, including Henry Knight who hits well from both sides of the plate.

Henry Knight is a starting infielder and switch pitcher, who bats second in the order for Franklin HS in Seattle. He is a line drive hitter and skilled bunter – both right- and left-handed. Knight hit .413 and posted a .525 OBP playing varsity as a sophomore.

In 2013, Knight tallied a .500 BA and .677 OBP during summer ball. He led the Columbia City Reds team with 20 walks and only 4 strikeouts in 27 games as a switch hitter.

During his junior year, Knight tallied a 10-game hitting streak with a .526 BA and .640 OBP  facing some of the best high school pitchers in the Seattle area. 

In the summer of 2014, Knight was on hot streak, with a .571 BA and .667 OBP at mid-season – swinging a wood bat.


Switch hitting is very rare in high school.

In the Seattle Premiere League, there were only 4 switch hitters among the 178 players listed on eight 18U teams. So, only 2% of the top high school players in the Seattle area are switch hitters. 71% bat right-handed, while 27% bat left-handed only.

The Baseball America list of 2014 High School Top 100 players features only 2 switch hitters.  Only 2% of the top HS players in the country are switch hitters. 69% bat right-handed, while 29% bat left-handed only.


Switch hitting is rare in college.

College 

Vanderbilt, winner of the 2014 College World Series, recruits switch hitters, including Aubrey McCarty ...


There are four switch-hitters on the Commodores’ 2015 roster.

"Vanderbilt’s fourth switch-hitter is redshirt freshman Aubrey McCarty, who came into Vanderbilt as a dual threat hitter and a dual threat pitcher. Despite this unique ability, McCarty did not play in a game in 2014 and has turned his attention away from switch-pitching towards the bat rack for 2015. He will likely figure into a deep Commodore bench this season." (source: Switching up the status quo)

Ro Coleman, the 5'5" switch hitting DH for Vandy is the leadoff hitter for the 2015 team playing in the College World Series. Coleman hit over .300 for the season, with a .414 on-base percentage.

Josh Tobias, a switch hitting third baseman, with the Florida Gators, led the team in batting average in 2015. His hitting skills were featured during the College World Series.

How rare are switch hitters in college?


After reviewing dozens of Division 1 college baseball rosters, I found that only 3% of players bat from both sides – that's about one switch hitter per team. Many teams don't have any switch hitters on the roster, while some of the top college teams have two or more switch hitters.

In the PAC12, 4% of batters were listed as switch hitters (2013 season). This excludes pitchers, since they use the DH in college. Switch hitters who play infield had a 0.281 BA which is close to the conference average. Kavin Keyes, a switch hitter for Oregon State, had a 0.306 BA compared with the team's 0.282 BA.

Kavin Keyes (Kize), a switch hitting infielder for the Oregon State Beavers was off to very good start in 2014. Keyes posted a .515 BA in the first 9 games with a .529 OBP. At the end of the season, Keyes was hitting .329, while the team averaged .274. In high school Keyes posted a .430+ BA over three years.

Cal All-American Andrew Knapp, a switch hitting catcher, posted a 0.350 BA which led the Bears in his junior year. Following the season, he was a 2013 second round selection of the Philadelphia Phillies. Knapp batted .500 at Granite Bay High School with 10 doubles, three triples and six home runs.


Switching sides of the plate ...

College switch hitters bat left-handed 70% of the time, due to the number of right-handed pitchers.

The 11 college teams in the PAC12 conference feature 29% LHP and 71% RHP, so switch hitters primarily bat left-handed – facing right-handed pitchers in games. (Note: University of Colorado does not have a baseball team)

UCLA had 3 LHP and 11 RHP on the 2013 roster. The Bruins won the 2013 College World Series with excellent pitching.


Switch hitting is becoming rare in the pros.

MLB 

In 2014, 12 of 315 players selected in the first 10 rounds of the MLB draft where listed as switch hitters. Apparently, only 4% of drafted players can switch hit.

Switch hitters are still valued in the pros:

In 2013, 61 players on MLB rosters were classified as switch hitters. So, about 8% of players on Major League teams are switch hitters. If you look at position players only, then 13% are switch hitters, 54% right-handed and 33% left-handed hitters.

In 2012, 75 players on major league rosters were listed as switch hitters. So switch hitters represent  10% of the 750 big league players (30 teams with 25 man roster).

In 2010, 99 players on the 30 major league teams could switch hit. That's an average of 3 switch hitters per team – 3 times the average of college teams. The Yankees, Red Sox, Twins, Orioles, Mets, and Angels had six or more switch hitters. Apparently, switch hitters are valued in the major leagues.

A few MLB teams have no switch hitters ...

Only Houston has more switch-hitting position players than Minnesota, as the Astros have five. Some teams — Miami, Milwaukee, the Mets and Yankees — have zero. Most have at least two, and several have three. But with four switch hitters on the roster, the Twins are a bit of a rarity. (foxsportsnorth.com)

Pablo Sandoval ..
"Sandoval is a switch hitter who has struggled from the right side of the plate this year, but Meulens and manager Bruce Bochy believe that Sandoval’s struggles as a right-handed hitter this season are simply explained: He just doesn’t get as many reps against left-handed pitching as he does against right-handed pitching, a common problem for switch-hitters. 

But before every game, Meulens says, Sandoval has made a point of going into the indoor batting cage and taking some right-handed swings against a left-handed batting practice pitcher."

(source: Buster Olney, ESPN)

The general trend is for fewer switch hitters in the MLB every year.

Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, and Chipper Jones – were excellent switch hitters in the big leagues.


So the question is ...

Why are switch hitters rare?

You don’t see as many switch hitters, because coaches at younger levels are not patient, and players are not patient. In today’s society, no one likes to fail, so if a kid is not doing well at the left-side it’s easy to say, “well I’m a natural righty, I’ll just go back to that”. (Pac12 college hitting coach)

You will not see many switch hitters because it takes a lot of work to be good at hitting from both sides. Coaches often suggest that batters hit from the stronger side. During batting practice, most coaches throw the same number of pitches to all players, so a switch hitter only gets half the number of swings from each side. (Pony League coach)

Scouts say they don't see many amateur switch hitters, especially in high school. Most prospects, they presume, don't start switch-hitting until they turn professional. "The advantages to being a switch hitter are so well know," one scout said. "The biggest one is the breaking ball is spinning at you instead of away from you." (Chuck Carree, Star-News)

Why switch hit?
"The reason someone would switch hit is so they don’t have to face a slider. That is one of the biggest reasons. The slider will always come into the bat barrel if you’re facing a RHP as a LHB, or a LHP as a RHB." (College hitting coach)

Another reason is if the batter is struggling on one side, then they can switch to the other side to hit. Two all star players were able to get out of their slump hitting left-handed, by switching to the right side. 

Some young pitchers have a tough time throwing strikes with a left-handed hitter at the plate. In the local league, the lefty hitters get walked more often than the right-handed hitters.

Switch hitting has also helped players make the local All-star team. It gives coaches another option and players tend to stay in the game longer as a switch hitter. (Pony League All-stars coach)


Bunting Tip
Bunting can be easier by switching sides, depending on the pitcher and game situation. Bunting is a good way to begin switch hitting - it forces the player to track the ball all the way to the plate. Remember to practice bunting from both sides. Learn how to bunt

..........................................

Switch Hitting News Articles >>

Is switch-hitting a lost art?



..........................................