As a parent, from the moment your son started swinging a bat, you’ve probably been throwing BP to him in some form or another. But as he gets older, you’ll be faced with some choices around how he takes his batting reps. A lot of parents I know get a monthly membership to a batting cage and put their kids on the pitching machine for 30 minutes a couple times a week.
These machines are great for seeing speed and allowing the player to get a feel for making consistent contact with faster pitching. However, there’s nothing that can replicate what your son will actually see from a real pitcher unless he gets live BP.
Live BP provides a great way to see live arm action along with picking up the release point and tracking the ball. That’s why MLB players take live BP before games on the field. Of course, they also have access to indoor cages under the stadium so they can take even more live BP during the game as well.
Knowing this, you’ll likely want to throw BP (either on the field or in the cages) to get him reps with a live arm. But as a parent, I struggled to throw consistent BP. Throwing a bad BP session can actually do more harm than good. For example, if only one out of four throws are over the plate, your player may start to chase bad pitches or make bad swing decisions. Bad mechanics can follow. Plus your batter never gets a chance to work on building rhythm and consistency when so few balls actually make it into the strike zone.
One Pitch, One Location, and One Speed
The key to throwing a good BP session are the three “ones”: One pitch, one location, and one speed. And you actually need to practice throwing BP without having a batter at the plate. It sounds silly, but if you have a batting net in your garage then you can practice your BP throwing for 10 minutes a couple times a week. It does make a difference. Practice what you preach.
- Use a four-seam grip for your one pitch. This will give your ball a truer and straighter ball flight. Plus a four-seam grip should also produce a more consistent and firm velocity for your session.
- Setup about half-way between home plate and the pitcher’s mound. Know your distance. There is no magic distance. It’s what you feel most comfortable with. Some BP pitchers will need to move a little closer, some will want to move it a little further away.
- L-screen safety. Of course, you’ll need to use an L-screen. Make sure the L-screen doesn’t have any gaps or holes in the screen. If so, try to get another L-screen or find a way to securely tie the holes closed. You’ll also want to make sure there isn’t a big gap underneath the L-screen. I’ve had a number of batted balls find their way underneath the L-screen and into my ankle. Not fun. You’ll also want to keep your body behind the screen at all times with only your arm slot appearing through the “L” opening to release the ball. Again, leaving any part of your body exposed in the “L” opening is a ticket for bruised ribs and baseball imprints on your back, side, shoulder, hip, or worse. Always make sure to have your cell phone with you and that your son knows how to use it to call 911 should you take one in the head and get knocked out. You might think that sounds stupid, but I’ve seen it happen.
- Be efficient. You don’t want to get tired too quickly otherwise you will start to fatigue and throw fewer strikes. This means no wasted motion in your delivery. Having a high-leg kick (or any leg raise) followed by a big-circling throwing motion is not the way to go in BP.
- Little circles. There’s no need to drop the baseball below your waist as you start your throwing motion. Start with the ball around chest-high and make a little circle throwing motion without letting the ball go below your belly-button. Get your throwing elbow out front and pull down on the seams as you release the ball toward your target.
- Place two buckets of baseballs stacked on top of each other behind the net. If you’re a right-handed thrower, put the buckets on the far left side, opposite of the “L” window. For efficiency reasons, when you’re done throwing a pitch, your arms will naturally be close to the bucket. If you’re out of baseballs, then you simply can reload without much-wasted movement. Also, by having the baseballs elevated, this keeps you from bending over all the time and keeps you out of the chiropractor’s office.
- Start by holding four baseballs at a time. Hold three in your left-hand and one in your throwing hand. Do not use a fielding or pitcher’s glove when throwing BP. Only bare hands. This saves time. Once you throw the one in your right hand, you transfer a ball from your left hand into your right. Repeat this until you are out of baseballs, then you reach into the bucket for another four baseballs, three in your left and one in your right. This also allows you to keep track of how many baseballs you’ve thrown to a particular batter. Each group of four baseballs is a “set”. If you throw five sets then you know you’ve thrown 20 balls to the batter.
- Make a target behind home plate. The easiest thing to do is to put a bucket where the catcher would set up. It gives you a nice target to aim for. But you can use anything: Helmet, hat, chair, glove, equipment bag, etc. If you really want to get a professional target that will also help your son with pitching, try this awesome nine-pocket target net that your son can also use without needing a catcher/
- Be consistent with your throw. Try to get into a smooth rhythm. You’re trying for the same speed each time. If you’re a right-handed thrower:
- show the ball with your right hand,
- take a tiny step with right foot,
- small arm circle with ball,
- then left foot toward target,
- release ball with elbow out front while pulling seams straight downward. Some people draw an analogy to throwing darts, but that is too simplistic and doesn’t really capture the full motion necessary to throw BP.
- Work quick. Don’t confuse this with rushing or hurrying. You want to be consistent with your tempo to the plate. You don’t want the batter waiting around for a long time between each pitch. He’s trying to get into a rhythm so he can work on repeating his mechanics. Allow him to get into a repeatable rhythm.
- Work smooth. You don’t want to change your delivery or the timing of certain components of your delivery. You’re not trying to trick him or throw off his timing. This again will allow him to work on repeating his mechanics without having to adjust for a sudden hitch or pause in your delivery.
- Firm velocity. The ball should not rainbow into the strike zone. If you’re throwing rainbows, then move closer to the batter so your pitch will be more in a straight line. Many throwers of BP at the MLB level will target around 55-60 MPH and they vary about 1-3 MPH each pitch. Very consistent and firm.
- Bonus Trick: if you’re having trouble finding a consistent release point and getting your arm slot in the right position to deliver a consistent pitch, then try starting with the ball at your chest level, then push it out and up, then pull it back down and make a small circle up and release the ball on your way back out and down. It’s a modified figure-8 motion (the “8” is on its side like “∞”). Try practicing. It will get you into a nice rhythm and force your arm slot into the correct position to deliver a true four-seam pitch each and every time.