One of the things I tend to emphasize with my pitchers is the need for good tempo on the mound. And most of the time when I talk to them about tempo, I’m referring to their mechanics – the need to get athletic, get in a good rhythm, and move their bodies powerfully towards home plate. But the idea of having good tempo carries over to other areas of pitching that have nothing to do with mechanics.
Well… I guess I can’t really say that. One of the things I believe strongly in is the idea that everything affects everything. You have a problem with your legs, it affects your arm. You start overanalyzing and thinking too much, it affects your ability to throw strikes. Take too long between pitches, and you can lose your flow and get out of sync with your mechanics. But I digress…
The point is, when it comes to good tempo on the mound, I’m not just talking about mechanics. But before we go further, we should ask ourselves:
What exactly is tempo, anyway?
Here’s a simple definition from Wikipedia:
“In musical terminology, tempo (Italian for time, plural: tempi) is the speed or pace of a given piece. Tempo is a crucial element of most musical compositions, as it can affect the mood and difficulty of a piece.”
So put simply, tempo is about speed and pace. Just as the tempo of a musical piece can affect the mood of the music, your tempo as a pitcher will affect your mood in a game – your focus, your intensity, and your rhythm in your delivery.[h4]Here are just some of the ways Good Tempo matters for a pitcher:[/h4] [h5]Tempo in your delivery:[/h5] One of the big issues I see with pitchers who’ve been taught to have “good pitching mechanics” is a tendency to move too slowly in their deliveries. They obsess about getting to key positions in the pitching motion.
When they miss with a pitch, they jump to the conclusion that it must be their mechanics. Then on the next pitch, they slow things down in an effort to control their mechanics. All this does is disrupt the natural flow of momentum, killing velocity and actually hurting their control.
See, when you move too slowly and deliberately, not only do you lose momentum and power, you make it tougher to pitch with good timing in your delivery. The pitching delivery is a dynamic, ballistic chain of movements involving your entire body – from the height of your leg lift to ball release takes less than a second. So good timing is absolutely critical for an efficient delivery.
So when a pitcher’s struggling with their control, rather than have them start thinking too much about their mechanics, you’re better off giving a simple suggestion like:
“Good tempo right here.”
This will help them get in a good rhythm, and before you know it, they’re back on track. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this work.
Better tempo also helps produce more powerful mechanics. For more on this, read this article: Pitching Mechanics: Better Tempo Increases Torque
Or watch this video to see better tempo in action:[h5]Tempo with your breathing:[/h5] In the heat of competition it can be tough to control your breathing. Your adrenaline gets pumping, your heart rate picks up, and your breathing gets shallow. But it’s important as a pitcher, to pay attention when this is happening. When your breath gets shallow, it adds to your stress and can cause you to tense up on the mound. This works against you as a pitcher in a number of ways.
When you tense up, you make it harder to stay fluid with your delivery, causing you to lose power and control with your pitches. You tend to fall into panic mode with your thoughts, affecting your approach and your confidence.
So when this happens in a game, when the pace of things start to speed up and you feel them getting out of control, focus on one thing you can always control:
Your own breath!
Take a deep, relaxing breath and say to yourself something soothing like “relax.” Maintaining good pace with your breathing can help you stay focused on the task at hand, and free your body up to execute the pitch with precision and power.[h5]Tempo between pitches[/h5] Okay, so if good tempo is important when you’re on the mound, it’s equally important when you’re off the mound. What you do between pitches, your approach, will dictate the quality of your next pitch. Take too long between pitches, and you’ll have a tough time ever getting in a good rhythm out there.
You’ll also infuriate your fielders, who don’t like to stand around forever while you try to get your mind right. Every once in a while, a good walk around the mound is called for, but save this for times when you really need it. You don’t want to turn into a human rain delay out there.
Just take a look at guys like Greg Maddux and Mark Buehrle. Neither hard throwers, but both efficient with their pitches and quick to get the ball back and get on the rubber.
Here’s a fun tidbit from the website sabr.org:
In an era when games typically take upwards of three hours…
“During his time in Atlanta, Maddux pitched in at least one game every season that ended in 2:16 or less, and on August 20, 1995, he beat the St. Louis Cardinals 1–0 in an hour and 50 minutes.”
Work fast, throw strikes, change speeds. Simple but effective.
So when it comes to good tempo on the mound, it’s not all about mechanics. It’s also about your approach between pitches. It’s about good tempo and pace with your breathing. It’s about nearly everything you do during the course of a game. Learn to control your tempo, with your approach and with your mechanics, and you’re one step closer to pitching mastery.