often imitated...never duplicated
Today's baseball training and instruction experience bears little resemblance to that of years gone by. Changes brought about by technology, affluence, other alternatives, and an environment perceived as being much more dangerous than ever before have shifted the dynamic of training drastically. In this country, the days of players developing their baseball skills and abilities on the playground are long gone, having given way to organized play, practice, instruction, and training. As one might suspect, change creates new opportunities as well as pitfalls. The transition from playground to structure creates a need for new information and methods to replace, or attempt to replace, what previously occurred on the playground.
Of all sport requirements, pitching and hitting a baseball represents the greatest challenge because it asks the player to deal with two diametrically opposed factors, precision and power. Baseball demands maximizing both, more so than any other sport. Understanding the desired results of your training is critical to pitcher training. The difference between skill (precision) and ability (power) require different practices and training approaches. I find that few people understand the difference between the two. Understanding this difference allows you to make better decisions with respect to weighted balls, long toss, flat ground throwing, and other "nontraditional" methods for training and preparing a pitcher.
The Building Blocks of Skill Are Ability, Practice, and Knowledge
Ability has a foundation in individual genetic traits. This includes body structure type, natural height, and nervous system structure to name a few. Arm speed is a classic example of what most consider ability as well. In reality, ability is not totally genetic. It can be developed or improved further through training. Some reading this may be surprised when I say that we frequently add 10-15 mph to a player's throwing ability within six months, and I would encourage you to come test that claim. Pitching a baseball is a skill. Pitching is the skill of defeating the batter. If the player on the mound CONSISTENTLY defeats the batter with great velocity, precise location, or both, then we might say that this player has mastered the skill of pitching.
Throwing is ability. Throwing is characterized by the ability to impart speed and accuracy to objects - throwing rocks, apples, baseballs, footballs, etc. There have been many great pitchers who threw hard - Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Bob Feller, and Sandy Koufax to name a few. However, There have also been many unsuccessful pitchers who threw hard, such as Steve Dalkowski. Those who saw Dalkowski pitch believe he was the hardest thrower in baseball history. Below is a section from a Newsday Article in 1979, where several men discuss Dflkowski's blazing fastball:
"There have been many great pitchers who did not throw hard (Baseball Hall of Fame's Hoyt Wilhelm, the Perry brothers, Whitey Ford). And as one might suspect there have been, are, and will continue to be many more unsuccessful pitchers who did/do/will not throw hard."
What we have come to realize is that the ability to throw hard is not necessarily a requirement for developing successful pitching skill. However, it is generally believed and accepted, all other things being equal, that the ABILITY to throw a baseball hard predisposes a pitcher to potentially greater success at developing the skill of pitching.