Being a baseball pitcher is one of the most challenging positions in America’s favorite pastime because of the pressure you’re under to ensure the opposing team’s batter strikes out. To become a successful pitcher, it takes time, effort, and patience, but hopefully, this can help you establish the building blocks that will lead you to a successful pitching career in no time.
Those aspiring to be good pitchers should train during the on- and offseason, practicing drills that help improve pitch velocity, spin, and form and exercising regularly to strengthen the muscles used with throwing the baseball.
For any position in any sport, practice makes perfect, and that especially holds true for pitching. However, before any of this, you’ll need to make sure you have the resources and the essentials of pitching down first.
Join a League as Early as Possible
If you want to become a pitcher, there is no right or wrong way to go about it. However, a good starting point is joining a baseball league as early as possible.
Joining a baseball league is a great way to test your current pitching abilities. Many communities have recreational leagues during the fall or spring available for locals to join, and many teams are divided by age group.
Generally, the younger you join a league the better you can continue to hone your pitching skills until you reach an age where you may play professionally. Players who have been involved with baseball since they were kids are more likely to perform better on the mound than those who started pitching later.
If you have a child interested in pitching, here are some skill milestones you should expect if they join a league early:
Pitching in the 10-and-Under Baseball Leagues
Kids in this age range are just starting to throw the ball themselves, so consistency is critical. Throwing hard is not as important as throwing the ball from the mound across the plate consistently.
This is also the age group when pitchers are actually throwing to live batters in games. Before this, players may have played tee-ball or participated in games where the coach would pitch, rather than the players themselves.
Pitching in the 10-13 Year Old Baseball Leagues
Once you get past the first year or two of kids pitching for the first time, you can start to see a difference in skillsets beginning to form among the players, especially the pitchers.
Now, pitchers can throw more consistently across the plate, and even though it’s recommended for kids this age to stick to fastballs and change-ups, some pitchers are starting to throw other varieties of pitches—not just a fastball that moves in one linear motion.
Additionally, you may notice better batters start to emerge, who begin to take advantage of bad pitchers. However, with regular practice, the pitchers who struggle at this age eventually learn to overcome this hurdle.
Pitching in the 13-15 Year Old Baseball League
If a player has stuck with baseball until now, this is the perfect age to determine whether pitching is the ideal position.
Pitchers should now consistently throw multiple balls across the plate and formulate ideas on how to throw their pitches best to get batters out. At this point, pitchers also start to become more critical to the team and can heavily influence how well a game goes with their skills.
Pitching in the 15-18 Year Old Baseball Leagues
This age range is when a pitcher is either determined to be good enough to join a college league, play professionally, or stick to recreational games.
When players this age hit their growth spurts and begin to gain muscle mass, the pitchers are now throwing harder than they ever have before, and some can be effective without needing to throw very hard because they have developed other types of pitches.
This high school age range is also when more specialized coaching can become a factor in developing a pitcher. If a pitcher has promising skills, a good coach can take them from being a decent high school player to becoming a hot commodity among college recruiters looking to sign that athlete for a scholarship.
Have a Support System in Place to Become a Good Pitcher
The goal of becoming a good pitcher takes more than just one person going out and throwing a baseball; it takes a team. For some people, finding the right coach and teammates is the easiest way to figure out how to become a better pitcher.
For pitchers, they will need a minimum of one other person to help them become better; that person is their catcher. There is a reason why pitchers and catchers are called “battery mates,” and that is because they are stuck together through thick and thin.
Finding a friend, parent, sibling, or whomever to be your catcher can tremendously help because this person can help critique you as a pitcher, and they can also perform the role of catching your pitches.
Have the Right Pitching Gear
Along with finding the right set of teammates and coaches, having the right gear can also help.
The gear you will need goes much further than merely having baseballs, a plate, and some gloves. There are plenty of other types of equipment you can use to become a better pitcher. The list below is just a few items to look for:
- Pitching Nets – If you want to improve your pitches’ accuracy but do not want to be bothered with having to drag someone else out to catch your pitching, these nets are perfect. Most come with a strike-zone embedded into the netting to show how accurate your pitches are without needing another person to act as your catcher.
- Radar Guns – To track your pitching progression, a radar gun is necessary to tell you the velocity in which you are throwing. These guns are used by baseball coaches and scouts worldwide, so determining how fast you are throwing can help indicate which areas of pitching you need to improve on.
- Resistance Bands – Resistance bands for baseball players are easily the most crucial aspect of training for the sport. Because pitching involves a lot of shoulder usage, resistance bands are great because they allow targeted resistance training while providing a shorter recovery time for players.
- Baseball Gloves (Pitchers) – When you are just starting out playing baseball, any old glove will do, but as you get better in the game as you grow older, these gloves are specially designed for pitchers.
- Baseballs – Finally, baseballs are the final tool that a pitcher will need to practice and be successful. Depending on your age and league, there are several different varieties and sizes that you can find to get the correct baseball. They can range from softer to harder along with bigger or smaller seams. To find out which ball is right for you, look up whichever league you play in and determine which ball is used in play during those games.
It’s also worth mentioning that you should have the below catcher gear on hand whenever you start training with someone else to catch your pitches:
- Baseball Gloves (Catchers) – Catcher gloves are unique to the position because they provide a wider web to catch the ball plus more padding that helps the catcher absorb the pitch without hurting their hand.
- Catcher Gear – Another set of equipment a catcher will need is the facemask, chest plate, and shin guards. These pieces of equipment are essential to keeping the catcher behind the plate safe from bats and the pitches being thrown at them.
Training to Become a Pitcher
Training for being a pitcher does not start at the beginning of the baseball season; it begins whenever you are ready to put the work into it. Being a pitcher is hard to do because you’ll have to learn how to throw different pitches, be consistent at throwing all those pitches, and be effective at throwing those pitches.
Figure Out Your Form
A big part, perhaps the most significant part of pitching, is how a person pitches.
Upper Body Pitching Form
How do you throw the ball? In baseball terminology: what is your arm angle and slot from which you pitch?
For the most part, pitchers will have the traditional ¾ higher arm angle. Other pitchers feel more comfortable with throwing over the top or even side-armed. Whatever it is, find whichever “arm slot” best fits your comfort level and best maximizes your pitching abilities.
Lower Body Pitching Form
Once you figure out the arm angle, your feet and lower body are the next piece of the puzzle to solve.
Getting into a rhythm is essential, so most pitchers use their feet and legs to find rhythms for pitching consistently. Depending on which hand you throw with, your right leg (right-hand pitcher) or left leg (left-hand pitcher) will be the leg from which you push off of.
Make sure you find a comfortable spot on the mound you can push off of and find a good landing spot for your opposite leg.
A final part of the form to figure out is your release point. Put simply: this is where you release the ball and perform any final motions with your wrist, arm, or fingers to produce the final effects on the ball.
For example, for specialized pitches, like a curveball, slider, or changeup, the release point is when a pitcher will twist their fingers or wrist to get the desired spin effect.
Having a consistent release point is vital because a pitcher can appear to be more challenging if all his or her pitches look the same initially; the batter can have difficulty determining if and when they should swing at the pitch.
Put Your Pitching Form in Practice
If you have figured out these previous aspects of pitching, you are one step closer to putting it all together. One way to improve your pitching is to consistently practice this motion, with or without a baseball in hand. Consistency with pitching is the most critical aspect, so be continually practicing your movement to ensure you produce the same results every time.
You can do this in your house or out in a yard, but being consistent with your motion from your arm slot and your feet to your release point is key to being a good pitcher.
TIP: Never try and drastically change how you throw a baseball as a pitcher, especially if you have already figured out a comfortable motion.
Measure Throwing Speed
Once you have your form down, you’ll need to get your speed up to par.
To do this, you’ll first have to determine a baseline for how fast you can throw a ball from the pitcher’s mound to home plate; this will help you figure out if velocity is something you need to improve to be a more effective pitcher. Depending on your age, the speed you throw at your hardest currently can help or hinder your progression later.
As mentioned earlier, the easiest way to measure your current throwing speed is to use a radar gun. You may be able to find and use one at your local batting cages, but it may be best to invest in your own so you can continue to monitor your progress.
Exercise Key Pitching Muscles Regularly
For pitchers, training includes exercises that most baseball players, and frankly other athletes, may not necessarily need to do. But, pitchers are a particular breed of athletes who need specific training exercises to improve and remain consistently good in games.
Cardio Exercises for Pitchers
One exercise worth regularly pursuing for a pitcher-in-training is cardio. An excellent way to mix it up for pitchers is to find a hilly area where you can sprint up and down.
The feeling of pushing and driving your legs up the hill and planting on the way down is great for simulating how a pitcher’s legs operate during throws. It also helps a pitcher better control their breathing and heart rates in games.
Exercises for Pitchers that Target the Lower Body and Hips
Another key area for pitchers to work on is the lower body and hips. Contrary to what people might think, pitching is driven from the lower body more than the arm and shoulder area!
Performing squats, lunges, and other lower body exercises can help lead to an increase in pitch velocity, as well as seeing fewer injuries when the season rolls around.
Core Exercises for Pitchers
The core area is another part of the body that is important to a pitcher and how well they can pitch. A pitcher’s core and lats (side muscles) are vital to how effectively they can throw; they continuously use them to contort their body to throw a pitch effectively.
The most effective core exercises involve anti-rotation exercises to build up muscle strength in this area. Pitchers do not necessarily need six-packs, but a solid core is necessary!
Upper Body Exercises for Pitchers
The next area to focus on in training is the upper body, chest, and upper back areas. These areas are more of the stabilizers and “steady hands” of the shoulders, so focusing on and strengthening them can have positive long-term effects.
Using resistance bands is a pitcher’s best friend when it comes to training these areas. Along with these, using dumbbells for rows, flys, or other back and upper body exercises can help reduce the number of injuries a pitcher might expect.
Shoulder Exercises for Pitchers
Finally, the shoulder area needs to be trained and worked out. Obviously, with the shoulder being probably the second most important part of a pitcher’s motion, keeping it in shape in the offseason and keeping it injury-free are essential to any pitcher’s career.
Resistance bands are going to be very helpful for the shoulders because they act as anti-movement exercises. To prevent injuries, performing movements that you will do (pitching motions) with weights or resistance can help build strength and avoid tiring muscles.
Practice Pitching Drills
The old saying is, “practice makes perfect,” and with pitching, the expression cannot ring more true. Pitching is all about being consistent with your motion and delivery, and practicing those two things can drastically improve your performance.
There are a few drills that you can perform to improve your pitching skills:
Wall Drill for Pitchers
The wall drill is simple to do, but it can help improve consistent wind-ups and deliveries.
To do this drill, you will need a wall to support your weight when you fall against it. This drill aims to find a consistent driving movement from the back leg and hip to the front. Essentially, you want to bring your front leg up like you are beginning your pitching motion and then fall into the wall.
Regularly doing this drill will ensure you repeat this motion when you are actually pitching.
Below is a video that goes over the fundamentals of the wall drill for pitchers.
Rocker Drill for Pitchers
This drill is also great for improving the consistency in your delivery.
To do this drill, get into a wide stance and rock back and forth to gain a rhythm. Once you have a good rhythm, move forward, go into your throwing motion, and bring your arm across your front leg.
Check out the video below for a quick example of the rocker drill for pitchers.
Back Pedal Drill for Pitchers
The purpose of this drill is to ensure that pitchers can stay “closed” (with legs together) for a long time and then can open up at the appropriate time. This is because, as a pitcher, you are forced to stay closed for 2-3 steps before you open and really let the ball fly.
The drill starts with your left leg back (if you are a right-handed pitcher), then taking three steps backward. On the third step, open up your legs 180 degrees to the opposite side and release a pitch.
Below is a quick video for a visual example of this drill.
Broomstick Curveball Drill for Pitchers
This drill should only be used if you can throw a curveball (curveballs can be deteriorating to a young pitcher’s shoulder, so coaches do not recommend pitchers under the age of 15 to throw them).
To start, have someone hold out a broomstick at just over shoulder height in front of you. You will then begin your throwing motion for your curveball, and when you get to the broomstick, release the ball, with the person holding the broomstick dropping it downward. You should have your hand follow the broomstick down to complete the appropriate motion.
One thing to keep an eye on is that the ball is released before the hand gets to the broomstick to have the release point be where it should be consistent.
Check out the video below to see this drill in action.
Drop Net Drill for Pitchers
This drill does not require anything more than a net behind a pitcher’s mound, with the net being close behind the pitcher. The purpose of this exercise is to ensure that the pitcher is not breaking their hand from the glove too early, thus improving their mechanics.
Simply practice your pitching motion as you would regularly, but if you hit the net with your pitching hand, it is a good indicator that you broke away too early.
Check out the video below for a demonstration of this drill.
Planning Out Your Pitch Training Calendar
Baseball does not happen year-round, but there are plenty of times in the offseason where you can be working on your craft and getting better.
Baseball seasons usually start with games being played in early March. The season usually lasts through May or June, depending on how well your team does during the season. For players who also play on travel or AAU teams, the season can extend into August and September.
If you can plan your training schedule around these off- and on-seasons, you’ll likely see vast improvements in your pitching skills, especially if you stay consistent with training.
Offseason Training for Pitchers
To maximize your pitching abilities, you need to take care of your body in the offseason while progressing with your skills. Once your season is done, the first thing to do is build on what that season brought.
Start with increasing the range of motion in your arm, shoulder, core, and legs. This can be done with stretching and other exercises like yoga and Pilates. Watching videos on your pitching and other training methods, such as drills, are recommended.
Preseason Training for Pitchers
As you move closer to the preseason, you will want to increase your focus on building muscle and gaining velocity and spin rate with your pitches through regular exercises and drills.
Maintain your range of motion exercises to ensure you do not regress in that category. Along with this, continue to improve by watching your own pitching and critiquing how your form is and where you can be better.
When you hit the preseason, you should already be in baseball game shape. Preseason training ensures you are ready to hit the ground running and can be prepared to put it all together when the season starts. At this point, you should be building routines for the season, practicing daily, and continuing your exercises to maintain the new levels at which you gained in the offseason.
On-Season Training for Pitchers
Once you get in-season, you should dramatically decrease the amount of exercise you partake in. Most of the energy you exert should be reserved for game days and post-game day recovery sessions. You should also continue to focus on pitching mistakes and areas of improvement from games you have played in.
As soon as the season is completed, begin the cycle over again to improve your skills.
Final Training Tips for Future Pitchers
As we mentioned in the beginning, there is no direct way to become a pitcher. You’ll have to put in a lot of hard work before you finally reach the level you want to be at. The above tips and guide will help get you there, but here are a few more tips and tricks to keep in mind regarding pitching:
- Be wary of specialized coaches that promise various things if you work with them. No one should start to look into specialized pitching coaches until around high school age. Any time before that could lead to more injuries in a pitcher and a better chance for burnout.
- Be sure that any specialized pitching coach has some reviews from others who have used them before. Having reviews online as a reference or just knowledge from word-of-mouth can help determine whether the coach is worth the price they are asking.
- There are plenty of former professional athletes who would play other sports to avoid putting too much pressure on the same muscles. Playing other sports can be a great way to prevent over-exerting yourself with baseball and continue to have a passion for the game.
- To go along with the previous point, avoid “over-pitching” during the season. The last thing you want is to throw out a shoulder when you need it the most. Take breaks when you can, massage out those important pitching muscles, and avoid practicing too hard between games.
Becoming a good pitcher in baseball will take time and effort for anyone to get to a good level. Consistency in your training in the offseason can help pay dividends when it comes to game time.
Be sure to have ample training methods and proper time in the offseason to increase your strength and skills and ensure you are taking care of your body. Having a team for support is also essential, as going about this alone can be a daunting task. Continue to work at the craft of pitching, and the results will start to come through.