PFP, short for pitchers' fielding practice, are essential to the training regimen of anyone looking to take the mound. In pitching, throwing the ball is only half the job.
The second the pitch leaves your hand you become a fielder. Today we’re taking you through some drills to help prepare for those duties. Coaches, these should be given equal time to the training you do on the pitcher’s plate if you are looking to enhance your pitchers’ tools of the trade… not to mention your team’s overall performance.
Give a listen to the Yankees bullpen talking about how much they enjoy these drills and why they matter.
For a pitcher to become a consistent fielder they first have to learn how to transition between their follow through and their fielder positioning. When a pitcher finishes their throw, their body should land squared with the plate and ready for action, much the same as the other eight players on defense.
Once a pitcher is in position, they should also have shifted their mental focus. This is important because the body mechanics required for pitching are vastly different than those used in fielding.
For starters, the release on the pitching motion is different than what you’ll need for fielding. This video breaks these differences down into three distinct sets of exercises.
The pitcher’s pivot foot should end up as near parallel to the stride foot as possible on the follow through, with the weight equally balanced on the balls of both feet. Once in this basic fielding position, s/he must anticipate that the batter will be hitting the ball back at them on every pitch. A good fielding pitcher is one who can knock down ground balls directly up the middle of the infield.
If your staff is having trouble squaring up at the plate you could create a chalk version of this piece of equipment to enable them to lineup better on release. As the video shows, it’s not only better for fielding but healthier for the athlete as well.
A baseball pitcher should never field the ball from on top of the mound. For a throw to first, pitchers need to get to level ground while waiting for the 1st baseman to get into position on the bag. Work your way closer to the bag before throwing. Throwing from on top of the mound can cause an inaccurate throw. Get rid of the ball as soon as your wo/man is on 1st so that, if the throw is off target, the baseman has time to come off the base and field the ball. Pulling off the mound as you work into your defensive player position is also a great muscle memory transition point.
This video includes three fielding drills for either sport and has some key physical positioning tips for both players and coaches. The collection covers every situation for throwing to first.
When a pitcher needs to cover first, this drill helps them feel confident with the motion.
Once players get confident in their motions, up the anti. Challenge them to timed drills, between motion and release, to help simulate game time tension.
Coaches, your pitching staff needs to receive plenty of grounders while positioned in their follow-through stance. Since the pitcher is so close to the hitter on their follow through, they must be prepared to get their glove on the ball for personal protection as much as to make the play.
Bunts and slow rollers
The key to successful fielding lies in the pitcher’s ability to quickly transition to fielder. If you’re throwing from a downward position, throw up and inside to first. Your baseman will need to be able to see the ball around the runner and must catch the ball inside to avoid collisions.
Get as close to the base as possible before tossing when time allows. This shortens the distance of the throw for increased accuracy. It also allows the pitcher to set their footing before getting rid of the ball.
If you’re a coach looking to improve the pitcher’s body mechanics, take a look at the step-by-step execution as explained in this breakdown of the drill.
Communication is Key
The closer the ball rolls to a baseline, the more the pitcher has to announce their intent. Basemen are expected to cover the bags and the catcher has the back of your gal at 3rd. If you want to put your hands on the ball, you need to call it.
If the ball is in the air then you and the catcher also need to be able to talk it out. Yours should be the no-contact kind of battery.
This video goes through drills with both basemen and pitchers in position to help increase communication between them in real time.
Fielders and pitchers also need to communicate during pickoff situations. Here the guys in MLB Park show you how it’s done.
Learn By Example
The MLB has had two outstanding fielding pitchers in recent history. You may know him from MLB Central but, before Jim Kaat became a baseball commentator, he spent 25 years as a pitcher in the bigs. Regarded as one of the greatest fielding pitchers of all time, Kaat was a 16-time Gold Glove winner (1962-1977), a three-time All-Star and won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was not inducted to the Hall of Fame despite 15 years of consideration. The 79-year old Kaat currently works as an MLB ambassador for the NY-based MLB Alumni Association. In February he was in New Zealand giving some instruction to their up and comers.
The title, King of the Hill however belongs to 18-time Gold Glove winner Greg Maddux (1990-2008). Maddux was an eight-time All-Star, four time NL Cy Young winner and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee. Here he is showing off some of the skills that earned him those Gold Gloves.
Are you a coach looking to get the most out of a short amount of practice time? Watch this video and get your whole team involved in your next PFP. If you’re new to coaching and don’t have the position numbers memorized, we’ve got you covered.
Looking for more in-depth situational positioning and help based on which side of the mound you throw from? Check out this excerpt from Baseball Playbook by Ron Polk.
We’re going to leave you with this PFP run-through from Team Israel.