How to Structure your Bullpens – Intermediate Edition

Written By: Lacey Waldrop

If you think you’ve mastered the mechanics of pitching and you’re trying to decide what the next steps should be, look no further! Are you thinking of adding a new pitch? Do you want to increase your speed? I’m here to give you a road map for a safe, challenging, and effective way to begin to create more challenging practices.

Realistically, there will always be small parts of your pitching routine and mechanics that you should continue to focus on. Pitching is an activity that is so detailed that you could always learn something new that will help you improve. That being said, don’t forget to start your warm-ups with the basics. You can always find something small to focus on while you’re warming up that will help you maintain a strong foundation as you add more challenging aspects to your practices.

The Three Most Important Factors Moving Forward

In the next stages of pitching, there tends to be a lot of debate between focusing on speed or location. If you have developed solid mechanics and continue to do so, then I see no reason why you have to compromise one for the other. 

Something that I see far too often is a young pitcher throwing five different pitches before they have developed solid mechanics. As your pitcher becomes more experienced, locating the fastball and speed development should be the two most important things that you try and achieve. However, developing a change-up is also an extremely important part of a young pitcher’s development.

1) Speed

One of the easiest ways to track improvement is to track pitch speeds in lessons and practices. During your practices, consistently work on different aspects of the pitching motion that will aid speed development.

2) Location

Speed can carry you as a young pitcher, but as you progress and get better, so do the hitters. Practicing your locations is another way to continue to develop consistency that translates into game-time. 

3) Changing Speeds

One of our main goals as a pitcher is to change the hitter’s timing. You can slightly change a hitter’s timing by locating your fastball in different parts of the zone, but your best bet is to develop a change-up or an offspeed pitch. When developing a change-up, you ideally want somewhere between a 10-12 mile per hour difference between your fastball. There are plenty of pitchers who take more speed off of their change-up, but if there is too large of a gap between the two, it starts to become easier for advanced hitters to recognize. If you are a pitcher who has larger than a 15 mile per hour gap between your fastball and your change-up, it may be helpful to develop an offspeed pitch that lies somewhere in the middle.

Practice Structure

When trying to decide which of the three aspects to work on moving forward, it is helpful to develop a weekly plan that details your focus for each practice. If you have lengthy practices, you may be able to work on speed development, location, and changing speeds. You could also plan to separate each aspect into different bullpens. There is no perfect structure when it comes to planning your practice; however, it is important to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Once you understand where you’re falling short in games, you can start to identify what aspect is the most important for you to focus on.

Speed Building Bullpen
Power Pen

Speed is a component that you will continuously want to work on throughout your pitching career. If you're looking to isolate your practice to speed building, the structure above will help identify specific drills and movements that you'll want to emphasize. Below, I have provided examples of each exercise.

Drive Progression

Key Takeaways:

  1. In order to create a proper drive off the mound, you want to hinge your hips back to engage your hamstrings and your glutes.
  2. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings and glutes as you push your hips backward.
  3. As you push off the mound and extend your hips, try to lift your front knee to hip height.
  4. To assist in reaching an ideal height with your front leg, add a string or rope that rests at the pitcher's knee height. I placed my rope about three feet in front of the rubber.
Banded Leg Drive Exercises

Key Takeaways:

  1. In both exercises, you will perform a full pitch with the Jaeger Band attached to either the drive leg (right leg for a right-handed pitcher) or lead leg (left leg for a right-handed pitcher).
  2. Attaching the band adds resistance to emphasize driving off the mound and increasing hip extension.
  3. With the band attached to the lead leg, you are working on reaching the lead leg out and up.
  4. In both drills, you want to land with an open front foot and rotate the back hip all the way through so that your back knee faces forward.
Creating Rotational Power

How to Generate Rotational Power

In the video above, I highlight the importance of externally rotating the front hip and the throwing shoulder. When you create external rotation in the hip and shoulder, as seen in the video, you are then able to fire your glutes and whip your arm through to finish your pitch. This allows you to generate more power in your pitch. To learn more about the biomechanics of pitching, I recommend purchasing Courtney Hudson's Biomechanics Course, as this is where I have learned most of the information provided about creating rotational power.

Location-Based Bullpen
Location Bullpen

The more challenging and game-like your practices become, the more success you will have in games. The exercises above are just a few of my favorite examples of creating difficult and competitive practices that incorporate location-based challenges. Below, I explain the additional challenge games that I mentioned in the practice plan.

Pitcher's Pocket H.O.R.S.E
10 Point Challenge

One of the most important aspects of pitching is throwing strikes. The ten-point challenge, which I learned from my former teammate, and Northwestern pitching coach Michelle Gascoigne, will help young players challenge themselves to throw within the strike zone.

Point System

+2 for every strike

-1 for every ball 

You will continue to throw pitches until you reach the ten-point margin. This challenge is extremely simple, but you can quickly find yourself in the negative points zone if you start off slow. This will emphasize the importance of getting ahead of hitters and attacking the strike zone early. To make this more difficult, specify a location, and only give yourself points if you hit your spot. If reaching ten points becomes too easy to accomplish, increase the number you're trying to get to.

Changing Speeds
Change Final

As your pitching continues to develop, finding a change-up that is deceptive is something that will set you apart. Your change-up should look identical to your fastball. By that, I mean that none of your mechanics or body movements should vary from your fastball to your change-up. Your tempo should remain the same no matter what pitch you're throwing. The drills in the table above will help you develop a deceptive change-up and command it in any count.

String Work

Key Takeaways

  • Rope placement: Midway between the plate and the rubber, three and a half feet off the ground.
  • Your change-up should pass underneath the rope at the mid-way point.
  • Throwing your change-up at or below the rope will keep your pitch low in the zone and increase deception.
Putting it all Together

Developing more speed, increasing command, and changing speeds will help you become a complete pitcher. You can complete each of these practice plans as written or you can mix and match exercises to create your own practice. Identify which of these three areas you need the most improvement in and dedicate an extra bullpen to that area. As you continue to practice, make each exercise challenging and define a goal for the day. When your practices are focused and detailed, you will start to see results.

Next week I'll be sharing my advanced pitching practice structure. If your dream is to pitch in college, the advanced edition is for you.

To check out my beginner pitching program, click here.

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