Pitch to Contact

12 Jun

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

“Pitch to Contact.”

It’s just a three-word phrase, but for some reason, a lot of Twins fans seem to think it has a negative connotation, and frankly, I don’t understand why.

Here is my definition of “Pitch to Contact.”

Don’t walk people. Throw strikes. Hit spots in the strike zone. Make the batters swing the bat.

That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

For some reason, people take that phrase as saying, “Don’t strike people out.”

Earlier in the year, the Twins told Francisco Liriano to Pitch to Contact. Some thought that it meant that he shouldn’t strike people out. That’s not the case. The team wanted him to stop walking people and throwing five to seven pitches per batter. Liriano was struggling early with command of the strike zone. He wasn’t getting through even five innings.

In the game after getting the advice, he got beat by an inning where he gave up a bunch of seeing-eye singles. However, in that game, he was throwing more strikes. Even in his no-hitter, he walked a bunch and yet, as the game went along, he also got some quick outs. In his two starts since his return from the Disabled List, he has been terrific. And on Sunday, he threw eight innings and walked none and struck out nine. When Liriano pitches to contact (ie, throwing strikes), his “stuff” is still hard to hit and he gets strikeouts. When Scott Baker throws strikes and pitches to contact, he can get strikeouts. He has terrific stuff. When Carl Pavano and Nick Blackburn pitch to contact, they have to be a little bit more fine because they don’t have the great ‘stuff’ and can more easily give up hits.

This pitch-to-contact philosophy is one that has been very successful for the Twins in the past decade. It is what made pitchers like Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven and Jim Kaat and Brad Radke and Kevin Tapani successful over the years. Strikeouts come from throwing strikes. Runs are given up by walking hitters and falling behind in counts.

If Liriano continues to pitch to contact, he is going to be great and rack up a lot of strikeouts. All that is great for the Twins, and their fans!

For more on Liriano and the Twins big decisions to come this week, be sure to listen to last night’s SethSpeaks.net Sunday Night Twins Podcast.

Feel free to comment here.


17 Responses to “Pitch to Contact”

  1. Patrick June 13, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    I love your blog but on this point I have to disagree with you. It seems to me that the fundamental difference between pitching to contact and power pitching is not whether you throw the ball in the strike zone but whether you are trying to miss bats or induce contact. Clearly there are pitcher that are not trying to strike anyone out (Blackburn). If they do get the odd strikeout here or there, great, but it isn’t their goal. In contrast there are pitcher like Liriano who seem to thrive trying to get a strikeout any time they can.
    I think this shows in Liriano’s numbers. Since he abandoned the PTC idea his total % of pitches that are strikes has climbed slightly. Clearly he is still throwing the ball over the plate. More importantly his Swinging Strike % has jumped from 10% early in the year to over 12% for the last month of games. For the season he is at 11.3% (for comparison Blackburn 5.5%, Pavano 6.2%, Baker 10%). If Liriano keeps creating swinging strikes he will find himself leading the league just like he did last year when he had a pretty good season.

  2. Matt June 13, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    If “pitch to contact” is a simple as throwing strikes, couldn’t they have just told Liriano to “throw strikes”? “Pitch to contact” to me means deliberately make the hitter put the ball in play, which is different from just throwing strikes.

  3. gobbledy June 13, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    seth i think you’re a little confused on this one. jack morris pitch to contact? i think patrick has it right!

  4. Grant June 13, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    It seems to me that the fundamental difference between pitching to contact and power pitching is not whether you throw the ball in the strike zone but whether you are trying to miss bats or induce contact.

    “Pitch to contact” to me means deliberately make the hitter put the ball in play

    No, Seth is more correct. Nobody is going to try to induce contact unless you’re teaching 5 year olds how to hit. What pitching to contact means is not being afraid of batters putting the ball in play. There’s a pretty big difference between that and trying to induce contact.

  5. Dennis N June 13, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Frank Viola said, “Work fast, change speeds, and throw strikes.”

  6. Patrick June 13, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    Grant says, “Nobody is going to try to induce contact unless you’re teaching 5 year olds how to hit.”

    This is simply false.

    Ron Gardenhire himself said (regarding Kevin Slowey, but it still applies), “[He needs to] pitch to contact better because he’s got great stuff and he can move the ball in and out. [He] just has to not try and be so fine and get them to hit the ball.” Please note the last part of that. He needs to get them to hit the ball. Gardenhire does not mean just put it over the plate. He wanted Slowey to get the batters to hit it.

    Here is a quote from Liriano immediately following the game on April 13th when he was first instructed to pitch to contact, “I just wanted them to put the ball in play, not try to strike out a lot of people.

    If pitch to contact means just put the ball over the plate then someone needs to tell Gardenhire and Liriano. Instead, from what Liriano was doing and what both of them have said pitching to contact seems to mean something more. It seems to indicate a change in philosophy where you attempt to induce weak contact to minimize the number of pitches thrown as opposed to trying to miss bats and strike guys out. Again its not about the location of the pitches but the approach to the at bat that is different.

  7. Grant June 13, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    You’re reading too literally.

  8. Kunza June 13, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Pitching to contact is simply an idiotic thought, yet the Twins keep spewing this out like they have mastered pitching in the major leagues. Name one other organization that has ever come out and said they want their pitchers to pitch to contact. This is the big leagues. These guys are really, really good and have 1 job…. to miss bats. There aren’t too many successful pitchers the majors who live a long life by just throwing strikes. You keep throwing it over the plate and you’re getting killed by these hitters.

    It’s just as idiotic as telling a running back to make only 1 cut or a good shooting guard to only shoot 2 pointers because it’s what the “team thinks” will make them successful.

    If i was Liriano, I would tell the Twins to screw off. I’m going to pitch the way I want to pitch. What does Ron Gardenhire or Rick Anderson really know about pitching? Did they have successful careers in the big leagues on the mound? Every pitcher knows what is best for “their game”.

  9. Matt June 13, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    I didn’t realize that “pitch to contact” was a figure of speech. It sounds pretty literal to me.

  10. Patrick June 13, 2011 at 9:51 am #

    I don’t see how Liriano’s quote could be understood any other way. I’m not doing a particularly deep reading here. It is a pretty simple quite and seems pretty obvious. He is clearly saying that his focus was to induce contact as opposed to missing bats. That is the crux of the pitching to contact issue.

    To be clear, I have no problem with pitcher pitching to contact. It works great for guys like Blackburn and Pavano. However, it doesn’t work for Liriano. Also when you have the stuff that Liriano has the idea of inducing contact just doesn’t make any sense.

  11. jimbo92107 June 13, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    It doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker, but “pitch to contact” really means that you shouldn’t be afraid to throw strikes just because the mean old batter might not whiff every time. So, go ahead and throw strikes, because walks are how you give away baseball games.

  12. Grant June 13, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    Did they have successful careers in the big leagues on the mound?

    Did you?

  13. Andrew June 13, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    “Pitch to contact” means just that: pitching in order to get the opposing batters to make contact. You’re not just throwing strikes, you are pitching with the *goal* of allowing the ball to be hit into play. As a sinkerball-type pitcher without a killer strikeout pitch, and with a rock-solid defense behind you, this isn’t a half-bad strategy. But for Liriano, it’s ridiculous.

  14. SoCalTwinsfan June 13, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    The Twins aren’t stupid enough to not want strikeouts. They just don’t want their pitchers to be afraid of contact and try to get batters to chase pitches. Liriano often does that by throwing slider after slider, which he has a hard time throwing strikes with. He gets a lot of strikeouts with that pitch, but a lot of walks and long pitch counts as well. Liriano actually was “pitching to contact” in his last start because he would go after hitters in the strike zone even when ahead in the count. A couple times, he got to 0-2 and threw a fastball on the corner for strike three. The batters assumed he was going to throw a slider in an attempt to get them to chase and instead they took strike three. Strikeouts are great, but they are more about the pitcher’s stuff instead of him “trying” to get strikeouts. If a guy doesn’t have great stuff, he’s not going to get anyone to chase his stuff out of the zone, so why try? That just leads to walks, long at-bats and aggressive swings on pitches in the zone when the pitcher falls behind in the count.

  15. peterb18 June 13, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    Patrick has it right. There are two different types of pitchers–“power pitchers” with great stuff and “pitch to contact” guys who try to induce ground balls, etc. A power pitcher is one who tries to hit the plate and let his stuff take over. A perfect example is the curve ball of a power pitcher–only a pitcher with a live arm can make the pitch hit the dirt and induce a strikeout. A control pitcher cannot do this. When you tell a power pitcher to pitch to contact you take away his natural stuff.
    A control pitcher is another story–they must must rely on control to achieve success.

  16. Dustin Bonn June 14, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Not sure what the literal meaning of the phrase really is, but I do know you have be able to throw strikes early in the count in order to be successful. Liriano said himself that he lost his no-hitter vs the Rangers because he was trying to be too fine, and over throwing. He got behind 3-0 to Beltre, and had to come in w/ a fastball. Beltre knew it and hit it.

    There’s no denying that most successful pitchers consistently work ahead in the count. They throw strikes early, confident that their stuff is good enough to not get hit hard, or at all.

    If your stuff isn’t good enough to do that, and you have to rely on hitters chasing bad pitches, you don’t belong in the bigs. Its that simple.

  17. Brian June 15, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    Seth, your images are broken on the left side of your web site. This could affect your sales!

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