Between the Ears: The Mental Side of Pitching

Many of you have asked about pitch calling and the mental approach to the game. I have also been asked to put some film up on the site, so you can see what I am trying to describe. This article kills 2 birds with one stone. At the bottom of this paragraph you will find 2 links. The first is the 8th inning and the second is the 9th inning of my most recent outing, August 20, 2009, a 2 inning save vs Dunedin Blue Jays. I will explain to you what my thought process was behind each pitch I threw. My advice is to click on the video and go pitch by pitch with me. As in read my commentary on the pitch, watch the pitch, press pause, and then go to the next one. Obviously you can do whatever you want, but I think this would make the most sense.

8th inning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fb2C0g5FhYU

9th inning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrl3VSBwTDI

THE SITUATION: I have just been called in to relieve Julian Sampson in the 8th inning. We are winning 1-0 and there are runners on first and second with no outs. At bat for the Jays is Manny Rodriguez, their left handed cleanup hitter. Keep in mind, I have pitched against the Blue Jays multiple times this season, so I know their hitters tendencies pretty well, and they know how I pitch.

PITCH 1: Thought process… trying to throw a sinking fastball on the inside corner to induce a weak ground ball to the right side to get a double play. If I miss, I want to miss in off the plate. I would rather throw a ball off the inside of the plate than leave something over the middle that he can hit for a double. Result… I leave it right over the middle of the plate, but because the pitch had good angle and run he hits a hard ground ball just out of the diving reach of our second baseman. Our right fielder was playing in, so he got the ball in a hurry, which made the 3rd base coach put up the stop sign. Bases loaded 0 outs

PITCH 2: I want to throw a first pitch change up to induce a double play ball. At this point, I am willing to trade 2 outs for 1 run. Our catcher, Joel Naughton, wants to throw a fastball away, I shake off, then he calls fastball in, I shake off, then he gets to change up. After all that shaking off, I think I am causing doubt in the hitter’s mind, so I step off. No one shakes off that many times and throws a fastball, as you know, I try to do the opposite of most pitchers, so I get back on the mound and throw a fastball. It is well located on the outside corner and he is very late on it. Count 0-1

PITCH 3: He was late on the first fastball and his body language indicates to me that he is gearing up and is willing to start earlier on this pitch so the fastball will not get on him so quickly. Because he is cheating for the fastball, I decide to throw a changeup. Ball outside. Count 1-1

PITCH 4: I believe I have him off balance at this point in the at bat. I want to locate a good fastball down and away and he will be late on it. I end up yanking it and missing down and in. Count 2-1

PITCH 5: He is now looking 100% dead red fastball, so I take a little off, and try to sink the fastball at a slower pace. I end up throwing him a sinking fastball that is about 5mph slower than the first 2 he saw. He rolls over it foul. Count 2-2

PITCH 6: It is 2-2 and the only pitch he has not seen is my slider. I do not want to throw the up and down slider because I do not want to leave it in his wheel house, and I certainly do not want to throw a ball to get the count full. I throw a back door slider that he takes a huge cut on and misses. 1 out bases loaded, 1-0 game

PITCH 7: Jesus Gonzalez is a free swinging, first ball fastball guy. With the bases loaded he is no doubt trying to get a fastball up and hit a deep fly ball. My first pitch is a good up and down slider away. He swings and misses and looks bad on it. Count 0-1

PITCH 8: Because he looked bad on that I wanted to throw the slider again. Now it is very important that I do not throw a worse slider than the first one. As a pitcher you cannot throw the same pitch twice and make the second one worse than the first or it will be crushed. I am now aiming to throw the slider so it bounces behind the plate. I end up bouncing it 2 feet in front of the plate. Great block by Joel. Count 1-1

PITCH 9: After 2 sliders, I doubt he can catch up to a good fastball on the outside corner. He swings and is very late. Count 1-2

PITCH 10: I now have him right where I want him, off balance. I believe he will be late on my fastball and ahead of my slider, so I will throw whatever pitch Joel calls. He calls for a fastball inside. I end up leaving it right over the middle, but he was late on it and fouls it off to the right side. Count remains 1-2

PITCH 11: He has swung at 3 of the 4 pitches I have thrown him this at bat, with the exception of a 58 foot slider. He is, without question, in swing mode. This tells me I do not have to throw him a strike to get him out. My options now are high fastball, or slider in the dirt. Joel calls for the slider. I throw a good one for a swinging strike 3. By good one I mean that it starts at his upper thigh/belt area. When he releases his hands from his shoulder the ball is well above his knee and in the middle of the plate, but when the ball crosses the plate, it is in the dirt and he swings over the pitch. 2 outs bases loaded

Adam Loewan steps in. He is a left handed hitter with a long swing that covers the plate well. For those of you who are wondering, it is the same Adam Loewan that was a first round pick and pitched for the Baltimore Orioles before injuring his throwing shoulder. He is now trying to come back as a hitter a la Rick Ankiel.

PITCH 12: He is one of the few hitters that I want to throw fastballs for strikes up in the zone rather than down. His first move as a hitter is to drop his hands, so anything low finds his barrel. Joel calls a fastball away, he takes it for strike one. Count 0-1

PITCH 13: This is a set up pitch. I want to end up getting him out hard up and in. But if I throw him 3 in a row there is a chance he will catch up to the 3rd one. So, I try to throw a change up off the plate for a ball, just to change his rhythm. I end up throwing it down and away for a strike, and he rolls over it foul. He was clearly geared up for the fastball on that pitch. Count 0-2

PITCH 14: Now he is perfectly set up for the high fastball. Joel calls for it outside, and I say yes, but have no intention on throwing it outside, in fact, I want to throw it right over the middle and at his letters. I execute the pitch and get the reaction I wanted. End of the inning.

PITCH 15: This is a new guy that they just called up so I start him off with a fastball that is intended for the outside corner but hits the inside corner for strike 1. Count 0-1

PITCH 16: Because the last pitch took him inside, I have changed his attention to the inside corner. He is now aware that I will pitch inside, which opens up the outside corner. I throw an outside fastball and he is late on it and fouls it off to the left side. Count 0-2

PITCH 17: I am not going to waste any time, and I go straight for the kill. He will definitely swing at a good up and down slider that is a strike for 50 feet then drops. I execute the exact pitch I want but he spits on it (Spits on it is a term that describes how a hitter take a pitch. To spit on a pitch means the hitter did not even attempt to offer at it. It is as if he has the take sign). Now I am a little flustered. I got the opposite reaction I was looking for. The only possible reason for that is either he has an unbelievable eye or he was in take mode. You might say to yourself, why someone would be in take mode with the count 0-2. My answer at the time was that he knew I was trying to get him to swing and miss, so he is trying to bait me into throwing the next pitch a little higher, and right in his wheel house. Count 1-2

PITCH 18: I decide that he is trying to bait me into bringing up the slider so I decide to throw the exact same pitch. If he takes it, it means I was wrong and he has a great eye; but if he swings at it, then I was right and he was trying to bait me. He swings over it. 1 out

PITCH 19: Start with a fastball away that misses up. Count 1-0

PITCH 20: Thinking he might be looking for a fastball, I take something off of it and sink in on the outside corner. He takes it for a strike. Count 1-1

PITCH 21: He has yet to swing the bat so I decide to throw a hard fastball away. I know he will be late on it if I execute it properly, but I over throw it and miss way up. Count 2-1

This is where I make a big mistake. The count is now 2-1 and I missed badly on the last pitch. I should have taken my time, regrouped, taken a deep breath, and then gotten back on the mound. Instead I jump right back on the bump and pretend it never happened. Unfortunately, I cannot fool muscle memory.

PITCH 22: I miss high again on a fastball because of the reasons above. Count 3-1

Now I decide to walk around and take a deep breath, but it is too little too late.

PITCH 23: I miss with a fastball away, and walked him. 1 out runner on first

For the next 5 seconds I am completely livid with myself. Walking someone with no one on base in a 1-0 game is simple unacceptable and inexcusable. But I quickly forget about that, and worry about the next hitter.

PITCH 24: The leadoff hitter is up. He is a free swinging fastball hitter. I decide to give him what he wants and to sink the fastball on the outside corner. My goal is for him to roll over and induce a 4-6-3 double play. I end up making the worst pitch of the outing by leaving it belt high and in the middle of the plate. He gets good wood on it, but it thankfully goes straight to the right fielder. 2 outs runner on 1st.

PITCH 25: This is definitely a running situation, so I need to be aware of that and make sure I am a 1.2-1.3 to the plate and mix in some pick offs to give Joel a chance to throw him out. Joel calls for a fastball away, I execute the pitch and he is late on it. Count 0-1

PITCH 26: From his body language I do not believe he is trying to speed himself up to get to the fastball so I decide to repeat the fastball away, and hopefully he is late. I was right, but I left it a little too much over the plate and he bleeds it right over our diving shortstop. It was good quality of contact for me, but nevertheless, runners on 1st and 2nd 2 outs. To make matters worse, their best hitter up.

(Side note: it is interesting that pitchers always complain about cheap hits, but when you look back on the tape over a long period of time you realize that the game balances itself out. Those last 2 batters, I gave up a crushed out and a poorly hit single. That’s just how baseball works sometimes.)

Moises Sierra steps up. He is a right handed hitter with power to all fields. He leads the FSL in many offensive categories. I have faced him many times before and have had good success against him. The last time I faced him was in almost this exact same situation; runners in scoring position with the game on the line. Going into this at bat I know 2 things for certain. The first is that he is not looking to walk. This is his time and he wants to be the one driving in the runs and becoming the hero. The second is the last time I faced him I started him with a fastball down the middle because I thought he was looking for the slider. So I know that he will be sitting dead red on the first pitch.

PITCH 27: I start him off with a slider. I do not want it to be like the other up and down ones. I want it to cut more so it stays in the zone the whole time. I need to throw this pitch for a strike because I know he will take it, as he is looking for the fastball. I end up missing my spot and leaving it right over the middle. Thank God I was right about him taking it. Count 0-1

PITCH 28: His reaction tells me that he is pissed off about missing that last pitch. I want to get him to think about it some more so I inside move to second base. I do this to not only keep the runners honest but also to create doubt in the hitters head. Now I want to throw a good up and down slider that he will swing over or hit weakly into the ground. I throw a pretty good pitch but he spits on it for a ball. Count 1-1

PITCH 29: I want to throw a fastball here, but I sense that he is looking for that. Whenever I sense that a hitter is looking for the pitch I want to throw I try to stall so I can create some doubt in his head. Sometimes I tie my shoe, but this time I called time and switched balls. The fastball misses up and away for ball 2. Count 2-1

At this point I know I have the at bat won and the game is over so long as I execute my pitches. You might be thinking, “How can u possibly say that when you are down in the count and facing the best hitter in their lineup?” The answer is out of the reaction I got from him taking that pitch. If you watch closely he leans and dives over the plate. He really wanted to swing, but he held up. I know I am 2 pitches away. If I throw the 2-1 slider for a strike, then I can get him to chase a fastball out of the zone.

PITCH 30: I throw the 2-1 slider with the same intent as the 0-0 slider. I want it to cut on the outside corner. I do not think he will swing, but if he does he will be off balance and roll over it. Turns out he was looking for a fastball and at the last second when he knew it was going to be a strike, he sticks the bat out and fouls off the slider. Count 2-2

PITCH 31: I have him perfectly set up for the fastball high and away. I get the sign, but miss my location. I throw a high fastball out of the zone but right down the middle. He is barely able to get the bat on it and fouls it off. Count remains 2-2

PITCH 32: He is clearly in swing mode, so I have 2 choices, either the high and away fastball or the slider in the dirt. His body language tells me that he is looking to protect the plate so I elect to go with the fastball high and away. It is the same pitch I was trying to throw a pitch before. This time I execute it and get a swinging strike 3. Game over.

As you can see, I treat pitching as much a mental exercise as a physical exercise. The key to pitching is to connect the two. Throughout this outing I was wrong a few times with regard to what pitch should be thrown to which location, and I miss executed some pitches. The majority of the time I was correct in my thought process and was able to execute the pitch properly. My goal is to be able to do this all the time.

I will end this article with another lesson from my dad. He told me, “In any game you are either going to win or you are going to lose. The more prepared competitor will win much more than he loses.”

My last article of the season will be a big mailbag, so feel free to email me questions at mschwimer@yahoo.com

48 thoughts on “Between the Ears: The Mental Side of Pitching

  1. thats awesome stuff, was always interested to see how the pitcher thinks during an at bat, also the video quality was better than I expected

  2. Outstanding performance Michael!

    Because of the small crowd it does not seem like a high pressure situation, but coming into 2 on, no out, 1 run game, and striking out the side (especially after loading the bases on one pitch). Wow!

    Great explanation. It is very impressive how much attention you pay to all the aspects of pitching: not only your specific pitch, but the batter reaction, catcher calls, field situation, and even nuance of pitch movement needed.

    Also interesting to see who pitch quality “stuff” can make up for location. Obviously not every pitch will be exactly where you want it, but coming back and getting those key pitches where you want them is remarkable.

    Oh, and if I did not already, how much can you appreciate being a catcher in the minors? Joel is trying to call pitches, position the defense, block balls, and worry about baserunners; all of whom may be new to him. I was wondering what he said to you when he visited the mound?

    Pleasure to read your video article. I hope I can see you in Arizona. Congrats.

  3. This is awesome stuff Mike. Can’t thank you enough for the insight you’ve given us this entire season, and the best of luck the rest of the way. I too hope to catch you pitching in Arizona this Fall.

  4. mike i dont expect you in any way to throw anyone under the bus so if in your most honest way can you comment on the situation up here. do you , as i do, believe in the baseball gods? For many things that have happened to brad this year would not have happened last year. errors, pb,s. your thoughts if myers is the only way to go, if lidge is sat down.

  5. Thanks Mike! I just learned more in 20 minutes about pitching than I have in 35 years of watching the game. So many people talk about baseball being boring, but it becomes fascinating when you think along with the pitcher and catcher.

  6. Thank you, Mike. This was fascinating stuff.

    It seems like you have a lot going through your mind on every pitch, though. Is Cliff Lee doing the same thing, or will a major league catcher handle the processing you described so that you can focus solely on executing the pitch he calls to the location he establishes?

    What you are providing us here is fantastic – I have played a lot of ball (never on your level), and I am learning/understanding a great deal about the game (and the games within the game). Thank you!

  7. Phenomenal article as usual – and that’s one hell of a tough save. Nice job (on the writing and the save). It’s kinda odd, the first thing I checked when I woke up this morning was the Phillies score, and I saw that Lidge had another meltdown. Then I read this article. The two tied together rather nicely.

    - Jeff

  8. Very well written, a great insight. Tell me, are there cases when you think you’ve done everything correctly, called the right pitch, executed it correctly, and still got a bad result? What is your reaction if and when that happens? Or do you consider every time a hitter gets good contact a failure on your part?

  9. Really good stuff Mike! Best of luck to you in AFL! We need a little more between the ears up here with the big league club closer! Hopefully it will be you soon.

  10. Thanks for this Schwim. You verified something for me. In High school I pitched and when things weren’t going so well, which was quite often, my coach would come out to the mound and say “Don’t think.. throw.” I couldn’t imagine just taking the ball and throwing it without a plan on what I was going to do with it. I guess if I’d executed my plan, then he wouldn’t have been out to the mound so much.

  11. Great, great stuff here, Mike. As Jeff O said above, that’s about the hardest kind of save to come by. And congrats on being selected for the AFL — I think it shows just how highly the organization thinks of you and your future.

  12. Thanks for the video as so much more can be qualified through these observations than any stat sheet might offer. It appears as though you are establishing a circle change grip before your hand goes to your mit. Do you always begin with the same initial grip?

  13. Schwim,

    That was insightful and well written. Absolutely fascinating.

    I noticed that you spent a lot of time trying to read the opposing player’s thoughts and emotions to get an edge, while also factoring in recent experience to dictate how you handle each batter.

    Have you ever sat down with batters – friends from other teams and/or teammates and compared notes on what they were thinking v. what you were thinking during an at bat?

    Also, how much do you use any statistics or scouting to back up your thought process. For example, do you look at that player who is a first ball swinger, and know he is that way through experience or through reviewing scouting, or stats?

    Thank you so much for your contribution. Good luck in the AFL!

  14. Man, I wish I was a teenager again. I never had a proper pitching instructor and this would have been great to know as a young guy.

  15. Michael,
    Appreciate your time and insight this summer. Hope you can continue to educate us on the AFL and your time there. Thanks again and Congrats on a great season and hopefully a great fall

  16. that up and down slider is. . . beautiful. I mean it. just wow. thats big league stuff man. when do you get the call?

  17. Excellent article! A few questions:

    1.) Do you think Naughton’s reception of your slider potentially tips the pitch? It’s noticeable that he gears up a bit more to block a potential ball in the dirt; do you think that may cause problems with a runner on?

    2.) In the Sierra AB, when he lunges out on the 2-1 pitch, why not bust him back inside with your fastball? Are the double-up sliders away due to generally wanting to stay away from this guy as he has power or that you think he will look in? Not questioning your selection, but just wanted to get more of your thoughts there.

  18. Mike, congrats on getting choosen to go to the AFL. I thought that they did you a bit of a disservice this year by not bumping you up to Reading. Hope you show them that they should have! Bst of luck and I’ll see you either in Reading or Allentown next year

  19. that was an education for all of us. i can speak for myself in saying i really didn’t know that much went into each pitch. a real chess match. great stuff!

  20. The time, energy, and sophisticated video and written report done by Michael is beyond that provided by anybody else I’ve seen here on the learning process for pitchers…on their way up to the bigs.

    Plaudits to him for providing this…at his own expense and expenditure of time on behalf of US (and maybe himself and coaches). His undemanded insights will hopefully follow him upward in the system with ourselves as voyeurs.

    THANK YOU MICHAEL!!

    Looking forward to more….

  21. Do the other pitchers in clearwater think their way through ab’s like you do? Do the coaches teach you pitchers this or is this something you brought with you from UVA? It’s always better to work smarter not harder. Good for you, hope to see you in the bigs sooner rather than later!

  22. Michael –

    Your blog has been a real treat for me and I think many other baseball fans, coaches and players. I’ll bet many pitching coaches at all levels will use this week’s edition as a tool. Great integration of the video. You certainly deserved a shot at the AFL and I’m glad the Philly brain trust recognized not only your physical and pitching skills but your intelligence and competitiveness. Good luck and keep it coming!

  23. Scwims fastball absolutely JUMPS. Seems like he hides it behind his backleg. Anyone have a pitchfx on it? Or not until he gets to AAA?

  24. That is one of the greatest thing’s I’ve ever read regarding baseball. Simply amazing the thinking side of baseball.

  25. Normally I do not respond to questions on the comment section until the mailbag, but this question I should have answered in my article.

    Hydrant asked, “In the Sierra AB, when he lunges out on the 2-1 pitch, why not bust him back inside with your fastball? Are the double-up sliders away due to generally wanting to stay away from this guy as he has power or that you think he will look in? Not questioning your selection, but just wanted to get more of your thoughts there.”

    That is a great question. First, you are absolutely correct when you say his reaction opens up the inside corner. The reason I threw the 2-1 slider instead was because the margin for error is greater against that particular hitter. What I mean by that is if miss with the fastball over the plate he will crush it, but if i miss with the slider over the middle of the plate he will still be off balance and it will be a strike. Sierra is a fastball ego hitter. No matter what the count is, you can not fool him with a fastball close to the middle of the plate. Had I been facing a reaction type hitter, I would have definitely gone with the 2-1 inside fastball.

  26. Great video and explanation of your thought process.

    Also on phillies.com it says that Schwim was named minor pitcher of the week. Congratulations.

    thanks for the insight and continued success to you Mike.

  27. This is a great feature for the site…I wonder if it would be possible to convince any other Phillies minor-leaguers to contribute occasionally as well.

  28. Best. Blog. Post. Ever. Anywhere.

    Looks like if you get a little more consistent control on the fastball you would be completely unhittable, rather than just almost unhittable.

    Love how you sometimes slow down and sink your FB–Tug McGraw did this , too–called it his “Peggy Lee” fastball, after her song “Is that all there is?”. Even if you miss your spot the batter would likely pull it foul.

  29. I’m not even a Phillies fan, but a friend linked me to this post. It offers fascinating insight into a pitcher’s mind, and it’s much appreciated. Thanks!

  30. Michael,

    Congrats on getting called up!!! Your insight is fantastic. I hope to see you around during the off season. Good luck!

    Paul

  31. saw the schwim’s debut last night. congrats on the 1st AA victory. he pitched a scoreless 11th with a line drive to 1st sandwiched between 2 very nice plays by freddy. it was a shame the schwim was not up a week earlier as the crowd was very low 2-3 thousand if that(1st day of school and a little cooler might have kept people away). i would have been nice for him to see a 7-9 thousand crowd. oh well, maybe next year. he looks good, i don’t know how long he will be in reading next yr. interesting fact—6 of the 2008 draft choices are with the rphils now. certainly not the way the old phils operated.

  32. This is the best article about BB I may have ever read. High praise for Schwim. I have posted the link to this post on several other blogs, and the reviews are in…drum roll…Schwim knows how to pitch (and even better in explaning it, not to take away from his game) and pitch very well.

  33. I enjoy reading all your blogs. Excellent insight into each pitch and your thoughts about the situation. I agree that this thought process probably makes you a great clubhouse poker player. Good thing you had a personal video tape person so we could see what you where talking about. I loved Schwimlocity and thought your explanation of dead arm was very good. Congrats again on the call up and the double win.
    Good luck in Arizona

  34. this is great. thanks for taking the time to explain your thinking as a pitcher. i look forward to watching you pitch in the bigs!

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