Friday, August 03, 2007

A Coherent Philosophy

A few weeks back, Barry Larkin expressed some concern about a lack of a consistent hitting philosophy among the Nats' minor league teams. After reading this piece in the Washington Times (perhaps the single best thing one of the major papers has written on the Nats' minor league system), I don't have doubts about the pitching.

It's the first article I can recall that discusses a philosophy and a plan on the minor league level, and it's all coordinated by Spin Williams. Just a few excerpts:
"He focused on keeping the ball down and having control of your fastball," Lannan said. "He didn't let us throw anything but fastballs coming into camp, and it made you appreciate your other pitches because when you're only throwing your fastball, you really have to spot up; you really have to control it to get outs. If you control your fastball and mix in your other pitches, you'll get outs."

Williams said he wanted to "make a statement" about what was important.

"Not that the breaking ball is not important, but we wanted to emphasize command of the fastball and the straight change," he said. "Obviously as a starting pitcher you've got to have three or four pitches, but we really want to make them understand what's gonna take them to each level."...

What we want to do, especially at the lower levels, is get kids to throw strikes and be aggressive and command their fastballs," McCatty said. "That's Spin's philosophy from the start. You're gonna pound the strike zone and command your fastball. Start with a good, low fastball anywhere across the plate. We don't want them to be a nibbler."...

"You can go out and watch a high school kid and say, 'That's a perfect delivery,' " he said. "OK, now let's go between the white lines and put Barry Bonds at the plate and let's see if you can repeat that. That's the lesson you're learning. So you can repeat it from a habit, then learn the things you have to learn to know where to put it, when to put it there, when to add velocity, when to subtract velocity."...

One common technique Williams uses to enhance the health of pitchers is the long-toss program. Between starts, pitchers start off throwing (not pitching) from distances starting at 30 feet, then 60 feet, 90 feet and finally 120 feet. Beyond 90 feet, they are to throw with a "hump," that is, not on a straight line.

"A lot of people preach throwing on a line," Williams said. "But my feeling is it puts more effort on the throw. You might as well get on the mound and throw to a catcher. I like our pitchers to throw a relaxed throw."

I'd love to read something like that on the offensive side of the ball. What do they emphasize? How do they emphasize it?

Great stuff!