Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Kickball Pitching

As previously reported, I am the pitcher on a co-ed kickball team. Let's answer a couple of questions right off the top: is there any skill involved in kickball pitching whatsoever, and are there ever any strikeouts in kickball?

Yes, and yes! It's not just a matter of rolling the ball down the center. I've learned to put spin on the ball, and I can do it somewhat consistently. But now, I'm going to sabotage my team by giving away my general pitching strategy. (Sorry!)

My most consistent spin direction is (from the perspective of the batter) left to right. I can control this the best and can often occasionally nip the corner of the strike zone with it, so I use this spin the most. (The strike zone is a large box - a few feet on each side - that surrounds home plate.) The opposite spin is used as a change-up to keep the kicker honest. If I notice that the kicker is cheating towards his/her right, I'll look to throw the opposite spin. Also a factor is which foot the kicker kicks with; the opposite spin - if executed well - is more difficult for a right-foot kicker. Bascially, my goal is to find the perfect mix of effectiveness and unpredictability, while also skirting the edge of what is considered a legal pitch. You can't bounce the ball to home plate excessively, but they will allow for a little bounce. Bouncy pitches are more likely to result in pop-ups, which is the easiest way to get an out, so my goal is to be just on the legal side of the "too bouncy" line. Same goes for the strike zone - one of the league's umpires seems to enforce a wider strike zone than the other, and I account for that. Cheap? Sure! But other teams do it too, and we need all the advantages we can get.

The goal of the first two pitches is to nip the corner of the strike zone. If I throw a ball or two, so what? Three balls is a walk in kickball, so I basically have two giveaway pitches. Once I get to ball two, however, I forget about the spin and just roll it down the center so that the kicker at least has to work for it. But if I can manage to get ahead in the count...then it's time to go for the strikeout by really aiming for the edge of the strike zone on whichever side I think will be most effective, given the circumstances (where is the kicker lining up, what foot does he/she kick with, what pitches have I thrown so far in the at-bat). Believe it or not, I have five strikeouts in four games. I wasn't expecting any strikeouts going into this. I figured, it's a big enough ball; surely they won't miss, right? One of the five strikeouts actually was a bona fide swing and miss, but the other four were right on the corner and were "called strike three". I also have a few more pseudo-strikeouts off foul balls - a second foul ball after strike two results in an out - but I don't count those as strikeouts for statistical purposes.

This is all well and good, but...some guys are just good kickers, and there isn't a whole lot you can do about that. In kickball, no matter how much thought the pitcher happens to put into his strategy, a good offense will trump a good defense. If you have some strong legs in your lineup who can keep the ball in the ground (that's very important) and can kick it far when necessary, you'll do well. Most of the other teams have that, and as such, I'm averaging 7 runs allowed per 9 innings pitched. If I were to guess, I'd say that the league-wide average (including us - we're averaging less than 2 runs per game) is less than that. My early assessment that kickball generally draws the less-athletic types appears to have been a little premature. Some of the other teams are a little stacked. But that's okay. Even if we do end up losing 11 in a row after winning the first one, it's good exercise, and it's fun. Not as fun as curling, though.


Anonymous said...

I don't wan't to read all that

Anonymous said...

Hey Chris. I am also a pitcher for my kickball team. I can safely say that I am the best pitcher in the league.(I have about 25 years of bowling experience behind me, so that helps) I thought it'd be fun to add some of my own experiences. :) I'm surprised you've had that many called strikeouts. As you stated, very few people have an issue putting foot to ball, plus they have so getting even halfway decent kickers looking is pretty hard, but oh those nonathletic kickers, eh? :) I wouldn't undervalue those foul-outs though. It's basically a 4-pitch strikeout and it's important to keep the good kickers from putting the ball into play. A lot of the techniques you use are similar to what I do. I think you'd also find some additional success varying the speed of your pitches as well. Mixing in a few slow, large-breaking balls makes your fast-ball and "slider" that much more successful and throws their kicking motion timing off. I know it seems a little scary throwing the ball slower, but as long as you keep these pitches on the corners, you'll be in good shape. Plus, slow pitches require the kicker to supply all the power so the ball usually won't fly quite as far. Pitching to the hitter's style helps too. The hardest pitch for a 'bunter' to handle is a hard, bouncy ball. The 'soccer players' can usually handle these, but the weaker players have a hard time. I find power kickers have a difficult time handling balls breaking into their back foot (something you mentioned earlier) so I set them up for that.
Anyway, I just wanted to say hi and talk a little 'shop' with a fellow pitcher. :) I'm also working on developing a hard-biting over-hand pitch, so i'll let u know if I get anywhere with that. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey guys thanks for the invoice about kick ball pitching you guys rock I am and short stop and thridbase man and an pitchers but really not to be be all cocky tho I never will be but I seem to have very fast speed on the big red ball I have beat top rank teams and two haven't lost and I take pride and heart and be an team player trying to help my team to play as an team but my problem is that I try to hard to and I end up causeing the game I just need help on how to relaxing at the pitcher plate but how can I spin the ball is there an way that I have to hold the ball to spin on the edge of the home plate please help me out thanks god bless and what an better way to stop great players on buting Miguel Sanchez

SimAlex said...

I'm late –- ok very late -– to this comment thread but i've recently discovered that pitching is my best position in kickball, and i really like doing it as well, and this post has been incredibly helpful to me as i learn more about what i'm doing/how to do it more effectively.

my left-right curve is easiest for me to throw for strikes, with some velocity. i've been working on the right-left, and i actually threw one last night that broke right-left then back right again -- it hit a bump on the field as it crossed the plate, which was cool to see as it totally froze the kicker. i'm working on velocity mainly, and also just being more consistent.

the second anonymous poster has some really great tips too, particularly about foul-outs. honestly, i feel that foul-outs are the metric by which kickball pitching is measured. i've seen next to no actual strike-outs, as the second poster said, because it's relatively easy to put the foot on the ball.