Flat Ground vs. Mound Work
By Rob Smith
The debate continues on whether or not pitchers should spend the bulk of their time training on the bump, or on the grass. Pitching coaches assign various drills and types of bullpens every day in practice with the intentions of helping their guys get a better feel for their delivery and pitches. One big decision that goes along with that work is if the pitcher should do the work from flat ground or the mound? Some argue that working too much off the mound can take more out of an arm than if you worked on flat ground. This is a very valid point, if the pitcher is working at full intensity every time he gets up on the mound. The difference is that quality work can still be done even if it’s not at 100% effort on the mound.
If a pitcher is going to do a flat ground spots session or a flat ground bullpen, it usually is done at 70-75% anyway, so, why not do it on the mound? Again, working from the mound can take more out of an arm, but only once you reach a certain intensity level. I feel that a pitcher’s intensity level has to reach around 90% effort or better to really start feeling the effects of the mound.
The benefits to working off the mound as often as possible is that it will create better feel for the pitcher in regards to his delivery, and his understanding of how to locate the ball while trying to negotiate the slope of the mound. A sound delivery must have good timing while moving in a linear plane with rotational movements. To make it more difficult, they have to do it while moving down an angled slope. This is where the challenge lies in regards to many of the common problems pitchers face.
Regardless of your pitching philosophy, I think most pitching coaches will agree that they don’t want their pitchers to fly open, drag their arm, miss high, flatten out, or throw a ball that has no angle or sink to it. If the pitcher is having issues with these types of problems, you can usually trace the root of the flaw back to a lack of proper timing in the delivery. With that being noted, it is vital that the pitcher be able to work these problems out in as close to a game environment as possible. Locating pitches on flat ground is fine, but with out the slope, it really does not give the pitcher the proper feel for the timing that is necessary to delivery the ball correctly while dealing with all of the external factors.
The very nature of the mound helps the pitcher create an advantage over the hitter. Two main elements are already built in the slope. One is momentum. The fact that you can move down the hill, helps create natural momentum to generate power and transfer energy. Second, the mound starts you higher than the hitter, thus creating angle and tilt on the ball. Both of these factors are critical in giving the pitcher the best chance to get outs. Flat ground work cannot simulate either one of these factors. Now, someone may argue that if you’re not working at 100% then what’s the difference. Again, the difference lies with having to sync things up with the angles and momentum that is required to locate the baseball from the mound.
Flat ground work has its place, and can certainly be used to work on certain aspects of a pitches game. In addition, some programs do not have the benefit of multiple bullpen mounds, or indoor mounds, thus you are forced to do the best with what you have. But, when possible, and especially when it comes to location work, it is essential that your pitcher can get his work done from the mound. Many coaches take it a step further and feel that all drill work should be done from the mound as well. I agree, if you have the space, get up there and do it.
The biggest challenge a pitching coach will face is in trying to get his guys up on the mound more often is that they will think its going to over work their arm. That is where you must be diligent in monitoring the intensity level they are working at. If it’s a lower intensity day, don’t let them push it too hard if they “are feeling great”. Athletes go with what they feel that day, usually with no thought about what it might feel like tomorrow. As a pitching coach, its one of your main jobs to keep their cycles in mind, and know what affect something might have on their arm for future game or bullpen work.
Once the pitcher adapts and he buys into the fact that getting on the mound will greatly improve his command, you will see a big difference in performance and the quality of practice work they do.