Pro Tips: How To Become a Better Baseball Pitcher (Bullpens)

better baseball pitcher

What is a bullpen session?

Baseball players throw bullpens as a means of practicing and refining their pitching skills. A bullpen session is a structured workout in which the pitcher throws a certain number of pitches, with a set goal in mind. Goals can vary by an individual player’s specific need but typically are used to focus on velocity, command, spin, or mechanics. The goals are the building blocks for developing a better baseball pitcher.

The bullpen provides a controlled environment for the pitcher to make adjustments and experiment with their pitches without the pressure of a game situation. Additionally, the bullpen session allows the coaching staff to observe and analyze the pitcher’s performance, identify areas for improvement, and provide feedback and instruction. Through consistent bullpen sessions, pitchers can hone their skills and build the confidence needed to succeed on the field.

Why are Bullpens Important for Pitchers?

Professional baseball players engage in bullpens leading up to their season as a way to prepare for in-game competition. Your arm requires a gradual build-up for high-intent competition, so many bullpens are thrown in preparation for the season. Bullpen sessions are also utilized during the season as a way to touch up on pitches or make mechanical adjustments.

Every baseball pitcher has a different approach to their bullpen, but it is important to make sure your bullpen is tailored to your individual needs. A bullpen needs to be taken seriously and executed with a purpose. To become a better baseball pitcher, players must perform efficient bullpen sessions that are structured for success.

In this blog, I will break down the most crucial components that need to be considered when throwing a bullpen. The information I am sharing has been gained through my professional baseball experience. Please do your own research and listen to your body. Every baseball player is different and this blog should be used as a tool.

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Become a Better Baseball Pitcher With These Bullpen Tips:

1. Develop a Pre-Bullpen Routine

A “Pre-Bullpen Routine” can simply be defined as, “What do I need to do to prepare my body to throw a bullpen?” This will be different for all pitchers but can involve soft-tissue preparation, mobility patterns, dynamic stretching, drill work, and more. Everyone will have a different routine, so I recommend trying new things but listening to your body’s needs. Please check out my recent blog, “Professional Approved: 9 Best Baseball Products for Developing a Routine,” for a more in-depth review.

As baseball players get older, their body needs a little more to get ready for the day. A pre-bullpen routine is a consistent plan that ballplayers will rely on to get ready for their performance. This routine is not developed overnight and will take time to find what works best. Once a pre-bullpen routine is established, pitchers will be able to use this as a tool for their games. If you want a thorough breakdown of a pitching routine, check out my recent blog, “Pro Tips: How To Develop a Successful Pre-Game Pitching Routine.”

2. Set an Objective for the Bullpen

If you do not have a goal to achieve during a bullpen session, how will you become a better pitcher? Pitchers need to plan ahead of time what they want to accomplish with the bullpen to maximize focus and progression. In professional baseball, you are not hopping on the mound, throwing 25 pitches, and calling it a day. There needs to be thought behind how you are executing the bullpen to help translate to on-the-field performances.

Generally, a bullpen session should focus on these specifications: command, velocity, spin, or mechanics. Pitchers can pick one criterion to work on, or even combine focuses. Every pitcher has a different objective in mind, so work according to your needs.

  • Command-Focused Bullpen: Focus on pitch execution to specific spots. Sequence pitches as you would in the game.
  • Velocity-Focused Bullpen: Higher intensity bullpen. Attempting to keep your velocity in a certain range, or hit a new personal best.
  • Spin-Focused Bullpen: Working on spin-efficiency for desired pitches. Ex: Fix fastball cut, or develop more 12-6 curveball
  • Mechanics-Focused Bullpen: Attempting new mechanical cues or tweaks to improve movement patterns. Could be upper-body mechanics or lower-half changes.

I promise from personal experience, that the bullpens where I have no objective set in place, are normally my worst. When you set a goal for the bullpen, you are more focused on competing and achieving this goal than external factors. It is so easy to get carried away in bullpens, trying to chase velocity, testing new mechanics, or worrying about locating. That is why we set the goal beforehand; our only focus will be execution. Please check out my recent blog, “Pro Breakdown: Best Bullpen Training Strategies for Pitchers,” for a complete guide.

3. Set Up Video Recording

How useful is throwing a bullpen if you have nothing to reflect on afterward? Video recording is extremely popular at the professional baseball level. Every single time we touched the mound, there was a video camera capturing our performance. Different angles and views to help players and coaches analyze mechanics.

If you are throwing a bullpen and happen to throw your “hardest fastball” or “best curveball,” wouldn’t you want to be able to go back and see? This allows the player to look back and see what they were doing at that moment and try and learn from it. If you have a visual that you can reference back to, this will make your progression as a pitcher a lot easier.

I recommend having a tripod so you can easily move the camera for different angles. My two favorite angles are from behind my back and the side of my body. The back angle is great for analyzing mechanics and pitches, while the side angle is nice for mechanics.

4. Use Proper Baseballs

A baseball pitcher should have all the necessary baseball equipment for their bullpen, the most important being a baseball. Most ballplayers might not even realize that there is a difference in some baseballs. Youth models might be smaller and not as hard, high-school baseballs have higher laces, and pro baseballs have smaller laces. The little adjustments in each baseball might not seem like much, but they can make a difference.

Baseball pitchers need to be consistently throwing with the same baseball that they will be using during competition. This will allow the pitcher to be more familiar with the ball and expect their pitches to work as they have been practiced in bullpens.

5. Wear Correct Footwear

A pitcher should always have the correct shoes or cleats for the specific bullpen setting. A pitcher attempting to throw a bullpen on a dirt mound with tennis shoes on is wasting their time and risking an injury. Your lower half is so important in the throwing motion, and your performance is affected if you do not have stable feet beneath you.

The back leg in the pitching delivery plays a critical role in generating power and force, and having an adequate ankle range of motion is crucial for this process. During the wind-up and stride phases of the pitching motion, the back foot remains in contact with the ground, and as the pitcher approaches release, the back foot begins to rotate inward and upward to help drive the body forward and generate power.

For this rotation and upward movement to occur smoothly, the ankle joint must have a sufficient range of motion. If the ankle is stiff or lacks mobility, the back foot may not be able to rotate properly, which can limit the amount of force that can be generated.

Do not attempt to throw a bullpen in shoes or cleats that are not accurate for the setting. If you want some more insight on footwear for pitchers, check out my recent blog, “Professional Approved: Best Baseball Cleats For Pitchers.”

6. Keep Track of Execution/Results

This is an additional step to, “Set an Objective for the Bullpen.” Yes setting a goal beforehand is easy to do, but being consistent with it can be a challenge. If you make it a habit to track your results, this will enhance your focus on the objective.

I recommend having anyone (coach, teammate, parent, friend, etc.) help to keep track of your results. If you are throwing a velocity bullpen, jotting down the velo numbers on paper for each pitch will provide you with a nice datasheet on your bullpen. If you are throwing a command-focused bullpen, this can be a valuable way to keep track of counts to batters and total pitch count.

Get creative with how you track your bullpen! The overall goal is to have the pitcher engaged to the point they are focused on competing. We want our bullpens to be as game-like as possible, and this is a great way to train mentality.

7. Analyze Bullpen

After you have thrown your bullpen, if you have a catcher, dap him up and converse with him. A catcher is a valuable resource in your bullpen because they have a different perspective of your performance. I always like to get feedback on pitch movement, overall mechanics, or even execution. A different set of eyes will always be able to provide additional critique you might not have noticed.

Speak with your coaches, teammates, or anyone who was watching your bullpen. You never know what you will learn from someone, so always value their opinion. This could be beneficial for many reasons such as: tipping your pitches, altering normal mechanics, or even poor body language.

If you have been tracking your bullpen, take this time to go over your results. I always like to do this right after my bullpen because my thoughts are still fresh in my head. This can help you become a better pitcher by understanding what was working or what you need to focus on next time. Also, use this time to analyze the video and dissect your bullpen as a whole.

Remember, becoming a better baseball pitcher is a gradual process. If you do not take the time to learn and recognize mistakes, how will you know what to improve? Eliminate “guessing” at what you need to work on, and come up with a plan to follow.

8. Perform Post-Throw Recovery

After you have finished I recommend pitchers complete a lift or a post-throw arm-care routine. Post-throw recovery is crucial after a bullpen session because it helps pitchers prevent injuries and maintain their performance.

The process of throwing puts a significant amount of stress on the pitcher’s arm and body, which can cause fatigue, soreness, and potential injury if not managed properly. Proper post-throw recovery can help reduce soreness, inflammation, and muscle tightness, and also improve blood flow and range of motion, helping the pitcher maintain their performance and reduce the risk of future injury.

In professional baseball, we were always advised to complete a post-throw routine, so I highly suggest it to other serious pitchers. I have recently written a blog that will help you with a post-throw routine, “Professional Approved: 11 Best Arm-Strengthening Products for Baseball Players.” The blog contains items that professional baseball players use to keep their throwing arm strong.

As a player who has dealt with many injuries in my career, I can not stress the importance of taking care of our throwing arm. I want all baseball pitchers to be aware of the severity and to take steps in the right direction for a healthy arm and career. Recovery is essential and a key component of becoming a better baseball pitcher.

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