Pro Breakdown: Best Bullpen Training Strategies for Pitchers

Best Bullpen Training Strategies for Pitchers

Baseball players who want to take their game to the next level need to put a higher emphasis on their bullpen training sessions. In this blog, I will break down common questions about bullpens and provide proper baseball equipment to get the most out of your bullpens.

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What is a Bullpen Training Session?

Bullpen training sessions are a fundamental part of a baseball pitcher’s practice routine, allowing them to fine-tune their skills and enhance their performance on the field. During a bullpen session, a pitcher throws a set number of pitches with a specific objective in mind, such as focusing on velocity, command, spin, or mechanics.

The bullpen provides a low-pressure environment for the pitcher to experiment with their pitches and make necessary adjustments. Additionally, the coaching staff can observe and analyze the pitcher’s performance, providing feedback and instruction.

Professional baseball players utilize bullpens to prepare for the season, making sure their arm is properly in shape. Gradual build-up of arm strength is essential for high-intensity competition, which is why players throw multiple bullpens leading up to the season. Bullpen sessions are also used during the season as a way to refine pitches and make mechanical adjustments.

Customizing a bullpen session to meet individual needs is crucial for maximizing its effectiveness. A bullpen must be executed with a clear purpose and taken seriously to build the confidence and skills necessary for success on the field. Consistency and efficiency are also key factors in developing pitchers’ abilities through bullpen sessions.

In this blog, I will break down how baseball pitchers should approach their bullpen sessions. The information I am sharing has been gathered over the years from my professional baseball experience. However, conducting your own research and paying attention to your body is crucial since every player is unique. Use this blog as a tool to optimize your bullpen sessions and elevate your game.

What are Common Flaws in Bullpen Sessions?

The biggest issue baseball pitchers will run into during their bullpen session is lack of purpose. Believe me, I have been guilty of this many times. It is easy to get carried away with a bullpen because your arm feels “amazing” or your body does not feel great. When our focus is less on purpose and more dependent on how our arm feels, productivity is diminished.

Now do not take this the wrong way. If your arm does not feel good and you are experiencing pain, please stop for the day. What I am referring to is on days that my arm has not felt “live” I tend to steer away from execution and aimlessly try to get through the bullpen training session. This is counterproductive to baseball training and will instead train improper mechanics. From my professional experience and conversations with other pitchers, we have all experienced this.

The goal is to have a set plan before the bullpen training session has started. Ultimately, you want to follow this plan as best as possible to make strides in your pitching progression. Sticking with objectives in your bullpen will eventually become more routine, and a shift in mindset will be present on your bullpen training days. We want our bullpens to simulate in-game feel as much as possible. When we have goals set, the level of focus will be enhanced similar to game time.

My goal is to help players and coaches who are trying to get the most out of baseball training sessions. This is one of the best ways to improve as a pitcher, so please understand the importance of bullpens for players.

How To Plan Your Bullpen:

Before you begin your bullpen you need to outline what your objective is. I mentioned earlier that pitchers normally focus on velocity, command, spin, or mechanics in their bullpen. You can pick one focus or even combine focuses for your bullpen. There is no wrong answer as long as the goal is productive in advancing your pitching development.

Next, you should set a pitch count for your bullpen. Not only do you need to put a cap on how many pitches you will throw in total, but you should also plan how many of each specific pitch you will throw. This is important because sometimes pitchers will get carried away with one specific pitch, and the next thing you know they are approaching their pitch count.

How many Pitches do I Throw in a Bullpen?

There is no exact answer that is right for everyone. Instead, you need to be logical about your bullpen approach to determine a pitch count. If you are throwing your first bullpen of the season, then you want to keep your pitch count low. If you are ramping up for the season and have thrown previous bullpens, then sure throw a little more than normal. Or do you have an upcoming game? Make sure your bullpen is not too long so you can properly recover for your outing. Your throwing arm needs a gradual progression, so take that into account when determining pitch count.

Intensity plays a large role in pitch count. If you are throwing max effort pitches, then the stress on your arm will be higher. A bullpen at 80% will be less stressful, therefore, more pitches can be thrown. Use your intensity as a gauge for pitch count. For example, if you are throwing high intent, and notice a decrease in velocity after 22 pitches, then this is a good sign to finish your bullpen.

My bullpens are anywhere from 20-35 pitches. In my professional baseball experience, I very rarely threw a bullpen over 35 pitches. But as always, everyone is different and you should listen to your arm and be smart when throwing a bullpen.

Now let’s break down the different types of objectives you can focus on in your next bullpen.

1. Command Focused Bullpen

A command bullpen is designed to target pitch execution. This does not mean you are throwing a bullpen to only throw strikes. Pitch execution involves communication with a catcher to pitch to specific spots similar to how you would attack a batter in a real game. You do not have to throw all of the pitches in your repertoire. If you are a pitcher struggling with fastball command, then you can prioritize throwing your fastball in that bullpen.

If you are looking to improve overall command, then sequence your pitches for game-like scenarios. This means simulating batters from the right/left side and keeping track of the count (strike or ball). As I mentioned earlier, you do not have to throw only strikes. If you have a batter with an 0-2 count, you do not have to throw a fastball down the middle for strike three. This is where you can work on your craft, for example, have the catcher set up off the plate and work on your chase pitch such as a curveball or slider.

Pretending there is a batter in the box can be difficult, so I highly recommend investing in a baseball dummy to give you a better visual as a pitcher.

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Not every pitcher will have a catcher available at their command. This is an issue professional baseball pitchers run into during the off-season. I recommend investing in a 9-square pitching net. This will give you a nice strike zone and a target to enhance your focus.

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2. Velocity Focused Bullpen

A velocity bullpen is a great way to eliminate thoughts and let your natural ability take over. A lot of times when throwing a bullpen, the pitcher becomes too “mechanical.” This means that they are thinking too much about every little aspect of their delivery and killing their athleticism. Pitchers perform their best when they are not thinking, so that is the goal of a velocity pen.

A pitcher should have a set number in mind that they are trying to chase. This could be your personal best velocity, or maybe a number you want to stay above? For instance, I could have a high-intent velocity bullpen where I want to 90mph to be the floor. I want every pitch to be above 90mph and that is my goal in the bullpen. Or I could make my goal to hit 95mph. Following parameters in your bullpen is a great way to maintain focus on the objective.

I find velocity bullpens very beneficial in getting a pitcher’s body to move efficiently down the mound. You want to eliminate any thoughts that could slow you down, and just focus on throwing the ball hard. Take some pre-workout, get some music pumping, or even grab a buddy to compete with. Create that adrenaline and throw hard.

A baseball training tool that is 100% necessary for a velocity bullpen is a radar gun. Radar guns can be very pricey, but the pocket radar is tremendous for the price. These radar guns are used by professional baseball players at times, so do not knock it.

What I like most about the pocket radar is how it can easily connect to your iPhone or iPad. After the smart device is connected to the Pocket Radar, you can use it to display the velocity or have it transmitted through the speakers. Another great feature with the Pocket Radar is that you can video record from the app. Not only will the pitch speed be displayed on the video, but they will individually clip each throw into short videos. This saves you so much time because you are not left with a long video to edit.

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3. Mechanics Focused Bullpen

In a mechanics bullpen, you are making a cautious effort to improve movement patterns. This could be anything from decreasing stride length, practicing hinge, or even fixing your glove side. Those are just some examples, but the bullpen objective is to find something mechanically you struggle with, and try to improve it. Going into your bullpen you should have a clear idea as to what you want to work on. This should not be a bullpen where halfway through you decide to start making adjustments.

A mechanics bullpen does not need to be 100 different mechanical changes. The focus should be minimal to avoid overthinking and slowing down. I strongly advise having a baseball coach present to watch this bullpen. The more eyes on you, the better, and a coach will be able to relay feedback on what they see.

I like to find mechanics to work on by watching videos of myself at my best or trying new ideas I find from watching other pitchers. This is a great way to learn about your body and figure out what you are capable of doing. I am not saying you need to watch a pitcher and copy them exactly. Try watching a pitcher and take note of their delivery, then think about your delivery. Are your mechanics similar to this pitcher? Does this pitcher throw way harder than you? Okay, then let’s try implementing similar movements into your delivery.

The most important piece of equipment you should have for this bullpen is a video camera. I recommend having a tripod that can be adjusted to obtain different angles of your pitching motion. Videoing your bullpens is extremely important and I recommend recording them all. In professional baseball, every time you touch the mound, there is a video camera on you. This is so players and coaches can look back at the video and analyze mechanics or anything they find interesting. Also players trying to be recruited, video is a must for coaches.

4. Spin Focused Bullpen

In a bullpen where you are focusing on pitch spin, you are attempting to clean up your pitch movement. This type of bullpen is challenging for younger players and requires a more advanced pitch arsenal. A spin-focused bullpen can be hard to explain, so let me give examples.

Let’s say we have a pitcher who cuts their fastball a ton. This can make it extremely difficult to locate and throw strikes. The pitcher can go into their bullpen with the objective of not cutting the baseball. Now the pitcher is focused on correcting their spin to create a healthy habit.

Next, let’s say a pitcher wants to improve their curveball. Right now the spin is more like a slider, and they want the pitch to be more 12-6 (up and down). The goal of the bullpen will be to try and improve the spin as much as possible. This can come from trying different grips, pressure, and mechanical cues.

Or you have a pitcher who throws a change-up but it moves just like their fastball. In this bullpen, the pitcher can focus on trying new change-up grips and hand positioning to create more depth and fade on the change-up.

When you place more emphasis on cleaning up a specific pitch, you will develop a better feel of how you manipulate the baseball. This is important for baseball pitchers who want to have a set of pitches that all have different movement profiles. What I mean by that, is that the pitches do not all move the same way. This is what makes the best baseball pitchers, elite.

Ideally, you will want to use a Rapsodo or TrackMan for these bullpen sessions, but that is not the most affordable option. I suggest having a catcher who is experienced and can give you feedback on your pitches and how they look. This will help the pitcher understand if they are achieving their objectives. Another alternative is to place a tripod behind the pitcher’s hand and capture video. This will still be challenging to determine the exact spin, but you get the general idea of the spin.

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