A common phrase used around professional baseball is “bullpen session”. Although this is a common baseball term, to some not as familiar with the sport, they may not know exactly what it means. What is a bullpen session?
A bullpen session is a practice throwing session for a pitcher. They usually last 10-15 minutes. These practice sessions almost always occur in the bullpen, hence the name. During a bullpen session a pitcher will work on pitching mechanics and grips and test any new pitches or techniques that they may be interested in using.
Bullpen sessions are scheduled in between starts for a starting pitcher. This allows their arm time to recover from the previous appearance before practicing, but also allows time for their arm to recover from practicing and be fresh for their next official appearance.
What pitchers work on during these sessions will differ from pitcher to pitcher and from team to team. Let’s discuss what happens in a bullpen session and why they are crucial for the success of a pitcher.
Bullpen sessions are practice sessions for pitchers to perfect their craft. Everything from pitching mechanics to pitching grip to pickoff moves and fielding techniques can be covered in a bullpen session.
These sessions are an opportunity for the pitching coach and manager to work with the pitcher. Bullpen sessions will usually last 10 to 15 minutes but may be more or less depending on workload and pitcher.
Pitchers try to throw with only 60-80 percent of their normal effort. This way they can practice but not overwork their arm. For some pitchers, this does not work. Practicing “half-speed” messes with their mechanics and they do not feel like they can really perfect their craft unless they expend maximum effort.
How bullpen sessions work is unique to every pitcher, coach, and organization. If used correctly, they help a pitcher stay sharp in between appearances.
Who Uses a Bullpen Session?
All professional pitchers will use bullpen sessions at some point. During spring training, all pitchers use practice bullpen sessions to condition their arm and sharpen their mechanics.
During the season, bullpen sessions are a regular activity for starting pitchers. They occur in between starts. The exact day may depend on pitcher and organization.
Usually a starting pitcher is given a day or two after a start for recovery. They also want to give the starter a full rest day before the next start. At some point in between starts, a bullpen session will occur.
Bullpen sessions for relievers during the season will depend on situation. Relievers get more consistent game work. Their appearances are also not scheduled in advance, so it is difficult to know when a reliever will or will not pitch.
A reliever who is getting consistent game action and is pitching well, will have less opportunities to put in a full bullpen session.
Relievers who are struggling or who are working back from a minor injury will use a bullpen session to help themselves “get right”.
What Happens in a Bullpen Session?
This is a list of things a pitcher may work on during a bullpen session:
- Throwing Mechanics
- Fielding Mechanics
- Pickoff Moves
- Pitching Grip
- Situational Practice
- Mental Preparation
- Rapport with Catcher
Practice sessions are times for a pitcher to work on throwing and fielding mechanics as well as explore new pitching grips or fine tune the grips they already use.
Some pitchers use bullpen sessions to simulate situational game events. They may practice pickoff moves acting as if a runner is on first base. They will simulate what to do if they field a ground ball with runners on base. They may also practice certain pitch sequences in different situational counts.
Bullpen sessions are also an opportunity for pitchers to mentally prepare for their next start. Pitching can be a mental game. It has ups and downs, and pitchers like any of us needs a mental reset from time to time. They may use a bullpen session to listen to advice from a coach and to clear their mind and focus on what makes them successful.
They also will use a bullpen session to build rapport with a catcher, who calls pitches for them during a game. Being on the same page with a catcher is crucial, and bullpen sessions give pitchers an opportunity to practice and plan with their catcher.
Staying Sharp as a Pitcher
Pitching mechanics are very important to the success of a pitcher. There are a lot of things that can go wrong for a pitcher. They need their arm motion and release point to be repeatable for consistency. They want their mechanics to be sharp so that inappropriate amounts of stress aren’t put on their elbow or shoulder.
Because there are so many moving parts in a pitching motion, pitchers must practice and repeat their deliveries constantly so that muscle memory takes over. If they are able to repeat their delivery consistently, it means results will likely improve and it also decreases their risk of injury.
What Else Do Pitchers Do Between Appearances?
Pitchers will watch game film with coaches to review pitching mechanics and pitch sequences to identify things they need to improve on. They will also study film of their upcoming opponent and meet with coaches and catchers to go over the game plan for attacking opposing hitters.
Pitchers will also work out in between appearances (both cardio and strength training).
Practicing with a Purpose
It is important for pitchers to take bullpen work seriously. For pitchers, there are only so many pitches their arms can handle without feeling overworked or risking injury.
Of course many of those pitches are used during game action. That means the pitches thrown during a bullpen session need to be thrown with a purpose.
Compare this to a jump shooter in basketball. They can practice their craft almost endlessly. Shooting 1000 jump shots a day is an option. Taking on massive practice workloads does not greatly increase their risk of injury.
For pitchers in baseball, it is different. Arms can only handle so much pitching workload. To effectively improve their craft, pitchers must learn to seize the opportunity and use their available practice pitches wisely.