ABCA Clinic Recaps - Mike Birkbeck


Liam Carroll

Continuing my series of recaps from the American Baseball Coaches Association convention, which was held earlier this month in Chicago.  The 2014 convention will be in Dallas.  If you're liking the content of these blogs and want more information about the ABCA check out their website.

Reliever and Bullpen Management – Tips on how to stay consistent in an inconsistent environment
Mike Birkbeck – Associate Head Coach, Kent State University

Clinic Topics

1. Characteristics of a Reliever
2. Game Day Management
3. Maintaining a constant state of readiness
4. Overall general philosophies

Mike Birkbeck’s body of work is very impressive.  He pitched professionally for 14 years, including in the big leagues and in Japan.  He’s entering his 17th season as Kent State’s pitching coach.  Last year he helped guide the Flashes to the College World Series and was named College Assistant Coach of the Year by Baseball America.  All of this experience and ability contributed to an impressive presentation on a topic often passed over in favour of skills and drills clinics.

Good pitching staffs include various roles and Coach Birkbeck compared them to types of vehicle:  Starters to luxury cars, long relievers to mini-vans, bridge guys to sports cars and closers to dragsters.  He then provided several examples of characteristics that often make pitchers suited to one of these relief roles:

Delivery/Arm Action
• Max effort, across body, short arm, arm-hooker, wrist-wrapper.
• 1 dominant pitch
• Mentally and physically

As well as being less suited to a starting role, these characteristics may make a Pitcher more suited to a particular relief role.  For example, with one dominant pitch, you’d be more suited to being a short-reliever than being a long-reliever, and it’s common to hear references to the “Closer mentality.”  This assortment of characteristics, particularly the physical ones, also impacts match-ups and challenges the traditional concept of Left/Right match-ups. 

On Game Day Management, Coach Birkbeck said the key is to communicate early and often.  While pitchers may fill particular roles all season, roles for each game should be posted and clearly defined.  While the way that a game plays out is unpredictable, coaches should still have a plan for using whatever Bullpen is available to them.  For example, you might not know why or when your starter will be done but you should know who is next – and the pitchers should know, too.  Expanding on Game Day Management, Coach Birkbeck spoke about:

Monitoring Throwing
• Evaluate pitchers’ game-day throwing, ask them how they feel (ok, good or great) and adjust your pitching plan if necessary.
• When a pitcher gets ready depends on the individual and the situation, but you’d rather have them ready early than late.  Remember that they have warm up pitches on the game mound, too.
• Based on their roles, Pitchers should have an idea of when they need to warm up (stretch and throw versus pitch) considering the point in the game and the situation.
Hand Signals
• As we well know, not all facilities have bullpen phones, so Coach Birkbeck uses hand signals to communicate with the Bullpen – both for things to happen (get ready, get ready quickly, sit down etc.) and for individuals.  The latter can be fun with the signs based on personalities and nicknames etc.
The old “up/down up/down”
• Try to avoid having Pitchers get ready multiple times – two times max.  This has a massive impact on how much they’ll throw and their health.
Postgame Maintenance
• Based on what they did that day.

To maintain a “constant state of readiness” Coach Birkbeck and the Strength & Conditioning Coach provide a programme for each pitcher that includes lifting, conditioning, “Arm Maintenance” (bands, throwing programmes), flatground pitching (50’) and touch/feel throwing off a mound from short distance.

Coach Birkbeck ended by outlining his thoughts on a few areas including that in making pitching changes he strives to be one pitch too early rather than one pitch too late.  Hindsight is a beautiful thing but there’s less chance of hearing that “he was left out there for one too many hitters” if you’ve got a plan for managing the Bullpen.  Speaking about mound visits, Coach Birkbeck said he “tries to give them the face they need to see” and reads their body language – particularly their eyes and eyebrows” knowing that for the most part a pitcher will always say that they’re fine.

My Most Important Thing

The use of Relief Pitchers is quite rare in British baseball for reasons such as playing seven inning games and squad size.  However, using a Bullpen can yield huge benefits for your team, especially considering that teams become very familiar with each other and you can give them different looks.  Further, you’ll be able to find more roles for more of your players, improving their satisfaction.  That guy with the funky arm action might be perfect out of the ‘pen.

Last Up: Jim Meier

On Deck: Jayson King

If you're serious about becoming a better coach you should do your best to attend the BBF/BSUK Coaching Clinic on February 17th.  More info here.


tagged under: baseball, coaching, softball, bbf, pitching, coaching clinic

Back to blogs


About Liam Carroll

Liam Carroll

Liam was a Regional Coach and then Development Coordinator for BaseballSoftballUK until May 2014. He returned to his hometown of London to work for BSUK in 2010 after stops in Somerset, Bristol, Cornwall, California and Nevada. Growing up playing in Britain, Liam made the move to America to study and play university baseball. After figuring out that his future would be brighter as a coach rather than player, he moved to the University of Nevada Las Vegas to finish his degree and coach college baseball. Since then he’s coached youth and adult teams on both sides of the atlantic and with the Great Britain Baseball National Teams.

Subscribe RSS

Tag cloud

Get in the Game

Sign-up with the BSF to PLAY SOFTBALL

Hot Corner Signup Form
Baseball Outlet - Official Equipment Supplier (Banner)
Follow Us