Control vs. Command

Posted on August 17, 2011 by C. Sven Jenkins

In baseball, the terms ‘control’ and ‘command’ are thrown around quite often when talking about pitching. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the time, the players, announcers, and just about everyone else is using the term ‘command’ incorrectly.

Cliff Lee, one of the best control pitchers of our time.

During a game, or on, you might hear, “Cliff Lee has ‘command’ of his cutter today” or “Bobby Parnell cannot ‘control’ his slider”. What is actually being said here?

This is a subject that has been bothering me for the better part of the last two years. I’m going to explain what the two words mean on this website, and hopefully set everyone straight so the rest of baseball can get it right!

CONTROL: ‘Control’ is the ability of a pitcher to locate his pitches. There are different levels of ‘control’. A pitcher may have poor ‘control’, like Bobby Parnell, which leads to a high walk rate. Or, there are excellent ‘control’ pitchers like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, who seem to dot the catcher’s mitt with every pitch. Then, of course, there is everyone else fitting somewhere in between.

COMMAND: ‘Command’ is the ability of the pitcher to make the ball move the way it is intended to move. For example, when a pitcher has good ‘command’, his curveball will always curve, his slider won’t “hang” and his 2-seamer will sink. ‘Command’ refers to the action of the pitch. There are different levels of ‘command’.

Now here is where everyone gets it wrong….

“Control is the ability to throw strikes. In the big leagues, everybody has control. Command is the ability to throw quality strikes.” – Curt Schilling

Curt Schilling became a great control pitcher as his career progressed.

Sorry Curt, but you are wrong. What he is trying to say here is that ‘command’ means a pitcher can paint the corners, but ‘control’ means he’s throwing hittable strikes. He’s saying that ‘command’ is the highest level of ‘control’, but that isn’t so.

Unfortunately, Curt’s idea of ‘command’ has become the standard definition throughout baseball. Announcers eat this crap up, and it has become commonplace for them to incorrectly use the term on a nightly basis. I was also a perpetrator of the misuse of the word ‘command’ until last season.

I liken the difference between ‘control’ and ‘command’ to driving a car. The pedals are the ‘command’ center. You ‘command’ the car to stop and go at different speeds. While doing so, you ‘control’ the location of the car with the steering wheel. Much like a pitcher would ‘command’ his arm to throw a curve, and ‘control’ its location.


What drove me to finally write this piece was Sportvision’s introduction of their new COMMANDf/x technology. Sportvision is now tracking catcher targets using some of the same great technology that gave us PITCHf/x. Combining the glove location with the pitch location data, Sportvision will be able to rate a pitcher’s level of ‘control’. However, when I saw the name, COMMANDf/x, I groaned with an “Oh no, they named their whole project incorrectly.” It should be called, CONTROLf/x.

While doing online research for this piece, I found plenty of websites that were defining ‘command’ incorrectly. But I dug until I found another person that also had it right…. Bill James. Yep, Bill James, the statistics guy, knows his baseball terminology better than Curt Montague Schilling. Not surprising really.

This quote is taken from The Neyer / James Guide to Pitchers and written by Bill James….

“’Command’, to me, means that the pitcher can reliably make the pitch break the way it is supposed to break; the curve doesn’t hang, the fastball doesn’t straighten out. The slider doesn’t stray where it doesn’t belong. ‘Control’ means that the pitcher can put the pitch where he wants it.”

Thank you, Mr. James.

I also found these anonymous quotes on WikiAnswers….

“The pitchers ‘command’ means that his pitches are doing what he wants them to do. If his intent is to throw a curve ball, then the ball will curve. The pitcher has ‘control’ when the pitches he throws are staying in the strike zone like he wants. If he wants to throw a ball, then he is throwing balls.”

Command means “your curveball can curve, your breaking ball can break, your slider will slide, and your fastball is fast…. however if you can’t get it over the plate (or reasonably within range), you have no ‘control’.”

The wording I use on is too significant to just throw terms around without proper thought and definition. The ‘control’ and ‘command’ skills can work together, but they are clearly different and it’s important to recognize the proper usage.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. All the people (just about everyone these days!) who say “command”
    when they mean “control” have been annoying me for years. In fact,
    “command” is really all they ever say — I can’t remember when last
    I heard an announcer use the word “control” when talking about
    a pitcher. And this explanation that you (and James) give is
    precisely what makes sense! Thank you, thank you.

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