Real-Time Illustrations and Analyses of
Improper Pitching Mechanics
The Pitching Mechanic -
Why My Son Thrives By Pitching
Down and Away
As I have said elsewhere, my son
is a very effective pitcher despite not having overwhelming
velocity. Several times this year he struck out 6 batters in a
row. A conversation that I had today on Steve Ellis' Let's Talk
Pitching web site made me think about why he is able to do
It turns out that the secret is that he follows my
advice -- that I got from Leo Mazzone -- and throws 90% of his
pitches down and away.
I believe that the reason that
pitching down and away works so well is that it's (virtually)
impossible to turn on a pitch that's down and away because you
have to lean over and/or extend the arms to get down there and
that kills your batspeed (I say "virtually" because I'm sure
Albert Pujols will prove me wrong at some point).
In other words, trying to hit a pitch that's down
and away will destroy 99% of hitters' hitting mechanics.
Look at the picture
above of Albert Pujols hitting a pop out.
He looks like me.
He's leaning over too far toward First Base and his
arms are extended with his hands well out from his body. From a
rotational hitting perspective, this is not a good swing.
Some people will tell you that pitching up and
in is just as good as pitching down and away.
While I do think that pitching up and in can be helpful
on occasion as a way of backing a hitter off the plate and/or
setting up the pitch down and away, the problem is that, while
it's difficult, it's possible to maintain proper hitting
mechanics when hitting a pitch that's up and in. If a hitter
has fast hands -- and in the case of kids the assistance of an
aluminum bat that is light and will not break -- he can get around
on a ball that's up and in. That's what Albert Pujols is doing in the
photo above of him hitting a home run.
As a result, I teach my guys to throw pitches that are
virtually impossible to hit well because to hit them you have to
get away from solid (e.g. rotational) hitting mechanics.
That means pitches down and away.
Lately I've been finding myself
repeatedly re-explaining my philosophy of pitching and why I think
the below photo of Casey Fossum is so telling.
As a result, I just finished a
draft of a piece called
Bottom-Up Velocity that lays out my beliefs and my approach to
developing and improving pitchers.
How Trevor Hoffman Grips His
Given that Trevor Hoffman has
proven his greatness by setting the saves record, and that his
change-up is a big part of his success, I thought I ought to take
a look at it.
The photo above shows a couple of
interesting things about Trevor Hoffman's change-up. First, he
holds it fairly deep in his palm. Notice how the tips of his
middle and index fingers are hanging off the end of the ball.
Second, notice that he uses his thumb and ring finger to stabilize
the ball (rather than using a 3-point grip like you'd use with a
fastball). All of this serves to put a significant amount of skin
on the ball, which increases the friction and slows the ball down
as it leaves the hand.
The photo above gives you a
slightly different view of the same thing. Notice the index and
middle fingers hanging off the end of the ball, which means the
ball is choked fairly far back in the hand. Also, notice how much
skin of the thumb is on the ball, which increases the friction and
decreases the speed.
Joel Zumaya: Shoulder Problems
The other day I stumbled across a
reference to Joel Zumaya. In it, the author heaped praise upon
Zumaya for his ability to throw 103 MPH. While I find this to be
an amazing feat, I wonder how long he'll be able to keep it up,
especially if he is put into the starting rotation.
The problem is our old friend
taking the Pitching Arm Side (aka PAS) elbow both above and behind
the shoulders. You can see Zumaya doing this in the photo above.
You can also see Zumaya doing it
in this photo. I believe that this will significantly increase the
strain on his shoulder and lead to problems with the Subscapularis
muscle of the rotator cuff.
As the photo above shows, Billy
Wagner does something similar. I don't think it's a
coincidence that Wagner has had a series of problems with his PAS
Mo' On Striding
I believe that, to maximize a
pitcher's velocity, there are two key aspects of a good stride.
First, the glove-side (aka GS) foot needs to skim the ground.
Second, the pitcher needs to stride sideways so that they keep
their hips closed as long as possible.
The above photo of Mariano Rivera
is a great example of this. First, notice how low his GS foot is
to the ground. His cleats are just skimming the pitching mound.
Second, notice how he is striding sideways to the target; the toe
of his GS foot is pointing toward 3B. Only at the last second will
he rotate his GS foot so that his toe points at the target.
Brittany Lincicome And
Throwing Like A Girl
This morning I
came across a photo of Brittany Lincicome, throwing out a
ceremonial first pitch, which is a good example of what the
mechanics of "throwing like a girl" look like.
Leaving aside the whole flip flop thing (she obviously didn't come
prepared to play), Brittany has a couple of serious mechanical
First, it looks like she started out facing the
target rather than sideways to the target; this caused a
cascade of problems. Second, she's taking a very short stride; in
fact, given the elevated position of her PAS foot (it's unusual
for the PAS foot to be in the air at this point), I wonder if she
took a step at all with her GS foot. As a result, she is throwing
largely with her arm, and not her body, will probably not be able
to get much on the ball. Third, and likely as a result of the
first two points, her shoulders look like they are rotating ahead
of, rather than behind, her shoulders. Finally, her PAS elbow
looks like it's slightly above the level of her shoulders. If she
were a professional pitcher, I'd be concerned about her developing
I do at least like her arm slot; it will help her use
her height to her advantage and maximize the vertical movement of
Pitching Myth Busters:
Are The Hips Closed At Foot Strike?
Several times over the past few
weeks, people have told me that they were taught that a pitcher's
hips must be closed at foot strike (the planting of the Glove-Side
foot) in order to maximize velocity. Now, I don't know how their
teachers define "closed" hips, but I define "closed" hips as hips
that have not yet begun to rotate. By my definition, I have never
come across a pitcher whose hips were closed at foot strike.
Instead, in my experience most pitchers hips have opened 45 or
more degree at the moment that their Glove-Side (aka GS) foot
The photo of Nolan Ryan above is
an example of this. Notice that his GS foot is just starting to
plant, but his hips have already opened something like 30 degrees.
Opening the hips ahead of the shoulders (period) is
critical to ensuring that a pitcher throws with their body and not
their arm. Opening the hips BEFORE the GS foot lands is critical
to maximizing how much the hips rotate before the shoulders, and
how much the muscles of the torso are stretched.
This is because in most cases a pitcher's shoulders
start to rotate once their GS foot plants.
Trying to keep a pitcher's hips closed through the
planting of the GS foot, aside from being extremely hard to do, is
also a VERY bad idea because it will reduce how much the muscles
of the torso are stretched. This will reduce how much power is
produced by the torso and place more load on the arm, likely
increasing the risk that a pitcher will injure himself.
This page has many more examples of pitchers whose hips rotate
well before their shoulders and whose hips start rotating before
their GS feet plant.
What I Like About Johan
I don't know if it's the water or
what, but I tend to like the mechanics of pitchers who come out of
Venezuela. First, there's Freddy Garcia, and now there's Johan
The photo above shows some of
what I mean.
First, notice the good timing (meaning the lack of rushing). In the photo above, Santana's Pitching Arm Side (aka
PAS) forearm is nearly vertical at the moment that his glove-side
foot is landing. This should reduce the load on his PAS shoulder.
Second, notice that his hips are rotating ahead of his
shoulders; His shoulders are still facing 1B while his belt buckle
is facing half way down the 1B line.
Third, notice how his Glove-Side knee is still bent. I
believe that this will reduce the shock that is transmitted
through the rest of his body.
Fourth, notice how his PAS elbow is just below the
level of his shoulders. I believe that this should help to protect
his PAS shoulder.
Finally, Santana could be described as short-arming the
ball in the photo above, since his elbow is bent 135 degrees and
the ball is passing relatively close to his head. Some people
believe this is bad, but I'm not convinced that this is
necessarily the case. While it's true that Mark Prior also does
this and has had constant injury problems, Greg Maddux also does
this and has been free of injuries.
More On Mark Mulder
Since I don't entirely understand
what happened to Mark Mulder, I have been thinking a lot about him
since I last wrote about him in August.
Aside from the habitual rushing that I touched on back
in August, the other thing that has come to stand out to me in the
last few months is how low Mark Mulder's Pitching Arm Side (aka
PAS) elbow is during his delivery.
Now, I will be the first to tell you that a low PAS
elbow isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think a lot of
injuries are caused by guys trying to keep their PAS elbows up too
high (see my discussion below of Jonathan Papelbon).
I prefer that the PAS elbow stays just below the level of the
However, it seems that Mark
Mulder's PAS elbow may be TOO low in the photo above.
You can see the same thing in the
photo above. In both cases, notice how his PAS elbow is well below
his shoulders. This is not a efficient position, and
could place the muscles of his shoulders in a mechanically
What's Up With Jonathan
I was listening to the Cardinals
game on Friday night and heard Cardinals announcer Al Hrabosky
mention that Jonathan Papelbon was out for the season. That led me
to take a look at his mechanics.
As much as it pains me to say
this, given where I live (St. Louis) and who he pitches for (The
Red Sox), I don't see anything obviously wrong with his mechanics.
As a result, I suspect that the root cause of his problems is
related to a lack of conditioning.
However, the photos above and below both suggest that
he may have a very subtle mechanical flaw.
The thing to notice is the height
of his pitching arm side (aka PAS) elbow; it seems to be slightly
above his shoulder. I believe that this
Hyperabduction of his PAS upper arm could make him more
vulnerable than average to an impingement problems.
Compare and contrast the height
of Papelbon's PAS elbow with the (lower) height of Greg Maddux's
PAS elbow in the photo above. I believe that this, admittedly
small, difference could explain Jonathan Papelbon's problems.
What's Up With Francisco
I just received the following
email from a reader...
Hello I am a college pitcher
who is very serious about pitching mechanics. I was wondering if
you could maybe do a quick analysis of Francisco Liriano's
mechanics, because I believe his arm troubles this year have been
from rushing and the upside down W effect instead of a true high
I don't have time to do a
analysis of Liriano's mechanics, but I do have a time to take a
quick look at Liriano's mechanics.
First, we have to know what's going on with him.
This article suggests that Liriano is having problems with
both his rotator cuff and his UCL.
Second, we have to determine what kind of mechanics
Liriano has. As it turns out, Liriano's mechanics resemble those
Mark Prior. This makes it logical that Liriano would have
The most obvious thing that I can see in photos of
Liriano is that he takes his elbows above and behind his shoulders
(ala Mark Prior and Anthony Reyes) to make what some people call
the "Upside Down W". You can see this in the two
You can also see from the photo
below that Liriano keeps his elbows above and behind his shoulders
as he starts to turn his forearm over. I believe that this could
leave his susceptible to an impingement of the muscles of his
You can see the same
thing in the photo below,
which represents the a slightly later moment in time.
The two photos below suggest that
Liriano's shoulder problems aren't due to a timing problem like
In the photo above,
you can see that Liriano's glove-side foot is just about to plant
and his pitching arm is on the way past his ear.
Then in the above photo his
glove-side foot has planted and his pitching arm side hand is at
The thing that does bother me about the two photos
above is that, while the photo above resembles what you will see
in Greg Maddux's mechanics, the path Liriano's hand takes to reach
this point is more like Mark Prior's. His hand path could help to
explain the problems he is having with his elbow.
Harold Ramis, Danica Patrick,
Mechanics, and Velocity
This year I worked on pitching
with all of my guys on my 11U rec league team. I did this because
I believe that, by developing as many pitchers as possible, I
would reduce the load I put on any individual pitcher and thus
reduce the likelihood that any of my pitchers will be injured.
The problem was that some of my guys were in no position to pitch, because they had a
hard time getting anything on the ball and, as a result, had a
hard time even getting it to the plate.
The photo above of Harold Ramis
throwing out a ceremonial first pitch illustrates exactly what my
guys were doing.
Notice that, while Ramis' mechanics are generally
pretty solid (e.g. hips rotating ahead of his shoulders), the toe
of his pitching arm side foot is pointed at Home Plate, rather
than at Third Base, as his glove-side foot lands. This is what my
younger guys would do, and it's a problem because it reduces how
powerfully a pitcher's hips will pull their shoulders around.
The right thing to
do is what Danica Patrick -- and major league baseball players --
is doing in the photo above; keeping the toe of the pitching arm
side foot pointing at Third Base until after the glove-side foot
has landed. This helps to maximize how much the muscles of the
torso are stretched and enables them to powerfully pull the
Pitching Mechanic - August 2006