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The Pitching Mechanic
September 2006

Real-Time Illustrations and Analyses of
Proper and Improper Pitching Mechanics


The Pitching Mechanic - October 2006



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 this.
     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.

Albert Pujols

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.

Albert Pujols

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.



Bottom-Up Velocity

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 Change-Up

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 Ahead?

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 Hyperabduction; 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 shoulder.



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 problems.
     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 shoulder problems.
     I do at least like her arm slot; it will help her use her height to her advantage and maximize the vertical movement of her pitches.



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 plants.

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 Santana

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 Santana.

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 shoulders.

Mark Mulder

Mark Mulder

However, it seems that Mark Mulder's PAS elbow may be TOO low in the photo above.

Mark Mulder

Mark Mulder

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 disadvantaged position.



What's Up With Jonathan Papelbon?

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 Liriano

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 cock position.

I don't have time to do a full 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 of Mark Prior. This makes it logical that Liriano would have similar problems.
     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 photos below.

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 rotator cuff.

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 habitual rushing.

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 his ear.
     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 shoulders around.


The Pitching Mechanic - August 2006

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