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The Pitching Mechanic
October 2006

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


The Pitching Mechanic - November 2006



Adam Wainwright: More Cause For Concern

As I have said before, I am concerned that Adam Wainwright of my (world champion!) Cardinals is at an increased risk of experiencing shoulder problems, especially if he is moved into the starting rotation next year.

The photo above from him pitching during Game 5 of the World Series reinforces that concern. Notice that his Pitching Arm Side (aka PAS) elbow is well above the level of his shoulders (or Hyperabducted). I have seen this a couple of times before, and in both cases it was related to very serious shoulder (e.g. Labrum) problems.
     As with Joel Zumaya, this is too bad. As the photo above shows, Adam Wainwright achieves a tremendous degree of separation between his hips and his shoulders. Notice how his belt buckle is facing Home Plate while his shoulder are still facing Third Base.



Joel Zumaya: Hips Rotating Before Shoulders

As I have said before, I believe that Joel Zumaya is at an increased risk for shoulder problems, especially if he is moved into the starting rotation next year, because he takes his elbows above and behind his shoulders.

It's too bad, because as the photo above shows, he does a great job of rotating his hips before his shoulders. Notice how his belt buckle is facing Home Plate while his shoulders are still facing Third Base. This large hip/shoulder separation helps to explain his velocity.



Jeremy Bonderman: Shoulder Problems Ahead?

Jeremy Bonderman is another pitcher that I believe faces an increased risk of shoulder problems.

As you can see in the photo above, taking during Game 4 of the World Series, Bonderman Hyperabducts his PAS upper arm and takes his elbows both above and behind his shoulders.



Good Photo of Chris Carpenter

I was going over the photos from Tuesday night's game and came across this picture of Chris Carpenter. There are a number of interesting things to note in it.

First, you can see how Chris Carpenter's hips rotate ahead of his shoulders. Notice how his belt buckle is pointing toward Home Plate while his shoulders are still facing Third Base. This will help his hips to powerfully pull his shoulders around.
     Second, you can see how Chris Carpenter doesn't really reverse-rotate his shoulders. Instead, he strides pretty much sideways to the target.
     Third, you can see how Chris Carpenter grips his curveball. Notice that his middle finger is sitting on one seam and his thumb is sitting on the opposite seam.
     Fourth, notice how Chris Carpenter's palm is facing Home Plate at this point (and not Second Base). This puts his forearm in a position of supination which will force him to pronate his forearm in order to get his palm to face home plate. I believe that early pronation will help to protect his elbow by enabling his Pronator Teres muscle to take some of the load off of his UCL.
     Fifth, notice how Chris Carpenters PAS elbow is just below the level of his shoulders. I believe that this is about the ideal height for the PAS elbow, from both a mechanical efficiency and injury-prevention perspective.
     Finally, you can see these same things in this side view of Chris Carpenter, which is from a slightly earlier moment in time and in which he is also throwing a curveball.

P.S. 7/25/2007: Chris Carpenter just went under the knife for Tommy John surgery. That means that the few things Chris Carpenter does well cannot compensate for his generally poor mechanics.



Major Leaguers and the Marshall Pitching Motion

For those of you who, like me, are interested in the ideas of Dr. Mike Marshall, I have added an essay entitled Major Leaguers and the Marshall Pitching Motion that illustrates some of Dr. Marshall's ideas using the motions of a number of successful major leaguers.



Kenny Rogers: Crossing The Line

After hearing about the whole Kenny Rogers pine tar on his hand thing, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was just trying to improve his grip of the ball. Hey, I pitch for my over-30 slow-pitch softball team and know that on a cold night it's extremely hard to keep your grip on the ball on a night like that. Your fingers get stiff and the ball gets smooth and slick.

However, while searching my archives last night, I came across this photo from Kenny Rogers' July 5, 2006 start. Notice that the same smudge is there on his hand at the base of his thumb. That suggests to me that he is using the pine tar to alter the flight of the ball, not just to improve his grip on the ball.
     It also just struck me that the reason the pine tar is located there on his thumb is probably that his second stash is in the pocket of his glove. The base of his thumb rubs up against the stash in his glove whenever he's adjusting his grip with his hand and ball in his glove.



Kenny Rogers: Look For The Second Stash

Here's my theory about the Kenny Rogers cheating allegations.

My theory is that Kenny Rogers WAS cheating and the patch at the base of his PAS thumb was his "hidden" store of pine tar. In other words, if he got caught, he could wash it off and say he was clean (and that of course it got there accidentally). However, he (or Pudge) had a second stash that he was using.
     You see this in the spy movies.
     Someone plants a bug in an obvious place so that it will be found. However, they also plant a second bug that is much better hidden. Once the first bug is found, the searchers figure the problem is solved and don't look for the second bug.
     The existence of a second stash explains why Rogers' performance didn't suffer after he was "caught". This article suggests that his second stash could have been hidden under the bill of his hat.
     At least this whole fiasco has produced a whole series of detailed photos of how a major league pitcher -- even if he is a cheater -- holds the ball and helps to dispel the myth of the three point fastball grip that I discussed below in the context of Tom Glavine. Notice that in the photo above Rogers has a 2-Seam fastball (aka Sinker) grip, and is gripping the lower half of the ball with both his thumb and his ring finger, not just his thumb.



Sandy Koufax: Hips Rotating Before Shoulders

I finally found a clean copy of one of my favorite pictures of Sandy Koufax.

In the photo above, you can see how Sandy Koufax's hips rotated well ahead of his shoulders. Notice how his belt buckle is pointing toward Home Plate while his shoulders are still facing First Base. Other things to notice are how his Glove Side (aka GS) toe is pointing directly at the target, how he is pulling his glove into his GS pec, and how his GS elbow is still at the level of his shoulders (rather than down at his side).



Adam Wainwright: Uh oh...

I have been very impressed with Adam Wainwright's performance. I especially like his curveball. It's got that 12-6 drop that just kills hitters. That's why I am concerned by what I see in the photo below.

It looks like Wainwright's Pitching Arm Side elbow is both above and behind his shoulders. Now, he admittedly doesn't Hyperabduct his PAS elbow this as much as Aaron Heilman or Joel Zumaya do, but nonetheless I think it is a concern. I will be paying close attention to Wainwright's PAS shoulder, especially if the Cardinals try to turn him into a starter next year.



Aaron Heilman: Shoulder Problems Ahead?

I was watching the game the other night and got a chance to take a look at Aaron Heilman. I didn't like what I saw.

Like Joel Zumaya and Billy Wagner, Heilman Hyperabducts his PAS elbow; he take his PAS elbow both above and behind his shoulders. I believe that puts a tremendous amount of strain on the rotator cuff (e.g. Subscapularis) and may lead to injury problems in the future, especially if he comes out of the bullpen.



Beltran Perez: Good Timing

I am always on the lookout for guys who, like Freddy Garcia, get their pitching arms up earlier than most. I believe that doing this reduces the strain on the shoulder.

The photo above of Beltran Perez is an example of what this looks like. Notice how his Pitching Arm Side forearm is vertical and in the high cocked position before his Glove Side foot lands on the ground. Also, notice that Perez isn't showing any signs of Hyperabduction; his Pitching Arm Side elbow is just below the level of his shoulders.



Anthony Reyes: Tipping His Pitches?

I was watching the Cardinals game last night, and a couple of things struck me about Anthony Reyes.

First, I was reminded how high Anthony Reyes' elbows get above and behind his shoulders. You can see this clearly illustrated in the photo above that was taken last night. I believe that this Hyperabduction of his PAS upper arm puts a tremendous amount of strain on his rotator cuff (e.g. Subscapularis) and calls into question his long-term durability. I am also starting to wonder if this problem is manifesting itself in the problems he experienced at the end of the season (e.g. not being able to go deep into games).
     Second, the commentators were talking about how Reyes might have been tipping his pitches when he went from the Wind-Up. While this may be the case (I wasn't really looking at this), I wonder if a bigger problem is the differential between Anthony Reyes' two main pitches, his fastball and his change-up. Last night Reyes' fastball was generally coming in at 90 MPH (Low = 88 and High = 91) and his change-up was generally coming in at 76 or 77 MPH.
     As an aside, you can see Anthony Reyes' change-up grip, which is a circle change, in the photo above.
     Anyway, and as I have said elsewhere, I believe it is best if a pitcher's change-up is 8% to 10% slower than his fastball. There are complicated reasons, that have to do with the perceptual thresholds of the human visual system, why I believe this. However, suffice it to say that I believe that a change-up that is coming in 8% to 10% slower than one's fastball is coming in hard enough that it's not obviously a change-up, but slow enough that it will still screw up a hitter's timing.
     I don't think it's a coincidence that Greg Maddux, Jeff Suppan, and many other effective "finesse" pitchers have change-ups that follow this rule of thumb.
     If you buy this logic, then I believe the problem with Anthony Reyes' change-up may be that it's too slow. Given that his fastball comes in at 90 MPH, the rule I state above would say that his change-up should come in at somewhere around 81 or 82 MPH. However, Reyes' 76 MPH change-up is more like 15% slower than his fastball.
     Could it be that that large differential between Anthony Reyes' fastball and his change-up makes it obvious to a hitter which pitch is coming?
     Finally, I noticed something odd about Reyes' change-up. It didn't look like a standard change-up to me. Instead, give how Reyes' change-up dove down near the plate, I wonder if he's throwing kind of a hybrid between a circle change and a curveball. Of course, the problem with hybrids (e.g. the slurve, which is a hybrid of a slider and a curve) is that they can end up being less effective than either pitch on its own. it could be that Reyes' "curve-up" or "change-uvre" -- if that's indeed what it is -- is too slow to be a good change-up and doesn't curve enough to be a good curve.
     Any thoughts? If so, then e-mail me.



Wilfredo Ledezma: Hips Rotating Before Shoulders

I am always on the lookout for new photos that illustrate the concepts that I teach.

The photo above of Wilfredo Ledezma pitching in the ALCS is a great example of what the hips rotating before the shoulders, and a large hip/shoulder separation, looks like. Notice how his chest is pointing at 1B (since he's a lefty) while his belt buckle is pointing at home plate. Also, notice how the lines down the front of his uniform curve sharply to the left.
      This photo isn't quite as instructive as the photo below of Casey Fossum (since Ledezma isn't as much of a string bean), but it's close.



Pitching Myth Busters:
The Three-Point Fastball Grip

When I first started getting into the whole pitching thing, one piece of advice that I repeatedly came across was that a pitcher (or a fielder) needs to have a three-point grip on a fastball. The ball needs to be held between just the index finger, middle finger, and thumb so as to maximize the velocity of the ball as it comes out of the hand.
     The problem is that when I tried to do this, I couldn't get a stable grip. The kids I coached also couldn't do this since their hands were smaller than mine.
     As a result, I just resigned myself to always gripping the ball wrong.
     Well, over the past few weeks I have started collecting pictures of how big-league pitchers actually grip the ball and have come to see that the three-point fastball grip is overrated, if not a complete myth.

The photo above of Tom Glavine was taken last night and shows his 4-Seam Fastball grip. As you can see, Glavine actually grips his 4-Seam Fastball with a four-point grip. The ball is gripped between his index and middle fingers on top and his thumb and ring fingers on the bottom.

You can see the same thing in the photo above of Glavine taken just a couple of days ago. Notice how he is gripping the bottom of the ball with both his thumb and his ring finger.
     So why are pros like Glavine able to get away with this and not turn their fastballs into change-ups?
     They are able to do this because what really matters, in determining how fast a ball will come out of the hand, is the amount of skin that is on top of the ball, not the amount of skin that is under the ball.

As this photo of Jeff Suppan demonstrates, when throwing a fastball the last thing the ball touches are the index and middle fingers. As the wrist snaps backwards through the release, the ball loses contact with the fingers under the ball. As a result, they have relatively little impact on the release speed of the ball.
     That means it's perfectly acceptable to grip a fastball with a four-point grip rather than a three-point grip.



The Problem With Throwing Sidearm

My columns below about throwing sidearm generated a decent number of interesting questions from readers. That includes this one from Mike G...

I was just wondering, if the arm is fully extended out at the time of release, of which I believe also, then is, what is considered throwing overhand any less strenuous on the arm as throwing sidearm? I was just wondering since the tilt of the shoulders is the only difference?

This is a great question, and let me see if I can come up with a scientifically valid answer to it.
     First, it would seem that, since the only difference between throwing overhand and throwing sidearm is the amount of shoulder tilt, that there shouldn't be a difference. If that was true, then coaches shouldn't mind whether their guys threw overhand or sidearm.
     However, that doesn't seem to be that case.
Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons contains an article entitled Shoulder and Elbow Injuries in the Skeletally Immature Athlete in which the authors state that pitchers who throw sidearm are three times more likely than overhand throwers to experience injury problems.
     Why would that be the case?

     It appears that the root cause of the problem is that there are distinct mechanical differences between (probably some) sidearm throwers and overhand throwers, and those differences make throwing sidearm riskier. For example, in an article entitled First Rib Stress Fracture in a Sidearm Baseball Pitcher: A Case Report the authors say...

The motion analysis of the pitching in this case demonstrated that the sidearm style induced much more horizontal abduction in the shoulder at the top position than did the overhand style.

This matches up with my experience.
     One of the reasons I have gotten into the whole pitching thing is that I permanently damaged my arm when I was a kid, and I wanted to make sure my son didn't run into the same problems. When I was a kid, I threw from a sidearm to submarine arm slot. What I think I did that caused my problems was that I would break my hands high and take my PAS hand directly back toward 2B, rather than taking my PAS hand down, out, and then up. Then, as my hand was still moving back toward 2B, I would start rotating my shoulders. This allowed me to get a lot on the ball, but it also put a tremendous amount of stress on my shoulder as it experienced a larger than average amount of adduction (aka horizontal abduction).
     So what's the bottom line?
     While it may be possible for a pitcher to throw safely from a sidearm arm slot, coaches have to be very careful to ensure that pitchers break their hands properly. That means swinging the pitching arm down, out, and then up and into the Ready position and not picking up the forearm and taking it up and back to the Ready position.



Pitching Myth Busters:
Arm Slot - Perception vs. Reality

Yesterday at lunch I had a conversation with a guy who has written a number of books about sports (one of which was given to my son). Some of the things he said didn't ring true with me, so I decided to take a look at the book my son was given.

Arm Slot: Perception

In the book, I found a diagram very much like the one above that tried to explain the differences between the arm slots that pitchers throw from. This diagram suggests that the difference between arm slots is how much the pitcher's elbow is bent as they release the ball. It explains that a sidearm pitcher's elbow is fully extended at the release point while an overhand pitcher's elbow is bent 90 degrees.
     The problem is that, when you are talking about kids who are older than 10 or so, THIS IS WRONG!

Arm Slot: Reality

The reality is that, due to the forces involved, every pitcher's elbow is fully extended at the release point. The thing that determines their arm slot is how much their shoulders are tilted.
     Why, you ask, is this a big deal?
     It's a big deal because how can you trust the advice of someone who doesn't understand what the arm actually does during the throw? Some of what they say is based on a misconception of the throwing motion, and some of their advice may be wrong (if not dangerous).
     Of course, this common misconception can be used to evaluate potential pitching coaches. By asking them what the arm does, and how much the elbow is bent, through the release point you can quickly determine who knows what they are talking about and who doesn't.



Pitching Myth Busters:
Rapid Internal Rotation of the Upper Arm
is an Important Source of Power

If you read the technical (e.g. medical) literature about baseball pitching, one statistic that you will frequently come across is that much of a pitcher's power results from the rapid internal rotation of the upper arm (e.g. Humerus). Some people believe that a pitcher's upper arm internally rotates up to 7000 degrees per second. I was immediately skeptical about this claim when I first came across it, and believe that it is wrong. Let me use the photo below of Pedro Martinez to explain my skepticism.

I believe the photo above blows a hole in the idea that the rapid internal rotation of the upper arm is responsible for much of a pitcher's power. Notice that in the photo above, Pedro Martinez's upper arm is still externally rotated (his palm is facing up). It is impossible for the rapid internal rotation of his upper arm to generate much power, because his elbow is extended and as a result his hand is pretty much on the axis of rotation.
     Try putting your arm in this position and see how much you can get on the ball.
     I doubt if it's very much.
     I believe that the idea that the rapid internal rotation of the upper arm is responsible for much of a pitcher's power is based on a fallacy; that a pitcher's elbow is bent 90 degrees at the moment that the rapid internal rotation of the upper arm occurs. I grant you that, in that case your could get something on the ball because the ball would be the length of the forearm from the axis of rotation.
     However, the above photo makes it clear that the elbow is not bent 90 degrees at the moment that the rapid internal rotation of the upper arm occurs. Instead, the elbow is fully extended at this moment.
     So what is the primary source of a pitcher's power?
     As I have said before, it's the rotation of the hips before the shoulders. This stretches the muscles of the torso and enables them to powerfully the the shoulders around.



Pitching Myth Busters:
The Myth of Arm Slot

When it comes to pitching, people are always talking about arm slot, how it's genetic, and how you shouldn't try to change it.
     I think that's garbage.

The thing that makes Pedro Martinez throw from a sidearm arm slot is that he doesn't tilt his shoulders as they are pulled around by his torso.

In contrast, the thing that makes Tom Glavine throw from a 3/4 arm slot that he tilts his shoulders roughly 45 degrees as his shoulders come around.
     It's that simple.


The Pitching Mechanic - September 2006

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