Real-Time Illustrations and Analyses of
Improper Pitching Mechanics
Pitching Mechanic - October 2007
Pitching Mechanics: A New View
Yesterday, a client
sent me a clip of him pitching against Mark Prior. I have
few key frames from that clip and put together an analysis of Mark
Prior's pitching mechanics that points out the root
cause of Mark Prior's elbow and shoulder problems.
Before anyone gets on me about Mark
Prior's having supposedly perfect pitching mechanics, let me
explain something. The person who said that Mark Prior had
perfect pitching mechanics is a guy named Tom House. Tom House
also happened to be Mark Prior's pitching coach and designed Mark
Prior's pitching mechanics. As a result, Tom House shouldn't be
considered an impartial, objective observer and his
pronouncements about Mark Prior need to be taken with a huge
grain of salt.
New Blog: The
Those of you who
are also interested in hitting might be interested in my new
Hitting Mechanic. In it, I apply the same visual,
science-based approach to the act of hitting a baseball. For
those of you who are familiar with the term, my perspective is
pretty consistent with what is called Rotational
Book Review: Coaching
The Little League Pitcher
I was in the
bookstore today and came across the book Coaching The Little
League Pitcher by Randy Voorhees. While the book may in fact
contain some good advice, I couldn't get past the fact that the
book is riddled with errors, misconceptions, and bad advice.
First, the book advocates the use of
radar guns. On page 8 the author says "A radar gun is
useful for measuring the improvement of a pitcher's
velocity". While this is true, the problem is that using
radar guns turns velocity into an end in and of itself, rather
than a means to an end. I never use radar guns with my young
pitchers. Instead, I see if they are getting batters out. If
they are, then I figure they are throwing hard enough. If they
aren't then I focus on things like location and movement before
I start worrying about velocity. I think the use of radar guns
at the youth level, and the fixation on velocity that this leads
to, helps to explain the rise in injuries among young pitchers.
Second, Randy Voorhees advocates
mechanics that in my experience lead to shoulder and elbow
problems. On page 16 and 17 the author twice says that at the
high-cocked position the pitcher's Pitching Arm Side (aka PAS)
elbow should be at shoulder height and the hand should be
showing the ball to center field. On page 19, the author
reiterates that at the Power Position "the baseball faces
The problem with this advice is that it
isn't what great, long-lived pitchers do.
Notice how in the
photo above of Greg Maddux his PAS elbow is just below
the level of his shoulders and he is showing the ball to third
base, not to center field.
Third, in direct contradiction to what
Greg Maddux is doing above, on page 24 Randy Voorhees says that
collapsing the PAS leg and dropping the PAS elbow below the
level of the shoulder causes "the pitcher to get
'underneath' his pitches".
Randy Voorhees clearly doesn't
understand that one's arm slot is a function of the tilt of one's shoulders
at the release point, not the height of one's elbow at the high-cocked or
I could go on and on, but you get the point. Like
many people Randy Voorhees clearly does not understand the major league
pitching motion and, as a result, what he has to say about pitching is not
Busters: Leading With The Elbow
across the same myth a number of times and thought I should try
to bust it. The myth is that pitchers should not lead with their
elbows. I don't know why people think this is bad, or what the
alternative is, but I do know that EVERY major league pitcher,
and most pitchers period, lead with their elbows.
Below are a number of pictures of
prominent, and in some cases very long-lived, pitchers leading
with their elbows. This includes two of my favorite pitchers,
Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens.
Leading with the
elbow is a by-product of the process of throwing a ball hard, and
let me use a number of frames from a clip of Greg Maddux to
explain what happens and why.
Greg Maddux - Frame 319
In Frame 319, Greg Maddux's
Pitching Arm Side (aka PAS) forearm is just passing through the vertical
Greg Maddux - Frame 320
In Frame 320, Greg
Maddux's shoulders have just started to turn. The weight of the
ball in his hand, at the end of his PAS forearm, has caused his
PAS upper arm to externally rotate, and his PAS forearm to lay
back or bounce toward 1B.
Greg Maddux - Frame 321
In Frame 321, Greg
Maddux's PAS forearm has laid or bounced back 90 degrees and his
PAS forearm is lagging behind his PAS elbow as it is pulled around
by the rotation of his shoulders. Greg Maddux is clearly leading
with his PAS elbow at this point.
Greg Maddux - Frame 322
In Frame 322, Greg
Maddux's shoulders have stopped rotating and his PAS elbow has
rapidly (in 1/30th of a second) extended 90 degrees. Notice that
his PAS elbow and hand are at the level of his shoulders and his
arm slot is determined by the tilt of his shoulders, not the angle
of his elbow.
You can see the same
thing in the photo above of Jeff Suppan at the Release Point. His
PAS elbow and hand are at the level of his shoulders and his arm
slot is determined by the tilt of his shoulders (the white line).
While Jeff Suppan isn't leading with his elbow at this moment, he
was just 1/30 of a second before.
A couple of weeks
ago I was at the stadium with my family to see Mark Mulder's first start after coming off the DL. He
didn't pitch that badly, but his velocity wasn't great (he hit
88MPH and then they turned off the radar gun at the stadium) and
he had a tendency to leave the ball up in the zone. Now Mark
Mulder is back on the DL and just underwent additional surgery
to clean up his shoulder. As a result, I decided to take another
look at his mechanics and see if I can figure out the root cause
of his problems.
The thing that is
most obviously different about Mark Mulder's mechanics is how
low his PAS elbow gets. You can see this in both of the photos
above of Mark Mulder. Now, I don't think a low PAS elbow is
necessarily bad because it can reduce the strain on the
shoulder. As a result, I see far more problems with PAS elbows
that are too high rather than PAS elbows that are too low.
If you look at the
two photos above of Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson, you will see
how low their PAS elbows are as their PAS forearms are vertical.
I call this the
"W" and I have highlighted it in the photo above of
Greg Maddux. As a result, I don't think a low PAS elbow is the
root cause of Mark Mulder's problems.
What I do think very well may be the
root cause of Mark Mulder's problem is a timing problem that
goes by the name of rushing.
It was the (teeny)
little photo above that led me to focus on rushing as the root
cause of Mark Mulder's problems. The thing that's odd about this
photo is that his timing is completely screwed up. Notice that his
hips are completely open and are in the process of pulling his
shoulders around. However, his PAS forearm isn't yet vertical.
If you look at pictures of other pitchers at this moment, aside
from their PAS elbows being much higher, their PAS upper arms are
generally much more externally rotated at this moment, with their
PAS forearms laid back 45 or so degrees.
You can see the same
basic thing in the larger photo above of Mark Mulder, which is
taken from a slightly different angle. Notice how his hips are
completely open and his shoulders have started rotating but his
PAS upper arm is lagging behind (e.g. very adducted) his body.
It's almost as if he's dragging his arm behind his body. This puts
a tremendous amount of strain on the shoulder, and in particular
You can also see the
same basic thing in the two photos above of Mark Mulder. Notice
how he is pulling in his GS elbow and starting to rotate his
shoulders before his PAS forearm is vertical.
So what does this mean?
First, I think it means that Mark
Mulder's dropping his PAS elbow is just a symptom of a much
larger problem (e.g. rushing), and not the root cause of his
problems. I think he may be (unconsciously) dropping his PAS elbow
because that is the only way that he can comfortably pitch.
Dropping the elbow can reduce the level of stress on the shoulder,
but can only do so much to help a damaged shoulder.
IOW, it's a Band-Aid and not a permanent
Second, in my experience serious timing
problems such as rushing
ultimately lead to Labrum problems, which are EXTREMELY hard to
fix. I would not be surprised if Mark Mulder experiences another
bump on his road to recovery and we end up hearing about his going
down with Labrum problems in Spring Training or early next years.
Up to now, I have
focused my efforts on explaining what not to do. However,
many people have asked me about my opinion of proper pitching
mechanics. As a result, I just put together a piece on proper
pitching mechanics that illustrates my points using the
pitching mechanics of Roger
Clemens and Greg
Maddux as examples. I believe that the effectiveness, and
the longevity, of these two pitchers is directly related to
their superior pitching mechanics.
Look: Francisco Rodriguez
A number of people
have asked me what I think about Francisco Rodriguez. While he
does seem to be a max-effort guy, and max-effort guys make me a
little nervous, I think that fact that he pitches out of the
bullpen and has decent mechanics mean that he should probably
hold up better than average.
There's no question
that the photo above of Francisco Rodriguez makes me nervous. His
Pitching Arm Side (aka PAS) elbow is quite high.
However, as the
photo above of Francisco Rodriguez shows, his PAS elbow seems to
drop before his shoulders start to turn, which means that he
shouldn't be as vulnerable to impingement problems as people like
Mark Prior. My current sense of Francisco Rodriguez is that he
could fall into the same category as John Smoltz and Pedro
Martinez, guys whose mechanics were a little borderline but whose
elbows dropped before their shoulders started to turn, which
allowed them to pitch mostly unscathed.
Make Me Nervous
A couple of folks
over at Rotoworld.com
recently asked me which pitchers, who to date have been
relatively injury-free, make me nervous due to their poor
mechanics. Below is a small set of pitchers who fall into that
group, generally because of how high their Pitching Arm Side
(aka PAS) elbows get.
Notice the hint of Inverted
W in Aaron Laffey's arm action.
Notice the major Hyperabduction
in this photo of Andy Sonnanstine.
Notice the signs of Inverted
L in Bobby Seay's arm action.
Notice the borderline Hyperabduction
in the arm action of Kason Gabbard.
Notice the Hyperabduction
W in the arm action of Shaun Marcum.
Notice the Hyperabduction
in the arm action of Shawn Hill.
Notice the borderline Hyperabduction
in the arm action of Josh Beckett.
Look: AJ Burnett
AJ Burnett's name
has come up a couple of times in the last week (including as a
possible acquisition for the Cardinals), which has led me to
take a look at his mechanics.
I do not like what I see.
There is no doubt in my mind that his
injury problems are related to his poor mechanics, which include
a significant Inverted
As you can see in
the two photos above, AJ Burnett breaks his hands with his elbows,
which results in his elbows getting quite high quite early.
His elbows keep
coming up until he is in a classic Inverted
W position with his Pitching Arm Side (aka PAS) elbow both
above and behind his shoulders.
As the two photos above show,
AJ Burnett's PAS elbow stays quite high, in a position of Hyperabduction,
rather than dropping as his PAS upper arm starts to externally rotate. What
this does is increase the distance over which, and the force with which, his
PAS upper arm externally rotates, which increases the stress on both the
elbow and the shoulder.
Lincecum Does It
As I have said before,
I am a big fan of Tim Lincecum. He combines a great arm action
-- namely a pronounced W rather than an Inverted
W or Inverted
L -- with an extremely efficient body motion.
As the photo above
shows, Tim Lincecum achieves a tremendous degree of hip/shoulder
separation. This stretches the muscles of his torso, which enables
them to powerfully pull his shoulders around. As a result, he
throws the ball with his entire body and not just his arm, which
is why such a relatively small guy can throw the ball so hard.
How Bob Cluck
Is Destroying Pitchers' Arms
If you are
familiar with my work, you know that one piece of advice that I
absolutely despise is the advice that you should "show the
ball to Second Base" (or "show the ball to Center
Field"). The reason I am on such a crusade to rid the world
is that it contributes to numerous elbow problems.
If at the high cocked position you are
showing the ball to second base (or to center field), then you
are almost maximally. As a result, in order to get your palm to
face home plate as your Pitching Arm Side (aka PAS) upper arm
externally rotates, you will have to supinate your forearm
through the release point. This focuses the load on the UCL and
causes problems with the Medial Epicondyle in young players and
UCL problems in older players.
Near as I can tell, this very common
piece of advice showed up in Bob Cluck's book How To Hit/How to
Pitch. This absolutely terrible, and borderline dangerous, book
is full of other terrible advice about pitching (and hitting).
First, on page 78 of How To Hit/How To
Pitch, Bob Cluck advocates that the PAS elbow be at least as
high as the shoulder at the Power Position or High Cocked
Position, IOW in a position of Hyperabduction,
and that the pitcher show the ball to Second Base. The reality
is that, if you look at great pitchers like Greg Maddux, their
PAS elbow is below the level of their shoulders at this
moment. Greg Maddux also shows the ball to Third Base, not
Second Base or Center Field at this moment.
On page 82 of How
To Hit/How To Pitch, Bob Cluck also states that the pitcher's
hips should be closed at the moment that the Glove Side (aka GS)
foot lands. However, if you look at the photo above of Greg
Maddux, you will see that his hips have opened 45 to 60 degrees
at this moment. This hip/shoulder separation stretches the
muscles of the torso and enables them to powerfully pull the
The bottom line is that you should not
buy this piece of drivel.
Instead, I hope that you will
discourage people from buying it and burn it if you happen to
own it. If you sell it online, then you might be contributing to
the destruction of another young player's elbow.
Bonderman: Why I Said What I Said
in December 2006, I expressed concerns about the long-terms
deals that were given to Chris Carpenter and Jeremy Bonderman
during the off season.
I didn't think they would turn out to
be wise investments.
Back in August
and July I
explained the problems I had with Chris Carpenter, which are
generally related to his significant Inverted
L. I thought I should do the same with Jeremy Bonderman, and
explain why I think his current problems aren't just a blip.
Rather, I think they point to serious problems in his elbow that
will likely affect him over the next two or three seasons.
After that, his shoulder will break down.
First, like Anthony
Reyes and Mark Prior, Jeremy Bonderman has a significant Inverted
W in his arm action.
In each of the
photos above of Jeremy Bonderman, notice how he takes his Pitching
Arm Side (aka PAS) elbow both above and behind his shoulders. This
will increase the distance over which, and the force with which,
his PAS upper arm will externally rotate and put significant
stress on both his elbow and shoulder.
In each of the photos above of
Jeremy Bonderman, you can also see evidence of a problem with Hyperabduction.
In particular, note how high Jeremy Bonderman's PAS elbow is in the last
picture. This indicates that his PAS elbow is still quite high as his
shoulders start to rotate, which makes him vulnerable to an impingement
injury of his rotator cuff.
Notice how much
lower Greg Maddux's PAS elbow is at the same moment in time.
Finally, in the photo above of
Jeremy Bonderman, you can see that he employs one trick that I do not like.
Notice how he has locked his Glove Side (aka GS) knee as he nears the
Release Point. While this can give a pitcher a small velocity boost by
increasing how much his hips rotate, I do not like this trick because at a
minimum it can lead to hyperextension of the GS knee and this knee problems
over time. I am also concerned that locking the GS knee can reduce the
shock-absorbing capabilities of the body and increase the stress that is
placed on the elbow.
There are also better ways of
increasing how much the hips rotate, including not leaving the PAS foot
behind on the rubber but instead driving the PAS knee forward toward the
plate as Greg Maddux and Nate Robertson are doing in the two photos above.
Impending Trouble For
I just came across a photo of
Ian Kennedy that
makes me nervous.
In the photo above
of Ian Kennedy, notice how his Pitching Arm Side (aka PAS)
elbow is at or above the level of his shoulders with his PAS
forearm hanging down vertically beneath it. The is the classic Inverted
L position that I think leads to elbow and shoulder problems.
You can see the same Inverted
L in the arm actions of Chris Carpenter and BJ Ryan, both of whom have had
elbow problems. Notice the PAS elbow at or above the level of the shoulders
and the PAS forearm hanging vertically beneath it.
You can see the same thing in the arm action of Ian
Kennedy from his time at USC. Again, notice
the Inverted L with the high PAS elbow and the forearm hanging down below
P.S. Thanks to a
sharp-eyed reader for letting me know that the first photo had
been mis-labeled by Yahoo as being Joba Chamberlain. I was
surprised to see such bad mechanics, given that I generally
liked Joba Chamberlain when I looked at him last
month. It makes more sense that the first photo was of Ian
Kennedy, whose mechanics I have never liked.
Look: Chad Billingsley
A reader recently
asked me to take a quick look at Chad Billingsley. While I
initially liked what I saw, I have since come across some photos
that make me nervous.
As you can see
from the two photos above, Chad Billingsley's elbow gets quite
high quite early. This is often what happens when a pitcher
breaks their hands with their elbows.
As the two photos
above show, Chad Billingsley's elbow goes above and well behind
his shoulders as he starts to turn his PAS arm over.
While you see this
amount of adduction in pitchers like Greg Maddux and Randy
Johnson, it usually occurs later and with the PAS elbow
In the photos
above, you can see that Chad Billingsley's PAS elbow stays quite
high as his PAS forearm comes vertical.
This hint of Hyperabduction
is the same thing you see in Cole Hamels and Adam Wainwright,
and is one reason why they both make me nervous.
Driving, And Pushing Off The Rubber
I'm in the middle
of a conversation with one of my readers who is a HS pitcher who
I gather has some talent. The problem is that I think he has a
number of misconceptions that are holding him back, perhaps as a
result of what I think is some questionable advice from one or
more pitching gurus (e.g. Dick Mills).
I thought all of my readers would be
interested in his questions and my answers to them.
Q: I have been having trouble with my leg drive to the plate.
What exactly do you mean by this?
Just to be clear, I believe that pitchers do get their bodies moving
toward the plate by pushing sideways at the top of their leg lift.
However, I do not believe that most pitchers push off of the rubber as
or after their Glove Side (aka GS) foot lands. I know that some people teach this, but
I think it's wrong. Only 5% of pitchers actually push off the rubber
as or after the GS foot lands.
Q: I have read your
article on leading with the heel and striding sideways and I am a firm
believer of it. However, I have also come across online about leading with
the hip, which I believe is basically the same thing as leading with the
Correct. You can lead with either the GS butt cheek or the
Q: When my front foot plants, after i have tried to solely lead with the
heel and stride sideways, my weight has shifted too far out forward and
isn't centered. It is not a big weight shift but it is enough to rob me of
proper velocity and rotation and make me feel like I am getting out in front
and feel like I am throwing all arm.
I'm not convinced that this is bad.
Q: And when I lead with the hip, I feel
like I am not getting a strong enough drive with my Pitching
Arm Side (aka PAS) leg. I feel like I am falling to the plate and not using my leg strength (I'm about 6' 2" and
only 170 lbs so its not like falling to the plate will get me good velocity,
haha unless I gained about 50 lbs). I feel like a mess.
As I said above, while I do think that pitchers push off sideways with
their PAS foot to get their bodies moving sideways to the target, the
majority of pitchers do not push off the rubber with their PAS foot as
or just after their GS foot lands. Instead, the rotation of their hips
pulls their PAS foot off of the rubber.
What I want guys to focus on is letting their hips
pull their PAS foot off the rubber so that they do not leave their PAS foot behind on the
rubber. This maximizes the rotation of the hips. The photo below
of Nate Robertson is an example of what I'm talking about.
Notice how far his PAS foot is off the rubber at the release point,
which maximizes the rotation of his hips.
You see the same thing in
the photo above of Greg Maddux. Notice how far his PAS foot has
come off the rubber. However, this happened because his PAS foot
was pulled off the rubber, not because he pushed off
the rubber with it.
Also, let me make it clear to everyone
that I don't think it's accurate to say that a pitcher gets much
power from their legs. Instead, it's more accurate to say that the
majority of a pitcher's power comes from the muscles of the hips
and lower torso (e.g. their core). If you talk about how pitchers
throw with their legs, then people start thinking that pitchers
drive off the rubber as or close to their GS foot lands, which
simply isn't the case. For the vast majority of pitchers, all that
their legs do is start the hips moving sideways toward the plate
at the top of the leg lift.
My arm swing has improved a good amount after the work I put in, however, I seem unable to
have a good leg drive to the plate.
See above. I think people who advocate the leg drive are misguided.
I also feel like I am off balance at the top of my leg lift.
Technically, you should be. While you don't want to be falling off toward 1B or 3B, at the top of
your leg lift your hips should start sliding toward home plate.
I have paused at the top of my leg lift to insure
balance and staying back,
The balance point is a myth. If you look at the best pitchers, they do not come to a
complete stop at the top of their leg lift. Instead, they start sliding their hips toward
the plate at the top of their leg lift.
Check out this video clip of Mariano Rivera the I
found on www.pitchingclips.com.
Notice how his hips start sliding toward the plate at the top of his
leg lift. Based on the actions of his PAS foot, you can also see
that -- rather than pushing off of the rubber -- his PAS
foot is pulled off the rubber by the rotation of his
You can see the same things in
the clip above of Nolan Ryan. Notice how, rather than coming to the balance
point, his hips start sliding sideways toward home as he nears the top of
his leg lift. You can also see that he does not push off the rubber
with his PAS foot after his GS foot lands. Rather, his PAS foot is pulled
off the rubber.
All of this is why I think the term "Drop and
Drive" is not an accurate representation of what most great pitchers do.
Instead, what great pitchers do is better described as "Drive and
Drop". They get their hips moving toward the plate with a sideways push
(back toward 2B) of their PAS foot and then stride.
While I love and respect Tom Seaver, it could be
that his use of the term "Drop and Drive" has set the world of
pitching instruction back by 20 or 30 years.
Same Old Same Old
I have been
following the reappearance of Kerry Wood with some interest. I
have been hearing that he has been working hard to improve his
mechanics and conditioning.
While Kerry Wood does appear to have
put more focus on his conditioning, I don't see a significant
difference in his mechanics.
As the two photos
above show, Kerry Wood's arm action still falls into the range
of the Inverted
L and the Inverted
W. As a result, Kerry Wood is likely putting a significantly
increased load on both his elbow and his shoulder.
The only thing that might save Kerry
Wood is the fact that he is now pitching out of the bullpen. The
simple reduction in the number of innings he pitches may help to
prolong his career. However, the root cause of Kerry Wood's
problems has not been addressed.
The Pitching Mechanic -