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Pitching MRSA

Suppose you took one of your children to the pediatrician. After filling out the paperwork, being escorted back to an examination room, and before your child was examined by the pediatrician, a nurse came into the room and gave your child an antibiotic to take.

It wouldn't matter if your child actually needed an antibiotic.

It was just the policy of that particular pediatrician to give everyone -- regardless of their symptoms or problems -- an antibiotic.

I would hope that we've become sophisticated enough, in these times of antibiotic resistence bacteria like MRSA, to see that scenario as problematic. Antibiotics should only be given when medically necessary or else they will lose their effectiveness.

As it turns out, in the world of throwing and pitching instruction, we're dealing with something similar; a problem that results from the over-prescription of certain throwing and pitching remedies.

Pitching MRSA, if you will.

Many, if not most, people who teach throwing and pitching are prescribing the same drills to their clients, regardless of their symptoms or problems.

In my opinion, this is contributing to the pitcher injury epidemic that we are currently facing.

One Step Forward, 40 Steps Back

When you work with pitchers, and sometimes throwers, on occasion you will find that some ballplayers will reverse-rotate their shoulders in an attempt to create separation between their hips and their shoulders. Pitchers who do this will tend to rotate their shoulders around until they are in line with the second baseman or even the first baseman (shortstop or third baseman for lefties.

An example of a major league pitcher who does this is Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants.

Madison Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner

While this extreme reverse-rotation of the shoulders doesn't seem to cause Madison Bumgarner any problems, young pitchers who do this can experience any number of problems including throwing from a low arm slot and horizontal inconsistency.

I believe that the pitcher injury epidemic got its start in attempts by well-intentioned coaches to fix this real, but relatively rare, problem.

When, How, & Why Things Changed

When, in the early 2000s, my oldest son started playing baseball and I started coaching him and his teammates, I did what I always do; I went to the bookstore and read (literally) everything I could about the subject. Then, following some very good advice from a guy named Mark Hanson, I compared everything I read to images of the best players that I gathered using the Google image search feature.

One concept that you will come across if you read about throwing and/or pitching is the high-cocked position. Basically, the high-cocked position is the position of the thrower's or pitcher's arm at the moment that their front foot plants and their shoulders start to rotate.

If you look at pictures of the best, most durable pitchers, you will notice that they all do several things at foot plant...

  • Their pitching arm is up.
  • Their pitching arm side elbow is bent around 90 degrees.
  • They are showing the ball to third base (first base for the lefties).
Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson

Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux

Tom Glavine

Tom Glavine

Andy Pettitte

Andy Pettitte

It's remarkable how well this pattern holds for the durable greats, largely regardless of era or pitching style.

Showing the Ball to Center Field

The thing that I fairly quickly noticed was that the books that I was reading were telling me to teach my kids to do something completely different. They were telling me to teach my kids to do something that is sometimes referred to as "Showing the Ball to Center Field" or "Showing the Ball to Second Base."

The first book that I noticed this difference in was Bob Cluck's "How to Hit and How to Pitch."

How to Hit and How To Pitch

How to Hit and How to Pitch

If you look at what he and his students demo in that book, you will see a very different position at foot plant.

How to Hit and How To Pitch

How to Hit and How to Pitch

Instead of being bent roughly 90 degrees, the elbow was bent more like 30 or 45 degrees.

How to Hit and How To Pitch

How to Hit and How to Pitch

Instead of showing the ball to third base, the pictures in the book demonstrated showing the ball to the center fielder or the second base bag.

How to Hit and How To Pitch

How to Hit and How to Pitch

As I started to dig into this difference, I found it in other books, including Joe "Spanky" McFarland's book "Coaching Pitchers."

Coaching Pitchers

Coaching Pitchers

Again, instead of demonstrating the position that I saw in pictures of some of the best pitchers to have ever played the game, I saw something else.

Coaching Pitchers

Fingers on Top of the Ball

This book is careful to point out that the fingers should be on top of the ball. This is very commonly taught, but it's not what you see in pictures of the best pitchers. While their fingers are behind the ball, it's not accurate to say that their fingers are on top of the ball.

A third book that contains similar advice is "Play Baseball the Ripken Way."

Coaching Baseball the Ripken Way

Coaching Baseball the Ripken Way

Once again, if you look at the pictures in this book, you will see lots of examples of what is currently taught in terms of throwing.

Coaching Baseball the Ripken Way

Coaching Baseball the Ripken Way

Coaching Baseball the Ripken Way

Coaching Baseball the Ripken Way

However, if you compare what is being taught to what the best ballplayers actually do -- or did -- you will find some dramatic differences.

Why Does This Matter?

This matters because what is being taught in terms of proper throwing and pitching mechanics, while proper in the sense that it will help ballplayers throw harder, is problematic because in my opinion it will increase the load on the elbow and the shoulder.

I discuss the biomechanics of this in my piece on Premature Pronation.

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