I have been studying pitching mechanics since early 2005,
when one of my 4th grade pitchers suffered an elbow injury in the first
game of the season and after a seven-month layoff. In the nearly
years since that day, I have been studying pitching mechanics,
trying to do everything I can to keep the pitchers I teach and
coach (including my own sons) healthy.
Based my years of research into physiology and biomechanics, I have come
to a number of conclusions about the topic of proper throwing
and pitching mechanics.
Let's start out by sticking to the facts
and then get into the opinions that I believe that those facts
can reasonably lead us to.
Conditioning is something that is proposed as both the cause
of and the solution to the pitching injury epidemic. It can't be
both, so what are the facts?
- F01. FACT: Kids are not short adults.
Because they are growing (usually rapidly), kids' bodies are
fundamentally different than the bodies of adults. For
instance, kids have weaker cartilage in many places that are
solid bone in adults. Kids' bones are also peppered with growth
plates, weak spots where the bones grow.
There is nothing
you can do about these differences other than be patient
while kids are
growing and not over-load them, especially during growth
- F02. FACT: While conditioning is the best tool for
adults, it is only of limited value for kids. There
is little doubt that some conditioning is good for adults
and more conditioning is usually better.
However, due to their bony structure, and the presence of
growth plates in particular, there are limits to how much conditioning
the bodies of kids can tolerate. What's more these limits are essentially
unknowable and will vary from kid to kid and from month to
- F03. FACT: "Kids don't throw enough" is true, to a
point (but probably not in the way that many people think).
There is a difference between just throwing the ball around
with, or even pitching to, your friends in a park and
playing a full weekend (or worse, week) of organized, often
highly competitive baseball. The difference between 40 years
ago and now likely isn't that kids aren't throwing as much
as we did back in the day. Rather, the difference is that
kids today throw far more in highly structured, and often
highly competitive and intense, settings. As a result, their
bodies are under increased levels of stress.DRS
Looking for Differences
For much of my early career I was a troubleshooter; I was the
person that my employers called when their systems were broken
and they needed someone to figure out what was going wrong.
first rule of troubleshooting a system, especially one that was
previously working well, is to figure out what has changed. The
same principle of looking for the differences can be applied to
troubleshooting the problem of pitching injuries.
- F04. FACT: The way throwing and pitching are taught
changed. When I was a kid, growing up in the 1970s
and early 1980s, most kids weren't taught how to throw.
Instead, you were given a glove and a ball and played catch with
your parents and your friends. In most cases, that
progressed to pitching to your friends, emulating your
how kids are taught to throw today.
Instead of just gripping
and ripping the ball, most kids today are taught using any number of
cues, cues that I believe are problematic and that I discuss
at length in
- F05. FACT: The cues that are used to teach throwing
and pitching are producing different arm actions and timing
than you saw in
pitchers from 20 years ago or more. If you compare
video clips and still pictures of older pitchers and
contemporary pitchers, you will observe a number of
- More pronation at the high-cocked position.
- Less external rotation at heel plant.
- F06. FACT: Ballplayers throw harder than they used
to. The average fastball velocity has increased
over the years.AFBV That is an issue
because, as fastball velocity goes up, so too does the load
on the elbow and the shoulder.
- O01. OPINION: You will not be able to understand
what is happening and why unless you study what is being
taught at the youth levels and how that has changed over the
years. As I explain in
if you study the history of how throwing and pitching are
taught, you can trace the introduction of a number of
- O02. OPINION: The problem isn't that we AREN'T
teaching kids to throw. Rather, the problem is that we ARE
teaching kids to throw and HOW we are teaching throwing.
The way that kids are being taught to throw, while effective in
terms of increasing velocity, is problematic in terms of the risk of
- O03. OPINION : The way that kids are being taught to
throw, much less to pitch, is a (big) part of the problem.
As I explain in my piece on the
there are numerous problems with how ballplayers are being
taught to throw.
(Curveballs, Sliders, Cutters, Etc.)
Given that breaking balls are often blamed for the pitching
injury epidemic, let's go over some of the facts about them.
- F07. FACT: Nobody (really) knows whether curveballs
are a problem or not. While many studies have been
done about curveballs, and these studies suggest that the
curveball is not the
problem that many people think it is, the problem is that
these studies are poorly controlled. Instead of defining
what a curveball is, studies to date largely just
asked the subjects to throw what they call their curveball.
In my opinion, that creates a huge opportunity for
confounding, where curveballs can be mixed in with sliders
(and fastballs, change-ups, and everything else). To answer the question
of whether curveballs are actually a problem,
at a minimum the speed and break of the pitch needs to be
captured and compared to the pitcher's fastball.
- O04. OPINION: The connection between curveballs and
injuries is real, but is due more to correlation than
causation. In my experience, most rec pitchers tend
to throw just fastballs. At most, top rec pitchers (most of
whom also play select) will
throw one or two curveballs to a batter, largely just as a
show pitch. It isn't until pitchers enter higher-level select
and/or travel programs that they start throwing multiple
pitches. Of course, kids who play in high-level select
and/or travel programs will also tend to play upwards of 60,
80, or more games per year, making overuse the more likely
- O05. OPINION: Sliders are more dangerous than
curveballs. At the youth level, sliders (deliberate
or not) tend to be thrown with fastball arm speeds whereas
curveballs tend to be thrown with slower arm speeds. That is
significant because the lower the arm speed, the lower the
stress on the arm. Jeff
Curveball and Slider Pitchers and the DL also discusses
the fact that major league pitchers who throw more sliders
are more likely to end up on the disabled list.
- O06. OPINION: It makes sense to teach middle school
ballplayers how to throw a curveball. In my
experience, most pitchers who are older than 6th or 7th
grade have experimented with throwing a curveball. In most
cases, they throw what I call a turn the doorknob slider,
where they rotate their wrist clockwise through the release
point. Because of my concerns about the slider, I believe
it makes sense to teach middle school baseball players how
to throw an actual curveball in order to reduce the
likelihood that they will accidentally or deliberately throw a
turn the doorknob slider.
Given that I have gained most of my press as a result of my
research into the
Inverted W and related arm action flaws, I should probably
address that topic and make clear the current state of the
- F08. FACT: The problem with the Inverted W isn't the
position itself, but with the timing problem that the
position tends to create. As I discuss in my piece
The Science Behind the Inverted W, the Inverted W was
studied in a piece entitled
Early Cocking Phase Mechanics which was commissioned by
Dr. Weimi Douoguih, Medical Director for MedStar Sports
Medicine and Medical Director for the Washington Nationals.
- F09. FACT: When I first noticed the arm action
pattern that is now known as the Inverted W, I called it
"The M." I then found it that Paul Nyman was
describing and teaching it as the Inverted W, so I used his
term since it was already out there and was the term that
people were most familiar with.
I bring up the Inverted W not to toot my own horn or to beat
a dead horse, but because, in my opinion, the lessons
that have been learned about the Inverted W are relevant to the
pitcher injury epidemic. In particular, the problematic
thing about the Inverted W is the timing problem that it tends
to create, and timing problems are also a result of many of the
As a result of my years of research into the topic, I have
come to hold a number of opinions about the state of the art of
throwing and pitching mechanics in general and the pitching
injury epidemic in particular.
- O07. OPINION: Pitchers don't get hurt because their
Instead, pitchers get hurt because their mechanics
weren't good to begin
with. In many cases, when pitchers get hurt, the
first thing that pitchers and their coaches do is they look for
something that changed. However, as in the case of
Mark Prior's pitching mechanics, in most cases you won't
find significant differences between pitchers' mechanics pre and
post injury, even if you look years in the past. That strongly
suggests that the problem isn't due to pitchers changing their
pitching mechanics, but to problems with their original pitching
- O08. OPINION:
The problem isn't that pitching
coaches don't know what they are talking about when they
talk about proper pitching mechanics. Instead, the problem
is that for years they have been optimizing pitching
mechanics for velocity and have effectively ignored the topic of injury risk.
At the end of the day, I think the problem with
Mark Prior's pitching mechanics was that they were
perfect for creating velocity, but ignored the question of
injury risk and the loads the body can handle without
- O09. OPINION: In most cases, problematic pitching
mechanics take time to take their toll, which is why the connection between the mechanics and the injury often isn't
made. In the meantime, the pitcher gets a pretty much
immediate performance boost, which is why these pitching
mechanics are taught.
- O10. OPINION: Just because your pitching mechanics enable you to throw
hard, it doesn't mean that your pitching mechanics are
proper or even good.
- 011. FACT: "Proper Pitching Mechanics" is a
problematic phrase because it means different things to
different people. As I discuss at length in my
Proper Pitching Mechanics, the problem is the word "proper."
I define "proper" as mechanics that lead to pitchers who are
both dominant and durable. Unfortunately, too often, and
increasingly, "proper pitching mechanics" are simply those
pitching mechanics that let pitchers (often quickly) throw
harder. Similarly, too often people assume a pitcher's
mechanics must be proper if he is throwing hard.
However, in my experience, increasingly those high(er)
velocities are being achieved by problematic cues, drills, and/or
For More Information
you are interested in learning more about what I believe are the
roots causes of the pitcher injury epidemic, and what I believe
can be done to reverse the trends we are seeing, I have put
together a webbook entitled
DRS. See the work of Dr. Robert Sapolsky
on the effect of stress and stress hormones on the body,
especially growing ones.
Does pitching velocity matter?