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Proper Elbow Positioning


I recently received the following e-mail from a confused parent of a young pitcher...

I have a 9 yr. old son who pitches a little. I saw on a site that you mentioned a pitcher should not raise his elbow above his shoulder. Is this throughout the entire pitching motion? I have heard the opposite. That you must raise your elbow above your shoulder. Can you help me?

The short answer to this question is that a pitcher should NEVER take their elbows above the level of their shoulders.
     Now let me explain what I mean in depth.
     I am not sure what people are trying to achieve when they tell pitchers that they have to get their elbow above the level of their shoulder. I believe that they may be trying to get the pitcher to raise their Release Point and get some downward angle on their ball. While I agree with this goal, I do not think that telling pitchers to raise their elbows above their shoulders is the right advice.
     If you look at what successful, injury-free pitchers do, in order to raise their release point they tilt their shoulders as Jeff Suppan is doing in the photo below.

Jeff Suppan

This raises the Release Point but still keeps the Pitching Arm Side (aka PAS) elbow below the level of the shoulders. In the photo above, the level of the shoulders is indicated by the white line. Notice how high Jeff Suppan's PAS hand is in this photo but, because his shoulders are tilted, how it is still below the level of his shoulders.
     I know that there are pitching coaches out there who believe that pitchers should break their hands with their elbows so that they come to the position that Anthony Reyes is in in the photo below. They believe that this will improve the pitcher's arm action.

Anthony Reyes

However, I think this is horrible advice.
     I have found that pitchers, like Mark Prior and Francisco Liriano, who come to this position face a significantly increased risk of experiencing shoulder (and possibly also elbow) problems.
     As a result, I believe that pitchers should follow the lead of Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson, who has been both effective and durable, and never take their elbows above the level of their shoulders.

Greg Maddux

Randy Johnson

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