The following breakdown of the pitching motion is meant to be a guide for a coach who is instructing a young pitcher, or is attempting to make adjustments for a pitcher who is experiencing specific problems within his motion. As a coach, the key element is to be able to identify the specific fault which is causing the problem. The pitching motion is sequential and often an original fault leads to a series of other faults or actions.
It is not necessary that each and every pitcher use these specific techniques. If the end result is that a pitcher is successful with his own style and motion, do not change him. Use the following breakdown as a guide and checklist.
I. Basic Pitching Mechanics from the Wind-up Position
A. Preliminary Stance. The pitcher should have good balance, be relaxed and squared off to the plate. The pivot foot spikes should be in front of the rubber and slightly open. The free foot should be slightly behind the pivot foot and about shoulder width apart. The pitching hand and wrist should be held deep inside the glove hiding the grip and ball from the batter and coaches.
B. The Pump. The pitcher may use an over the head motion or a compact chest high pump. If a pitcher has balance or coordination problems, we prefer the compact wind up because there is less movement and fewer things to go wrong.
C. The Rocker Step. The rocker step should be a soft, short step back with the free foot at about a 45 degree angle. For good balance, the head should stay over the pivot foot and center of the body.
D. The Pivot Foot. The pivot foot should be pivoted to a parallel position off the front edge of the rubber. A RHP usually pitches from the right half of the rubber, the LHP from the left half. This position helps the pitcher stride in a straight line to home plate and also improves the angle of the breaking pitch from a RHP to a RHH, and a LHP to a LHH.
E. Leg Lift. The lead leg knee should be lifted up, not kicked or swung up which puts many pitchers out of balance. Let the free foot hang straight down from the knee. Rotate the front hip closed to at least a 90 degree angle. Keep the weight back over a fairly straight, firm posting leg to maintain balance. Do not allow the body to drift forward until the lead leg reaches its maximum height or starts to move downward. A pitcher may lift his lead leg knee up to the chest area if he can maintain good balance in the posting position.
F. Hand Break. The hands should break apart between the letters and the belt near the midline and fairly close to the body. The hands break apart when the lead leg starts downward. The throwing hand should go down, back, then up towards the cocked position in a continuous motion keeping the fingers on top of the ball. The glove hand moves forward and upward towards the hitter.
G. Lead Arm Action. Good lead arm action helps proper shoulder alignment, trunk arching and flexion, and good trunk rotation. High glove action can be deceptive to the hitter. There are two basic methods of developing effective lead arm action.
1. Fire the glove and lead arm towards the plate and following stride foot contact, violently whip the glove and elbow down and back outside the lead hip. Do not allow the glove to go far behind the lead hip.
2. Lead the elbow right at the plate, and following stride foot contact, whip the elbow down and back outside the lead hip.
Both these methods help to create trunk arching, horizontal trunk rotational, and centrifugal forces of the upper body which generates arm speed and ball velocity.
H. The Stride. As the stride leg lowers, the lead foot should move downward and slide just above the mound surface. The body should just drift forward. The pitcher should not push off the rubber until the stride foot has landed stabilizing the body. Actually it is a pulling action of the hip flexors and a pull of the back knee forward and inward not a push off from the rubber.
1. Stride direction. Measuring from the ball of the pivot foot directly to home plate, the ball of the stride foot should land within one to two inches across the mid-line. This directions helps to keep the front side closed and yet does not overly prevent good hip and trunk isolation.
2. Stride length. Measuring from the front edge of the rubber to the toe of the stride foot, the length of the stride is usually close to the pitcher’s height. A long stride is not a problem if the pitcher can get his head and shoulders over the lead leg at the time of ball release.
3. Landing foot position. The pitcher should land on the ball of the stride foot, or flat footed. The toes should point slightly in a close position. If the pitcher lands hard on the heel, the foot will usually fly open which causes the hips and trunk to rotate open too soon. It may also cause the pitcher to get onto a stiff front leg too early which causes recoil action, or puts him out of balance and alignment during the accretion phase. This negatively affects control and pitch velocity.
I. Transfer of weight. Nearly all pitchers have a problem with rushing their motion. Rushing means that the body has moved forward towards the plate too early, causing the arm position to be too low at the time of stride foot contact and arm acceleration. What I have observed in power pitchers is that the weight is held back over a firm posting leg until the lead leg starts downward. The lead foot comes downward a little more than shoulder width apart and side along the ground to the contact area. The upper body and the head stays at the top center of the widening triangle of the body. The body has only drifted, or fallen forward. There is no major push or drive until the front foot has stabilized the body.
1. Landing leg position. Upon firm stride foot placement, the lead leg is flexed at at the knee at about a 135 degree angle. As the trunk is rotated to a squared off throwing position, the lead leg starts to brace up so there is a firm base, a firm front side to rotate up against.
J. Rotational Forces of the Hips, Trunk and Shoulders. The bracing action of the lead leg stops the body from continuing to move forward, allowing the hips, trunk and shoulders to generate tremendous horizontal rotation and centrifugal forces which produce great arm and hand speed, and thus velocity. Many young pitchers, 14-18, after foot contact, allow their lead knee to stay flexed and actually continue to drift forward. This prevents good rotational forces and causes a loss of power and velocity.
K. Trunk Extension to Flexion. As the high velocity pitcher moves to his maximum cocked position, there is an arching of the spine. This becomes much more pronounced as the trunk rotates squaring off to the plate. The chest is thrust out and the spine arched back.
L. Arm Action. At this point in analyzing the pitching motion, let’s focus only on the throwing arm action. I sincerely believe this is one of the least studied and discussed phases of pitching; yet, it is one of the most important aspects of throwing a baseball. It is also a phase in which many improper techniques such as wrist hooking, arm hooking, flailing behind the back, stiff arming, etc can occur and severely limit a pitcher’s potential and performance. Again, through the study of high speed video of professional and college pitchers, I have discovered common traits in high velocity pitchers, and have seen common faults with pitchers who either cannot throw hard, have control problems, or have experienced arm injuries.
In the following section, I will cover only the techniques observed in high velocity successful pitchers. The arm action begins with the hands breaking apart so we need to go back to that point of the motion.
1. Hand break. The pitching hand breaks the downward out of the glove between the letters and the belt near a midline of the body as the leads leg moves downward. Te fingers should stay on top of the ball and the wrist is either in a neutral position or extended back slightly.
2. Arm path. The path of the throwing hand should go down, back, and up in a continuous controlled motion with the fingers staying on top of the ball. Some hard throwing pitchers short arm the backswing. Most drop the hand to a near full arm extended position as it drops downward from the hard break. But, both types of pitchers flex the elbow early, allowing the hand to get up into a high cocked position quickly and efficiently. During the arm swing, the hand and arm should be generally aligned with the body and shoulders.
3. Early cocking position. Upon stride foot contact, the pitching hand should be approximately cap high, and the hand of a RHP will be slightly closer to third base than the elbow. The hand and forearm should be extended back slightly further than the elbow, with fingers on top of the ball.
4. Maximum Cocked Position. At this point, the body is ready to rotate and square off. Most pitchers will have the ball cap high and above, the elbow shoulder high, and the forearm nearly perpendicular to the ground with the palm of the hand facing the shortstop. LHP’s palm hand faces the second baseman. The wrist is extended back slightly in a loaded position.
5. Accretion Phase. As the hips, trunk and shoulders rotate and square off to the plate, the shoulder externally rotates. The elbow leads forward. The forearm and hand then fires forward, coming outside the elbow. The trunk goes from extension to flexion. The arm and hand accelerate to the release point.
6. Release Point. As the hand comes parallel to and crosses the trunk and face, the wrist snaps from an extended back to a neutral position at release. The fingers are right behind and on top of the ball and angled outward close to 45 degrees. The body flexes at the waist over a braced front leg. Upon release, the hand and arm will naturally pronate as the arm starts to decelerate.
7. Deceleration of the arm. This is the time of great force and stress in the posterior should muscles. There should be a long smooth continuous arc of deceleration and a transfer of forces onto the major muscle groups of the trunk and legs.
M. Follow Through. The body weight is brought onto the braced lead leg and the throwing shoulder should come down over the lead leg with the hand and arm finishing down outside the lead leg shin. Pitchers may need to use a “jump-step” to square off and control the body. The glove should be brought back in front of the body quickly to protect the pitcher and help field his position. To save energy, and to help maintain a good visual perception of the plate, the pitcher should just back up on the mound when receiving the return throw from the catcher. This allows him to stay in a good pitching rhythm.
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