Pitching Motion

By Steven Ellis, former Chicago Cubs pitching pro

Have you ever had a coach tell you that pitchers should keep their shoulders level? I'll bet many of you have. Maybe you've read it in a book or manual that was written by an "expert". Actually, that can be some of the worst advice that can be given to a pitcher. I'm not exactly certain as to who invented this nonsense but I think that it's a relatively new idea (possibly 1980s or 1990s).

Most of us know how important it is for a pitcher to keep his weight (upper body) back while going out to footplant-especially if he wants to throw HARD! Early in the delivery, this can be accomplished by gradually bending the back leg as the stride leg is moving out. When the pitcher gets close to footplant, he cannot bend his back leg anymore. In fact, it will actually straighten some, due to pushing. At this point, at least for high arm slot pitchers, the only way to keep the upper body back is to tilt the shoulders so that the front shoulder is higher than the back shoulder. The pitcher can then rotate his shoulders over the longest distance possible.

As I write this, I'm looking at the sports page from a newspaper that I've been saving since April. It has an excellent photo of Roger Clemens taken from the 3b side, an instant before footplant. He has already completed pushing-off and he has a very extreme shoulder tilt. Also, there is a video clip of Sandy Koufax on the main page of this site. Although it's a front view, it's easy to see his extreme shoulder tilt, also. When watching a game on tv, it's a little more difficult to notice a pitcher's "tilt" from that back view.


Pitchers (such as Clemens and Koufax) that have high arm slots need more shoulder tilt than lower arm slot pitchers (Pedro Martinez). This is because high arm slot (high ¾) pitchers rotate their shoulders through a plane that's closer to vertical in relationship to the ground, while low arm slot (low ¾) pitchers rotate their shoulders through a plane that may be almost horizontal, or parallel to the ground. So, the level shoulders advice isn't quite as bad for the very low ¾ pitchers

A pitcher has to match his shoulder rotation to his arm slot (or his arm slot to his shoulder rotation). So, if a pitcher has a very low 3/4 arm slot (almost sidearm, like Pedro), his shoulders rotate, or spin like a top-almost horizontal to the ground. If he has a high 3/4 arm slot, his shoulders rotate, or spin almost like a wheel-close to verticle to the ground.

The way that a "wheel" spinner can spin, or rotate his shoulders over a longer distance is to have his shoulders tilted back (front one higher than the back one) when the rotating begins-just before footplant. A good example is Roger Clemens.

The way that a "top" spinner can spin, or rotate his shoulders over a longer distance is to somewhat turn his back to the target (showing the back pocket, or counter-rotating) just before the regular rotation begins. He will not need much, if any shoulder tilt. A good example is Pedro Martinez.


A "wheel" spinner can show the back pocket in addition to shifting his shoulders back. This hides the ball from the hitter a bit longer. Obviously, the later that the hitter picks up the ball, the better for the pitcher. Also, anyone that's done a lot of reading at the Setpro site knows about the concept regarding the relationship between accelerating over a greater distance and increased velocity.

A pitcher that has an "inbetween" arm slot (regular 3/4) will have to tilt his shoulders back some AND show the back pocket for maximum velocity.


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