Pitching Tips For Little League Pitchers
By Steven Ellis, former Chicago Cubs pitching pro
Lead arm - from the cocked position to the follow-through
When the throwing arm arrives in the cocked position, the lead arm is bridged – the lead elbow is up at shoulder height and pointing toward home plate.
Simultaneous with the turning of the hips and shoulders, the lead elbow is pulled down to the side of the body. This is called the tuck and it helps to generate the speed with which the hips and shoulders turn. The glove remains in front of the elbow during the tuck and is held close to the body. After the follow-through, the lead arm should be brought back in front of the body with the glove up to protect the pitcher from hit balls. A good defensive position after the pitch is often lacking at all levels.
A major problem for young pitchers is the habit of throwing the glove behind the body during the follow-through. This is easy to spot when looking for it and can easily be corrected with practice.
Throwing arm - from the cocked position to the follow-through
When the arm arrives at the cocked position, the stride foot is planted and the front hip and front shoulder are at pointed at the target. As the hips and shoulders turn or open up, the throwing elbow points to the target and the palm turns from facing sideways to facing up. The acceleration of the hand (including the snapping of the wrist) determines the ball's velocity. The throwing hand proceeds past the head and the ball is released at a point where the ball and the rear foot form a line that is approximately 45 degrees. The hand then crosses the chest to a point below and outside of the knee of the stride leg. This follow-through allows the arm to decelerate. Deceleration protects the arm. Pitchers should concentrate on throwing the ball downhill. This will occur if they have their elbow up at the beginning of this sequence.
Throwing arm - from the break to the cocked position
After the hands break, the throwing arm should take a down, back and up path until arriving at the cocked position. Young pitchers should focus on the throwing hand. The ball should be pulled out of the bottom of the glove when the hands are breaking. The hand should stay on top of the ball (palm down) when taking the ball down and back. The action here is circular. As the arm comes up, the ball and palm of the hand turn outward (toward the short stop for a right-hander). When the elbow of the throwing arm reaches the height of the shoulder and the hand is over the biceps, the pitcher is in the "cocked" position. The palm should still be facing outward. At this point, the front leg should be planted and the non-throwing shoulder should still be pointed toward the target.
When taking the ball back, some pitchers extend too far and are not able to get the ball in the cocked position soon enough. Their front leg is planted, their body is ready to turn for the throw, but the ball is too far behind them. Throwing the ball from this position greatly reduces velocity and, more importantly, puts a great deal of stress on the shoulder. Another problem occurs when the palm turns toward the target while bringing the ball up to the cocked position. This also puts too much stress on the arm during the early acceleration of the hand.
Breaking the hands
Many young pitchers break their hands improperly. Although when and where a pitcher breaks his hands may not seem real important at first, the break affects arm mechanics and is a root problem with many pitchers. I have been to clinics where pitchers are taught to break during their knee lift – "breaking an egg with the knee" is the mental image they teach. This should be avoided. The breaking of the hands should occur after the pitcher's weight begins moving toward home plate.
A more serious problem, in my opinion, involves where the hands break. Pitchers should break their hands directly in front of their bodies, preferably up around the letters. Many young pitchers like to break their hands behind them (RH pitchers breaking by their right hip). This often creates many problems (and is thus a root problem itself).
First, the throwing arm will often stop after the break to allow the lead arm time to catch up, ruining a smooth, continuous circle action with the ball after the break.
Second, the lead arm does not get to the bridge position soon enough, and often arcs out away from the body instead of moving directly toward the target. (The bridge here is a line between the elbows when both are lifted, pointing toward the plate.) This arcing of the arm and the time it takes to bridge can throw the lead shoulder open way to early. When the shoulder opens before the lead foot is planted, velocity is reduced and arms can be injured.
Beginning the windup
Many young pitchers have difficulty with balance. One of the reasons is poor mechanics at the beginning of their windup. Many are taught to take their rocker step (the initial step behind the rubber) straight back. The reasoning for this is that you want the pitcher to take his weight straight back so that all of his weight is coming forward toward the plate when the pitch is delivered.
One problem with this advice is that the pitcher's weight shift is stopped during the knee lift (thus his weight does not continue forward after stepping back). The pitcher's weight should be back when the front knee is lifted and he should be able to balance on one leg. A second problem with this advice is that many young pitchers lose their balance going from a straight back rocker step to their pivot (with their other foot) inside the rubber.
Young pitchers should begin their windup by positioning themselves (if right-handed) so that their body is facing between third base and home plate (or between first base and home plate if left-handed). The rocker step should only be a few inches and angled toward first base (for righties). Importantly, the pitcher should try to keep his head and weight over his front foot. This will allow him to make a smooth and balanced pivot into the knee lift part of the windup.
Pitcher's lead leg
Many young pitchers fail to keep their weight back when striding toward home plate. They often start with their weight forward before their leg lift is complete and they often loop their front foot toward the plate in a way that shifts their weight forward too quickly.
Young pitchers should consider adopting an "up-down-out" movement with their lead leg. The knee comes straight up (to the point where they can balance themselves), and then goes straight down within a few inches of the ground, and then slides above the ground toward home plate until the stride is complete.
Landing of lead leg
A common problem with young pitchers is the mechanics of their lead leg. When striding toward home plate, some pitchers come down on a completely stiff leg, with their knee locked. This creates a whipping motion in their delivery and will generally create arm problems at some point. In fact, a few major league pitchers having this problem had their careers cut short after a couple of years because their arms went bad.
Another problem, perhaps more common, occurs when pitchers fail to stiffen the lead leg after it comes down. This greatly reduces the velocity on the pitch.
When the stride foot lands, the knee needs to be bent. As the pitcher's weight comes forward, the lead leg must stiffen up, providing resistance to the pitcher's weight and thus producing more velocity on the pitch (the same principle holds true when hitting).
Get that first strike in on the batter
This gives the pitcher a tremendous advantage to be ahead in the count. Walks are poison. Not only do they give the opposition base runners, but walks tax your player's arm and bore their defensive teammates to death. The old baseball adage is "you can't catch a walk." Let them hit it. Really. The odds are in favor of the defense 9 to 1 when the ball goes into play.
Coaches count pitches
Particularly early in the season. Do not overwork young arms. Get into the practice of splitting games with your pitchers. Their arms are not ready for heavy workloads. Use 3 pitchers in a game (just like you would do with your right fielders). Arms stay fresh. Pitchers can come back later in the week and they will thrive on the regular work rather than appearing just once a week. This requires coaches to pay less attention to the scoreboard, but it will help to develop and preserve pitchers. As the weather gets warmer and the pitchers stronger, you can then stretch the innings out. Remember, count pitches not innings. Rule of thumb: Start the kids at 30 - 35 pitches and then add in increments of ten. Signs of fatigue include: shortness of breath, loss of control, pitches going higher, throwing arms dropping lower, resulting in pitchers slinging the ball, rather than being "on top."
Anticipate / field your position
Pitching to the plate is just one part of the equation. Once a pitcher releases the ball, he becomes the 5th infielder. Make sure they know the situation and where to go with the ball when it is hit.
Related Pitching Materials
Want to learn more about youth baseball pitching? Arm yourself with the most innovative and up-to-date baseball pitching training available. These related pitching materials from former Chicago Cubs pitching pro Steven Ellis are guaranteed to help you or the players you coach pitch better and reach the next level faster!