How to Throw Harder

Research Review: The Norms for Mechanics and Velocity in Baseball Pitching

I’m really excited for this research post because it’s going to get VERY detailed. I recently went to Motus Academy (if you don’t know about them, click here) and threw a bullpen.

Yes, 23 year old me threw a bullpen. I used to be a Pitcher/Shortstop in my earlier years and then converted to be a Catcher/Center Fielder. There were a few reasons why I put a bunch of markers on my body, the biggest one that I wanted to see where my own energy leaks were coming from!

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I train a lot of pitchers who want to throw harder. Unfortunately, velocity is the biggest recruiting number for pitchers, so we must train for it at our own cost. However, the reason why I performed this throwing evaluation was so I could learn about my own inefficiencies and apply this information to multiple pitchers.

Obviously, every pitcher has a unique throwing motion, but there are similarities that occur during the throwing motion.

What’s interesting about this upcoming study is that every subject was a professional baseball player. They categorized an “older” group and a “younger group”.

Note: the older group was one standard deviation above the mean, the younger group was one standard deviation below the mean.

Here are some of the differences!


Lead Foot Contact

I don’t really like the way that this is described in research. For starters, is it when the foot literally just touches the ground, or is it when it’s in a fully stable position?

Whatever the case may be, when the foot contacts the ground, it is clearly dependent on stride length. Ideally, we want to stay within 65-85% of our body height. This is one variable that is usually a big discrepancy between age levels and competition levels.

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We want to be in a position where the hips begin to open up and rotate, but the torso is staying back and closed off. This is known as “hip-shoulder separation”.

The angle of the lead foot is going to play a big role in this as well. Ideally, being closer to 0-degrees will be beneficial to generate the most amount of rotational torque. A lack of mobility in the lead leg will limit the pitcher’s lead foot angle, therefore directly affecting the amount of rotational torque being generated.

Lastly, the lead knee is flexed around 50-degrees or so, and this will be most important as we transition through the other phases.

Now, how can we achieve all of these positions? Work on each phase at a time.

If you haven’t realized that taking video of your bullpens is essential by now, well, it is! Stop guessing!

You can clearly see how mobility and stability directly effect the throwing motion. I would start with specific mobility drills that will attack those problem areas first, then work on positional drills where this one phase is chopped up.

As far as the arm goes, at front foot strike, the elbow should already be in line with the shoulders, and the elbow bent around 45-55 degrees.

If you have trouble with your arm path like I do, check out Austin Wasserman. He has a ton of great drills for arm path!


Arm Cocking

This is when the torso and the arm are locked in together, gathering more potential energy that results in the “whip” effect of the arm.

As the trunk begins to open, the arm is moving into maximal external rotation. Think of a winding staircase: as the hips are fully open, the trunk begins to open and the arm is spiraling into external rotation to create a bunch of torque in the shoulder.

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Due to the lack of shoulder girdle flexibility, my arm drags out in front of my body. If you can see in the image above, this is highlighted under “Shoulder Horizontal Abduction”.

It get’s into a pretty good position here, but it is a little TOO late because my elbow spirals above the shoulder plane.

To get the most rotational torque in the shoulder, the upper arm should be rotating within the shoulder plane. Not above, not too much below, and definitely not in front of the body.

The amount of elbow flexion you produce in the arm cocking phase is critical for how much torque you’ll produce in the shoulder and elbow. Roughly, 90-100 degrees of elbow flexion will do.


Arm Acceleration 

Those who throw harder are able to get to extension quicker than others.

What this means is that the landing leg should be relatively straight as the arm is accelerating towards home plate.

This is when the arm “whips” through acceleration, releasing all of the built up potential energy.

Usually, we don’t want to force arm speed. This will come with better timing of the hips and torso, and more rotation from both the hips and torso.


Ball Release 

Remember previously I mentioned that lead knee flexion will be important in the later phases? At lead foot contact, the knee is flexed around 50 degrees, or should be at least.

At ball release, the knee should really be less flexed, and in more of an extended position. You can see that there is a difference between 50-degrees from front foot contact to 30-degrees going through ball release. This acts as a deceleration component to slow down the entire body.

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At times, you will see a lot of kids who have excessive lateral tilt of the trunk at ball release. This is usually indicative of weak hip musculature and lack of core control.

I personally think that a personal cue of throwing “through” home plate is a good one because of the “Upper Trunk Flexion” number. The high end is 46-degrees, and this is basically showing no finish and deceleration of the trunk, which could lead to arm problems.

This shows that the entire body is decelerating through ball release, not just the throwing arm. As pitchers get fatigued, you’ll see less trunk flexion at ball release. 


Discussion

In this particular study, the authors mentioned that body height, body weight, and ball velocity were NOT statistically significant between groups. Therefore, AGE is a driving factor.

I’ve seen a lot of 16-year old kids who struggle to get in to certain positions, and I also see 12-year olds who struggle just as much.

For the younger population, it is mostly a stability/strength issue that they cannot get into certain positions. However, this is why assessment and evaluation of athletes is critical.

What if this young athlete actually shows a tightness in some surrounding structures? Mobility training and getting healthy may help your arm in the future!

However, I do think that bodyweight is a driving factor of velocity. To get more specific, I think it would be interesting for researchers to begin looking at lean body mass (LBM) rather than bodyweight itself.

Think of it this way. If you have 2 kids who are both 160 pounds with an identical athletic makeup, but one throws harder than the other, where is that extra velocity coming from?

Is it a strength solution? Possibly. Is it a lean mass solution? Possibly.

What’s VERY interesting in this study is that the velocity factors were NOT different between age groups. I’m scratching my head at this one.

Previous research has shown us that maximal external rotation and forward trunk tilt at ball release are the highest indicators of throwing velocity. However, these two variables were degraded in the older group. Say what?!

So, this tells us that we have to:

  • Maintain proper mobility in the entire body. Work on it daily. Ankles, Hips, T-Spine, Shoulder complex
  • Use this new mobility when working on our bullpens so we can get stronger in new positions
  • Work on the timing between multiple joints when you’re having a catch AND in the bullpen. Time to create a new routine!
  • Throw on your off-days to maintain external rotation, but also use your off-days to get your shoulder work in so you don’t lose strength and control of the shoulder blade.

Keep chucking,

Jarad Vollkommer, CSCS


Reference

Dun, S., Fleisig, G.S., Loftice, J., Kingsley, D., and Andrews, J.R. (2007). The relationship between age and baseball pitching kinematics in professional baseball pitchers.


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