Identify Weaknesses, Strengths, and Designs
In this day and age of baseball, pitchers are rapidly getting ahead of hitters with new technologies on the market. The best piece of equipment that is truly invaluable, in my opinion, is your smart phone.
The main reason why taking video is the most important aspect of your pitching performance is for ASSESSING. If you are not taking video, you can try to make all the adjustments you want in the short-term, but will they stick?
Take this for example. When I have a new athlete interested in training with me, there is a process we have to go through first. Step #1 is to get an evaluation. Why is the evaluation so important? I assess movement quality first and foremost. If you cannot get your body into certain positions from the ground, good luck trying to do it on the mound when your body is moving even faster.
This concept can be and should be applied for pitchers. Take the guess work out of your skill development and take some video.
Let’s go over the throwing motion step by step from the mound with the use of images taken from research (Fleisig et al.), so this way you can compare it and come back to this article when needed.
From the leg lift (top right picture), the pitcher begins to sit into the back hip, create force towards home plate, and separate the hands from the glove. Notice how his HEAD does not move away from home plate.
During the stride (bottom right picture), the pitcher keeps his hand on top of the ball. The throwing hand should be paired with the lead foot: as the front hip opens, the torso should rotate against it while the ball (in this case, the shoulder), is beginning to rotate towards the ear.
Lastly, it’s important to keep the back heel in contact with the ground as long as possible. If the heel comes up too soon during the stride, this will show the hips opening up a little too soon.
Front Foot Contact
At front foot contact, the front foot should be pointed towards home plate. Based on hip mobility, this range can be anywhere from 0-10 degrees off-center. The upper arm angle should be anywhere from 80-90 degrees, as the upper arm remains in the shoulder plane.
Notice how the pitcher’s torso does NOT rotate with the lower body. In pictures 1 (middle) and 2 (top right), you can visually see his right obliques being stretched out when the from foot is in contact with the ground, creating the “torque” needed in the torso.
In picture 2 (top right), we see the forearm being flexed at a 45-degree angle. After this instant is when the shoulder begins to move into external rotation. In other words, if we see that the forearm is already vertical, that means that the shoulder is rotating “too early”. It is important to create later arm speed.
However, if the throwing hand is not much higher than the elbow, then this would still disrupt the timing of the throwing shoulder. When the arm is “super late”, we will see what is called the “inverted-W”: when the hand is below the elbow in the shoulder plane.
Picture 3 (bottom right) shows how the pitcher has a line directing towards home plate, with his stride being slightly closed. Research has shown that our stride length should be around our height, too much or too little displays as a velocity killer.
Arm Cocking and Arm Acceleration
During the arm cocking phase, the back hip internally rotates and “punches” towards home plate. At the same instant, the arm goes into its maximal external rotation (shown by the blue arrow).
The front leg should begin to straighten out during this time to allow for the front hip to rotate and absorb all of the energy that is currently being produced. Previous researchers have determined this as the “C-shape”: greater front leg extension during ball release has been correlated to high ball velocities.
The elbow then moves from the previous 45-degree angle to a rough 90-degree angle to create an “L-shape” during acceleration. This allows the shoulder and elbow to get maximal torque to initiate shoulder internal rotation into acceleration.
In picture 2 (top right), we see the pitcher tucking in his glove side to remain balanced during rotation. The opposing leg (the drive leg) should be extended towards the rubber. Usually, if a pitcher is not able to control this pattern and we see the back knee coming too close to the pelvis, that is usually indicative of a core stability issue.
The front view in picture 3 (bottom right), we can see that the pitcher is more of an “overhead” thrower. Regardless of arm slot at ball release, the shoulder should still be abducted (shoulder plane) at 90-degrees, which is shown by the top yellow line.
If we see that the elbow is above the shoulder plane at ball release, that usually pairs up well with shoulder injuries. Conversely, the elbow below the shoulder plane pairs up well with elbow injuries.
This is an overlooked position in arm health for the pitcher. What we should see is the back of the throwing shoulder, as the arm seems to “reach” towards his back pocket. This position is important to dissipate energy throughout the arm. A poor follow through will put too much tension on the elbow!
Now, let’s go back to the main purpose of this article. Why do we take video? To assess, not guess. Take all of the guess work out of your bullpens and games and start breaking down your film.
Every pitcher is different, and they should be. Everyone will have different limb lengths, muscle force production, tendon and ligament attachment points, as well as muscle attachment points. This is why assessment is so critical. Can a pitcher not get into a certain position because of motor control issues, or from their anatomy differences? This could be why our mechanics break down.
Jarad Vollkommer, CSCS
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