Consistent mechanics

Sports Biomech. 2009 Mar;8(1):10-21.

Variability in baseball pitching biomechanics among various levels of competition.

Fleisig G, Chu Y, Weber A, Andrews J.

American Sports Medicine Institute, 833 St. Vincent’s Drive, Birmingham, AL 35205, USA.

The aim of this study was to compare within-individual variability in baseball pitching among various levels of competition. It was hypothesized that variability decreases as level of competition increases. Five fastballs were analysed for 93 healthy male baseball pitchers (20 youth, 19 high school, 20 college, 20 Minor League, and 14 Major League level pitchers). Eleven kinematic, four temporal, and six kinetic parameters were quantified with a 240-Hz automated digitizing system. Three multiple analyses of variance were used to compare individual standard deviations for kinematic, temporal, and kinetic parameters among the five competition levels. There was a significant overall difference in kinematics and in six of the eleven kinematic parameters analysed: foot placement, knee flexion, pelvis angular velocity, elbow flexion, shoulder external rotation, and trunk forward tilt. Individual standard deviations tended to be greatest for youth pitchers, and decreased for higher levels of competition. Thus pitchers who advanced to higher levels exhibited less variability in their motions. Differences in temporal variation were non-significant; thus variability in pitching coordination was not improved at higher levels. Differences in kinetic variation were non-significant, implying no particular skill level has increased risk of injury due to variation in joint kinetics.

PMID: 19391491

This very interesting recent research from Fleisig & Andrews suggests that development of mechanical consistency is essential for pitchers as they progress from one level to the next.

Interesting although somewhat intuitive. I guess just scientific evidence of what we would suspect to be the case. Which is good.

Just last week, I actually worked with a pitcher on repeatability. First we worked on consistent foot placement. Then consistent glove placement. And, finally, consistent nose placement. I know that last one sounds funny but you really need to get the head to take the same path for each pitch. I just use the nose as the focal point. We talk about an imaginary wall in front of the pitcher (the “glass wall” the NPA talks about at which front foot, front knee, and nose should align vertically with at release) and the goal is to put the nose on the same spot on the wall each time. Doing these things will should result in a consistent release point.

High speed video definitely helps to assess how well a pitcher does these things. (Love that Casio EX-F1!!!)

Hi Roger,

Glad to hear you are enjoying the new camera!

As for the “mechanical consistency is key” finding of this Fleisig-Andrews paper, I agree that is a conclusion that probably every experienced pitching coach arrives at.

On the other hand, there are lots of very smart kids that frequent LTP and they may get some benefit from hearing the message in several different ways and from more than one source.

Some kids become enamored of trying out as many different release points as they can think of–which is a bad idea, IMO. Maybe a very small percentage of us can adequately control more than one arm-slot/release point; however, the great majority of pitchers are probably better off mastering one delivery with one release point. A lot of literature seems to overly romanticize the idea that some elite pitchers could throw the ball from lots of different arm-angles. Sounds great in theory, but I’m thinking it’s an over-blown story.

This research study scientifically confirms the intuition and/or practical experience of many generations of outstanding coaches where efficient, repeatable mechanics are concerned: More consistent mechanics leads to a more consistent release point, and that leads to better competitive performance compared to where you are at today.

Another perhaps more surprising conclusion of this study seems to be that adjustments to timing and sequencing are not necessarily crucial for pitcher training. In other words, if I am reading them right, the authors imply that timing and sequencing are much more repeatable for pitchers at all levels than mechanics are.

I agree - that was a bit surprising.