Final Paper

Here is the final draft of my final paper for my Rhetoric class. I would appreciate any input before turning it in tomorrow. Thanks!

      Pitching and pitching mechanics have been the subject of much debate in the pitching and bio-mechanical communities, especially during the last few decades. Being the national pastime brings a large spotlight onto the mechanics of pitching, because as in every other sport, people want to make injuries as uncommon as possible.  Many so-called “pitching gurus” have begun to pop up and with each one comes some brand-new way to throw that will revolutionize your career. Many of them come and go, but some have managed to stick around, regardless of the accuracy of what they are teaching. They all have different methods and can all be found attempting to discredit others and at the same time promote their own product or idea. Some of the prominent names in the pitching mechanics community include Dick Mills, a former professional pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, and Brent Pourciau, a former pitcher who had career ending shoulder surgery. Pourciau was told he would never throw again, yet was able to teach himself to not just throw again, but to throw harder than he ever had in his life.

There are numerous different methods when it comes to pitching mechanics. Many amateur instructors use basic vocal cues such as, “tall and fall” and “drop and drive”. These are simple cues that the coaches use to try to instruct students, yet they may not realize just what they mean, or how they affect the pitcher's arm. Other factors which can be affected that they may be unaware of when using such cues are the pitcher's velocity, location, and long-term health. Making drastic changes to a pitcher's mechanics undeniably increases their risk for injury as they struggle between learning a motion and fighting muscle memory. Newer discoveries that have been discovered through outlets such as the National Pitching Association (NPA) such as the separation between the hips and the shoulders and leading with one's hip. Through the use of numerous studies conducted by the NPA and the more recent use of slow motion video to analyze a pitcher's mechanics, pitcher's are throwing harder than ever before in the history of the game. By looking at what many of the hardest and most durable pitchers in Major League Baseball do, we can gain an understanding of how someone can safely increase their velocity when pitching while making their risk for injury as low as possible. Despite all of this however, the science of pitching is still far from perfect, and pitchers today still become injured at an alarmingly high rate. I hope that through the use of available technologies, the most efficient and powerful way to throw a baseball can be discovered.

“Well son, you have got yourself two choices, 'drop and drive' or 'tall and fall'!” For a long time, this was very true. Pitching mechanics as a science is not very old. Only in the past few decades has it become a booming business of big bucks, travel baseball, and personal pitching instructors. The 'tall and fall' method is one of the main cues that clueless pitching coaches use in a futile attempt to increase a pitcher's velocity. “Tall and fall” says that a pitcher should stay very tall on his drive leg, the one against the rubber, and fall towards the plate (“Drop and Drive”). The reasoning behind this is that the users and teachers of this method say that the momentum from falling towards the plate will increase your velocity. While this may work for some, the majority of players will find themselves struggling to accurately throw the baseball as timing is easily thrown off with this method. Proponents of “tall and fall” also claim that this will help pitchers throw with a downhill trajectory due to them staying taller on the back leg. While this can be true, every foot closer to the plate the ball is released from makes the ball appear to be moving three miles per hour faster. This is because when the ball is released closer to home plate, the batter will have less time to react to the pitch. By shortening the stride of the pitcher, he loses this “perceived velocity” (Seidman). Unfortunately, many pitching instructors do not realize these problems, or they do not do enough research to know that what they are doing to the student could be detrimental to their velocity and arm health. A pitcher who uses this method who can be seen as a good example is Dan Haren of the Washington Nationals. In the picture to the right you can see his upright balance point. His short stride can be seen in his final placement, despite his six-foot five-inch frame, his stride does not come close to that length. His average fastball velocity of 88.9 miles per hour is a possible indicator that his mechanics are not the best (“Dan Haren”). His frame should allow him to throw much harder. Pitchers with a similar frame routinely throw in the 90 – 95 mile per hour range. This is seen in pitchers Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg who are six-foot five-inches tall and six-foot four-inches tall respectively. Their respective average velocities are 94.0 miles per hour and 95.3 miles per hour (“Justin Verlander”) (“Stephen Strasburg”). They benefit from moving faster through their delivery, as well as using their bodies more efficiently as opposed to a slow “tall and fall” method.

The “drop and drive” method is older than the tall and fall method, being employed by many old-timers in the 1960s and 1970s. This method has the pitcher drop nearly straight down after lifting their leg and then pushing outwards, or driving, towards the plate (“Drop and Drive”). This method, although more effective generally than the “tall and fall” method, has its problems. Not having sufficient leg strength can lead to a collapsed back leg when trying to throw. This can cause the pitcher to be facing uphill when they throw the ball and it leads to decreased velocity, accuracy, and increased risk of injury. However, with excellent leg strength, this can be an effective method for pitching. Tom Seaver, a member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, had a motion that many have described as “drop and drive”. Seaver had tremendous leg power though, allowing him to powerfully accelerate towards home plate. This powerful momentum allowed him to throw with exceptional velocity. Seaver can be seen to the right of the page. His back knee nearly hit the ground from how far his stride was. His leg strength is what allowed him to reach such distances and is what allowed him to throw with above average velocity. While “drop and drive” may have worked for Seaver and other older pitchers, it does not work well for younger pitchers with less leg strength.	                

Another common point that many amateur pitching coaches love to point out is the balance point. One of the big problems with the balance point is that when using term “balance”, it is hard to argue against it. No one would argue that balance is a bad thing. A balance point, however, would be recognized as when the pitcher lifts their leg and reaches peak lift. Teaching a balance point here can cause pitchers to stall, or stop moving forward. They “gather” themselves over the pitching rubber and lose any momentum energy they may have had from their leg lift. This is a big velocity killer and one of the main reasons many young pitchers find themselves struggling to add velocity. Teaching balance in the pitching delivery is very important. Though teaching pitchers to come to a still balance point at the point in the delivery when they should be accelerating is the exact opposite of what they need to be teaching. 

The game has begun to change in terms of pitching mechanics, though. Through slow-motion analysis and scientific studies, people are leaning just how the body moves and what exactly are efficient movement patterns. One of the new pieces of information that has become increasingly popular as a teaching tool is having a pitcher lead with their front hip. This means that once they lift their leg, as they near the peak of the lift, they should begin thrusting their hips forward. This is similar to what “tall and fall” tries to accomplish. Leading with the hip is different. “Tall and fall” takes the entire body forward, leading with the hip moves only the hips forward. This creates what some people call a “power triangle” between the back shoulder, front hip, and drive foot. The back shoulder is over the drive foot creating a near vertical line, while the hip is out in front of both, creating a triangle if the three were connected. This hip lead is what effectively allows a pitcher to transition to the next, and arguably most crucial, step. 

From the “power triangle” a pitcher is put in the optimal position to load their drive leg. What this means is that the pitcher can bend their drive leg in a way that allows them to couple the momentum they have gained from leading with the hip with the power of driving with the rear leg. This way the pitcher can effectively transfer their momentum from the lower body to the upper body. The timing of this sequence is extremely critical. The load cannot come too early, as then you are using the “drop and drive” method, and you run the risk of a collapsed back leg and throwing uphill. If the load comes too late it will be ineffective as you will be too far forward and be left with too little time to explode out of the load position. When done properly, the hips lead forward, then the perfectly timed load lets the pitcher explode forward with great momentum, leading into the stride phase of the delivery.

As the pitcher strides forward with the excellent momentum created from the sequencing of the hip lead and load of the drive leg, they then can create a long stride that increases their “perceived velocity”. One should not overdo it, though, as this can cause you to lean too far back and become off-balance. Keeping a vertical spine is critical as it creates the optimal situation for the torso to rotate around it. Just as the front foot is getting ready to land, the load that the back leg had should be finishing. The back leg loads and then extends to thrust the body forward. The extension part should be almost finished, if not finished, as the pitcher reaches front foot strike. Having the entire amount of power used from the back leg before foot strike is necessary for completing the next stage in the easiest way. This next stage is called hip to shoulder separation.

Hip to shoulder separation has been shown in studies by the NPA to account for as much as 80 percent of a pitcher's potential throwing velocity. Hip to shoulder separation is the rotation of the hips prior to the rotation of the shoulders (Gotch). This creates elastic energy in the core that allows the shoulders to rotate faster than as if the hips and shoulders rotated simultaneously. The previous stages effectively lead into hip to shoulder separation because they create an extended lower body with a closed-off upper body. One of the greatest examples of hip to shoulder separation and its benefits is San Francisco Giants starting pitcher, Tim Lincecum. Generously listed as five-foot ten-inches and 170 pounds, in the early stages of his career he would routinely throw in the 93-96 mile per hour region, hitting as high as 100 miles per hour. He took leading with his hip and leg drive to the extreme, knowing he had to if he wanted to throw with overpowering velocity despite his size. He shows excellent hip to shoulder separation, as you can see to the right, in the photo. Timing, as before, is extremely crucial with hip to shoulder separation. Open the hips too early, and the power that was supposed to come from the separation is gone. This is because the opening of the hips and shoulders should be a fluid motion. The hips open, then the torso immediately uses this tension to rotate. Open the hips too late, and you are left trying to open the hips after the front foot has hit the ground. This is very difficult because the foot is planted and has less free range of motion. Opening the hips just before front foot strike allows the pitcher to immediately transfer the energy created from the hip lead, load, extension, and core tension to the shoulders, throwing arm, and baseball as fast as possible. This use of the entire body to throw the ball allows the arm to be used only to transfer the energy, like a whip, not create the energy. By doing this pitchers can save their arm health because they use the arm less. 

One of the ways that pitchers try to create a durable arm while also trying to increase velocity is the use of long-toss. Long-toss is simply playing catch, but at very long distances. Most pitchers will not long-toss beyond 120 feet. Some now, though, are extending to extreme distances such as 300, 350, 400, and even approaching 450 feet. The reasoning behind this is that they want to take a max effort throw at as far a distance the pitcher can throw, and slowly work the distance shorter. By doing this pitchers hope to take the velocity of the max effort throw, and work it back into a closer distance, such as the 60 feet 6 inches that the pitcher would normally pitch from, to increase their pitching velocity. Some argue that this is bad because when throwing at an extreme distance the shoulders tilt back farther than when a pitcher is normally pitching. The counter for this though is when the pitchers work the distance shorter. This brings their shoulders back to a normal level. The argument against this practice is that some studies have shown long-toss beyond 120 feet to be more abusive to the arm. However, many of the most durable pitchers in Major League Baseball use long-toss beyond 120 feet. This list includes, but is definitely not limited to: Dan Haren, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Derek Holland, and Trevor Bauer. These pitchers have never had significant arm problems and all practice long-toss beyond 120 feet (Jenkins). Long-toss is a practice that will need more studies performed on to gather a more accurate understanding of how effective or ineffective it is. Until then, with no drastic increase in arm problems since the popularity spike in long-toss, it would appear to be something that pitchers can do if they think it will help them and a drill that they can avoid if they do not.

In conclusion, it is easy to see why there is so much controversy regarding the different methods of pitching. People naturally stick with what they know, or believe they know, and will be very defensive of what they think is right. The various methods, from “tall and fall” to “drop and drive”, have their benefits and cons. It is almost a mix of the two, surprisingly, that from the research has shown to be the most effective. Newer discoveries like hip to shoulder separation have been huge in the attempt to find the most efficient way to throw a baseball. Wanting to help the baseball community has been a major reason why these studies are performed, but at the same time, baseball is a game as well as a business. Because there is money to be made, people have to be aware of what they are being taught and look at it objectively. If they would just accept everything they were told, their head would explode due to the conflicting opinions they would hear. Keeping a pitcher's arm healthy is extremely important and there are numerous drills and methods for that as well. Efficient pitching mechanics is possibly the most important in terms of long-term arm health. Other methods like long-toss are extremely controversial and may never have a universal consensus among pitching mechanic advocates. The study of pitching mechanics is a topic that interests me more than almost anything else. It is constantly evolving and improving. Because of this, the debate is ongoing and will be ongoing for many more years as differing opinions will always be present. I hope that I can continue to learn and improve upon what I know and continue to study the mechanics of pitching.

Works Cited
"Dan Haren FanGraphs Baseball." FanGraphs. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.

DeVigal, A. “Dan Haren - Oakland Athletics Pitcher.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 10 July 2007. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

“Drop and Drive or Stand Tall and Fall.” Baseball Pitching Instruction. N.p., 4 Apr. 2011. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

Gotch, Nathan. “Pitching Mechanics: Hip to Shoulder Separation.” Baseball Pitching Instruction. N.p., 20 July 2012. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.

Jenkins, Lee. “Trevor Bauer Will Not Be Babied.” Sports Illustrated. CNN, 15 Aug. 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

“Justin Verlander FanGraphs Baseball.” FanGraphs. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.

“Pitching Mechanics 101.” Ladies. Wordpress, 29 Apr. 2009. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.

Seidman, Eric. “Checking the Numbers.” Baseball Prospectus. N.p., 22 Sept. 2009. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

“Stephen Strasburg FanGraphs Baseball.” FanGraphs. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.

“The Greatest Athlete to Wear #41 {Tom Seaver}.” Slicethelife. Wordpress, 25 Mar. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.

Very well researched & written paper and I’d certainly give you an A. Think there are areas where some will agree & disagree. I’d take issue with the stride issue; I’m coming from a parent with a teenager’s prospective. Seen so many youth coaches & dads emphasizing stride length. I personally don’t believe every pitcher necessarily needs to stride 100% of height to throw with velocity and YES; lead with the hips also. On the contrary; I believe over-striding can be equally detrimental. Below is some info lifted off another website. The 80-90% range are common rules of thumb that I’ve seen. Lot’s of people would describe 80% as a short stride.


Ah, the elusive magical mystical stride. “Shorten up that stride son. You’re overstriding.”
“How do I do that, Coach?”
Telling a pitcher he is overstriding is treating the symptom of a disease instead of treating the cause. It’s giving aspirin for Strep Throat to treat the fever instead of an antibiotic to kill those nasty little streptococci, the cause.

How long should your pitcher’s stride be? From the front of the rubber to the end of the toe of the landing foot it should be somewhere between 80-90% of the pitcher’s height.

Maybe what we call overstriding is really the result of poor balance and posture. If a pitcher has good dynamic balance, efficient body movement toward the plate and good direction he will not over stride.

Let’s treat the disease and as Tom House would say, “Let stride happen.”

1.The result of overstriding is that the pitcher cannot get his head out over his lead knee at ball release.

2.It prevents proper trunk flexion during acceleration and release.

3.It prevents proper trunk rotation.

4.Causes control problems, usually high.

5.Decreases velocity.

The causes are:

1.Improper weight transfer; the upper body gets ahead of the lower. This is very common in young pitchers. You can see that front shoulder lean toward the plate as they come out of their balance position. Probably all pitcher experience rushing problems at one time or another. That’s why they’ve got pitching coaches.

2.Pushing off the rubber before the front foot has landed. Experienced pitching coaches do not teach “Push off the rubber.” It invariably causes rushing. Of all the years and times I have talked to professional and college pitching coaches I have never heard one say, “Push off the rubber.” If that is in your vocabulary, delete it.

3.Loss of dynamic balance. There are several times in the delivery that loss of balance can occur.
◦Too big a rocker step. Head moves back, head moves forward; not very efficient.

◦Swinging the leg up to get to the balance position-fraught with danger.

◦Not balanced at the balance position; may be on heel instead of ball of foot.

◦Swinging the stride leg out to the landing area. There should be a more controlled down and then out to landing.

The cure:

1.Small rocker step to keep head movement to a minimum.

2.Lifting the leg to balance instead of swinging it.

3.Lead with the hip as you come out of the balance position. This keeps the head over the center of gravity and prevents rushing. Make the pitcher aware that the front shoulder should follow the hip and not the other way around. A good tip is to tell the pitcher to try to put his hip in the catcher’s glove.

4.Lead with the side of the foot instead of the toes. Keep the outside of the foot pointing at the catcher for as long as possible. This will help keep that front side closed longer.

5.Make sure the pitcher lands flatfooted with his toes slightly closed.

6.Keep head movement to a minimum. Any excessive movement of the pitcher’s head up or down, back or forward is inefficient.

To summarize: Don’t teach stride length. Teach good balance posture and direction

Thanks for sharing