"The Truth about Pitching and how Little I know about i

By:James Spencer August 25, 2009

In truth, what does anyone know about pitching? Surely there are as many different opinions as there are coaches, and many would like to hide the kids whom have looked to them for help in pitching and have failed. Is it the child's fault they can not understand the coach? Is the child at fault for not being athletic enough? Many coaches whom are paid for instruction are able to drop a player whom is not having the success they would like. They can even highlight the players they have had success with and choose to pretend they have never had a student who failed. The arm troubles we have today are a direct result in the change of things we preach as instructors today and the things that were emphasized in the past. Is it any wonder we have arm troubles in a pitcher such as Francisco Liriano? Why has Randy Johnson never had arm trouble? What kept Roger Clemens in the game so long? 

I will keep this short and simple when I say that arm extension is a big part of it, if you do not get the separation of the ball from the body, you put more stress on a shoulder as well as an elbow because it must rotate faster to reach the same velocity output as an arm that extends further back. The reason a towel drill is so frowned upon is that it is teaching that an arm should take over in a delivery. A good coach will emphasize that you must use your legs in a drill such as this. This drill can be effective in teaching a player to follow through with his delivery with the arm across the body, and I have used this method to alter throwing motion in players who release everything like a curve ball. The secret to the towel drill is that it has been interpreted differently by many coaches and is being used in many different ways. I will not generally use a towel drill to teach a release point, and will not generally use it for teaching separation because I have other exercises for those. The drill I find it helpful with is following through and correcting the throwing motion of a player whom releases the ball like a curve (not rolling off the fingertips with palm facing forward). There is no substitute for getting out and throwing a ball, but a towel drill is good for players who want to practice in their room and will be guided by a coach in the proper way to do the drill. I feel that a DVD that will show step by step instruction of things to focus on while doing a towel drill can be very helpful to a player, rather than giving them a towel and letting them go. This can lead to a player only working on his arm speed and forgetting other things that are important in the delivery. A great coach will explain the reasons why an exercise works, and will use language that a student can understand so he can have the full understanding and support of his student. Gaining trust is more than telling a player you are an ex- major leaguer and this is how you feel it should be done.

Has there been many changes in what was taught in the past and what is being taught today? For instance, have we encouraged a larger stride today than what was practiced in the 1960's? Have we encouraged scapular loading more than in the past? Are we leaning toward a new age philosophy in our teachings or have we reverted to the way that we were taught ourselves? In today's time there are just as many kids throwing curve balls as when we were kids, so why the arm injuries? I can tell you that in the past I was coached to get in the "T" position before throwing, yet this idea has been challenged by the chicken- wing philosophy, and the many other interpretations of what the correct way to pitch currently is. I believe that many of the arm injuries can be directly attributed to what we are first teaching our infielders when we show them to stand with your arm at an "L" position and throw to first base. Then we take these same kids and tell them to play shortstop or third base and throw to first starting at the "L" position. Little do we realize that the kids we teach that to take this same approach to throwing everywhere on the field, and this includes pitching. We have encouraged a new way to play the game and have set up many a child for injury. I have quite a few cases where a player was 12 years old and was pitching with a sore arm, even to the point where one kid didn't want to pitch anymore. Curve balls hurt his arm to the point he said it brought tears to his eyes. I told that player to just let me work with him for a short time and get some separation from his arm from and his body. Of course I have done this more than a few times with success. There has been an aversion to the old mechanics we have been taught, and my question is .. why? We are seeing the effects of the new concepts and they aren't as successful as we thought they would be. One last thought to impart, and that is with a large stride, the body can lose drive from the hips. One large factor in driving the hips, which in turn drives the soulder and arm is the knee upon landing. When the body goes upon the knee it stiffens driving the hips around. When taking too much of a stride you can lose the momentum that was built up and not give the knee a chance to aid in driving the hips. Sure, you release the ball closer to home, but are losing something at the same time. I do not believe that a longer stride is necessarily a bad thing, but there is a limit to set. I think that the front leg is an extremely important part of pitching that is often overlooked, or even misunderstood. I am not saying I know the function better than everyone else, but please experiment with different teachings and find the one that works for you. If you have a sore arm, do not be fooled into thinking you need to throw more, this can be a recipe for disaster. I would rather you find a coach that can look at you and determine what the problem is. A child at risk of injury is far to much at risk for me to tell you to keep throwing because your arm is not in shape. I would rather you not risk a sore arm to injury and know for sure what exactly you are aggravating.

James Spencer, you know a lot more about pitching than you realize. You make some excellent points, and in reading this I have come to the conclusion that there’s a lot wrong with the way coaches are teaching pitching. Oh, sure, we have some good ones around, but those others? Those characters who espouse theories that are so far out in left field as not to merit serious consideration? The ones who think that “over the top” is the only way to throw and who refuse to respect other pitching deliveries and work with them? The ones who go in for abstruse explanations, rather than keep it simple so we can understand? The result—guys like Joel Zumaya who has made it to the disabled list for the umpteenth time because his mechanics are so goshdarned awful that they actually get in his way. The kids who request that they be taken out of the ball game and want nothing more to do with baseball because of misguided coaches who refuse to listen to anything other than what they, and only they, insist is the correct way to do things. I don’t know whether to laugh or scream!!!
I pitched for a little more than two decades, from 1949 to 1967. I was with a very good team that might have been called semipro if the players had gotten paid; we played major league rules all the way and had fun doing it. I had a pitching coach for almost four of those years, absolutely incredible—maybe you remember him; his name was Ed Lopat and he was a member of the Yankees’ Big Three rotation. His was a thoroughly commonsense approach to working with pitchers, and one basic premise of his was that you don’t ever mess with a pitcher’s natural motion; you work with it and show that pitcher how to make the most of it. I was a natural sidearmer—one of those infuriating, exasperating pitchers who used the crossfire extensively; I was not particularly fast but I had a good arsenal of snake-jazz and the control and command to go with it, and what Mr. Lopat—would that there were more like him!—did was help me refine those pitches, teach me a lot about the ins and outs of strategic pitching, and in general help me all he could. I might add that I was the only girl on the team; the guys didn’t mind one bit because I could and did get the opposing batters out with the stuff I had; and now that I’m on these boards I’m in a position to pass some of that knowledge and expertise along. And I’m having fun doing it.
I’m very interested in what you have to say about what’s the matter with pitching nowadays, and I’m sure we can compare notes on occasion. Welcome aboard. :slight_smile: 8) :baseballpitcher:

You are absolutely correct in that some coaches are offering a cookie cutter philosophy when it comes to pitching. I will change a pitchers delivery, in those rare circumstances where the kid is having arm troubles. I have done this on a few occasions and did it merely to prevent injury. The kids had tendonitis and were going down a road to injury. I will not tell a sidearmer or submariner to quit throwing that way, but will remind him that when throwing from that arm slot his glove side needs to drop out equal and opposite to the throwing side. What I mean is pretty much that you begin from the T position yet again, but rotate to the angle the arm delivers in.

  Unfortunately, people like Mr. Lopat are rare when dealing with youth sports, and even some old schoolers are adopting new pitching philosophies. I am not saying every theory is garbage, because that is just not true. However, there are things that are great about nearly every philosophy, but sometimes the complete package suffers. Sometimes a kid will see many different pitching coaches before he finally has the complete package. Some give greater accuracy, or protect you in a greater capacity and others may give you more velocity. Some give excellent advice in the mental approach to pitching. Before youngsters start doing what a coach tells them to do, think about it and ask questions if you need to. A good coach will explain why he wants you to make certain adjustments in your delivery. Just because a guy is on television telling you how to pitch does not mean he has not had failures as a coach. It also means that he does not pay your medical bills if you are injured from throwing when you are hurting. By the way that is a main reason why doctors will tell kids not to throw (tendonitis) This is such a common thing in today's time compared to when I was young, yet I have been to the little league and have seen that not much has changed. They still throw curves to each other warming up, and they still play the same amount of games as I did growing up? Not true you say? I remember it being a weekly event getting kids together to go to the local little league field and play scrimmage games, and there was a large group of us. 

 Okay back to the coaching part......    Just remember to seek advice and listen to the complete statement and research it before deciding to ignore it or attempt it. Sometimes it is something you were not taught, but that doesn't mean it isn't good advice. There is so much information available on the internet today that if someone gives you advice, you can research and see who supports that theory. You can also ask others what they think about it in a chat room such as this. 

 One thing is for sure, and that is if your arm is hurting at the elbow, ask your parents to go to the doctor. I would rather not have you risk an injury by continuing to throw. If you have arm pain it can create bad mechanics when you compensate for the pain, and you risk serious injury as well. When the doctor clears you then seek a pitching instructor to look your mechanics over.

This is absurd.

What is so awful about his mechanics? I can’t imagine having mechanics any more simple than the way Zumaya throws and you say they get in his way?


Mechanics so efficient that they enable him to throw 104mph? These mechanics?


Okay so what is the difference between a shoulder injury and an elbow injury? The elbow is typically Tommy John ligament replacement surgey, and the player can injure himself this way by not getting the right separation of hand from body before delivery. There usually is a small tear in the ligament but other times the tear can be larger. I would liken this to using a set group of ligaments in a way that causes undue stress on them. Curve balls throw the wrong way have been pointed as a culprit for causing inflammation in tennis elbow (tendonitis) and possibly aiding to this injury.

The shoulder is typically a rotator cuff injury and it is stated every pitcher is susceptible to this. I tend to think that a lack of flexibility can add to the chances. The number one asset of a great pitcher is getting extension or separation from the body, then letting his hips use his arm like a whip through the zone, without much effort from the shoulder or elbow. I believe, and of course it will be argued, but I do believe that aggressive weight training aimed at pitchers leaves them vulnerable to this injury. Sure you will say that many pitchers aggressively lift weights to get bigger, and while that may be true, every body is different and I feel that in the past pitchers were treated as the lazy athletes. There was not as much injury for these lazy guys, and perhaps a reason for this was that they were not putting even more mileage on the body with weights, and had less muscle mass to aid in body flexibility. I will of course be challenged with this theory, and I fully expect it.

Kids… when done pitching, every single time run a lap around the field to get the blood flowing(circulation) and then ice your arm. The ice is important because it will relieve inflammation. Inflammation leads to nasty things for a pitcher, including Tommy John and Rotator cuff injuries. Please remember that one thing if nothing else.

Take care of yourself and start early on.

So with Joel Zumaya, he gets good extension and creates some great explosiveness with his legs. I would even say he is a better example to kids to teach mechanics than a Francisco Liriano, no offense intended.

Mechanics so efficient that they enable him to throw 104mph? These mechanics?


hmmm. soo efficient so that he lands on the DL 840981294801 times before he has to retire all together for accidentally throwing his arm at a batter?

Definition of Efficient: To produce WITHOUT waste.

I personally think not having a right arm due to pitching mechanics is a bit wasteful.

I do know that some injuries have no bearing on whether or not you have good mechanics. Injuries that originally occur in the weight room, or small injuries that grow larger because the pitcher has ignored them for too long can be caused from just about anything. For instance… Joel’s injury history consists of a sore wrist in the 2006 ALCS, a ruptured tendon in his hand, and then more recently the rotator cuff in his right shoulder. I hardly think this injury history has mechanics written all over it. A ruptured tendon in the hand is extremely rare in baseball, regardless of how horrible your mechanics are.

Me too, maybe his work ethic or mental acuity but mechs…not so much.

courtesy of future Hall of Famer xv84 the best daggone video getter the internet has ever seen.

wow, i didn’t see this video, and you are right. This looks like quite a bit on his elbow, don’t ya think? It could definitely translate to stress on his shoulder as well since there is a lot of twisting in his arm. Thanks for the video. Great stuff. How bout one of Roger Clemens?

http://www.chrisoleary.com/projects/Baseball/Pitching/Videos/Video_Pitching_RogerClemens_3B_001.gif" border=“0” alt=“clemens pitching”

here is one of the great Stephen Strasburg who looks pretty close to Zumaya as well. Do you suppose the scouts should have been leery? The guy is a monster. I think he is safe. I am kidding


I will note that the glove side of Zumaya drops out very early. This can be dangerous because it puts a tremendous strain on the shoulder. Thats the only thing I am picking up. Sorry. Zumaya has had location problems in the past too. Anyway thanks for the video, it showed alot more than what video I had. I looked this video over again and his front foot goes out and lands on the heel as well, and just looks unbalanced through delivery. This is a great video.