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The pitching delivery: don't rush it!

Every pitcher should have his elbow up at least level with the shoulder when he releases the ball

Watching Greg Maddux pitch another shutout en route to another Cy Young Award, one might believe that pitching is a simple thing to do... unless, of course, you are a pitcher or a coach.

Most mere mortals find it very difficult to pitch effectively for any length of time - and all pitchers run into streaks in which they find it tough to get anyone out.

One of the most difficult things to do consistently is to stay on balance and coordinate the body and the pitching arm. Possibly the most common physical mistake is getting the body ahead of the arm while moving into position to throw.

Even a talented pitcher is occasionally going to get out of rhythm in this fashion. He will then have to rush his lagging arm to the release area, causing him to throw with a short-arm action and a low elbow. And whenever the elbow is below shoulder level on an overhand pitch, nothing good is going to happen.

The most common problems associated with rushing a pitch are reduced velocity ("a medium-speed, batting practice-type fast ball"), an "up-hill curve" or one that fails to break sharply in a downward direction (the everlovin' "hanging curve ball"), and a tendency to throw the ball high and out of the strike zone... or, even worse, to throw it high and in the strike zone, then watch it sail high and into the bleacher seats.

Following are five essential reasons why the pitcher should have his elbow up at least level with the shoulder when he releases the ball:

1 The shoulder-high elbow produces a downward angle to the hitter, which is a tremendous advantage to the pitcher. A tall pitcher will be throwing the ball down to the hitter at about an eight or nine-degree angle, which is why the mound was invented in the first place.

Any time the pitcher drops his elbows below shoulder-level, he reduces the downward angle and reduces his advantage over the hitter.

When baseball decided to give the hitters a break after the 1968 season (when Denny McLain won 31 games and Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA), the first thing it did was to lower the height of the mound to reduce the pitcher's advantage. So, obviously, whenever a pitcher releases the ball with a low elbow, he is really throwing away some of the advantage he has over the hitter.

2 The high elbow increases the radius of the arm as it travels through the throwing arc to the release point, which increases the pitcher's hand speed and significantly improves his velocity.

A pitcher who throws with a low elbow will certainly lose some of his velocity no matter how hard he tries to throw. The laws of physics dictate that a faster hand speed will increase the radius of the arm and add velocity to the ball.

The only two ways a pitcher can increase the radius of his arm is by lengthening his arm (which he may find difficult to do) or by getting his elbow up in the delivery.

3 Releasing the ball with a high elbow reduces the strain on the arm, especially on the elbow, thus reducing the possibility of injury. Though the low elbow delivery is the most common cause of elbow injuries, it can also cause problems with the shoulder and rotator cuff, the biceps, and the muscles of the upper back.

Truism: "If you pitch with a low elbow, it no longer becomes a question of if you will hurt your arm, but when!"

4 The high-elbow produces a shaper, downward-breaking curve because of the higher release point. When a curve ball is thrown with a low elbow, the ball will leave the hand in an upward direction and probably stay high when it starts downward to produce a slow and sloppy break.

Result: that "everlovin' hanging curve ball."

5 The high-elbow release makes it easier to pitch low because it is easier to pitch from a high point to a low point than from a low point to a low point.

When a pitcher releases the ball with a low elbow, his hand will get under the ball and often cause it to stay up in the strike zone or even above the strike zone. With his elbow up, the pitcher is throwing the ball downward, making it easier to get the ball low in the strike zone.

HOW TO AVOID RUSHING

Knowing what rushing is and why it is bad is nice information to have and may help the pitcher understand his problem, but it isn't going to help the pitcher very much unless he also knows how to avoid rushing the delivery.

Rather than get upset when the elbow drops and the pitch goes hay-wire, the pitcher should focus on correcting the problem.

The three basic mechanical things to do to avoid rushing the delivery:

1 The pitcher should break his hands (take the ball out of the glove) early so that he performs a vertical rather than a horizontal action. This will allow the arm to move into its throwing arc more quickly and thus have enough time to get through the full-arm circle in rhythm with the body action.

A pitcher who keeps both hands together (in the glove) as they come down in front of the chest and to the waist will usually not have enough time to get the arm up as the hand approaches the release point.

It is thus essential to break the hands early and give the throwing hand enough time to smoothly complete the full arm arc.

2 The pitcher should keep his body on balance and his weight back as he begins the pitching motion. "Don't drift when you lift!" (the leg) is good advice that will help the pitcher keep his body balanced rather than letting it start to move forward toward the hitter too early.

Some pitchers try to keep their weight back by lifting the leg high (Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton) and other by a full (and perhaps exaggerated) body rotation (Hideo Nomo, Luis Tiant). These actions require more time to execute and thus give the pitcher more time to get the arm into the proper high-elbow position at the release.

These actions also complicate the pitching motion somewhat and thus require a higher level of skill. Not every pitcher can use a high leg kick and/or an exaggerated body rotation and still throw the ball in the general vicinity of home plate.

3 The pitcher should keep the arm moving and avoid "hooking" or stopping the arm during the arc. The pitcher who stops his arm but continues moving his body toward the hitter is going to get his body ahead of the arm, and force his arm to rush to the release point - causing a low-elbow release of the ball. It is critical to keep the body balanced and the arm moving so they can stay in rhythm.

We all know that certain pitchers do not properly control their concentration and emotions in critical situations and so throw their rhythm and coordination out of synch. Result: a poor delivery (and poor pitch).

Let's look at some of the psychological things a pitcher can do to stay under control and avoid rushing his delivery in critical situations; that is, what he can do to maintain his rhythm and coordination (and his mechanics):

1 Focus on performance, not results. The oft-heard phrase, "It doesn't matter how you do it, just win, baby!" may sound great in a football press conference (conducted by Al Davis or Jerry Jones), but for a pitcher it does matter how you do it. The winning is simply a by-product of the way the pitcher performs.

Perhaps the biggest mental problem in baseball (in any sport, for that matter) is for athletes and coaches to concentrate on the outcome of the game (which they cannot completely control) instead of on performance (which they can control).

2 Focus on the present, not the future. In a critical situation, the only thing that matters is throwing the next pitch well. What happens to that pitch, or what happens to the base runners, or what happens to the standings of the team, or what the newspapers or TV commentators will report ... none of those things can be controlled by the pitcher, so he should not focus on those things.

In a pressure situation, what is the pitcher's immediate goal? "Just win, baby?" ... "Get this guy out?" ... "Impress everybody with how tough a competitor I am?"

The immediate goal is to throw a good pitch ... nothing more, because there is nothing more he really can do! If the pitcher stays on balance, keeps his weight back, gets the arm up in the proper position and throws a good pitch, he has done what he is supposed to do and thus had been successful in that pressure situation.

3 Relax and slow down in pressure situations. Pitchers hold the ball (and the ballgame) in their hands, and nothing is going to happen until they throw it! So, if the pitcher feels the pressure of the situation getting to him and is overcome by the itch to grab the ball and throw it and "get this thing over with," he should force himself to back off the rubber, rub up the ball, and slow down his breathing and thinking and get himself back under control.

Rushing the delivery is often caused by a pitcher getting nervous and rushing to throw the pitch, and the pitcher can and must control that!

Coaches have to remind themselves that players are not machines but are frequently subject to mechanical mistakes and problems with their fundamentals. Pitchers (with the possible exception of the exceptional Mr. Maddux) are certainly fallible, and it would be unrealistic to expect them to completely eliminate rushing the delivery.

However, with proper attention to the physical and mental adjustment needed to ensure consistency in the balance and timing of the delivery, pitchers can certainly minimize the problem of rushing the delivery; and that will certainly make them more consistent in their mechanics and performance.

Jack Stallings Coach, Georgia Southern University
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Title Annotation:baseball
Author:Stallings, Jack
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Jan 1, 1996
Words:1723
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