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What makes Greg Maddux so good and can we teach it?

Greg Maddux is not only the best pitcher in the game today but, over the past five seasons, the best pitcher I have ever seen.

What is amazing about Maddux is that he really does not have a very live arm. By that I mean he is not your conventional tall, loose, hard thrower. He has had to learn the art of pitching to achieve the success he has had.

His art lies in what he does with the 83-84 mile per hour fast ball which he throws 60 to 70% of the time. He puts the ball exactly where he wants it (location) and with something on it (movement).

For example, he will throw a ball that starts five to eight inches off the plate and then run right over the outside corner and drop about four inches for a strike! What's more, all of this movement will take place over the last 10 feet!

Maddux is not intimidated by the left-handed hitters. He throws his fast ball either inside at their hands, causing the batter to back off - only to see the ball run back to the inside corner for a strike; or he will throw the fast ball on the outside corner. The ball will come in looking like a strike and then move off the plate for a ball - producing a swing and a miss or a weakly hit ball.

Point to remember: Maddux's fast ball moves to the right - meaning in to the right-handed hitter and away from the left-handed hitter.

Maddux throws the same kind of fast ball at the right-hand hitters, but with a different effect. As previously mentioned, he can throw the fast ball outside to the right-hand hitter, which the hitter will take, thinking it is a ball, only to have the ball run to the corner for a strike; or he can throw the pitch on the inside corner, so that the batter will begin his swing, only to have the ball run in on his hands and produce a foul ball or a weakly hit fair ball.

Maddux has three other pitches with which to augment his fast ball.

1. A slider that has the opposite movement of his running fast ball - it breaks right to left and down.

2. A curveball which he uses when behind in the count (a rare occurrence) to fool the hitter who is looking for the fast ball.

3. A change-up, about eight miles per hour slower than the fast ball, which also moves left to right and breaks down even more than the fast ball because of its slower speed.

Nevertheless, the pitch that has made him great is the located fast ball with movement - which he can control consistently outing after outing.

He achieves his remarkable consistency through simple mechanics. He assumes a simple, comfortable, balanced stance and delivers the pitch with a basically sound and economical delivery.

What distinguishes him from other pitchers is his arm swing - the motion of his arm from the moment he separates the ball from his glove until he releases it.

Maddux takes the ball out of his glove with a bent elbow and his hands on top of the ball. Sports Illustrated described the action correctly as an "inverted L." He maintains this "L" position as the hand comes above the shoulder into a regular "L" position.

Having analyzed a film strip of Maddux's delivery frame by frame, I believe he does something else that is interesting. Though his ann is at the three-quarter position upon release, his wrist is not in the conventional 12 to six o'clock position but more at the 2 to 8 o'clock angle. This gives him the run on his ball that makes him the best in the business.

O.K., so we know what he does to be successful. The next question is: Can we teach it to others?

Yes, but only a few will get it. Still, we can try. I would suggest a four-way approach:

First, equip the pitcher with the basic mechanics that will enable him to be consistent. Maddux's simple delivery should be easy to learn. You won't have to tinker much with the basics.

Second, try to get the pitcher to develop Maddux's controlled arm swing. It can be done, but, remember, it won't be for everyone. The tall, hard thrower will find it more natural to employ a longer arm swing. The more likely candidates for the shorter arm swing will be the kids with only average velocity who need movement and location to get by.

Third, experiment with grips and wrist angles to create some movement on the fast ball.

Fourth, and most important, teach the pitcher how to locate the ball. I believe the only way to train a kid to consistently locate his pitches is by having him practice it every time he picks up a baseball. There is no way a pitcher can keep throwing a baseball without location and then expect to pinpoint his pitches in a game.

The habit (pitching for location) must start on Day 1 in the pitcher's life. He must begin throwing the ball with a purpose every time he plays catch in his drills, in his bullpen work, and, finally, in every game.

Coaching point: Have your pitchers do most of their practice work from the set position. After all, practically every crucial pitch in a game will be thrown from that position.

It's true that what Maddux does is actually simple. But it's that kind of simplicity that's hard to duplicate and teach. Simplicity honed to perfection can produce art. Workers like Maddux and Seaver and Carlton prove that it can be achieved.
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Title Annotation:baseball pitcher
Author:Mazzoni, Wayne
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Dec 1, 1995
Words:952
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