Pitching Mechanics: Taking a look at hand break

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Today I want to talk about one specific aspect of the pitching motion that I think gets more attention than it deserves. In general, I think it’s easy for well-meaning coaches and parents to fall into the trap of over-analyzing and obsessing over every last piece in the pitching delivery… Intentions are usually good, but when you overload kids with too many restraints it can backfire.

So here’s the scenario… I get this kind of question a lot, and I think I may have a different view of this than a lot of coaches out there, so would love to hear your thoughts.

When do you break your hands in your delivery?

Do you need to break your hands low?

Is it better to break your hands early or late?

When do you raise the glove arm?

How high do you raise the glove arm?

Or maybe we should be asking… Is it really that important?

See, when you look at big league pitchers, one of the things that jumps out is that no two pitchers are exactly alike. Sure, there are similarities and certain things they all do well, but when it comes to something like hand break, there are a lot of ways to get it done.

What you really want to watch for is that everything’s in sync, everything’s balanced – front side matching throwing side, upper half working with lower half. There are some cases where adjusting hand break may be helpful, but unless your hand break is disrupting this overall balance, why mess with it?

Let’s look at some comparisons of successful big league pitchers:

 

Here we’ve got Kevin Brown and Justin Verlander (those who remember know that Kevin Brown was an absolute horse). What stands out with these guys is how fluid they are and how much their arms and legs are in sync (pay attention to glove forearm/lead thigh connection).

 

Looking at Yovani Guillardo and Jason Motte, you see two guys who get it done differently. Guillardo is much more up and down, high glove arm – Motte is more straight out. But both guys begin hand break a bit above the belt without ever really dropping the glove. Motte actually kind of pumps his hands, taking the ball out in his leg lift before loading up again.

 

Looking at Yu Darvish and Billy Wagner, you see some pretty big difference in hand break. Darvish breaks low, Wagner stays high. But if you shift your focus to their legs and lower half, you see a lot of similarities, and they both get to similar positions by front foot plant (light bulb!).
 
So what to make of all this?

Focus on the key drivers in your pitching delivery!

 
The big lesson for me here is to realize that your lower half and your hips are your drivers in your pitching delivery… They’re your early power generators. Based on this understanding, here’s my best advice:

When it comes to something like hand break, try not to over-analyze. Focus on the drivers – getting gathered, loaded and moving down the mound. For more on this, here’s a piece I did on leading with your hips.

Now if pressed, when it comes to the timing of hand break, I’d lean more towards the late hand break vs. early hand break side of the spectrum. And that’s mainly because I see so many kids who get their arms involved too soon. For more on this, check out a piece I wrote on why you shouldn’t be in a rush to get the throwing arm up.

But really when dealing with this tendency, I like to emphasize staying calm and relaxed with the arms early on rather than having pitchers think about a specific moment when they should begin separating their hands.

Video is a great tool if used appropriately…

 
So, as I think you can see from the above videos, exact timing and placement of hand break is not the be all, end all. Every pitcher is different. When you focus on fitting a mold that constitutes “good pitching mechanics” it often leads to kids getting stiff, slow and robotic instead of being fluid and dynamic. Which brings me to another point I often stress with guys…

You want to have good mechanics… but you don’t want to be mechanical
 
Big takeaway: The pitching delivery isn’t a “one size fits all” kind of thing… That said, you can learn a lot by watching what good big league pitchers do. Showing video like the ones above lets kids see different ways of getting it done and helps them better understand how they want to move. Once they understand, they can begin working on their own deliveries in a way that allows them to move powerfully while finding their own style.

Would love to hear your thoughts!

 
And if you’re looking for a complete system for developing a Powerful, Dynamic Pitching Delivery, don’t forget to check out the Ballistic Pitching Blueprint!

 
photo source: The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

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