[h5]Today I’m going to tell you how poor stability with my front foot as a young pitcher just about wrecked my pitching arm.[/h5] When I was in high school I did just enough right in my pitching delivery to throw pretty hard. I had decent timing and rhythm, but I definitely didn’t use my lower half as well as I should have. Mostly my mechanics were a mess. One of my biggest issues was a lack of consistency and stability with my landing foot at front foot plant.

Early in your delivery, everything you do should be designed to create momentum, generate power, and get you out to front foot plant in a good position to throw. Once that front foot hits the ground though, it’s about stabilizing and rotating around a strong landing leg. For more on this, you can read an article I wrote on the importance of good front-knee action.

This is where stability with that front foot comes into play. If you’re not stable with your front foot – let’s say you land hard and spin on your heel, or maybe you allow your knee to pull open causing your weight to get outside of your ankles – you’re going to have a very tough time getting to consistent release point, and your control is going to suffer.

Well this was definitely the case with me in high school. I had a good a good fastball that I could throw by most hitters, but my control was awful. My senior year I averaged two strikeouts an inning, but I also had one walk an inning. You could say I was “effectively wild” but really I was just my own worst enemy.

When you’re wild, you go deep into counts. You throw more pitches than you should. You end up pitching a lot with men on base and having to bear down in pressure situations. All of this inevitably leads to pitching with fatigue, and according to Dr. Andrews that’s the number one risk factor for youth pitching injuries. Here’s an interview he did a few years ago during the Little League World Series:

Dr. James Andrews talks about Little League pitchers

All of those extra pitches, all of those times working myself into and out of jams, eventually caught up with me. In the summer going into my freshman year of college, I hurt my elbow, and badly. The diagnosis? A strained ulnar collateral ligament (if you’re not familiar with it just look up “Tommy John surgery”). So there I was, 18 years old, having just accepted a baseball scholarship to a Division I college, being forced to accept the very real likelihood that I might never be able to pitch again without major surgery.

With hard work and a good rehab program, I was able to get back on the mound later that year without surgery, but I still missed most of my freshman year. My college pitching coach noticed I had a tendency to land hard on my front foot and spin on my heel. A lot of it had to do a general lack of hip and ankle mobility that came from growing so fast as a kid. I just couldn’t even get into the right positions to be strong and stable at pitch release.

Gradually my mobility improved though, thanks in large part the strength and conditioning program we had at Northwestern. I’ll never forget one bullpen session where I was really on, hitting my spots at will, the ball jumping out of my hand in a way that felt effortless. My pitching coach, Tim Stoddard (great guy in addition to being one of only two men with both a World Series ring and an NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship ring), commented how “quiet” I was keeping my feet. That’s exactly how it felt. I was strong and stable, but quiet, under control. By the time I entered my second year of pro ball, instability at front foot plant was no longer an issue. That season I only walked 19 batters in 102 innings. The sad thing was that it took me so long.

[h5]The bottom line is what you do with your feet can have a huge impact on your delivery and the health of your pitching arm.[/h5]

Poor stability at ball release is usually the result of bad stride direction (and consequently poor balance), but limited hip mobility can also be a factor (as it was with me). If this is the case, you need to understand the cause before you can fix the problem. Mobility work and dynamic balance drills can go a long way in helping to develop better front foot stability, but it can take a lot of work, particularly if you have flexibility/mobility issues.

Here is an excellent drill I have found to be highly effective in helping pitchers develop better stability with their front foot:

For more drills like this, including a complete system of throwing drills for building a powerful pitching delivery, join the hundreds of pitchers, parents and coaches who already have inside access to the Ballistic Pitching Blueprint.

In my last article on pitching drills I talked about how most pitching drills are not only a waste of time, but in some cases can actually be counterproductive. In fact, there are a lot of drills out there that will do nothing but ingrain mechanical habits that work against you in your efforts to increase velocity and consistency.

An effective pitching drill should address at least two of the Big Three Components of a good pitching delivery: Balance, Timing and Power

The pitching delivery is a complex chain of movements, with a lot of moving parts. And it’s important that each movement, each segment in this chain, is tightly linked, with one movement leading to the next in a well synchronized and fluid fashion. Good drills can help train these movements, but unfortunately most fall well short of training movement patterns that actually translate well to the pitching delivery. So as follow-up to my last article, I’ve decided to highlight some of my least favorite pitching drills…

Too many drills teach specific “points” in the pitching motion instead of focusing on movements

The 1 Knee Drill: Here the pitcher works on throwing from one knee with his stride leg out in front of him. I think the purpose is to isolate the upper half and work on finishing across the front leg. But in reality it teaches collapsing the front knee, which is exactly what you DON’T want to do when you pitch. See an article I wrote on the importance of bracing up with your front knee.


The Balance Drill: This is where the pitcher lifts his leg and pauses at the top before making a pitch. There are many variations, but the most common one has the pitcher hold the leg lift for a count of three before making his pitch. Early momentum is critical for maximizing power in your delivery. If you look at major league pitchers, especially the hardest throwers and guys with long successful track records, they begin moving towards home plate early their leg lift. Pausing at the top kills momentum, disrupts timing, and reduces velocity.

The Even Worse Variation of the Balance Drill: I don’t know what you call this one, but I saw it the other day and my jaw just about hit the floor. Here the pitcher not only holds the leg lift, but he actually is supposed to start with his arm up ready to throw. This is not at all where you want your arm to be at this stage in your delivery! This drill not only kills momentum, but actually seems to purposely get your arms and legs out of sync… baffling. More than any other drill I’ve seen, this one goes completely against developing good arm action and timing in your pitching delivery.

The 2 Step Drill: This is where the pitcher begins motion, strides out towards home plate and then pauses at front foot plant (again the emphasis is on getting the arms up). He then restarts his motion to throw from the power position. This looked like an innocent enough drill when I first saw it. But after watching young pitchers who performed this drill for years, I noticed their deliveries looked completely robotic and mechanical. This drill effectively trains a hitch into your motion that interferes with the efficient transfer of momentum you get from a fluid, explosive pitching delivery.

The Bucket Drill: here the pitcher starts with his lead foot propped up on a bucket in his leg lift (again starting from a position with no momentum). Then the pitcher has to make his pitch and focus on not kicking the bucket over with his back foot. Theoretically this teaches good follow through and not dragging the back leg. Two more big problems with this: 1) the follow through should be more a byproduct of a good delivery, not the focus, and 2) pitchers don’t all need to stride exactly the same way. This one falls into the category of drills that teach cookie cutter mechanics, which brings me to my next point…

[h5]Avoid drills that teach Cookie Cutter Mechanics![/h5]

Take a look at any large sample of big league pitchers and it’s pretty easy to see there a lot of different ways to get it done. You’ll see all sorts of different pitching styles, different deliveries, different arm slots, etc.

So again, only use drills that are designed to address the Big Three Components of good pitching delivery: Balance, Timing and Power. Dump any drills that have you pause in your delivery or focus on getting to specific points in your motion. Remember, the pitching delivery is a complex chain of movements, so only use drills that train those movements!

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I just did a search for “baseball pitching drills” and Google came back with 1,080,000 results. I share this to illustrate a point: there’s a lot of garbage out there on the internet. You can waste a lot of time trying to weed through it all. Even worse, if you go with some of the more popular drills, you’ll probably waste even more time performing them! Because the sad reality is that most pitching drills are, at best, great time-wasters and, at worst, totally counterproductive.

The problem with most pitching drills is they’re designed to make coaching easier instead of actually helping pitchers develop movement patterns that translate to an efficient pitching delivery. For instance, a lot of drills (particularly at the youth level) focus on developing “good arm action.” In most cases they do just the opposite.

You’ll see drills out there that have kids bring the ball up by getting their throwing arm into a good “L” position and their glove arm pointing at the target. This is where the coach can stop the pitcher to make sure his arms are in the right position and make adjustments if needed. There are so many flaws with this method of teaching I don’t even know where to begin…
[circle_list] [h5]Here are the big problems with most drills that teach “good arm action”[/h5] [list_item]Teaching the “L” – this works completely against developing fluid, efficient arm action. The “L” is a point in time. All pitchers should get to this position just before arm acceleration (or what I like to refer to as catapult & extend). But it’s just that – a point – and you pass right through it.[/list_item] [list_item]Starting from the “Power Position” or the “Power-T” (or whatever they’re calling it these days) does not teach good arm action. The act of throwing involves creating momentum and transferring that momentum out into the ball. When you start from a pre-set position, with your arm essentially where it would be mid-throw, you kill momentum and disrupt timing.[/list_item] [list_item]They teach “Thumbs to Your Thigh, Fingers to the Sky” … Catchy, but an awful teach. This is just not what good big league pitchers do, and is not the way to develop a fluid, efficient arm path. The problem is it teaches getting the arm up as the main objective, when really the focus should be on whipping the arm through and getting to a good fully extended release point.[/list_item] [/circle_list] [h5]So Say No to All Drills??[/h5]

No, I’m not suggesting that either. I said “most” drills are a waste of time… Drills can definitely be effective for developing pitching specific skills and training movement patterns. You can’t beat a good drill for helping pitchers make mechanical adjustments and develop good habits.

Recommendations: Drills to address “good arm action” should focus on getting both arms working together in concert. What the glove arm does directly affects the throwing arm and there should be a sort of seesaw effect. Establish the positions, but practice moving right through those positions in a fluid, efficient manner. And always remember, every pitcher is different, so let young pitchers find their own natural arm slot – avoid teaching cookie cutter pitching mechanics.

There’s a great saying, “Everything with a purpose.” And here’s where we get into the Big 3 Components of a powerful, efficient pitching delivery:

[h5]Balance, Timing and Power… simple as that.[/h5]

Every drill we do should focus on developing these 3 components. Here are two simple rules for effective pitching drills:
[circle_list] [list_item]The drill should address and benefit at least two of these components (Balance and Timing, Timing and Power, Balance and Power, or all three).[/list_item] [list_item]The drill must not negatively impact any one of these components (for example, if a drill teaches balance, but hurts timing and power by having the pitcher pause and lose momentum, then it is counterproductive).[/list_item] [/circle_list]

Here are two drills for promoting good arm action while developing balance and timing in your pitching delivery:

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