Another quick story for you…

And pay attention because there’s a lesson here and it can be absolute death for you if you’re a pitcher.

So we’re on our way to church yesterday, and my daughter’s behind me in her car seat reading one of her giant animal encyclopedia books.

We’re cruising along and she’s telling us about different kinds of frogs (boggles my mind how much amphibian knowledge she can store in that little head of hers)… and then we come to a stop sign.

I was maybe a little heavy on the brakes. I hear a THUNK behind me.

“Aaah, my book!”

The force of the car stopping had caused it to slide out of her grip and onto the floor.

“Well, that’s inertia for you,” I say with a smile…

My wife just gives me a look like, “you’re an idiot, she’s four.”

So my daughter asks me, “What’s In-Err-Shuh?”

I realize I’m gonna have a tough time with this… how do you explain physics to a 4 year old?

“Well, sweetie… see, a body in motion wants to stay in motion…”

We go back and forth as she questions and I try to explain… I quickly realize my wife is right, I am an idiot.

Then my wife talks about how when you spin a wheel on a bike, how it keeps going until something slows it down. I think my little girl started to get it, and we eventually drop it and move on.

But it reminded me of a lesson I learned from an early pitching mentor, Bill Thurston.

I remember sitting with him in his office up at Amherst College, and he told me about one of his favorite analogies for explaining the pitching motion to young pitchers.

I still use this one all the time with new pitchers…It goes like this:

Imagine you’re pedaling along on your bike… you build up a full head of steam…

You’re pedaling, pedaling, pedaling… that bike is really moving now…

Now imagine what would happen if you slammed on the front brake?

Answer… the back tire comes up and you go flying over the handlebars. Newton’s first law once again…

Well, the same thing is happening in your pitching motion. You want to build up power in your stride (get your body moving towards home plate)…

But then you need to be strong with your landing leg so you can send all the power up into your trunk and throwing arm.

You want everything to catapult powerfully over and around that front leg.

Mess this part up by being soft or wobbly with that front leg and it will destroy both command and velocity…

It’s why the Ballistic Pitching Blueprint includes a slew of drills that specifically target front foot stability and powerful weight shift.

That’s lesson # 1 here if you’re a pitcher. Don’t ignore your lower half mobility and stability…

But there’s another way that INERTIA can wreck your pitching dreams… and this one is more deadly because you don’t even realize it’s happening.

The first part of Newton’s first law states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion…

Remember that second part?

An object at rest tends to stay at rest…

That’s the dark side of inertia… Once you stop moving in the direction of your dreams it’s easy to get offtrack… You lose that positive momentum.

The off-season is long… but believe me, next season will be here before you know it. What are you doing today that’s going to take you a step closer to your dreams? Keep it going…

Okay, that’s all for now, thanks for reading this far. And if you’ve gotten this far, maybe you could do one more thing. Drop a comment below and let me know what you’ve got questions about. I love hearing from you.

 

[h4]Get bigger with your stride to throw high…[/h4]

We all know the importance of commanding your fastball down in the zone, and many (myself included) will recommend throwing roughly 80% of your pitches down there. For more on this, read this article: The Importance of Commanding Your Fastball. But something worth pointing out is that the philosophy behind this line of thinking is based on what works at the big league level… Kyle Boddy actually wrote a nice piece on this topic a while back: Locating Up in the Zone – Better for Amateur/Recreational Pitchers.

As most youth pitchers could tell you, there’s a pretty big difference between the fielding ability of guys at the big league level and the amateur level. And it can get frustrating making good pitches and getting ground balls only to watch them turn into fielding errors and seeing-eye hits.

On a personal note, much of my success at the high school level came from my ability to elevate my fastball. I’d gotten used to playing with “less than stellar” defense behind me, and as a result I developed into more of a strikeout/flyball pitcher.

In college I had to get used to facing batters who could get to that high fastball. And I eventually got comfortable with the idea that I actually had fielders behind me who could make the plays. But even though I learned the importance of commanding the ball down in the zone, I never lost sight of the value of elevating my fastball, and it continued to be a great weapon for me.
[h5]So what about when you want throw your fastball UP in the zone?[/h5]

Every now and then you’ve gotta change the hitters eye level – get them off that low fastball or blow it by ’em to finish them off. And as mentioned above, sometimes commanding your fastball up in the zone can work better for you than keeping it down all the time. But often when pitchers spend all their time working to keep the ball down, when you ask them to throw one high, they struggle. They either miss way too high or don’t get it high enough (the power of muscle memory).

Most pitcher’s have been there at one time or another… You get ahead in the count, 0-2. Nice! Then you to try to throw a fastball up in the zone for effect, only to leave it belt high. The dreaded 0-2 meatball! Never a good thing…

To make that high fastball work, you have to elevate it! But how do you learn to do that?
[h5]You’re better off focusing on your lower half than your release point:[/h5]

When young pitchers throw one high by mistake they’ll often say things like, “Oh, I let go of that one early.” And they’re right… but what’s more important is WHY they let go of it early. Most of the time, it comes back to what they did with their lower half.

The throwing motion (arm acceleration from max external rotation to ball release) is one of the fastest human movements in all of sports. The difference in release point between a high fastball and low fastball is imperceptible to the naked eye.

So if you try to elevate your fastball by thinking “I’ll just let go of the ball early,” what are the odds that you’ll actually get that timing right? Not good… More likely, you’ll end up slowing your arm down or throwing it 10 feet over the catcher’s head.

[h5]How your Lower Half affects your Upper Half in your pitching delivery:[/h5]

Instead of over-thinking it or trying to “aim the ball” with your throwing arm, try getting aggressive with your stride length.

But isn’t an aggressive, powerful stride something you want on every pitch?

Yes, but there’s a balance… the stride is about generating momentum and accelerating down the mound. But then you want to brace up and get over your front leg when you throw. You’ll often hear pitchers and coaches talk about the importance of throwing downhill. They’re basically talking about getting over the front leg.

Felix-Hernandez-Side-Release-2

 

Take a look at Felix Hernandez getting over his front leg

See, when you get really aggressive with your stride length and effectively over-stride, you don’t get over your front leg as well. The result? You usually miss high… Make sense?

It’s the same way with shortening your stride. Shortening up a little can be a quick fix to help you get on top of the ball and get it down in the zone (see how this worked for Cubs minor league pitcher, Nick Struck: Why a Longer Stride Isn’t Always the Answer).

[h5]How to use this trick to help you on the mound:[/h5]

Try it out in the bullpen first – get the FEEL for elevating your fastball. As you prepare to make your pitch, decide you’re going to really crank it up with your stride length. Then load up and let it go. Often times, that high fastball will just happen without even thinking about it.

Now I generally don’t like relying on mechanical cues in game situations. During competition you’ve got enough going on without having to worry about mechanics. That’s why this is something to work on in your practice and bullpen sessions.

To sum up: Getting aggressive with your stride can be quick and easy way to get that fastball up in the zone. But I am NOT suggesting you actively over-stride every time you want to elevate your fastball! It’s all about getting the feel for throwing high. Once you get that feel and work on it in practice, the key is to remember what that feels like. Then in the game, forget about mechanics so you can focus on what really matters – making good pitches!

quote-you-ve-got-to-learn-your-instrument-then-you-practice-practice-practice-and-then-when-you-charlie-parker
[hr]

[h5]The Towel Drill: A great drill for killing rotational power[/h5]

I almost included the towel drill in my list of least favorite pitching drills, but decided this one needed it’s own separate article. The most common version of the towel drill involves performing your motion with a towel in your throwing hand with the intention of hitting a target that somebody holds out in front of your landing foot. The idea is in order to consistently hit the target, you need to demonstrate good extension, balance and posture. Unfortunately, it can also lead to some very bad habits if you’re not careful.

In my opinion, the towel drill, at best, can be a useful tool for teaching proper sequencing in your delivery… at worst, it can create awful mechanics that actually rob you of power and velocity. If not taught or practiced properly, it trains the pitcher to “reach out” or stride farther, which tends to cause them to open early and lose rotational velocity (hip and trunk rotation are two of the biggest contributors to velocity). As I discussed in a previous article, a long stride does you no good if you open early with your hips. If you want to maximize power and velocity, you need rotational power.

[h5]Focusing on hitting a target out in front of your foot doesn’t make much sense when you consider a pitcher’s actual release point![/h5]

  

Despite lumping the towel drill in the “drills I don’t like” category, I do see some value to working with a towel. Developing a powerful pitching delivery that you can repeat consistently takes work – it can take over 1,000 repetitions to really ingrain new movement patterns. Throwing drills and pitching off the mound should make up a good part of that work, but sometimes it’s helpful to work on your pitching mechanics without a ball.

Working without a ball saves wear and tear on your arm, and also makes it easier to focus on your mechanics since you’re not worried about where the ball is going. Using the towel can be helpful because sometimes when you perform full speed reps with nothing in your hand it can feel like your arm’s going to fly off.

So I’m not against working with the towel, it’s really just the intention of the drill I have an issue with. Here is a great video of major league pitcher George Kontos (fellow Northwestern grad, incidentally) using the towel to work on his delivery. You’ll see there is nobody standing in front of him holding out a target for him to smack.

Notice his late trunk rotation! He is basically just working on his mechanics with a towel in his hand. When I was in the minors, a lot of guys would use a towel to work on their mechanics before the game. But the goal was always performing quality reps of their motion, not smacking a target in front of their foot. Bottom line, I’m not a big fan of it, but if you’re going to do the towel drill at all, do it this way.
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Check out the Ballistic Pitching Blueprint if you want to learn more about drills for developing a powerful pitching delivery

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