Okay, so in Part One of this series on coaching youth pitchers, I talked about the importance of the glove-arm, throwing-arm connection. And that was mainly about upper-half mechanics (getting the arms in sync). Well in Part Two, we’re gonna take a look at the lower half…

More specifically, the feet.

Because we tend to think of throwing a baseball as something you do with your arm, it’s easy to lose sight of the important role that your feet play in your pitching delivery. Your feet are your base, your foundation, your connection with the ground…

And when you break it down, having a good pitching delivery means being able to transfer your weight well from your back foot to your front foot as you stride.

Now this series is geared towards coaches/parents working with very young pitchers, so we want to resist getting too technical here. When it comes to coaching pitchers who are just starting out, I have two big guidelines:

[h5]1. Keep it simple[/h5] [h5]2. Keep it fun[/h5]

So that’s what I’m going to do here. Keep it simple…

Yes you want to lead with your hips, yes you want a powerful stride, and yes you ultimately want to develop torque and power in your delivery… But let me ask you this:

What do you think is the best part of the motion to focus on if you want to affect change (in a good way) in a young pitcher’s delivery?

“The Balance Point?”

“The Stride?”

“Front Foot Plant?”

How about, “At the beginning!”

And what I’m mainly talking about it is this:

Pay Attention to How You Set Your Feet Before You Throw

As with a lot of things in life, with your pitching delivery, how you start is going to have a major impact on how you finish. Let me repeat…

[h4]How You Start Will Impact How You Finish[/h4]

But what you see with a lot of young ballplayers is they give very little thought to setting their feet before they throw a baseball. Just watch them playing catch… it’s usually pretty haphazard.

It’s funny because with HITTING guys place this major importance on their stance. They work to get their feet positioned just right, they bend their legs, they get in an athletic position… They seem to understand that you want to be balanced, strong and stable in order to hit a baseball with authority.

At the same time, most don’t give much thought to their “stance” when getting set to throw a baseball. You’ll see a lot of kids flat-footed, legs locked out, weight on their heels.

They’re not setting themselves up well to be successful!

Here’s a short video I put together with just some quick tips for helping young pitchers learn to set their feet well before they throw. The more they make this a habit, the more they’ll be able to consistently get their legs and hips into their pitching delivery.

Note: the little hop I show is just something to help them get the feel for getting set in an athletic position. Once they’ve done this a few times, it’s not something they should have to keep doing every time before they throw – and if they do that at the higher levels, they’ll get called for a balk 🙂

Two pitchers who really demonstrate the importance of setting your feet in your pitching delivery are Felix Hernandez and Mariano Rivera.

What you see with both is a sort of toe tapping with the front foot, as they turn that foot in slightly to load up. Add a little bend in the back leg and you’ve got a great starting position.
 
King-Felix
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The biggest thing that set Mariano apart (aside from that cutter) was his consistency. And if you saw him pitch, you know he started out this way on every pitch.
 
Mariano-Rivera-Pitching-Mechanics
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
If there were one guy I would show a young pitcher to help them understand the idea of being sound with your feet in your pitching delivery it would be Mo. His rhythm, balance and consistency were unbelievable.

Hope you found this post helpful. And if you did, do me a huge favor and share it with anyone you know that could benefit. And as always, keep those comments and emails coming! I’ll be back with Installment Three soon.

[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.
[hr]

Check out the Ballistic Pitching Blueprint if you want to learn more about drills for developing a powerful pitching delivery

[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.

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