Looking at Masahiro Tanaka’s pitching mechanics, one of the things that really jumps out is how well he gets his lower half into his pitching delivery. You’ll see him come out of his leg lift by leading with his hips and allowing his center to drop as he builds momentum towards home plate. And perhaps more than anything else, he’s one of the best examples I’ve seen of a pitcher staying “loaded” with his hips in his stride.

[h5]Watch how well Tanaka gets his hips into his delivery here…[/h5]

Now what you see with Tanaka is a very specific style. He gets very low and linear, and the leg kick/loaded hips is something you see a lot with Japanese pitchers. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of forcing pitchers to fit a specific mold (you need to be able to find your own pitching style) but for pitchers who lack early momentum or tend to swing the hips open, they could learn a lot by studying pitcher’s like Tanaka.

[h5]See any similarities between Tanaka and another pretty good Japanese pitcher?[/h5]

[h5]Now here’s what you see a lot with young pitchers…[/h5]
Click here for more on Little League Mechanics vs. Major League Mechanics

Now understanding this concept is one thing… actually putting it into practice is another. So keep an eye out, because in my next Video Lesson, I’m going to show you some simple steps for incorporating some of these movements into your delivery.

pitching-mechanics-steps-blueThere’s a common approach taken by a lot of youth pitching coaches when it comes to teaching the basics of good pitching mechanics. I call it the “pitching by steps” approach. It’s where you basically show the young pitcher different positions (or “steps”) in the pitching motion, and then have them hold those positions and progress step by step. You may be familiar with it, it usually goes something like this:

“Step One: Step back and to the side…”
“Step Two: Pivot and turn your hips…”
“Step Three: Balance position…”
“Step Four: Power position”
“Step Five: Tuck and throw”

Now, there are times when working with very young pitchers that this approach may make sense (see this article on why simple is better with young pitchers). But here’s my problem with kids learning the step by step or color by numbers approach to pitching mechanics:

[h5]It removes the freedom for the pitcher to develop their own Style[/h5]  
Learning solid fundamentals is a good idea. But the whole step by step thing, in my opinion, only has value at the very very beginning stages (say, with a pitcher who has never attempted to, nor been shown how to pitch at all). At that stage, it’s like learning new dance steps – getting to know where your feet go (not that I would know, you wouldn’t want to see me on a dance floor).

[h5]The steps give you a framework… but then you want to get the hips into it![/h5]  
You do want to spend some time getting the footwork down, learning the right “steps” so to speak… But then once you establish the basics, that’s when you should have the freedom to start making it your own and developing your own style.

See, you can have the craziest, most complicated windup in the world, but it feels right to you and it fits your personality, I say go with it. And if you practice that thing a zillion times until you can do it in your sleep, blindfolded, while standing on a chair… under water… in a hail storm…

[h4]Key question: Can you repeat your delivery?[/h4]  
Okay, maybe that’s getting a little carried away, but you get the idea. The key is being able to repeat your delivery. But even more than that, it’s having a high level of comfort with your delivery so it feels natural. There are always things you can fine tune, but don’t think you have stick to one set of what someone else tells you constitutes “ideal pitching mechanics.”

What would have happened to Fernando Valenzuela if he’d been made to fit someone else’s perfect pitching model? How about Juan Marichal? Jim Palmer? Don Drysdale? (Oh no, there’s that dreaded inverted W!) Bob Gibson? (What a mess!)

Pitching-Mechanics-Styles
    None of these are exactly what you would call “textbook”

Now don’t get me wrong. There’s been a lot of progress since the early days, and we have stacks and stacks of studies that show us that certain movements, mechanical flaws or whatever you want to call them, place more stress on your arm than others.

It’s why I’m a big fan of Motion Analysis and use that tool all the time. We know that certain movements contribute to greater velocity while others detract. So of course it make sense to address these things when possible.

But there’s also a whole lot of “feel” involved with being an athlete. There’s a lot of right-brained activity going on. And when you place a set of rigid constraints on the athletic process, you interfere with that flow, and you lose something really important – that human part that you can’t put your finger on, the part that makes each pitcher unique. You become “Robo-Pitcher”

[h5]Quick tip: Don’t be a Robo-Pitcher![/h5]  
Another big problem is that most kids aren’t going to perform the necessary zillion repetitions so they can perform their motion on their heads with both hands tied behind their back… I think it comes down to an overall lack of patience more than anything.

In today’s microwave society, we expect results… today!
(this could be another article all by itself)

We don’t want to hear that it takes years of hard work to develop your craft. That Greg Maddux didn’t just wake up one morning with an innate ability to frustrate and befuddle big league hitters with an 85 MPH fastball (remember, talent is overrated).

But in the end that’s exactly what it takes. Hard work. Countless reps. If you want to reach the highest level, get the most out of whatever potential you were born with… you need the insane drive to repeat your delivery until you know it as well as you know how to walk, or eat or breathe.

So a little note to all young pitchers: Don’t expect you’re going to get there overnight. That’s just a recipe for disappointment. And when it doesn’t happen for you right away, you’ll quit, give up and say “Well, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be”.

It’s a process. It’s about getting better… about working towards something meaningful, becoming the best you can possibly be. It’s a journey. Enjoy it.

Mariano-Rivera-Smiling
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

If you want get an idea of the link between repeating your delivery and consistency in your pitching, look no further!

In a tip of the hat to this year’s Cy Young winners, I thought it would be fun to look at some things we can learn from how each of these pitchers throw their curveball…

NL winner Clayton Kershaw is widely considered to have the nastiest curveball in the game (hard to argue against that). On the other hand, AL winner Max Scherzer is known more for his blazing fastball (along with a great changeup and slider), but credits much of his recent success to having added a curveball to his arsenal… mainly as something that gives him another weapon for keeping lefties off balance.

[h5]High Arm Slot or Low Arm Slot – Which is Best?[/h5]

Rather than going into a lot of detail, examining all the statistics, my goal here is just to take a look at some of the similarities and key differences between how these two pitchers throw their curveballs. And when you look at them, the first thing that jumps out at you is the big difference in their arm slots.

Kershaw is much more that over-the-top, high arm slot guy that most people associate with throwing a nasty 12-6 curveball. Scherzer, on the other hand, has a very low 3/4 arm slot. And this is probably a big reason he’s been more of a fastball, slider, changeup guy for most his career. But what you see with pitchers like him is that, while you probably won’t get true 12-6 break, you can still throw a good curveball without a high arm slot (see Doug Fister).

One mistake a lot of young pitchers make is thinking they need to throw over the top in order to throw a good curveball. And this can lead to all sorts of issues…

Let’s say your natural fastball arm slot is a 3/4 or low 3/4 arm slot. And this is the way your body is used to pitching – it’s been programmed to move, balance and stabilize through your pitching delivery with the exact demands placed on it by that arm slot… What do you think happens if you then change your slot to get on top of your curveball?

You end up with a loss of balance in your delivery, instability and timing issues.

Not to mention that hitters can pick up on it because the pitch is coming out of a completely different window than your fastball. The thing to remember when it comes to throwing a good curveball is that it’s all about hand position and wrist position. That and getting over the ball with a strong middle finger will get you that good downward break on the ball.

Bottom line: There’s no one right arm slot that’s best for every pitcher. Go with what comes naturally and works best for YOU!

Okay, enough talk… Let’s take a look at those curveballs!

[h4]     Clayton Kershaw’s High Arm Slot Curveball[/h4]

Kershaw-CB2
Not much to say about this one – the hitter’s reaction says it all…

Kershaw-CB3

One of the things that makes Kershaw’s curve so effective, again, is that he throws it from the same slot as his fastball. He’s not trying to manipulate the ball by doing something totally different with his hand and arm action. He gets on the side of the ball and finishes it off by getting over it with a strong middle finger.

One special note: Despite how devastating his curveball is (hitters have batted less than .100 against his curve it the last 2 seasons), Kershaw only throws it 12.5% of the time. It’s a put-away pitch, something he uses to finish guys off and get out of jams. And having that good curveball in his back pocket makes his fastball that much more effective – hitters have to respect it.

Rule #1 for throwing a good curveball:   Always develop a good fastball!

[h4]     Max Scherzer’s Low Arm Slot Curveball[/h4]

Sherzer-Curveball-Gif

With the curveball shown from behind the mound, notice how Scherzer was able to get that good downward action on the ball. The view seen on the next pitch, from behind the plate, isn’t really his best curveball (he’s actually a little late getting on the side of the ball), but you can see how he manages to get over the ball with his middle finger to get enough forward rotation and downward break.

Bottom line: it’s not as nasty as Kershaw’s 12-6, but having a good curveball has helped Scherzer go from being a very good pitcher to being one of the best in game. Here’s an excerpt from an interview he did this summer with MLB Network:

Kenny: If you could pinpoint one thing that made you go from above-average to great, what would it be?

Scherzer: It’s for me to be relying on the curveball this year. Left-handed hitters have always had a lot of success off me in the past, and it’s because I’ve always been fastball/change-up to ’em, which allows them to sit on just two pitches. Something I tinkered with last year, of developing a curveball to disrupt the timing, I’ve gotten better at this year, so that I can be more consistent with it. And I really feel like I have a good three-pitch mix, to face left-handed hitters, and I feel like that’s why I’m having so much more success.

Note: avoiding the problem of being “late” with the curveball is one benefit of learning the right way to throw it early on – the older you get, the tougher it is to get used to throwing it with good hand and wrist position.

For more advanced Curveball Training you’ll find everything you need inside the Curveball Mastery System

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