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.

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.
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.

Greinke-Slide-Step-smaller-borderOkay, so in my last post I discussed some of the reasons why I’m not a big fan of young pitchers being forced to use the slide step with runners on base.

If you missed it, click here: Should Pitchers Slide Step

And if you read it, you know why I think it’s backwards for coaches to have young pitchers focus on the runner at the cost of sacrificing the quality of the pitch. So wouldn’t you know it, last night I work with a sophomore pitcher and what does he tell me? His fall ball coach wants him going with a slide step.

“All the time?” I ask him.

“No… just with a runner on 1st base.”

Now I have no problem working with this pitcher on being quick to the plate. And that’s what we did. And I showed him how guys slide step effectively, and why most young pitchers have a tough time doing it well (usually results in throwing “all arm”). But one thing I won’t do is start by recommending he routinely go with a true “slide step.”

Because unless you can slide step really well – see Fernando Rodney – not only will you lose momentum and power, but you’ll likely stride slower (from lack of momentum) and won’t actually be that much quicker to the plate (if at all) than if you just took a quick “load and go” approach.

And this is one reason you just don’t see that many guys “slide step” at the big league level. The quality of the pitch comes first. I’m not saying it can never be done, and it can be a nice tool in your toolbox if you can learn to do it well. But for coaches at the JV level to be suggesting young pitchers go with a slide step whenever they’ve got a runner on 1st base… well that just doesn’t make much sense.

If you’re looking for an example of how you can be quick to the plate while still getting loaded up, just watch how Zack Greinke does it here…

Notice how well he leads with his hips. And it really starts with early weight shift, getting the center inside the back foot and starting that move to the plate. And this way, you can easily get loaded and gathered, and you’ll still be plenty quick to the plate.

One of the biggest challenges that a young pitchers faces comes when they have to make that jump from the Little League mound to the big mound at the next level. The difference between pitching at 46 ft and 60 ft is absolutely huge. And it can wreck havoc on a young pitcher’s arm (not to mention his self confidence).

Thankfully, the trend has been moving towards 50’/70’ or some other modified proportions to help make that adjustment a little more gradual. But even in those cases, that transition still involves some other big adjustments like learning to control the running game.

Learning the mechanics of pitching from the stretch is easy enough (a lot of Little League pitchers choose to pitch from the stretch, anyway, to keep things simple), but now they have to deal with the added element of baserunners leading off the base…

At least they don’t have worry about this guy on the basepaths… If you haven’t seen Billy Hamilton yet, keep an eye out (and don’t blink!)

Nobody likes guys stealing off them left and right, so the natural tendency is to speed up your pitching delivery. And this in itself isn’t a bad thing (see this article on the importance of good Tempo). I mean, you want to at least give your catcher a chance, right? If you just go with a big slow leg lift every time, it doesn’t matter how good your catcher is – that stolen base is on you!

But there’s a difference between being “quick to the plate” and “rushing” your delivery. And one of the things I hear a lot from young pitchers going through this transition is that their coach wants all his pitchers going with a slide step when pitching from the stretch.

Well here’s why I’m not a big fan of that… ESPECIALLY for young pitchers.

[h3]Never sacrifice the quality of the pitch in order to be quick to the plate[/h3]

So let’s think about this… What is your #1 job as a pitcher?

Get the batter out.

Okay, and how do you do that?

Make good pitches. (Keep it simple)

And this is why I don’t like the slide step for young pitchers. Because you’re placing the emphasis (and the pitcher’s attention) on the baserunner, not the batter. And when they’re just starting to get used to pitching with runners leading off, this can really take away from their focus and leads to all kinds of problems (like falling behind in the count) and things can quickly spiral out of control (for more on how to deal with things when that happens, read this article: Mental Game of Pitching: Part I).

So now, not only are you taking the mental focus off the batter (and sacrificing the quality of the pitch that way) but because most young pitchers don’t learn how to slide step effectively – it usually leads to rushing and throwing “all arm.” They never get their lower half into it, they don’t load their hips.

So they lose power, command, velocity, and risk putting more stress on the arm… and since most youth catchers aren’t Ivan Rodriguez, the runner usually steals the base anyway. Does that make any sense?

Now it is possible to “slide step” without losing velocity if you can do it well. Just look at Fernando Rodney and his 100 MPH no-leg-lift delivery.

For more on how he does this, see this article on Loading the Hips. Josh Beckett and Bartolo Colon are a couple other big league pitchers who’ve been able to use a slide step pretty effectively (but this is usually something pitchers just mix in at key times).

But getting this timing right is challenging and can easily lead to rushing, where things get out of sync and the ball sails high (see my last post on staying closed with your front side). And this is why you really don’t see many pitchers at the big league level use a true slide step.

Now this doesn’t mean you just ignore the runner and let them run willy nilly… you want to keep them close, and if you can prevent stolen bases, that’s definitely a plus.

[h3]So here are some effective alternatives to using a slide step:[/h3]

1. You can still be quick to the plate without using a true slide step: Try using a quicker, abbreviated leg lift. You’re still lifting and loading, but shorter and quicker instead of bringing your leg up above your belt. It can be almost as quick as a slide step, but it’s much easier to get your whole body into your delivery.

2. Don’t be predictable: Change your timing from the set. If you just come set and hold it for a count of 3 every time before pitcher, you make it real easy for the runner to time your move the plate. Mix it up. Hold it for a 3 count one time, then hold it for 1 on the next pitch… the order isn’t important, you just don’t want to fall into a predictable pattern.

And this leads to my favorite strategy for preventing stolen bases…

3. Hold the ball: This is one that really helped me to do a pretty solid job preventing stolen bases despite having a pretty awful pick-off move (having some good catchers helped, too). When you think a guy might be trying to time you, just come set and hold the ball… And wait. You can do a count of 5 or 6 if it helps. Then when you finally make your move to the plate you’ll usually catch the runner flat footed. So even if he goes, he won’t get a good jump.

So those are just some quick tips for controlling the running game without resorting to the slide step. Again, controlling the running game matters, but you need to remember job #1: Make good pitches.

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