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.

So I happened to catch some of a Rays/Yankees game a couple weeks ago, and it was my first glimpse of a rising young star… Chris Archer. He pitched a 2 hit shutout.

Have you seen this guy pitch yet?

I had to do a double take. His motion is slow, smooth, almost effortless… but then the ball just explodes out of his hand. The thing that really struck me was his stride – he hardly seemed to be striding at all. And then BAM!!! 96 MPH…

And for a lot of us who spend time analyzing mechanics and working to help young pitchers maximize velocity, some of the things we tend to focus on (because you see it a lot among hard throwers) are good tempo, momentum, and all the things that usually lead to a long, powerful stride.

[h5]So it really got me thinking, “How is this guy throwing so hard?”[/h5] To give you an idea, here’s the only really good sample I was able to get of his delivery. Unfortunately it’s from his warm-up pitches last year, so not totally max effort. But while he definitely gets more momentum and power in the game, based on what I saw the other night, it’s not dramatically different.

And here are a couple of photos from game action – not a long stride, by any measure.

Chris-Archer-Pitching-Short-Stride
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

But, what’s also clear is that he’s obviously doing enough things well to generate a lot of power and whip in his delivery.

Take a look at his torque or hip to shoulder separation. Notice his front knee action in the video above and at pitch release in the photo. Take a look at that intense facial expression – no doubt Archer understands training with the intent to throw hard.

Are there benefits to a longer stride? Sure. One of them is the idea of greater perceived velocity. The ball gets on the hitter quicker (it’s said that every foot closer you release the ball to home plate equals 3 MPH in terms of a hitter’s reaction time).

But with his easy delivery (akin to the great Mariano Rivera) Archer almost lulls the batter to sleep, causing the ball to jump on the hitter with equal effect. And it really highlights something I’ve talked about before. When it comes to velocity, it’s not all about a longer stride: Why a Longer Stride Isn’t Always the Answer

Might Archer be leaving a couple MPH’s in the tank by not getting more momentum towards home plate? Possibly, but 97 isn’t too shabby…

And you also have to consider other factors:

[circle_list] [list_item]Maybe he doesn’t have the mobility or flexibility needed for a longer stride.[/list_item] [list_item]Maybe he’d wind up overstriding and losing some of that great rotational power and whip.[/list_item] [list_item]Maybe if he sped up he’d get out of sync and lose command of his pitches.[/list_item] [list_item]Maybe a longer stride would make it tough to finish off his breaking ball.[/list_item] [/circle_list] [h5]Every pitcher is different. Everyone has their own strengths and weakness[/h5]

It’s why I like to focus on helping pitchers develop a solid foundation for a good pitching delivery rather than adhering to set of “pitching mechanics.” That way they can work on the important things like Balance, Timing and Power and develop their own style around that.

Here’s another look… An “easy” 97 MPH…


PS – When it comes to managing your stride, one of the things to consider is how it affects your curveball. Shortening up a little with your stride can help you get over your front leg and avoid the dreaded “hanging curve.”

For more Free Curveball Training Tips head over to CurveballMastery.com

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