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

Have you ever heard it said that throwing a baseball isn’t a natural motion?

I had one coach who used to say, “If it was natural, we’d all go around walking like this,” waving his arms around high over head. Well I came across a NY Times article the other day that suggests maybe it’s not so unnatural after all.

Scientists Unlock Mystery in Evolution of Pitchers

The article centers around a new scientific study:
Elastic energy storage in the shoulder and the evolution of high-speed throwing in Homo. Click Here to see the study.

Here’s a pretty good little video to go along with it…

[h4]When it comes to throwing hard, it’s not all about arm strength![/h4]  
See, chimpanzees are ridiculously strong compared to humans… yet we humans are capable of firing a baseball upwards of 100 MPH, while a chimp can barely break a pane of glass. The study’s just further evidence that when it comes to pitching, it’s not all about arm strength. Here’s an excerpt:
 
“They analyzed the structure of the shoulder and upper arm, the motion and the forces involved, and concluded, first, that muscles alone cannot account for how hard and fast humans throw. The shoulder and arm and the rest of the body involved in the throwing motion must be storing elastic energy, like the long tendon of a kangaroo when it hops, or the human Achilles’ tendon in running and jumping, they said.”
 

chimp-throwing-baseball
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Needs to work on his form…

Now this is something that pitching coaches might be familiar with, and there’s some debate about what’s known as the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) as it applies to the throwing arm.

It also raises some questions that need further study. The article quotes Susan Larson, an anatomist at Stony Brook University School of Medicine who studies human and primate evolution as saying:

“There are no cordlike tendons that make a likely place to store energy… I can’t say I can find any fault with the study… But I keep thinking, ‘Where are we storing this?’”

For more on the role of momentum in your pitching delivery and transferring power up your kinetic chain, see this article: Pitching Principle #2: Momentum

[h5]Turns out we humans evolved into great throwing machines![/h5]  
“Several developments in anatomy allowed humans to throw this way, he said, including a waist that allows twisting and a relatively open shoulder, compared with those of other primates like chimpanzees.”

Hmm, sounds like something I’ve talked about before right here:

Hip to Shoulder Separation and External Rotation

Now the idea that we humans are designed to be great throwers doesn’t tell the full story. There’s a big difference between being built to throw hard and being built for the repeated stress of throwing a baseball at high velocity.

So I think the article concludes with the right message. Talking about why we see so many arm injuries, Dr. Glenn Fleisig of ASMI in Birmingham says:

“Not because throwing isn’t natural… What’s not natural is throwing a hundred pitches from a mound every fifth day… That amount of throwing at that intensity is not natural.”
 

UCL-tommy-john-pitching

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

See, it seems the Ulnar Collateral Ligament (the little triangular band connecting the inside of your upper arm to your foream) didn’t keep pace with the other adaptations that allow us to throw so hard. In fact, with each pitch you put enough stress on your elbow to tear it (they’ve done tests on cadavers in the lab)… this is where the muscles and soft tissue around your elbow are so important for holding things together.

And that’s a big reason why pitching with fatigue becomes so dangerous. Strengthening the muscles in your your forearm can help, but once those muscles get tired, they’re not
going to do the job to protect your elbow.

So be smart about your training… Monitor your pitches, condition your arm, and prepare yourself to pitch!

 
And finally, for your viewing pleasure, some whacky Japanese humor… Enjoy.

Did you see the recent article on Bryce Harper in the Washington Post? If you haven’t read it yet, check it out online (there are some pretty cool interactive graphics).

Bryce Harper: A Swing of Beauty

Now I’m all about pitching here, but like I said in my interview with hitting coach, Mark Brooks, you can learn a lot from a hitter.

If you’ve ever had a chance to watch Bryce Harper hit, you know how much power he gets into his swing. He absolutely attacks the baseball – it’s the perfect example of “controlled aggression.”

In the article, Adam Kilgore does a great job examining the mechanics that produce that power (many similarities between hitting/pitching mechanics), but even more importantly, HOW he developed that swing (hint: it’s not all about mechanics).

When you read it you’ll see there are a lot of lessons that carry over to pitching (and really any athletic pursuit). Specifically, there are some great lessons here for parents and coaches when it comes to working with young athletes…

Including what I consider the single biggest mistake most people make when teaching young pitchers.

For parents, it also shows how the right approach, support and encouragement can go a long way towards helping your child maximize their potential.

(Side note: I have to thank my own dad for bringing this article to my attention… he’s always had a way of putting good info in front of me and letting me take the reins from there – thanks Dad).

[hr] [h5]Some key excerpts with lessons for pitchers, parents and coaches:[/h5]

 
Bryce Harper: “I don’t know how I got my swing or what I did. I know I worked every single day. I know I did as much as I could with my dad. But I never really looked at anything mechanical.”

Lesson 1: It’s about hard work
Read those words again, “I worked every single day.” There are no shortcuts. Nothing beats hard work and persistence.

Lesson 2: It’s not all mechanics!
Read that last part, “I never really looked at anything mechanical.” Don’t make it all about mechanics! Mechanics are important, but sometimes the best thing you can do is just focus on what you’re trying to accomplish (hitting or throwing the ball hard), and let that goal/intention guide you. In time, the body will figure out how to organize itself to get the job done.

 
“When his father returned home from his job as an ironworker, Harper begged him to pitch to him or feed him soft toss. Ron Harper erected a net in the garage.”

Lesson: Follow your inclination… Nurture it, develop it.
We all have things we’re inclined towards from an early age. That’s what you’re most likely to do well. Bryce used to beg his dad to work on his hitting. Not all kids will do that. If your son shows that kind of love for pitching, listen to him. Encourage it, even if it means just getting a net and a bucket of baseballs and letting him get after it.

 
Bryce Harper could not fathom how many soft tosses or batting practice pitches his father threw him. “Millions,” he said. “Absolutely millions.”

Lesson: You’re not just born with it.
Early in the article, Bryce talks about his swing being “God given.” But when you read that last statement, it should be clear that while there’s little doubt he was born with unusual talent, that power swing and his success today are the byproducts of hours of deliberate practice. As he says, millions of reps.

 
When he played football in high school, he would sneak into the batting cage between the end of class and practice, taking swings while wearing fully padded football pants.

Lesson: You have to have Passion!
If you study high achievers in any field, there’s one thing that stands out again and again. Almost without exception, their success was fueled by a burning passion bordering on obsession. If you want to be the best you can be, if you really want it, nothing will get in your way.

Side note: in this day of early specialization, take notice… he played multiple sports!

 
Ron coached his son with small reminders and large bullet points… he never bogged down Bryce with detailed instruction. “I’ve always been a big believer in, there’s times when you got to let people go and let them figure it out themselves,” Ron Harper said.

Lesson: Don’t over-coach! Give the athlete the freedom to develop their own feel.
This is probably the biggest mistake people make when coaching young pitchers. They think it’s all about mechanics. So they give the pitcher 15 different things to think about mechanically… this doesn’t work!

Athletic performance is predominantly right-brained activity (your feeling, sensing side). When you start over-analyzing you interfere with that process by bringing in the more analytical left side of your brain. The result? Paralysis by analysis. Kids become stiff, mechanical, and things get out of sync.

Mechanics are important, but don’t bog the young pitcher down with too much information. Make some suggestions, nudge them in the right direction, then let them go to work and figure it out.

 
But Harper has made modifications. Nationals officials say he actually was swinging harder when they drafted him — so hard, Schu said, his head would move as much as two feet during a swing. The “head travel” prevented Harper from recognizing pitches and led to misses.

“He knows how to shorten up and get the barrel to the ball,” Schu said. “And then he’ll pick some counts where he’ll let the big dog eat.”

Lesson: Train the intent to throw hard… then learn to dial it back.
Developing a powerful swing or pitching delivery comes from hard work and a lot of high intensity training. If you just practice having a nice, clean delivery, you’ll end up with a nice pitching motion that’s easy on the eyes… but without that intention to throw hard you’ll never reach your full potential.

Bonus lesson: Keep learning, keep growing.
It’s equally important to note, just because he’s reached the big leagues that doesn’t mean he’s stopped learning. The best athletes are always looking to make adjustments, find ways to improve.

As a pitcher, developing power and velocity is important, but you’ll have better command and success if you learn to operate at 90%. Then you can pick your spots and crank it up when you want to blow them away.

 
So that’s a lot of pitching lessons from just one article on hitting. Believe it or not, I even left out some things to try to keep this post from getting too long! So go check out the article, and if you’re a parent or coach, I hope this piece makes you think a little differently about how you’re working with your young pitchers.

And if you’ve read this far, I hope you can do two more things…
[h5]Share this post with your friends and leave your comments in the box below![/h5] [h5]Thanks![/h5]

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