[h3]The Importance of Early Momentum in Your Pitching Delivery[/h3]

When I was a kid learning to pitch, conventional wisdom taught that getting to a good balance point was the most important part of the pitching motion. I used to practice it daily, lifting my leg and holding it at the top, over and over again, sometimes until my legs started to shake… What a waste! It’s simply not what successful, hard throwing big league pitchers do. Creating momentum by getting your center of gravity moving towards home plate early in your motion is critical for generating power and developing good timing in your pitching delivery.

Old time pitchers knew this intuitively, that’s why they developed those big full windups, swinging their arms for timing and rhythm and then moving fluidly through their deliveries. Somewhere along the way we started teaching kids to stop at the height of their leg lift to “get balanced.” We then started teaching them to get to a good “power position” before throwing. We started focusing on all of these “points” in the pitching motion rather than looking at the pitching delivery as what it should be – a fluid total-body movement involving the efficient transfer power from the lower half to the upper half, out to the arm and into the ball at pitch release.

[h5]Do you see Koufax stopping here to get to a balance point??[/h5]

By getting to a “balance point” and pausing at the height of your leg lift you’re actually killing momentum and disrupting your natural rhythm and timing. To build early momentum you really want get your hips moving towards home plate as you get loaded up in your leg lift. This is where power starts! It’s about basic laws of physics, mainly inertia: a body at rest tends to stay at rest; a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

If you’ve ever tried pushing a car in neutral, you know the importance of gaining momentum.
When you first start pushing, it’s going to take some time and effort to get the car moving. But once you get the wheels moving it becomes easier and easier and you can get to a point where you’re actually running behind it because now inertia and momentum are working with you. The same principles are at play in your pitching delivery! You need to get things moving early to allow for a more powerful stride to maximize velocity.

I’m not suggesting you rush your motion, rather just work on getting your weight inside your back foot early to start building momentum towards home plate in your stride. You then use this momentum to assist your back leg drive to gradually accelerate down the mound and explode into ball release. All you have to do is take a look at the motion of any successful power pitcher to see the importance of a powerful stride. Achieving high velocity begins with your legs. A series of studies by leading sports research center ASMI, “Comparison of High Velocity and Low Velocity Pitch Deliveries” supports this with an interesting finding:

“…early in the pitching motion, the two groups were dissimilar in the timing of their movements, while their later movement timing was much more similar.”

You can read more of the study here:

This actually makes a lot of sense, since the early part of the pitching delivery, the stride phase, involves your legs and trunk while the later movements are more upper half, throwing arm dominated. High velocity pitchers do a better job building early momentum in their load to help them drive towards home plate with a powerful stride.

Not only does creating momentum early help you generate more power, it also promotes good timing and rhythm in your delivery, helping you get your arms and legs in sync. It’s not just the high velocity guys that do this, but you can look at guys like Greg Maddux, known more for their control.









Pausing at the top kills momentum, breaks your rhythm, disrupts natural timing, and hurts control.Getting your hips moving early leads to a more fluid, well synchronized pitching delivery. So just remember, as a pitcher, momentum is your friend.

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[h4]Why “Bring Your Chest to Your Glove” Is a Bad Coaching Cue[/h4]

Today I want to discuss an area of pitching mechanics that’s often misunderstood, and that’s the importance of good glove-arm action. I think it’s safe to say, any pitching coach who has a clue about mechanics knows it’s important to stay closed and not fly open with your front side. My college pitching coach used to love telling one of my teammates that he was “swinging like a rusty gate!” Despite the wide agreement on this topic, there’s been a growing debate in recent years around what exactly constitutes good glove-arm action in your pitching delivery.

For years, coaches taught young pitchers to tuck their gloves and pull back with their lead elbows as they threw to get better trunk rotation and velocity. Then not too long ago, the idea came along that you don’t actually want to pull back with your glove arm, but you should instead keep your glove out in front of you and just bring your chest to your glove, the idea being to get better extension with your release while maintaining good posture. And so the debate ensued.

Take a look at Chapman here. Is he bringing his chest to his glove, or is he actively bringing his glove elbow down into his ribs/hip area at ball release?

Before we get too deep into the topic, we should establish some basic principles about good pitching mechanics. In simple terms, the first phase of the pitching delivery is all about creating momentum and driving powerfully towards home plate. The next step is transferring that force from your lower half to your upper half at front foot plant. This means bracing up well with your front side. This effectively creates a pivot that your trunk will rotate around. If you don’t firm up well and form a good pivot, you end up with an energy leak and lose some of that power, resulting in lower velocity. Most of this involves bracing up with your landing leg, but your glove arm also plays an important role.

If you don’t control your glove, but instead swing it out (towards 1st base for a righty) or let your glove drop as your throw, you will open early and lose the rotational power needed for maximum arm speed.

 Ouch! Don’t drop your glove!

This is when you’ll hear coaches say you’re “flying open.” Not only is flying open an energy leak, it’s also a major timing disruptor, which hurts control. If you consistently fly open with that glove arm, your throwing arm will drag, putting more stress on your shoulder and causing you to miss high to your arm side with your pitches.

Okay, now back to the glove-arm action debate…

I remember first learning about the idea of bringing your chest to your glove. I had just finished my third year of pro ball, and I thought I had a pretty good handle on pitching mechanics. But here was something new. On the one hand, when I was actually shown pictures of big league pitching deliveries, it seemed to make sense. At ball release, all of these guys had their chests out with their gloves right their in front of their chests.









It also made sense that pulling the glove arm back could disrupt a pitcher’s balance and limit his extension at ball release. I was a new pitching coach at the time and it seemed like these guys were really onto something, so I began using this cue with my young pitchers. It wasn’t long, though, before I began to encounter a major problem.

You see, it’s not that the idea itself is completely flawed, the mechanical theory behind it is actually pretty solid. You do want to maintain good balance in your delivery, and releasing the ball closer to home plate is certainly a good thing. The problem I was noticing had to do more with the way this cue was being processed by my pitchers. I started actually seeing these guys opening early with their front side, getting very rigid with their glove arm, and cutting off their follow-through. This is why today I’m not a big fan of “bring your chest to your glove,” because I feel like it places the emphasis on the wrong thing. You really want to be getting good trunk rotation in your delivery. By focusing so much on getting your glove out and bringing your chest forward, you tend to block yourself off, losing a lot of that trunk rotation that’s so critical for maximizing velocity and decelerating your arm with a good follow-through.

And it’s funny because the same guys who first established this teaching cue, also did some great work on a study that determined that as much as 80% of pitching velocity comes from rotational forces. So they know and understand the importance of good trunk rotation as well as anybody, and this is why I feel the concept of bringing your chest to your glove is more misunderstood than it is flat out wrong. The problem is coaches get a hold of a catchy teaching cue like that and run wild, hammering it home like it’s the only thing that matters. Today, when a pitcher comes to work with me for the first time, I can tell after two or three throws if he’s been taught by a coach using this cue. No trunk rotation, no follow-through, stiff.

Now the old school idea of pulling back with your glove arm isn’t exactly right either. That’s where the “bring your chest to your glove” guys were onto something. Being too aggressive with that glove arm and actively pulling back can easily lead to flying open or pulling yourself off balance, which as discussed earlier is a major velocity killer and timing disruptor. Opening early also leads to added stress on the arm and greater inconsistency, making it tougher to get to a good release point.

So having experience with both the old school approach and the newer “bring your chest to your glove” theory, I’ve come to the conclusion that good glove-arm action lies somewhere in between. You absolutely want to maximize rotational force in your delivery, but there’s also no denying the benefits and importance of bracing up well with your front side. That’s why today I’ve come to prefer the cue “control your glove.” The idea is you want to be athletic and active with that glove arm (not stiff), but control your glove and bring that lead elbow right down to your side as you rotate and throw. In my work with pitchers, I’ve found “control your glove” to be the most effective glove-arm cue, since it puts the emphasis on bracing up with the front side and creating a good pivot for full trunk rotation and follow-through.

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One of the toughest movements for young pitchers to master is good front knee action in their pitching deliveries. Bracing up with the front leg after front foot plant is absolutely critical for maximizing velocity, and scientific studies back this up. ASMI (the leading research institute in the field of pitching biomechanics) did a series of studies looking at the differences between high velocity pitchers and low velocity pitchers. Here is a quote from their website:

“…the higher ball velocity pitchers demonstrated less lead knee flexion velocity after front foot contact and greater lead knee extension velocity at the time of ball release. Extending the lead knee in this manner may provide stabilization allowing better energy transfer from the trunk to the throwing arm, and could be a critical factor in pitch velocity.”

You can see the rest of their findings here:

Comparison of High Velocity and Low Velocity Pitch Deliveries
Matsuo T, Escamilla RF, Fleisig GS, Barrentine SW, Andrews JF. Comparison of kinematic and temporal parameters between different pitch velocity groups.

To help understand how this works, imagine you’re riding a bicycle at full speed and suddenly slam on the front brake. What happens? The front wheel will stop and inertia will launch the back of the bike up in the air sending you over the handlebars. Well the same thing is happening in your pitching delivery. If you collapse the front knee, it’s basically an energy leak, some of that momentum and force from your stride gets lost and doesn’t get transferred well to your upper half. The more powerfully you drive towards home plate and brace up with your front leg, the more powerfully you will transfer force to your upper half, catapulting over your front leg and accelerating your arm for maximum velocity.

One important note: when talking about good front knee action and extension, I’m specifically talking about what you want to be happening at ball release. I am NOT advising that  you should land with a stiff or locked out front knee. This would be very jarring, increasing the stress on the arm and hurting your control. You want to land flexed and firm with that front leg, and then brace up into ball release.

Here is a video of Andrew Bailey that shows what I’m talking about:

One way to gauge how well you brace up with your front leg is to look at how you finish. If you brace up well, your hips should never get past your front foot after you throw. If your body continues on towards home plate after the pitch, you are not bracing up effectively. For proper front knee action, you should be landing with a strong front leg (again, flexed and firm) with your front foot then pushing hard into the ground to resist all of the momentum and force you created in your stride. Your front hip basically acts as a pivot for your trunk to rotate around. So if you are soft or weak with that pivot you lose some rotational velocity. Your front leg should really be extending (knee straightening) and pushing back into your front hip after foot plant, leading to better hip rotation, sending all of that force from your stride into your upper half as you throw.

This takes tremendous leg strength. Not only do are you moving powerfully with your stride, but the slope of the pitching mound enhances gravitational force so that at front foot plant you land with force equal to up to 175% of your body weight. If you are weak with that front knee, not only do you lose power, you’ll have a tough time being strong and stable at pitch release, which can hurt control.

There are several reasons pitchers may have a hard time bracing up well with their front knee. Sometimes it’s just a matter of breaking bad habits and developing new muscle memory through repetition and deliberate practice. But very often, the problem stems from deficiencies in strength and mobility. Many young pitchers just don’t have the leg strength yet to brace up well after front foot plant. They may also suffer from poor hip mobility that limits their range of motion and forces them to compensate by leaking open with their front knee. This is where a good strength and conditioning program can make a big difference. Developing the strength, mobility and motor coordination to execute this movement properly takes work, but if you work hard at it, the reward is better velocity and consistency.

Some more examples of good front knee action:


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