108 Pitching Language
This is a term that describes the arm being pulled by the torso. We want energy to build from the middle. The pelvis rotates and stops which allows the trunk to accelerate, the trunk should begin to pull the arm and when the trunk stops the arm whips through. This allows the arm to work on the same plane as the shoulders which maximizes rotational acceleration while also reducing stress.
The shoulder is a ball and socket joint and has the most degrees of freedom of any joint in the body. However, just because there are many things that can happen at the shoulder joint does not mean we want them to. Ideally the arm externally rotates at the shoulder as the trunk begins to rotate. This is one of the reasons that the arm being in a good position prior to rotation is so critical. If the arm is up with the hand around 90 degrees or slightly inside at the elbow, and there is enough tension throughout the system, the arm can achieve a substantial amount of layback.
This keeps the hand proximal to the body which is how the body is designed to produce force. From proximal to distal, if you’re going to throw a punch you don’t rush your upper body forward and then try to punch out front, you load while moving forward and throw the punch from deep.
Chapman’s hand stays proximal into layback, this allows for more of the system to be responsible for building and dispersing force. This also gives the arm the ability to maximize rotational acceleration because the hand will whip away from the body. In turn, this enables the elbow to work the way it is supposed to from supinated with flexion to pronated and extended.
Like we talked about in the arm slot section, slot is determined by tilt. Guys that stayed healthy and had a lot of success in the big leagues typically threw from what many would call side arm. Elite throwers are 90 degrees at the armpit and 0 to 13 degrees at the elbow at release.
Anchoring, also referred to as holding the ground, describes how the back leg acts as a stable point for the system. This stable point can be either with the foot still on the ground or with the foot in the air. The big key is keeping the back leg extended and it remaining away from midline of the body. This creates a more optimal length/space tension relationship crossbody and allows the hips to stop faster. It pulls slack from the system.
If you look at the hardest throwers in the game you can see that their back leg becomes active very late in their delivery. A study in 1988 showed that pitchers that threw the hardest had, later and shorter peak in ground reaction forces in the back leg. This is because they were simply drifting forward and rather than trying to push off the ground they were pushing into the ground in an attempt to hold on.
Again sometimes this anchor will take place with the foot maintaining contact with the ground and sometimes the anchor will be present with the foot in the air.
It’s the tension that is created that is the biggest factor. Like many issues in the movement patterns of baseball players this is something that has been coached out of many players by them trying to forcibly push out of the ground or focusing on accelerating the back leg. If you watch young players throwing for the first time many of them throw and their back foot stays in the ground. Coaches will think they have to come out of the ground to produce more force. The back foot leaving the ground is actually a product of producing more force and not the cause. If players were allowed to get stronger, trained to throw harder, the back foot would ultimately be pulled out/peeled off of the ground. But trying to keep it anchored would allow them to maximize their force production.
When training the back leg to anchor it is important to determine if the back leg stayed down because the total force was low. Throwing a ball 90 mph is an explosive movement, if an athlete simply limits effort it would be easier to keep the back foot down. It is also a byproduct of efficient sequence so dragging the back foot on the ground is not creating a stable anchor, this is a potentially corruptive move that would actually allow the hips to continue to rotate with the upper body.
The best way to train the back to anchor is to train the lower body to stop. This can be a chicken or the egg scenario, but ultimately the output should be high, the sequence needs to be efficient, and video needs to match the feeling.
Thoughts that work
- push into the ground
- Keep your back leg behind your front leg
- Kill your backside
- Keep your hips pointed at the dugout
- Straighten your back leg
- Keep your whole foot in the ground
- Medball pitch
- Physioball pitch
- Single leg throws
- Back leg cocontraction
- Waterball Stops
Pimping the Finish is a term used to describe an exaggerated deceleration move where the focus is on working in reverse after the throw. The move that generally happens is something that has been referred to as an arm recoil which for a long time was believed to be the result of weak decelerators in the back of the shoulder. However, it is actually the result of an efficient sequence and is a golgi tendon reflex that if anything is a sign of strong decelerators.
Our running joke around the shop is you can’t name one guy with a recoil that throws slow. It is common to see Latin American pitchers with a recoil likely because it was never coached out of them. We have seen the cue to Pimp the Finish clean up players entire sequence, when we cued it in a lab we saw a major drop in peak elbow stress and an increase in velocity. Any explanation of why it cleans up the sequence is purely theoretical, but players can feel a stiffness in their trunk or their lead leg stick into the ground. This improved deceleration allows for the arm to spin and whip around the body with a deeper catch. It can also eliminate the thought of trying to get the ball out front and other linear thoughts that could lead to guys dragging their arm through or trying to force it in front of them.
While there are several guys that can improve their sequence drastically by only thinking about pimping it, but there are players that we will see velocity decrease initially even if they improve their direction because they are trying to do it too early. Again it needs to stop in sequence but tighter movers can force the move. It is important for them to allow the thought to influence the movement and not force the result.
Cues that work
- Put on the air brakes
- Finish on one leg
- Stop with your belly button to the target
- Keep your chest closed
- Waterball Stop
- Physioball Throws
- Establish a point to not cross
- Athletic throw
GIRD stands for Glenohumeral Internal Rotation Deficit and is a table test used to evaluate a player’s range of motion in the shoulder internally. Many doctors and studies claimed that a lack of internal rotation in the shoulder was the cause of many arm injuries. However the same doctors that ran the initial studies later came out with another study stating that both the UNhealthy AND Healthy throwers had GIRD. They would go on to conclude that rather than GIRD it was GERD (Glenohumeral External Rotation Deficit) that caused a large portion of shoulder injures. This makes sense since we use external rotaton when we throw rather than internal rotation.
The last time return to throwing protocols/programs were updated players were smoking cigarettes in the dugouts… Doctors are great at making sure your anatomical structures are soundly put together, but they typically don’t know much about how the arm works in a throw. That is not their fault, it is the system/industry’s fault for making that one of their responsibilities and then never educating them about it in their schooling.
Return to throwing should be based on the stress level placed on your arm and how you feel rather than a standard number of throws at a certain distance. That number of throws should be different for every player based on how they throw/move.
If you get a return to throwing program from a doctor, just know that it is not individualized for you and does not take into account how you throw or have any consideration for how you feel.
Many people believe that injuries are caused by throwing too much, which in some cases can be true. However, often times a player is not throwing enough (especially for the demands of their game schedule). Both can lead to injury. BUT the main cause of injury is not how much you throw, rather HOW you throw. How you move is responsible for everything: velocity, command, break, spin, how your arm feels and how much stress you are placing on your arm and the entire system every throw. How you move is responsible for everything the ball does and how your body feels after. Is it important to manage workloads and have protocol in line for how much to through throughout the week to be prepared to handle the games on the weekend? Of course!! But don’t get lost in the number of throws. Evaluate how you feel and have some feel when deciding how much to throw.
Lowering the mound is thought to put lower stress on your arm and prevent more injuries. The thought is great, however it is tested in a lab setting and does not take into account all game factors. The biggest challenge will be that pitchers have been throwing the same way their entire lives and have adapted to the mounds. They are used to it. Now would they adapt? Most definitely. But they will likely alter the way they throw. That could be good or bad depending on the athlete.
But at the end of the day the height of the mound is not the problem. Players are getting injured because of how they throw these days. The way they train, the thoughts and concepts that are engrained into their minds are a young age and the now incredible demand for velocity has caused the rapidly increasing injury rate. Could lowering the mound help? Yes for some and no for others. At the end of the day we need to do a better job of training our players to throw cleaner and more efficiently.
This topic is very similar to return to throwing protocol. IT IS NOT ABOUT THE NUMBER OF THROWS. IT’S ABOUT HOW YOU THROW. Why do you think there are pitchers who have “rubber arms” and can throw hard all day every day and other guys who struggle to break a pane of glass and their arm always hurts? Some players throw better than others. Plain and simple. Are pitch counts helping prevent injuries? Probably for many cases.
But don’t get lost in the idea that putting a pitch count on your player is saving his arm. If he throws poorly his arm will hurt at some point no matter how many pitches he throws. So should he be on a pitch limit? Yes, but base it on how he feels not a general baseline number. Some players’ arms will hurt after 50 and others after 150. So they can’t both be on a pitch limit of 80. The tough part is we cannot accurately quantify stress levels other than how the players feels right now. If he is tired and his arm hurts, don’t tell him to press on.
What a player feels versus what his body is actually doing can be two very different things. Some guys have to think down to swing up, some pitchers have to think sidearm to throw three quarters, others have to think over the top to feel around their hip and get their energy into the baseball.
At the end of the day, what feel the player needs to use doesn’t matter. If the feel works then use it. If it stops working find another feel. Don’t attach to the feel (cue), attach yourself to the FEELING. What is happening inside your body that is creating the desired result is what is most important. Use whatever thought, cue or feel necessary to get those FEELINGS. The FEELINGS are everything. It’s not about the drill, it’s about the FEELING.
Efficiency for us is defined as doing the least amount of work to get the greatest results. A player who moves efficiently does not have wasted energy in his delivery. Dr. Serge Gracovetzky states, “The fittest of the species is often described as the one who makes the most economical use of its energy resources within its own ecological niche or ecosystem.” He who does the least to create the most survives the longest.
We want to create the most efficient, healthy, durable throwers possible. To do this they need to learn how to control their bodies in space and rather than trying to create more energy, just make better use of the energy they are already creating.
Efficient lower half mechanics generate and transmit the most force cleanly through the forward move and that energy is accelerated up the chain by putting on the brakes.
Remember he who does the least to create the most survives the longest. Elite lower half mechanics make it look like they aren’t even trying yet they are throwing the ball 95-100mph and often finish with their back leg behind them or in “fielding position”. The three biggest factors that influence lower half mechanics are:
- Pelvis closed at landing
- anchor point on backside
- lead leg/hip braces upon impact with the ground (no energy dissipated by hips or trunk sliding forward)
The arm is where the health, velo, command, spin and break come from. But it is also where the injuries come from. If your arm pattern is not efficient you are either asking to get hurt or risking leaving untapped potential in the tank.
An efficient arm should work proximal to distal (in close to far away) and you should see the forearm spiral out and around the elbow capturing the energy of the trunk into Front Foot Strike and cleanly transmitting all force into the baseball upon release.
The hand/ball should work from a supinated flexed position out and around the humerus to a pronated and extended position.
The arm should follow the ball through release just as a hitter with a nice barrel path would like to see his bat chase the ball out of the strike zone.
The position we often refer to as closed feet where our at the instant our front leg braces the force of our body (not the instant the foot touches the ground) our arm should be up and our pelvis should be as closed as possible. This position is what allows the elites to capture and transfer energy as well as they do.
Getting to positions is important and are a key part of what makes elites elite, but how they move to and through those positions is what separates them from the rest.
Everyone always thinks of slot and release point as a over the top, three quarters, sidearm, or submarine. While those are all valid ways to classify the angle from which it looks like ball is coming from it doesn’t account for what the true healthy arm slot is. (look at arm slot for more)
The healthiest throwers have a release point that is 90 deg at the shoulder/armpit and 0-13 degrees at the elbow. That is because it is THE healthiest way to release a baseball and generate maximal force efficiently.
Think about the engine in your body like the engine in a car. It’s what provides the energy to get things going. Without the engine you have no ability to move.
The brakes on the other hand are like the brakes in a car. They stop you. But just like if you got into a car wreck in 1950 and would go shooting through the windshield, we use the brakes in our body to capture and transfer energy into the baseball.
In a car you can have a Ferrari engine and go 200mph. But if you have bicycle brakes you will most definitely crash if you go over bicycle speeds (the speed that your brakes could slow down).
Your body’s main priority is safety and survival. If you have a Ferrari engine and bicycle brakes your body will only let you go bicycle speed. It knows that if you cannot stop you can put yourself in positions to get hurt. It will only let you go as fast as you can slow down. So while the engine is what often gets people to the next level, the brakes is what makes them elite. That’s where the magic is.
For a right handed pitcher the engine on the front of the body is from the right hand to shoulder, down and across the chest to the left hip and around/down the left hip to the left foot.
The engine on the back is from the left hand (glove) to back of left shoulder, down and across to the right hip and around the hip down to the foot.
You will notice there is overlap between the engine and brakes… it is all one thing.
This is the body’s ability to stop. In other words the ability to capture and transfer all of the energy into the ball and leave the body at rest. Fascia allows you to connect all of the muscles and create this X like pattern across your body that creates engine and brakes on both the front and back of your body.
Your whole facial system is your engine and brakes and which one you are using as engine/brakes completely depends on the movement and if you are doing it right handed or left handed.
For a right handed pitcher his brakes on his front side are from his glove, up his arm to his left shoulder, down and across his chest to his right hip and all the way down to his right foot.
The brakes on his back are from his throwing hand to shoulder, down and across his back to his left hip and around that hip to his left foot.
This is one of the must crucial concepts to understand and it goes very deep. But at the core what you need to know is that ROFD is how fast you can create and transmit force in a small window of time. The elites have a high rate of force development meaning that they transmit a crazy amount of force into the ball in a very short window (time).
When do they start transmitting force? Foot strike. How long? As quickly as possible. When are the elite’s GRF (Ground Reaction Forces) highest? At the very last second, into the release of the baseball. (when the back foot is coming up, all the weight is being blocked by the front leg and all the energy is being captured and rotated around the trunk perpendicular to the spine into the baseball)
When we throw (and in every dynamic movement where the body needs to create force) we need to get to “optimal length (and space) tension relationships”. What this means is that we need to pull the slack out of the rope/rubber bands in our body so that we can create tension.
This does not mean stretch the rubber bands as far as you can to create as much tension as possible. It means creating the right amount of stretch in all of the right areas to create OPTIMAL tension across the entire body. This is what allows the elites to be efficient, make it look easy, and throw smooth hard.
The epitome of making it look easy. This describes the pitchers who are truly elite at efficiently using their energy. They do the least to the create the most and they have the best chance to survive the longest.
Fascia is like an interconnected spiderweb of rubber bands that surrounds every inch of your body. It is fascia that allows you to pick up enormous weight and interacts closely with the nervous system for coordination and movement patterns.
Fascia allows you to connect all of the muscles and create this X like pattern (one of the many patterns) across your body that creates engine and brakes on both the front and back of your body.
Your whole facial system is your engine and brakes and which one you are using as engine/brakes completely depends on the movement and if you are doing it right handed or left handed.
The fascia helps you to create anchor points from which you can pull slack out and find optimal length tension relationships so that you can create a high Rate of Force Development.
Your body has stronger fascial lines than others and are patterned based on the movements you do most. How you move determines how your fascia aligns.
As mentioned in the Release Point section, there are many perceptions of arm slot: over the top, three quarters, sidearm and submarine. However what you need to understand is that all healthy throwers release the ball “sidearm”. What determines arm “slot” is the angle of the trunk.
The more mobile someone’s thoracic spine is the more “tilt” their torso/tornado will have (or be able to get). The looser movers tend to have higher slots while tighter moves tend to be more upright with their torso and throw more “sidearm”.
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