Recently someone asked me a question that I get fairly frequently:
I see a lot of strength, conditioning, and training videos and articles on your site, but not a lot about mechanics. Do you teach mechanics in your Elite Velocity Development program?
I have mixed reactions to questions along these lines – one being confusion; certainly I’ve written quite a bit about pitching mechanics on this site – some of our more popular articles are:
- Elbow Injuries and What Causes Them (bonus Stephen Strasburg content)
- Strasburg, The Inverted W, and Pitching Mechanics
- Reviewing the NPA Velocity “Holds”
- Disconnected Pitching Mechanics – A Good Thing?
Additionally, there may not be another person or organization out there that pushes the boundaries of cost-effective and applicable motion capture out there than Driveline Baseball. We now have eight high-speed cameras (four that record in a central video server and four standalone cameras), and the whole point of a comprehensive video analysis system is to review, analyze, and adjust the pitching mechanics of our clients.
However, I don’t think the conception is all that unwarranted. Most of our pages don’t mention mechanical adjustments, or if they do, they’re not direct changes that most pitching coaches talk about. And there’s a very good reason for that – we don’t believe in forcibly changing the pitching mechanics of our pitchers. To us, that’s an outdated model that doesn’t have very high transfer or applicability. Let’s talk about that last point a bit more.
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“See This? Do That.”
Most pitching coaches out there today fall into a few buckets:
- Don’t use video, just coach based on what they heard their coaches tell them
- Don’t use video, but use cues they heard about on the Internet
- Do use low-quality (24-30 FPS) video, but just to replay the pitcher’s mechanics without much added insight
- Do use low-quality video and compare the client to a college/professional pitcher of their choice
The first three categories of pitching coaches are totally useless, so if that accurately describes your coach, we highly recommend you find another pitching coach. Remember, the shoulder is internally rotating at 7000 degrees/sec in the 90+ MPH delivery, so to not even use crappy iPad video says that the coach is completely giving up on truly understanding how you throw a baseball.
The last category is one that the “good” pitching coaches fall into. Oftentimes, these coaches pay for expensive programs like Right View Pro to compare an amateur pitcher’s mechanics with a professional pitcher’s mechanics, and take the approach of “See This? Do That.” They might pair a three-quarters right-handed pitcher with a neutral spine alongside someone like Roger Clemens or Greg Maddux and tell them to look more like them, or they might take a high three-quarters / overhead right-handed pitcher with spinal tilt and compare him to Tim Lincecum and tell them to do what he does.
We don’t do any of that, and we never will – we did that for 4 years with very little success. If an athlete was capable of looking like Clemens, Maddux, or Lincecum just by watching video of themselves, they wouldn’t need outside help. Sure, you’ll run into the occasional athlete that this approach works on, but chances are very good they would have succeeded due to obviously pre-existing high kinesthetic feel.
That’s not to say that we don’t try to change someone’s pitching mechanics. We do. Here’s how we’ve found the most success in doing so, and why our results have been so good over the last 2 years of using this system.
Deep Analysis + Proprioceptive Reprogramming = Big Changes
We strongly believe that without high-speed video, you cannot be an effective pitching coach. Things are happening too quickly in the pitching delivery to simply eyeball or even use standard camcorder-quality video – especially when it comes to elite athletes. Sure, there may be glaring flaws that can be fixed in younger athletes, but if you plan on working with elite high school, college, and pro athletes (or getting your guys to that level), you’ll need better insights on what you’re trying to see.
But just knowing what you want to change isn’t enough. An elite athlete doesn’t learn how to throw 95+ MPH without some sort of “feel.” He doesn’t get there by checking off a bunch of things off a list, and he can’t respond to simply telling him what he should or should not do better. So how do you effect the change you want to see?
Here’s an example of one of our clients, Trevor Bauer. Here is a still image I took of Trevor from two high-speed videos synchronized to release point from the front view (click for larger size).
Astute readers will note the difference of Trevor’s non-throwing hand and how his thumb is pointing away like a hitchhiker. The cue he was focusing on here was understanding how the glove side disconnects properly to avoid out-of-phase acceleration of the throwing shoulder, which can cause shear stress on the cervical spine. This also allows him to develop better forward rotation of the throwing arm and to improve his line of force application. (This discussion then touched on the third derivative of position, which is known as jerk – the rate of change of acceleration. Never let it be said that your classical mechanics classes won’t be useful on the baseball diamond, kids.)
If you look closer, you will see a green two-pound mini-medball on the ground next to the pitching rubber. The previous day, Trevor was working on the overloaded feeling of the non-throwing hand to build a proprioceptive map of the positive disconnection he was trying to experience. It looked something like this:
Weighted Balls are Pitching Coaches
Using weighted baseballs is a cornerstone of our program, but not necessarily in the way that everyone thinks. Yes, we are simply uncorking them and letting them fly sometimes:
But their benefit is not simply just a physiological stimulus, but also one that helps to subtly alter pitching mechanics through active and passive methods.
We use a Stalker radar gun to measure all of the weighted balls that are thrown by our athletes with the intention of changing their programs or addressing specific needs that come up as a result. Without divulging the secret formula, if a pitcher throws overload (7-11 oz) balls or underload balls (2-4 oz) in drastic deviations away from a regulation baseball (5 oz), then I know that there’s a constraint in his arm action, ball release phase, or intent to throw the ball. By monitoring these differences, I will switch the athlete to a more appropriate weighted baseball routine and/or mobility circuit as well as different cues to focus on.
Weighted balls can change a pitcher’s mechanics by simply being thrown. Research shows that weighted implements beyond 20% of the regulation weight cause significant changes in biomechanics – this is often trotted out there by anti-weighted ball advocates as being bad – and this can be a very positive thing. Think of it this way – if weighted baseballs changing someone’s mechanics is such a bad thing, why do the pitching coaches who say this then immediately try to change your pitching mechanics using only their intuition?
So, do we “teach” pitching mechanics?
I don’t know, to be honest. Yes, we do, but not in the way that most pitching coaches out there do – and that will never change. Properly designed drills, movement patterns, and equipment will get the best movement patterns out of your athletes when combined with solid coaching, deep analysis (high-speed video), and proper cueing.
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