- Elite Baseball Training
- Our Books
Archive for category Motion Analysis
While in Houston for the Ultimate Coaches’ Bootcamp, Ron talked about a “late launch” being important in the pitching delivery. You see it in pitchers like Roger Clemens and Trevor Bauer:
You should theoretically see it in Dr. Marshall’s pitchers, since he teaches to point the acromial line towards home plate and forwardly rotate the torso as far as possible before ball release, but you don’t see this in Jeff Sparks or Mike Farrenkopf:
Brian Oates recently wrote about the late launch over at Oates’ Specialties, saying (amongst other things):
A late release does not only help a pitcher exert more linear force behind the ball toward home plate (resulting in better velocity and command), but it is also key to efficient pronation of the arm.
A reader of my blog emailed me and asked:
I was reading up on your site and oatesspecialties blog on his site about late launch. I think I basically understand the principle of having your throwing shoulder in front of glove shoulder. The description of applying force in a straight line to the target is where I get lost. I’m interpreting it like pushing the ball. I know my interpretation is wrong. Can you clarify a bit?
If there’s anything I’m good at, it’s taking a cue and breaking it down into its specific biomechanical parts. So, let’s get cracking!
While I was going through my huge library of pitching clips (over 3 GB at this point), I found one of my favorite examples that shows how complicated the 95 MPH delivery can be.
Enter Andrew Cashner, a man who can throw 100 MPH:
Note where the video is slowed down. It’s not rotation, it’s not linear momentum, it’s both. This movement cannot be trivialized, and furthermore, it can’t be taught as a series of drills.
95+ MPH velocity doesn’t come out of the arm through conscious thought and simple checkpointing in the delivery. There is a certain amount of violence and sacrifice of tangible control that goes into it. If you try to consciously control your pitching arm or upper trunk at the speeds that they rotate, you are doomed to throw no harder than 85 MPH – at best.
Just a quick thought for this Sunday!
There are a few writers and people out there who criticize me for talking about pitchers’ mechanics without having specific joint loads (kinetics), stating that it’s akin to “guessing” without any merit. Their claims that without a full biomechanical analysis (presumably using three-dimensional modeling), you can’t make any definitive statements about health and efficiency.
Well, as readers of this blog know, I am sympathetic to that argument – so much so, that I invested four years of my life (and many dollars) into building my very own biomechanics lab:
That’s the first iteration of our control object (which you need to film using multiple high-speed cameras to gain an anchoring position) at our old facility in North Seattle.
I’m no stranger to calculating the kinematics and kinetics of the pitching delivery, and I think I’ve learned a great deal by putting many pitchers through it. However, the idea that we must do this to make educated guesses about mechanics is simply wrong.
Understanding the Mechanisms of Injury
As I stated in my article about elbow injuries in pitchers, we do not yet know the definitive cause of UCL rupture (which requires Tommy John surgery to repair). However, research indicates high values of elbow valgus stress is primarily responsible for tension on the UCL and the prime contributor to joint loads about the elbow. Remember, the primary function of the ulnar collateral ligament is to stabilize the elbow while the ulna in the forearm is pulled away from the elbow joint (medial epicondyle).
You can test for this injury by doing an elbow valgus stress test (a video from my alma mater, Baldwin-Wallace College):
In the groundbreaking study by Dr. Werner et al (2002 JSES: Relationship between throwing mechanics and elbow valgus in professional baseball pitchers), Dr. Werner concluded that there were four significant variables that contributed to elbow valgus:
I wrote about these at length in my article about elbow injuries if you’re interested in a more detailed look at these variables and what they actually mean.
Applying it to Video Analysis
Since Dr. Werner’s research (and many additional papers that support her theories) indicates those four variables as being highly significant with regards to elbow valgus stress, if you see a pitcher who displays a high amount of shoulder abduction angle at stride foot contact (SFC), then it’s likely that that pitcher has higher-than-normal elbow valgus stress. While correlation does not equal causation, it’s pretty clear that these characteristics are linked to higher “joint loads” on the elbow.
Simple Physics: Force Application
However, instead of trotting out research papers, let’s think about this from a simple mechanical physics/engineering perspective. I recently posited that Trevor Bauer’s “late launch” (as Ron Wolforth calls it) is inherently more efficient and less stressful on the elbow joint than an “early launch” exhibited by pitchers like Stephen Strasburg, where Trevor’s throwing shoulder is rotated far more into the target before maximum internal rotation angular velocity is reached. Here’s overhead high-speed video to show what I’m talking about:
A realization hit me a few years ago when I spoke to Dr. Murray Maitland at the University of Washington – instead of talking about complex kinematics and kinetics, he illustrated a simple point from an engineering perspective: Force is best applied in lines parallel to the desired direction of trajectory in the ballistic motion. (Of course, Dr. Marshall has been beating this drum for decades now.) This is obvious once you think of it from an engineering perspective – would you build a machine that throws a projectile in a circuitous path where the distal ends of the joints were held together by a pulley, or would you build it where the lever arm applied force in a straight line?
From a slightly more biomechanical point of view, think of it this way: The UCL stabilizes the elbow from being pulled apart as the forearm separates from the upper arm (humerus). If force is applied in a maximum sidearm position with an early launch, this theoretically maximizes valgus stress, while a more vertical delivery reduces it (like Trevor’s, or Roger Clemens’ delivery).
While a true vertical delivery may not be possible (ask Fritz Outman about that, though), getting closer to that should reduce stress on the elbow and possibly increase efficiency and release velocity of the pitcher.
Research tends to back this theory up, as Aguinaldo’s study (Am J Sports, 2009: Correlation of Throwing Mechanics With Elbow Valgus Load in Adult Baseball Pitchers) showed that a later trunk rotation in the pitching delivery and increased elbow flexion near peak valgus/ball release significantly reduced elbow valgus stress.
What You Need to Adequately Study Pitching Mechanics
Ideally, you get yourself a pair of high-speed cameras and film the delivery from overhead as well as from the side, but they’re not cheap anymore (good thing I bought five of them when I could!).
You can still use regular speed video to do some cursory analyses if you get the right angles, but it’s all about setting them up in a proper and repeatable way. I highly recommend getting an overhead shot (something Bill Peterson from RPM Pitching has been telling me to do for years) as well as a view from the side. That will cover all relevant angles that you want to see.
We take regular high-speed video to analyze our pitchers’ mechanics in the MaxVelo program to make sure the cueing is properly done, and I recommend you seek out someone locally to do the same for you – any pitching coach worth his salt will have invested in at least one high-speed camera.
But if you can’t find anyone, our new facility in SeaTac is just minutes from the airport – so come on by!
Following up on last week’s post on the NPA Velocity “holds,” here are some more high-speed shots of throws vs. holds and the arm action disconnection problems that occur as a result:
And for fun, a 5oz (regulation) throw vs. a 7oz heavy ball throw: