Here’s a few videos worth checking out on pitch design by Trevor Bauer, as well as really delving deep into understanding what pronation is, by yours truly:
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 To us, that’s an outdated model that doesn’t have very high transfer or applicability.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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There are a lot of over-simplified cues when it comes to pitching mechanics in the hopes of making the art of throwing 90+ MPH with precision a simple task. Obviously this isn’t the case, considering how few people can actually do this, despite a massively growing industry of pitching instruction and coaching.
As far as we’re concerned, universal cues range from cute and worthless to terrible and worthless. There simply aren’t any good universal cues that involve positioning the body in specific areas and spaces, because not everyone has the same proprioceptive system. No two pitchers feel the same way about throwing a baseball, and no two pitchers have identical anatomical structures.
Let’s talk about two major cues that we’ll never use, and why.
Equal and Opposite
So first of all, the idea that pitchers that throw hard and throw strikes have equal and opposite arms can be immediately discredited by this image:
This is Jensen Lewis, who pitched a few years in the big leagues as the setup man for the Cleveland Indians, and he threw 90+ with this unequal arm setup at stride foot contact (SFC). Others include Jake Peavy and even Greg Maddux (gasp).
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Anecdotally we’ve shown that “equal and opposite” isn’t a law when it comes to pitching mechanics. Scientifically and mechanically, it doesn’t make a lot of sense either. The combined high-speed GIF below is of David Robertson and Yu Darvish – frame rates not equal, I know. Watch their glove arm in respect to the throwing arm carefully.
What is the biggest thing that pitching coaches always talk about to improve velocity? Hip/shoulder separation, right?
But what’s so special about the hips and the shoulders? What about other corresponding body parts? After all, the kinetic chain is best optimized when the preceding body part is fully decelerated before the next body part in the chain is accelerated. (Think about elite pole vaulters and their strong block with the pole.)
How about… scapular separation?
Look above at Robertson and Darvish. Watch how their glove arm and throwing arm scapulae “disconnect,” as discussed in a previous blog post on our site: Disconnected Pitching Mechanics, a Good Thing? Their glove arms and throwing arms have a vast amount of separation despite throwing from two totally different postures – and both of them finish with strong rotation around the upper spine and a “glove pull” that doesn’t resemble a…
Firm Front Side
This is David Roberston after deceleration/recovery:
Not much of a firm front side, right? Same with Yu Darvish. But that’s how Robertson and Darvish are both able to gain good “extension” towards home plate – which is really just forward rotation of the shoulders – and throw the ball with less casting of the pitching arm:
The “glove-blocking” firm front side pitching myth absolutely kills shoulder angular rotational velocity, which is by far the most important component in creating the 90+ MPH fastball. When you use standard 30 frames-per-second (FPS) video or take stills from Google Images, yeah, it absolutely looks like there is a glove block and the chest goes to the glove. But that’s not what’s actually happening – that is just a stop on the trip! Nolan Ryan didn’t have a strong block with the chest out front after deceleration:
Aside from killing velocity, control problems can be created and/or made worse by the idea that we should finish with a firm front side and/or a good fielding position (I won’t even get into that garbage argument). When the glove arm deceleration is not sequenced properly in the pitching delivery, residual acceleration will pull the cervical spine (neck) around and off line from the target. While gaze tracking studies don’t show that locking the eyes on the target has anything to do with throwing strikes (yet another myth), pulling the head off line prematurely will vary the release point and screw up a finely-tuned sense of proprioception, which basically any “hands-on” mechanical cue will do. Additionally, stopping the deceleration short by finishing in a good position and blocking the front side will unnecessarily stress both the anterior/posterior shoulder as well as the muscles of the neck.
Trevor Bauer wanted to discuss this issue when he trained at my facility, so we took a bunch of high-speed video of massive improvements in this regard. After working on the disconnection of the glove arm scapula away from the pitching arm scapula, he was able to reproduce an excellent high-level pattern that should set him up for vastly improved control, velocity, and health:
(That’s a two-pound medball in Trevor’s left hand to overload the proprioceptive map, and pro client Jack McGeary in the background.)
By the way, his testimonial on our training methods:
Besides being one of the best follows on Twitter, the knowledge I picked up from Kyle has and will continue to prove invaluable in my pursuit of becoming the best pitcher I can be. His understanding of what movement patterns and training modalities lead to a healthy and durable pitcher is truly world class.
As Paul Nyman once said, “we are only capable of seeing what we are capable of seeing.” Tom House disciples and advocates of the towel drill will look at the above image and see a firm front side and a glove blocking pattern, while those who believe in the power of rotation will see a nearly-perfectly decelerated glove arm that allows Trevor to keep his head on-line with the target.
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Last week we had a handful of our pro clients in the facility to learn about how we’re using high-speed video, two types of weighted ball training, and a new mechanical model on pitching. It was a huge success and a ton of fun, and our high school clients got to work out alongside of guys like Trevor Bauer, Jack McGeary, and Ryan Chapman to get their input as well:
We shot TONS of high-speed video of our drills and exercises, including wrist weight work:
TAP ball throws with mechanical cueing and drills for increased efficiency:
And lots of studying of the video afterwards!
I couldn’t be more happy with how it all went down, and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year! We hope you’ll join us and learn a lot more about mechanical efficiency, durability, training, and tons of other topics that I’ll talk about in my Driveline Baseball Elite Velocity Development book and DVD set coming out in 2014.