Roy Oswalt is one of my favorite pitchers in the big leagues. Everything about his arm action, lower half, intent to throw the ball, the way he approaches hitters, and his non-imposing figure – listed at just 6’0″, 190 lbs – made him one of the few pitchers in MLB that I thought represented “excellent” pitching mechanics.
While we don’t talk much about pitching mechanics in general on this blog, I want to introduce a basic concept of how the lower half should work in an efficient delivery. Of all the traits that Oswalt has, his “glide” to the plate is his best attribute and the one that sets him up to throw the ball at 90+ MPH with consistency.
This is a basic tenet of the National Pitching Association (NPA) – getting the butt down the hill quickly. I definitely agree with their characterization of this cue, but their other concepts tend to create a very linear pitcher with simple mechanics. This would be great, if it was how you could produce elite velocities. However, ASMI has shown (and our preliminary biomechanical research confirms) that the variables that correlate the most with increased fastball velocity are high rates of pelvic and shoulder rotational velocity. Linear momentum to the plate is great, but well below these two tenets when it comes to producing top shelf fastball velocities.
The Balance Point – Get it Out of Here
Teaching a pitchers to get to the “balance point” is a worthless exercise that will destroy their velocity and turn them into a linear pitcher. It is often used to cure “rushing” to the plate in youth pitchers in order to improve their control, but this is misguided at best. (This is a subject for another blog post, but focusing on control and command of pitches is one of the best ways you can destroy a youth pitcher’s future fastball velocity.)
Oswalt does not get to the balance point, and in truth, very few big league pitchers do. (Dan Haren is the notable exception.) Successful pitchers like Oswalt and Lincecum “drift” through the balance point, moving forward in a linear sense towards the plate well before maximum knee height. Doing this results in increased linear momentum to the plate, yes, but it also allows the pitcher to rotate their hips faster and later – two key variables required to develop elite fastball speed.