A Biomechanical Understanding of the Late Launch (Wolforth Tenet)
While in Houston for the Ultimate Coaches’ Bootcamp, Ron talked about a “late launch” being important in the pitching delivery.
In this article, I’ll give you a few examples of the late launch before breaking it into its biomechanical parts.
What does the Late Launch look like?
You see it in pitchers like Roger Clemens:
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!
The Late Launch – Defined
One of Tom House’s big pitching mechanics teaches in the past was to talk about trunk “extension” (really trunk flexion) towards home plate, theoretically allowing the pitcher to release the baseball closer to the plate and therefore increasing perceived velocity – since if a ball is released a foot closer to you with the same speed as a ball from a foot farther away from you, it’s going to arrive quicker regardless of what the radar gun reads. (Assuming identical location and trajectory, of course.)
We now know this to be a faulty interpretation of the pitching delivery. Pitchers do not simply linearly extend to the plate, but rather forwardly rotate their shoulders into the target, which is what creates “extension.”
David Robertson is a pitcher who is often quoted as having the best “extension” to home plate. Here’s a video of him – watch how he attains it:
Go frame-by-frame (pause it and use your arrow keys). See how Robertson is not just creating a long linear push with a long stride and a solid upper torso block, but rather forwardly rotating with his throwing shoulder?
That’s the late launch.
Late Launch – Biomechanical Overview
The simple version of the late launch has been said – forwardly rotating the throwing arm shoulder into the target as long as possible, with a secondary focus on a good upper torso block and good stride length to the plate. (Stride length isn’t everything – remember what your geometry teacher taught you about the Pythagorean Theorum!)
Let’s break it down into a more detailed version, a series of events in the kinetic chain:
- The lower half linear push to the plate is nearing completion and Stride Foot Contact (SFC) is or has occurred – the more closed the torso, the better
- At SFC the lower half is in a position to act as a stable base for rotation around the hips and thoracic spine
- Rotation around the mid/upper half begins or has begun; a split-second after rotation occurs, the upper half linear block is released creating a dual engine
- Ideally the forearm is laid back in external rotation with the arm in the ideal position; being rolled-in rather than turned over (elbow roll-in discussed)
- Torso continues on the dual engine path, with the linear move and rotational move happening simultaneously
- The longer the dual engine can be engaged and the shoulder IR “delayed,” the better (this is the key to the late launch)
- Shoulder IR engages or has engaged and rotation continues to occur (the definition of the late launch)
- Deceleration/pronation phase
- Recovery phase
For an example that is relatively easy to relate to, here’s someone who doesn’t quite do it perfectly, but has strong elements of it and is a high school senior throwing 90+ MPH in our MaxVelo program:
Late Launch – Good or Bad?
So, it should be pretty clear that I think the late launch is a good thing. We’ve been teaching it at Driveline Baseball through our MaxVelo Program for years, though we never called it that. I rather like the phrasing, because it makes a lot of sense and is very descriptive in a short burst of words, something I’m not very good at doing!
Force is best applied to a ballistic object in lines parallel to the target, so the late launch combines the best of linear movement to the plate with rotational momentum around the spine. Remember, only force applied towards the plate counts towards final velocity – this is something every Physics 101 student gets taught and learns through a variety of exercises, like the gun shot vs. bullet drop example.
From a pitching mechanics standpoint, achieving the late launch is a more efficient way to generate force.
From an injury standpoint, applying force in increasingly straight lines makes a lot of sense. Consider that elbow valgus force is at its highest when the torso rotates early and the elbow is prematurely extended (Aguinaldo 2009) – and that the definition of elbow valgus force is literally the forearm being pulled laterally away from the humerus/upper arm. Valgus force is closely linked with tension on the ulnar collateral ligament (the “Tommy John” ligament), so reducing it while maintaining fastball velocity is generally seen as a good thing. A late torso rotation with a parallel drive to the plate is the most efficient way to accelerate the baseball.
Rotation is still important, but rotation that drives the arm away from the body not only doesn’t help with fastball velocity, but increases stress on the medial elbow. While you certainly do not want to “push” the baseball, a late launch does not prevent the pitcher from “throwing” the baseball compared to “pushing” the baseball.
Conclusion: Late Launch is Good, Go Do It
Understanding how to create the late launch is a topic that we cover in Hacking the Kinetic Chain, our fastball development guide.
Measuring it and tracking it requires the use of overhead video that can film at 210+ frames per second.
Remember – if you don’t measure it, you can’t get better at it. So find a pitching coach who uses high-speed video in their analyses! (We have five cameras for this purpose.)
potentially a stupid question: this rotation about the mid/upper back, is that created by the core flexing or is it also coming from the legs? (if from the legs, how do they create such forward/rotational movement in the torso?)
It is created simultaneously from the upper trunk muscles firing in sequence as well as the ground reaction forces from the legs allowing the hips to rotate. Rotation is front hip dominant, so everything starts there!
The elbow roll is the sticking point with me. My sons coachs (all up down and out guys) want the power L almost immediately after handbreak. He naturally has good velocity by instincually having a late handbreak with the elbow leading the ball. Its not as if he gets his elbow tacked to a wall and then slings his forearrm upright, however (inverted W), the elbow goes back slightly (toward first) compressing his scapula, dips slightly, and then rolls the forearrm to horizontal before getting it to the upright position. This seems to be in sync with his rear foot facing first and turning over to the plate. If I look at the pitchers you admire, and I follow a line (after handbreak) from the throwing wrist to the rear leg foot I seem to see a “C” transformed to a “J” (Leg forming tail, upright forearm the post) with the syncronized “rolling” of the elbow with the turning of the rear foot (opening of the hips). Am I understanding you?
There ARE guys who go straight to the high-cocked position who throw 95+ – Nate Jones (White Sox) is an example.
Your description sounds accurate though it’s hard to describe it in text alone. The elbow and forearm should roll into MER instead of being slammed back from an internally rotated position. The late launch allows for delayed IR and allows the forearm to carry in external rotation a little longer.