Hayden Grove conducted a great interview with Trevor Bauer of the Cleveland Indians discussing pitching mechanics at a very in-depth level, including linear distraction, torso stacking and the elbow spiral for pitchers. I have to give Hayden some props; most beat writers wouldn’t dare to try to get into this kind of depth with a pitcher, and indeed most just shrug Trevor off. Hayden followed up the next day and tried to get into deeper detail, and as a result, ended up with a great interview that, while he may not fully understand, was definitely a net benefit for pitchers everywhere.
If you want learn how to improve pitching mechanics, reading Trevor’s interview is a great way to get inside the mind of someone who grasps them at a very high level.
Trevor and I started working together in 2013 after his not-so-great year in AAA for Columbus, and that’s when we primarily discussed the concepts of Linear Distraction and Torso Stacking, the latter of which is also a Texas Baseball Ranch cue. Linear Distraction is simply a better and more complete understanding of how the torso stacks behind the midline at stride foot contact; by throwing the hips not only open rotationally but distracted laterally, the torso stacks more efficiently, repeatably, and with greater thoracic arch, increasing range of motion and reducing stress in the acetabular socket of the hips.
Spiraling the Elbow – More Efficient Arm Action
As outlined in Hacking the Kinetic Chain (HTKC) in far greater detail, the elbow spiral is a concept discussed by Kazushi Tezuka in his pitching book, loosely translated as “The Identity of Pitching.” (Yes, we did pay people to translate this text in painstaking detail. No English copies of the book exist.) Without giving away the farm that can be found in HTKC, we modified Tezuka’s concept to better understand the mechanical patterning of transitioning from not just external rotation to internal rotation, but supination to pronation. Tezuka posited that forearm unwinding occurred primarily – if not exclusively – at the shoulder’s whims. This is definitely incorrect, but not egregiously so – the core concept of marrying external rotation to supination was unique and leads to a more efficient arm path.
While Japanese pitching coaches use nagekomi – hundreds of pitches thrown in a single day – as their primary method of teaching pitching mechanics, we use a slightly more sane teaching method – patterning through constraint and parallel construction through other drills.
By imprinting the pattern we seek to desire – the loop spiral that Tezuka originally proposed – in all of our drills, we maximize the chance of shortening and improving the arm action. Take, for example, these two drills as performed by Matt Daniels, Driveline Baseball’s lead instructor:
PlyoCare Rebounder – Recovery Drill
PlyoCare Pivot Pickoff – Constraint / Overload Drill
These PlyoCare drills illustrate how Matt is imprinting the idea of beginning force application in both movements with a supinated/neutral forearm posture leading into strong pronation. While these drills are not specifically designed to improve this mechanical teach, every little bit of imprinting helps.
Gross corrective drills – like verbal pitching instruction while a pitcher is on the mound – are the least effective methods on how to train fine motor skills. Challenging movement patterns using overload and constraint methods and varying the stimulus is by far the most effective method of teaching pitching mechanics and creating positive change.
For example – improving rotational power in any athletic movement will help to transfer rotational power to any other athletic movement. It is why pitchers who throw hard and more likely to create better bat speed, and why medicine ball rotational drills can be helpful for not only physiological benefits, but motor pattern improvements as well.
Hopefully, this helps you to grasp why spiraling the elbow is a key concept for creating a more efficient arm action. For a deeper look into it, check out Hacking the Kinetic Chain!