Posts filed under ‘Pitching Mechanics’
Many moons ago, I wrote a piece on the kinetic chain. It’s an integral system to baseball, describing the flow of energy from the very tip of a pitcher’s toe to the baseball he wishes to hurl toward home plate. Without it there is no velocity on the ball. The ball would merely go from the pitcher’s hand straight to the ground while merely attempting to reach terminal velocity.
With a pitcher it is easy to see that the arm does plenty of work to get the ball to the plate. But the truth of the matter is that the arm, shoulder, hand, wrist, elbow…are more there for providing control to the ball. The curve on a curve ball, giving some chin music, jamming a hitter inside. That’s what the arm does.
The lower half of the body however, gives the pitcher velocity and basically all of it too. Moving the pitchers weight forward, rotating the body through the pitch–those are all more valuable towards creating velocity then any muscle the arm could ever provide.
Now I’ve had to fight this point with people. I don’t get why. Yes you can make your arm throw a ball pretty hard while flat footed, your arm is just gonna start to hurt pretty darn quick. Plus I guarantee you are throwing well below 50mph regardless. MLB pitchers prefer to reach 90mph at least. So whenever I am presented with this argument I whip out my evidence. Today we have Phil Coke.
Phil Coke when healthy can get a velocity on his pitch from anywhere from 92-94mph. Not bad for a lefty. Recently enough Phil Coke suffered an ankle injury. What’s his velocity now? As of the 2011 season he is averaging about 91.7mph. I’m assuming that the average is closing in on normal because he is recovering as evidenced by his August average of about 94mph. Now I shouldn’t have to say more at this point. Phil Coke hurts Phil Coke so there for Phil Coke can’t pitch like Phil Coke. But my transgressors would at this point say something along the lines of “something is mechanically wrong.” No duh.
Ok, so now a more descriptive explanation. It is a bit of a human instinct to avoid pain. We avoid getting hurt and avoid making things hurt that are already hurt. It’s the big reason why we created pain medication. Hurting isn’t good. Suffice to say that if Phil Coke has a hurt ankle, he’s not gonna wanna have to feel his hurt ankle. But his job involves him using his feet to effectively make non hittable strikes. So to do his but still avoid feeling his source of discomfort, Phil will subconciously decide to use other muscle groups to try and accomplish what he was able to do before using his now injured body parts.
These new muscle groups are not accustomed to generating the velocity he needs to be the same old effective Phil Coke. They are for one not conditioned for doing so. His other muscles have had years of training to throw a baseball 93mph. The others have not. Secondly, they may have no chance in hell of ever being able to throw that velocity. Some muscles just have very little to do with pitching and more resemble a “passing through” point with the kinetic chain. So where the legs now lack in generating velocity, now a pitcher will try to compensate with the ever popular “arm.”
Like I said above, the arm holding the ball is more or less there to give the ball accuracy and movement. Not velocity. Yes it gives some, but it can only handle so much of a workload before you start to affect other things (such as how long your elbow will stay together). Without accuracy all the velocity in the world wouldn’t matter. I’d rather see a 91mph fastball get placed accurately than see a 94mph one get thrown way too high.
In the world of baseball, pitching injuries are the worst thing. From blisters to a hangnail the very facets of a pitchers of ability can be greatly affected. Something like a bone bruise could really throw off a pitchers game simply because he cannot transfer energy effectively through his body. So yes, while you may give a position player a few days of rest and some DH time to recover from something simple–go ahead and just throw your pitchers on the DL.
That’s a good way to start this analysis off. The stupid leg kick of Bronson Arroyo. Question is: Does it make the rest of his mechanics stupid? And does the stupid equal wrong? These are the questions I set out to answer.
Watch the video above. Aint that goofy? Sooooooooooo weird.
So he kicks his leg out straight in front of him. I know it’s weird. But it’s not necessarily bad. Potential problem yes. But as long as the ball is doing what it’s supposed to than there really isn’t anything to worry about.
Strangely enough, after such a weird beginning, Arroyo does a lot right. So really Bronson Arroyo is a bit of a poster boy for good mechanics, minus that beginning glitch.
I’ll just checklist the good stuff.
- Aside from the goofiness of the beginning of the kick, he gets the knee nice and high. I like this because it makes it easier to get good timing with the next thing.
- The break of the hands comes at the moment the body begins to move forward. This is essential to setting things up the rest of the wind up and delivery.
- The arm is swung behind the body versus dropped and brought up. This controls loading rate and maintains proper timing toward delivery.
- Nice long stride with the GS leg that lands on a bent knee versus a straight knee. A straight knee kills the kinetic chain and of course puts unnecessary stress on the knee.
- The elbow goes through a nice smooth loading stage.
- I can draw a straight line from the finger tips in one arm to the finger tips in the other as the PAS arm travels through the arm slot.
- The GS leg is re-straightened at the point of delivery allowing all the energy generated to be transfered to the ball.
Arroyo doesn’t do much wrong. But there are a couple of minor problems.
- When the shoulders are loaded he brings the elbow of his PAS arm above shoulder level. Since he has a pretty smooth loading rate and doesn’t over load this isn’t a huge issue.
- The glove doesn’t end up in a proper position. Not a mechanical issue, but I don’t like my pitchers to end up with a liner in the face.
While weird mechanics are in fact…weird. It doesn’t mean that they are necessarily bad. Every delivery has small dangers but mechanically speaking, Arroyo’s aren’t anything to be particularly worried about.
Jose Valverde started off his season for the Detroit Tigers putting up great numbers. He pitched 34 innings up to June 28th (approximately the all star break) and put up a .53 ERA with 32 strike outs. Not bad at all. Since than he has a 6.58 ERA in 26 innings pitched, but has still managed 29 strikeouts in that time. But still it’s been ugly at times. The question is what’s wrong? Since I like the pitching aspect of this game, I guess I’ll be the one to explore.
First thing is to check out his release in the first half and compare it to the second half.
Now I see that his release point is a bit higher in the second half of the season. This is the first thing I shall note. Something more important than release point is the actual location of the pitch. No one cares about release if the result is good.
First Half Locations:
And this is why we look at the location chart, because at first glance theres not much difference. But that is why you must than pay attention to the pitch types as well. Even though the locations are technically in the strike zone, I see sliders hanging and cutters not cutting. Something else that is noteworthy is that the difference here is not that great. But what makes me believe that once again release is his problem is simple percentages. First half of the season Valverde got his outs about 30% of the time via ground out. Second half: 16%. Big difference which helps reinforce my point.
Next I want to find out what’s going on here behind the mechanics, but I’ll save that for Pt. 2.
I did a little story after Rick Porcello’s last start discussing the mechanical issues that have been causing his issues on the mound. The obvious answer was his arm slot was highly inconsistent. This lead to less sink on his pitches. Sinkerballers like sink on their pitches. Trust me.
So I figured, lets see if there been any changes? Looks like there have been some positive ones.
To save me some time I’m just going to link you guys to the PitchF/X charts, courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com.
My main focus is the release point chart. Compared to the 2 starts I previously analyzed, this is a vast improvement. It’s still not consistent enough to be truly effective but improvement is what we’re looking for. Ideally you like to see those dots line up as much as possible. While the up down position is probably most important, the horizontal position is more telling of how the batter is seeing the ball out of the pitchers hand. The wide spacing means that it’s a bit easier to pick up on Ricks pitches still.
Now I want to look at the Spin Movement plus Gravity chart and the Pitch Location chart.
In the first chart we see location based upon spin movement of the ball plus the added effect of gravity. I love this chart to be honest. What we see in the chart is that Rick’s 2-seam fastball is staying down and inside on right handed batters as well as his change-up. That’s a hard pitch to hit. When we look at the actual pitch locations in the next chart, we are confirmed in seeing that a significant proportion of Ricks 2-seamers and change-ups were hitting that low inside corner on right handed batters.
Like I said, that’s a hard pitch to hit. But if your release is giving a tip a split second before the bat reaches the plate, Major League batters know how to adjust. But Rick’s improving, and based on this data I’m encouraged that more improvements will come. I’m not thinking AAA any more for Rick, but maybe shutting him down for a start so that he can focus on his mechanics in bullpen sessions might do him some good.
A while back I talked about Phil Cokes mechanics and discussed how he “pitches tall.” What I mean by that is that he doesn’t get lower to the ground when he comes forward with his velocity. My reaction to this is that it restricts his velocity by not allowing him to take the maximum possible stride toward the plate. But the question I recently found myself asking is this, is getting lower to the ground going to actually add velocity? If so, is it necessary for everyone?
So I investigated, and pretty much got my answer right away. I started by looking at a known hard thrower, Justin Verlander. Guess who doesn’t lower himself toward the ground? Justin Verlander. And in a comparison between the aforementioned Phil Coke and Justin Verlander, I checked their average fastball velocities.
Verlander: about 95mph
Coke: about 93mph
So Verlander gets about 2mph more on his fastball than Coke, and in the most important areas, they are pretty comparable mechanically. That basically means that both have nice smooth motions. But the question still must be asked, where does the extra velocity come from for Verlander?
So I looked at the top of the player profiles at Fangraphs.com and got my answer. Big discrepancy in their heights. Verlander is 6’5″, Coke is 6’1″. Combining that information with the visual aid of video, I guessing that Verlander can more easily achieve a greater stride length than Coke. Ah answers…I like them. But to explain the answer I’ll explain the importance that I feel a bigger stride has on the result of the pitch.
- It decreases the distance between you and your target at release. If you can shave a few feet off of that 60 ft. distance legally, why not? Remember, deception is a key part of pitching.
- Kinetics. I talk about ‘em all the time but that forward motion is vital. I tell people this to prove my point. Stand put while throwing a ball as hard as you can and than throw the ball again while taking a step forward. Guess which one achieve better velocity.
So, is pitching tall bad or good? The true answer is that it depends on your height, or at least the design of your frame. If most of your height is in your legs than you can probably achieve your maximum velocity without having to get lower to the ground. But if you’re shorter then velocity can be added, or at the very least deception increased by maximizing your stride length toward the plate.
Originally I was planning on doing a 3 part breakdown of Dontrelle’s mechanics, that analysis may still come but watching video and thinking of comments by other baseball fans made me realize that there is an area that needs to be addressed. That area is mechanics. Thanks to some help from Mike Rogers over at Bless You Boys, I had some pretty decent clips to watch that actually compared Dontrelle’s mechanics over several years. Watching those clips however made me mad, because in my mind someone destroyed Dontrelle.
Now I’m sure that whoever decided to alter Dontrelles mechanics did it with the best of intentions. There is a standard to pitching mechanics, and while no one ever completely follows every step perfectly, Dontrelle seems to just break all the rules. The standards of mechanics however come second to the result of the pitch. Up until 2006, Dontrelle was a pretty successful pitcher. A 22 win season represents that pretty well. This fact right here automatically makes mechanics last in the list of important pitching aspects.
But still, it was felt necessary to muck around with what made him successful. Instead of letting him pitch himself into a bad season they decided to try stop a train wreck when maybe there was none to stop. In doing so they created that guy we want to see gain further success, but cringe when he grips that baseball. He has gone from ace to back of the rotation starter with an anxiety disorder. It’s pretty sad really, to see such a great guy fall this far. The Tigers, however are doing everything right by him though. The past few years have essentially killed any chance of the old Dontrelle coming back. When they altered his mechanics they caused him to lose his deception, and that’s all Dontrelle was as a pitcher. The deception in his delivery was so complicated that I have doubt that Dontrelle can ever be that ace again. But the Tigers are doing right. They’re giving Dontrelle the tools necessary to be a serviceable 5th starter. Have the Tigers seen that yet? Maybe. Will they see eventually? Only time can tell.
I write all of this to remind people that mechanics most aspects of baseball are in a way just silly ideals. Ideals that give people something to fall back to when nothing else seems to be working. Often those who follow those ideals as closely as possible are highly successful. In Dontrelles case, there was success outside of those ideals. Mechanics become relevant when the pitch fails to record the out. Instead of being someone we’ll talk about for a long time as a successful big league pitcher, we’ll talk about Dontrelle as the failed result of trying to turn imperfections into perfections.
Dontrelle may not have been perfect. What he did may have been ugly. But it worked. It worked well. And well, it was kinda taken away from him.
One thing I’ve spent alot of time talking about through this blog thus far is the actual motion. In regards to velocity, location, arm slot…just general consistency in performance, what I’ve talked about is very important. Every thing in the windup creates a kinetic chain which is used to transfer energy to the baseball and hopefully to the catcher for that all important third strike.
The most important word out of all that above paragraph is “consistency.” Without it pitchers are just throwing. Anyone could do it. Luckily pitchers have something that keeps them separated from all the other lowly fielders out there. What is it you may ask? Well they can balance.
Here is what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that you can just stick a pitcher up on a high wire and expect them to not fall to there death. Pitchers just need to reach this point for a second. And here’s why.
I’ll start with an extreme example. Grab a ball and try to make an accurate throw at a target while falling sideways. If you took me literally and fell to the ground from a full sideways dive, I laugh at you. But my guess is that you didn’t hit exactly where you wanted. Now put yourself in your most comfortable throwing position and try again. Probably got closer right?
Now to apply to the pitcher.
Pitching is a matter of consistency. Consistent start, consistent end. The balance point in the windup can be thought of more as a checkpoint between the start and the end. It’s right there before the pitcher moves forward. Some glide on through, some stop there briefly. Either way, you reach the checkpoint. If the point isn’t reached properly, you aren’t going to reach the right destination. It’s pretty simple really. In absolute layman’s terms, balance right, pitch right.
I suppose now you’re wondering what this could affect? Well it’s not really going to affect a pitchers velocity. With pitchers, improper balance usually isn’t going to cause enough of a displacement of momentum to cause much affect to velocity. Location however is subject to inconsistency with inconsistent balance. Making a throw, or a pitch is all about lining up the body correctly. Landing improperly on the GS foot for a pitcher can be quite bad, even if the difference is unnoticeable to the naked eye. Pitching is an art defined by a strike zone. You hit it you’re successful. You miss it you’re not. One single inch is all that stands away between a pitcher and success.
All in all, balance point is simple to understand, hard to execute, and in the game of pitching, separates the men from the boys.
I already wrote a piece on the make up of good pitching mechanics and Justin Verlander is a true representation of a pitcher with really good mechanics. The fact of the matter is that pitching mechanics change from player to player because every body is different, what may be good for one player may not be good for another. The build of player both physically and mentally most definitely affects how his mechanics shape.
Pitching mechanics to me are more or less ideals. In a perfect pitcher the transfer of kinetic energy from the beginning of the windup til the end will occur in one fluid motion that contains no unnecessary movements that don’t affect a pitch positively or negatively. But just like in life, ideals are merely things that you can strive too obtain. Rarely are ideals ever truly realized.
The mechanics of pitching give one ultimate ideal, and that is to make a good pitch, and the points of emphasis under that ideal are like the Bible of pitching mechanics. But any written word is left up to interpretation. Think about all the Christian religions out there. They all interpret the Bible differently but have the same ultimate goal: to reach heaven. The bible acts as a guide for Christians but is never interpreted the same by any two people. As long as the goal is met however, no body was wrong but they all got there in their own ways.
Pitching mechanics aren’t much different. As long as the goal is met, how you got there is unimportant. There are rules though, similar to the Commandments in the Bible. For instance the rotation of the hips should drive the rotation of the shoulders. That is a rule.
I break apart pitchers motions by seeing if they A) break any of the rules of pitching and B) see if they do anything that could easily lead to breaking a rule.
Nobody is perfect and nobody is ever going to do the same thing as everyone else. But there are rules and there are things that can lead to breaking those rules. The rules exist to give direction to the goal. This blog hopes to help us understand how to reach that goal.
(NOTE: Originally posted by myself at Bless You Boys. Go there for lots of great Detroit Tigers related content created by fans)
Given the boredom of the offseason I decided to start studying something that has piqued my curiosity. That curiosity being being pitching mechanics. After some studying of my own I decided why not have the BYB community here either learn with me and/or help me learn along the way? I don’t know if I’m the first member here to delve into this area specifically but I think it’ll be a fun experience for us all. Plus posting stuff here will give me reason to keep on studying it.
I really couldn’t think of a way to properly break this down because good video is hard to come by if you don’t get it yourself and I really don’t really have the means to do that nor do I have any real way to do frame by frames with videos. So I did some looking around and the best way I think I can do this for you guys is via a checklist I found from pitching.com. The checklist after the jump.
So I figured I’d start easy and look at a guy who has some pretty darn good mechanics. That guy is Justin Verlander. The tall, hard throwing, right handed, former ROY, and ace of the Tigers staff. Heres the best video I could come up with via pitchingclips.com.
Here are the advantages of different view points from video. From the side I can more easily see things like how high the elbow gets, when the hands separate, arm swing, foot separation, how high the knee comes. From the front side I can see a few important things as well. Where the head points, where the plant foot lands, arm action after the pitch…basically things regarding how the pitcher lines himself with homplate.
Now the checklist based upon the video from above. (note: because I only have the one video, I’m forced to skip a few checkpoints. I’ll still cover what I can I’ll offer some extra explanation to other things after the list.)
1. Speed of movement/Tempo: This is easily analyzed with frame by frame video, but I don’t have that but it’s obvious that Verlander moves fast. Check
2. Is the pitcher relaxed? This is more of a judgement call if you ask me. But Verlander’s whole windup looks fluid from start to finish with no stressful looking motions. So I’d say Verlander is pretty relaxed. Check
3. Does the pitcher move from a bent leg to get lower leading with his front hip and does he land on a flexed leg in a straight line toward the plate? You’ll notice in the clip that right before Justin moves his plant leg (front leg) forward he bends his back leg. The advantage in this is it allows you to get your plant leg the proper distance forward which is approximately 80-90% of the pitchers height. Verlander does this. So check.
4. How does the plant foot fall in relation to home plate? This to me is very important because this can affect momentum. Seeing how most of a pitches velocity comes from the core and legs and not the arm anything involving any part down in those area’s can affect velocity but location can also be affected. If the foot is pointing to far back, the entire bodies forward momentum is affected thus affecting velocity. If the foot is turned too much toward homeplate, over rotation of the hips and shoulders can occur and affect location by misaligning the body. I can’t see his foot but given his ’09 season, I’d say he’s doing ok. Shoulder alignment at release at least tells me his foot isn’t too far forward. Check.
5. Is the pitcher properly generating forward momemtum? Lumping a few checkpoints together here because a bunch deal with this in mind. I’ll just tell you guys what I see. Hands separate before moving forward? check. Front knee come to stomach/chest level? check. Hips rotate before shoulders? check. Arm is swung instead of picked up? check. All of these things deal with gaining momentum to drive the pitch and Verlander does them all. Check.
6. Is there any unnecessary movements? Moving side to side, leaning forward/backward, strange motion with the leg kick, etc. Verlander doesn’t do any of that stuff. He aint Dontrelle after all.
7. How is the head positioned at ball release? Ideally a pitcher is looking forward at this point (towards home) and the head is over the knee of his plant leg. This is easier determined by a side view but I can make a pretty good judgment from this view and say it looks pretty good. check.
8. Do the hands move in rhythm with the legs? Now here is one problem I have with Verlanders windup but it is a small one to me given the high tempo at which he works. Normally or at least ideally the pitchers hands move toward the chin at the same time the leg kick begins with the plant foot. This is about rhythm aka making sure the hands/arms don’t get ahead of the legs/core. No rhythm means less velocity and poor location because everything becomes disjointed. It works for Verlander because you could call starting his hands at his chin a quick hand raise that matches how quick is leg kick and succeeding movements are.
Just a couple more points about pitching mechanics.
* The elbow should never go above shoulder level. This causes undo stress upon the throwing arm.
* Do not over extend the joints. Basically your plant foot should be bent upon landing and your elbow of your throwing arm shouldn’t be straight.
* The glove should be tucked up into the arm at ball release. This helps create a more natural follow thru thus reducing stress upon the throwing arm.
* Always remember that most of the velocity on a pitch comes from the core, hips, and legs. Proper planting, pushing off, and rotation are very important to gaining velocity. When executing a pitch properly the actual throwing arm should feel very little stress.
Hope you guys enjoy this. I plan to keep on studying this stuff and doing breakdowns of other players mechanics. Mostly I’ll point out the bad instead of the good points and connect them with stats/pitch fx. If theres a guy you want me to try and breakdown mechanically just let me know. If you think of someone please try to find some video for me. I can judge more from side view than I can a front view. At least at this point in analysis ability.