We are going to go in depth with pitching mechanics from start to finish.
2. LEG LIFT
8. NUMBERS BEHIND GETTING AHEAD
A pre-pitch routine is simply what you do on a consistent basis between pitches. This can include the way you wipe the rubber, walk around the mound, or take your sign. On a deeper level, it is also how you breathe, visualize, and talk to yourself.
Routines in general are important because they can provide comfort and confidence. It provides comfort because if I have a routine, it doesn’t matter where I am, I know exactly what to do and how to do it. Routines also bring confidence because when I know what I am supposed to do and I have had success in the past doing it, I know that it can happen again.
A good pre-pitch routine keeps you in the present moment. It provides clarity and focus on the pitch you are about to make. If your pre-pitch routine is pulling you away from the task at hand, then it is time to re-evaluate.
HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR OWN
There are multiple options when it comes to creating a pre-pitch routine. The important thing is to be yourself! Don’t try to have a calm and relaxed demeanor if you pitch better angry. On the flip side, don’t try to pitch angry if you pitch better calm. Two good examples of this are Zack Greinke and Max Scherzer. Take a look at the videos below and notice the difference.
Both of these guys have a pre-pitch routine, but they are completely different. Always remember to be yourself. Figure out what works best for you.
When creating your routine, I like to work through 3 main areas:
A good breath is one of the most powerful things you can do. Why? Because it brings your mind to the present moment and allows you to focus with clarity. Whether you pitch aggressive and angry or calm and relaxed, the breath is an essential part of a good routine.
I remember the first time I practiced visualizing in a bullpen. It was like my mind had been open to a whole new world. When you visualize exactly where you want the ball to go, how it will move, how the hitter will react; it is amazing how well you can execute your pitches. It takes incredible focus to do this well pitch after pitch, but when you do, amazing things start to happen. Your mind is powerful. Use it to your advantage.
Most players have self talk going on throughout the game whether you are aware of it or not. The question is, what are you saying to yourself?. Is it positive or negative? Is it pulling you away from the task at hand or is it encouraging you to execute the pitch?
Good positive self talk includes things like:
“Throw through the glove”
“Let’s go, attack the zone”
“This batter doesn’t stand a chance”
“He can’t hit this pitch”
Negative self talk would include:
“Don’t throw another ball”
“I hope he doesn’t hit this”
“Don’t leave this pitch up”
“I can’t walk this guy”
An easy way to know if you are using positive or negative self talk can often be found in the first few words. Are you saying I can’t, I hope, or don’t? Or are you saying I will, I can, or do? They might mean the same things, but one is aggressive and confident, while the other is scared and timid.
EXAMPLE PRE-PITCH ROUTINE
Get your sign, visualize the ball going where you want it to go
Positive self talk
At the end of the day, there are numerous ways to develop a pre-pitch routine. The important part is that you have one and that it is helping you. Take the time to write out what your routine is. Bring awareness to where you can make changes and what it will take to improve your routine. Remember, it needs to be something you can do every pitch, not just every once in a while. Consistency is the key.
2. LEG LIFT
Just to be clear, I refer to the pitcher’s leg lift in the delivery as “A LIFT WITH A KICK” or “LEG KICK”. Most commonly the position is referred to as simply the lift position, but it’s my belief, that every leg lift should have a degree of kicking action as the pitcher comes out of this position into his throw. Why? It allows the pitcher the ability to add rhythm, timing, power, and efficiency built into a consistent movement…..with just one KICK! And, no matter what your current lift may look like, you can easily add the kicking element without overhauling your entire delivery. I will break down how the kick can benefit any lift further in the article but first lets explore the variety of lifts that have existed throughout baseball history.
EXPLORING THE “KICK”
Now that you have a vast assortment of lifts to choose from dating back to Lefty Grove, lets look at how adding the kick to the lift will allow you to enhance your own delivery. There are two crucial steps you must instill when training your new lift.
THE HIPS MUST BE MOVING TOWARDS THE TARGET AS YOU LIFT YOUR LEG.
Notice how current Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer’s hips are constantly moving towards the target as he gets into his lift. As your body begins to fall towards home plate, make sure your pelvis is leading the way. Initially practice a controlled forward movement of the hips as you practice bringing your lead leg to the peak of the lift. The true acceleration of the hips towards your target will happen once you complete the kick.
WHEN THE KNEE GETS TO THE TOP OF THE LIFT, KICK OUT OF IT.
The clip shown here is current Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. Notice as he kicks out of his lift. Once you reach the top of you lift, kick your leg (knee to ankle) out away from your body. The kick can be very subtle to slightly moderate but NEVER overly agressive. Once the kick has been initiated, let your entire lead leg to completely relax as you move towards the target. The natural relaxation of the lead leg will allow the leg (knee to foot) to look like it’s kicking out. As you become more advanced, you can supply more force to the kick to create greater momentum.
ADVANTAGES OF USING THE KICK
Initiates the proper timing mechanism of our legs and arms behind the rubber.
The hips are able to travel further down the mound before lead foot gets out in front.
Delays hip rotation into the throw.
Lets the body to work together and maintain a constant flow of energy
CREATING YOUR OWN LEG KICK
Give yourself the creative freedom to decide the kick that may work best for you. Start with what feels natural and expand on it as you begin to feel more comfortable. You may have noticed from the “choosing a lift” clip that many of the pitchers pre-1970 exhibited a kick and displayed their own unique style. This style can still be represented in the game of baseball, it just needs to be taught properly. I hope this article enables you to think about throwing a baseball a bit differently and realize you have the ability to choose and create a delivery that you can be proud of for your career.
Hip shoulder separation in pitching is a major contributor to efficient pitching and hitting mechanics, and a big piece of the puzzle to all things velocity. In this article, we are going to review the relevance of several metrics on hip shoulder separation using pitching biomechanics data charts as follows:
Background and Basic Info
Timing of the Max Hip Shoulder Separation Peak
Max Value of Hip Shoulder Separation
Relationship between the Kinematic Sequence and Hip-Shoulder Separation
Proper Kinematic Sequence
Amount of Separation Time
1. Background and Basic Info
What is hip-shoulder separation in pitching?
Simply put, it’s the difference between the shoulder angle and hip angle in the transverse plane (z-direction), which is characterized by when you turn your shoulders or hips to the left and right. Maximum hip-shoulder separation typically occurs around foot plant, and as such for a left-handed pitcher this value is the difference between how open their hips are towards home plate, and how closed their shoulders are facing first base as can be seen below.
Why is it important?
The separation creates and stores energy to be used by the body later in the pitching motion. Muscles and fascia have an elastic component that allows them to act like a spring. As they are stretched, they build up energy that is released as they return to their original length. Think of your oblique abdominals as a spring, and as you counter-rotate your torso during leg lift you are beginning to stretch this spring and creating stored energy. Then as you begin to stride and load your scapula into horizontal abduction this will further counter-rotate your torso leading to additional stretch of the “spring”.
Finally, just before foot plant you begin to rotate your hips open towards home plate, while leaving your torso closed increasing the stretch even more. After foot plant, this increase in angle will result in maximum stretch of the “spring”, which will then be used to accelerate or slingshot the torso and arm towards the hips into an open position.
The energy that was stored by the spring is transferred into the torso during this acceleration phase, then up into the arm, and ultimately into the ball at release. It should be noted that more hip-shoulder separation isn’t always better as the amount of separation is dependent on an athlete’s anthropometrics and will be discussed later in this article.
Hip-shoulder Separation Causing Torso Whip
Can everyone create the same amount of hip-shoulder separation?
Hip-shoulder separation is dependent on an athlete’s anthropometrics, and as such not everyone is able to create the same amount of separation. Pitchers that have a longer torso tend to have longer muscle fascia enabling them to stretch more and have a larger hip-shoulder separation than pitchers with a shorter torso. As a result, pitchers should not try to achieve a hip-shoulder separation value that is outside their bodies natural range as this can lead to disruption of the stretch-shortening cycle and core instability.
A significant part of success on the mound is the importance of stability. Each segment throughout the pitching motion must be stable to support the motion of the successive segment. Trying to stretch the trunk beyond its limitations will result in muscle slack, where the muscle fascia are no longer coiled tightly, which in turn can result in a loss of stored energy. This will also cause an unstable trunk that will not efficiently transfer energy up the chain and have a hard time with proper acceleration/deceleration. Since hip-shoulder separation is athlete dependent, more separation isn’t always better, and an athlete’s physical range needs to be established to determine good separation for them.
For a more in depth look into what it takes to create good hip-shoulder separation check out this prior article titled “Not All Hip Shoulder Separation is Created Equal”.
What does the hip-shoulder separation graph look like?
2. Timing of the Max Hip-shoulder Separation Peak
The timing or sequence of max hip-shoulder separation is important for efficient energy usage and provides insight into both the rotation of the hips and the torso. The hip and trunk rotations determine where the max hip-shoulder separation will occur in time. Pitchers typically begin to open their hips just before foot plant, and this trend is fairly consistent between pitchers. In other words, the pitcher may be early or late with their hips in terms of how open or closed they are approaching foot plant, but almost all pitchers begin to rotate their hips before foot plant. This allows them to open into foot plant putting their pelvis in the proper position in order to stabilize and both accept and transfer energy from the lead leg (and ultimately the ground) at foot plant.
Pitching Biomechanics: Start of Pelvis Rotation Before FP
Since almost all pitchers begin hip rotation before foot plant, they are increasing the stretch of the spring and hip-shoulder separation. This means that the factor that would reduce separation is trunk rotation. As a result, maximum separation occurs when the torso velocity is equal to the pelvis velocity. This is due to the fact that once the trunk is rotating faster than the hips it will begin to close the gap reducing the angle between them and causing a decrease in separation (more on this further below).
The point in time when a pitcher “begins his trunk rotation” will impact when max hip-shoulder separation will occur. The longer the pitcher can keep their trunk closed and resist rotation the later the max separation will occur. There are three distinct points in pitching biomechanics charts at which max separation can occur:
Before Foot Plant
At Foot Plant
After Foot Plant
Before Foot Plant – Having max hip-shoulder separation happen before foot plant means that the pitcher is starting to rotate their trunk early. Early trunk rotation means that they are trying to transfer energy up the kinetic chain before foot plant. This is a problem as you want to begin this transfer of energy once you are anchored to the ground and have a stabile pelvis to rotate around. Efficient energy transfer and sequencing is a product of beginning a distal segment once the proximal segment is stable. Trying to rotate around an unstable base can lead to energy loss and timing problems, which can cause an increase in the likelihood of injury and a decrease in ball velocity. The early trunk rotation seen in hip-shoulder separation before foot plant can also be a sign of flying open, which can cause problems with both power and command.
If max occurs before foot plant, then the amount of hip-shoulder separation that is actually contributing to the whip of the torso is the amount of hip-shoulder separation at foot plant once the lower body begins to stabilize. This means that the pitcher is leaking energy by not utilizing all of their max separation.
The pitcher below reaches a max separation of 52º, but since he is starting his trunk rotation early, by the time he reaches foot plant his hip-shoulder separation has reduced to 40º. This represents a 23-percentage point reduction of their max hip-shoulder separation prior to foot plant, which will result in less stretch to effectively rotate the torso around a stable pelvis.
At Foot Plant – Having max hip-shoulder separation at foot plant means that the trunk is only slightly early, and that energy can be more efficiently transferred as the front foot is anchored to the ground.
After Foot Plant – The optimal timing of max hip-shoulder separation is after foot plant and is the least common max separation timing we see. This is mostly because it is very difficult for pitchers to resist trunk rotation until foot plant. It is also why the most common timing we see during our Mocap analysis with respect to max separation is before foot plant.
Being able to start trunk rotation at or slightly after foot plant allows the upper body to rotate around a stable base, provides the pelvis more time to build up velocity and stored energy, and increases the separation time between peak pelvis and peak torso angular velocities.
3. Max Value of Hip-shoulder Separation
The next topic to look for in a pitching biomechanics hip-shoulder separation graph is the max value. Generally, 35-60 degrees of peak separation appears to be optimal.
As stated earlier, these values are player-dependent though and depend on torso length. So, while 35º of separation may be optimal for a pitcher with a shorter torso this would not be sufficient for a pitcher with a longer torso and fascia that could easily achieve 50º of separation. It is important to know your athlete and assess their anthropometrics when trying to determine their optimal level of separation. It is not only important to look for a value of max hip-shoulder that sits within an individual’s range of trunk mobility, but also that works best with the timing of their mechanics.
Another important factor is that a pitcher should only have a large separation if their torso is then able to close the gap through its angular velocity. There is no point in creating such large separation if the torso can’t get into the correct position for max external rotation and release. Both exceeding physical limitations and not being able to get into proper positioning can lead to timing problems and increase in the risk of injury to the arm. Increasing separation is a good method to increase the potential energy stored in the stretch of the torso, but it must be done taking into consideration an individual’s physical limitations.
Max hip-shoulder timing after foot plant allows for an efficient kinematic sequence and distribution of energy throughout the body, which can lead to an increase in velocity and reduction in the risk of injury. The value of separation provides potential energy to be converted into the angular velocity of the torso with an increase in separation leading to an increase in stretch and potential energy. If a pitcher is able to delay their trunk rotation until after foot plant this will put their pelvis into a stable position for transfer of the stored energy into the trunk. Being able to combine this delayed rotation with a good amount of separation is the key to being able to create, store, and efficiently transfer energy up the kinetic chain.
4. Relationship between the Kinematic Sequence and Hip-Shoulder Separation
The kinematic sequence derived from pitching biomechanics charts provides valuable information into the sequencing of segments and the energy transferred through the kinetic chain. Earlier, we focused on hip-shoulder separation, which is related to the pelvis (red) and torso (green) lines in the kinematic sequence graph above.
As mentioned in earlier, peak hip-shoulder separation occurs at the time point where the torso angular velocity intersects the pelvis angular velocity. This is due to the fact that once the torso begins to rotate faster than the pelvis it will begin to catch up to the pelvis thus reducing the space/angle between them. This can be seen in the figure below where the hip-shoulder separation graph and kinematic sequence graph were taken from the same pitcher.
5. Proper Kinematic Sequencing
Just as with hip-shoulder separation, the timing of the peak pelvis and peak torso angular velocities are more important than the actual amount of Separation Time. So, the first thing to look for in the kinematic sequence is the timing of peak pelvis angular velocity. We want the peak pelvis angular velocity to occur after foot plant. If the pitcher achieves their peak pelvis angular velocity before foot plant, then the amount of Separation Time will not properly contribute to the pitching motion and shouldn’t be examined.
Many pitchers appear to have a good Separation Time, but this is due to the fact that they achieve peak pelvis angular velocity well before foot plant increasing the distance between the peak pelvis and torso velocities. This is not a true Separation Time, as for Separation Time to contribute to velocity the pitcher must be able to effectively use the ground reaction force at foot plant, while resisting torso rotation for as long as possible.
This combination of ground reaction force and delayed trunk rotation allows the pitcher to gather energy up the kinetic chain and provides additional time for the arm to get into layback.
The second thing to look for to maintain the order of the kinematic sequence is that they are not reaching their max elbow extension velocity before their torso reaches its maximum. This is more likely to be a factor for pitchers that are able to keep their trunk closed longer in their pitching motion. It can be a result of the pitcher starting their elbow extension early, or if they are unable to properly decelerate their torso as their elbow begins to extend.
It is especially important to maintain the kinematic sequence peak / deceleration order of pelvis, torso, and then elbow as maximizing the kinematic sequence increases efficiency and reduces the risk of injury. As such, the kinematic sequence order is more important than a large Separation Time and should be examined before looking at the Separation Time.
If the peak pelvis velocity is at or after foot plant, the peak torso velocity occurs after the peak pelvis velocity, and the peak torso velocity occurs before peak elbow extension velocity then the next step is to determine the Separation Time.
6. Amount of Separation Time
The amount of Separation Time (as defined above) is the time difference between the peak torso angular velocity and peak pelvis angular velocity. The larger the Separation Time the more efficiently the hip-shoulder separation is converted into energy through the angular velocity of the trunk, and the more time the arm has to get into the proper position for layback.
The larger the Separation Time the more potential for energy transfer up the kinetic chain. A study into Separation Time found that a pitcher increasing their Separation Time by 9.5ms would result in a 1 mph increase in their fingertip velocity (Van der Graaf et al, 2018). This means that if a pitcher is able to delay trunk rotation for a longer period of time, they can increase their Separation Time, and as a result their velocity. Generally, we look for 30-70ms of Separation Time when assessing a kinematic sequence, and on average we see a Separation Time of 30ms across our pitchers.
Gaining Separation Time should be done gradually as trying to make a large leap can result in timing problems between the torso and the shoulder, and result in additional stress on the body. It should also be noted that increasing Separation Time generally increases the time between foot plant and release, and as such the optimal Separation Time is one that fits with the pitcher’s natural sequence, timing, and anthropometric measurements.
Hip-shoulder separation is an important concept in pitching biomechanics with its sequencing being of the highest importance. The sequence sets up the foundation for the amount of separation to build upon. A correct sequence allows for an efficient distribution of energy throughout the body, which can lead to an increase in velocity and reduction in the risk of injury.
The amount of hip-shoulder separation provides potential energy to be converted into the angular velocity of the torso with an increase in separation leading to an increase in stretch and potential energy. Increasing Separation Time provides the body more time to get into the proper position for both max external rotation and release. It also provides the torso more time to gather speed around a stable base, and thus more potential for energy to be transferred to the arm. Increasing these metrics has the ability to improve performance but should only be examined once the pitcher has a solid foundation in the form of a proper kinematic sequence.
Source of energy
Best to occur after foot plant for optimal transfer of energy
Amount of hip-shoulder separation is dependent on an individual’s anthropometrics
Proper kinematic sequencing is key
Important component of efficient energy transfer
Amount of timing is dependent on sequencing and anthropometric measurements.
A pitcher’s foot position at foot strike can provide a solid foundation to facilitate both knee extension and efficient transfer of energy. Foot strike is the moment a pitcher’s front foot makes contact with the ground and is the starting point of energy transfer up the kinetic chain. This energy is ultimately transferred to the ball at release, with efficient energy transfer being aided by the pitcher releasing over a firm front side. A firm front side provides lower body stability for proper upper body positioning through release. This stability is achieved by extending the front knee from foot strike to release and is why knee extension angular velocity at release is correlated with pitching velocity and an important metric to examine in pitchers.
Knee extension angular velocity tells us how fast the lead knee is being extended, and as such is representative of a firm front side. In a study conducted by Matsuo et al. they divided pitchers into two groups based on ball velocity and determined that the knee extension angular velocity was significantly greater in the high velocity group than that of the low velocity group . They also found that the high velocity group demonstrated knee extension approaching release, while the low velocity group typically showed more knee flexion and less extension approaching release. We decided to utilize these findings to examine pitcher knee extension angular velocities based on foot strike technique.
Rearfoot strike – Pitchers who contacted the ground with their “heel” first
Forefoot strike – Pitchers who contacted the ground with the “ball” of their foot first
This data shows that positional differences at foot strike can have a significant impact on knee extension angular velocity. This increase in knee extension velocity could be due to the fact that forefoot landing has a better posterior drive back through the heel, which better promotes knee extension. Since forefoot pitchers land on the ball of their foot they are able to immediately dorsiflex their ankle at contact driving their heel into the ground. This dorsiflexion allows the tibia to drive backwards initiating the extension of the knee. Strength research into ankle positioning has supported this idea by showing that ankle dorsiflexion results in the most strength gains and could possibly facilitate knee extension more than other ankle positions (Cha, 2014). This helps to support the fact that forefoot pitchers because of their dorsiflexion have increased knee extension velocities.
The rearfoot landing on the other hand forces the ankle into plantarflexion. This forward movement of the ankle has an increased tendency to also continue the forward movement of the tibia, which can lead to increased knee flexion post contact. Knee flexion post contact not only gives the pitcher less time to extend the knee it also creates an “energy leak” by acting as a shock absorbing and removing energy from the kinetic chain resulting in both a slower knee extension angular velocity and ball velocity.
Knee extension angular velocity graphs of two different pitchers can be seen below. In the graphs the blue arrow indicates the 0 º/s line, and the transition from flexion to extension, where flexion velocity is positive and extension velocity is negative. The blue vertical line is foot strike, and the red vertical line is release. It can be seen in this graph that the rearfoot pitcher continues to flex after foot strike (signified by the peak directly after foot plant) before they begin to extend their knee. The velocity curve for this pitcher doesn’t transition into extension until almost halfway between foot plant and release. Thus, their deceleration suffers as too much time is spent stabilizing the front foot/leg. Instead, this time should be utilized by extending and accelerating the knee and transferring more energy up the chain through a greater increase in knee extension angular velocity.
By beginning extension at foot strike this pitcher has more time to accelerate and accumulate speed, and as a result they have a velocity 409% faster at release than the rearfoot pitcher.
It should be noted that this forefoot pitcher also has a larger time difference between foot strike and release (0.11s vs 0.14s), which provides additional time to accumulate velocity. That being said the rearfoot pitcher has to be able to utilize their time more efficiently between foot strike and release by starting extension sooner if they want to achieve a knee extension angular velocity above 300 º/s by release.
Landing on the forefoot can provide a better mechanism for more efficient knee extension by driving earlier ankle dorsiflexion. Rearfoot landing on the other hand leads to increased ankle plantarflexion, and knee flexion post contact restricting both the time and peak velocity of knee extension as well as transfer of energy up the kinetic chain. While we understand that there are many hard throwers who land rearfoot and possess the athleticism to put up big numbers, this is generally not the norm in a younger, less athletic/experienced population who do not.
In rearfoot strike the farther the forefoot is from the ground at foot strike the more drastic the landing on the heel, and the harder it is to stop forward momentum and reverse direction into knee extension. This also holds true in forefoot strike as landing with the heel high in the air takes more time to drive back into that heel and stabilize the leg. As a result, the closer a pitcher can land to midfoot strike the quicker they will be able to dorsiflex, stabilize, and drive into knee extension. The forefoot strike pitchers because of their immediate dorsiflexion are able to start this cycle sooner than the rearfoot pitchers, and better facilitate knee extension. The data presented in this article backs the hypothesis that pitchers landing on their forefoot or midfoot helps to maximize efficiency, lead leg stability, energy transfer, and velocity.
One of the most important physical capabilities for a pitcher is the ability to achieve maximum shoulder external rotation (or layback) in the Cocking Phase of their delivery.
There are a number of reasons why layback is important, not the least of which is that it can help a pitcher maximize velocity. Essentially, if a pitcher wants to increase their velocity, they need to do one of two things: apply a higher average force to the ball (by increasing intent, strength or improving kinematic sequence) or apply a force over a greater distance (by increasing mobility and/or arc). We often refer to the latter as "ramp." The longer the ramp, the more time we have to generate force. The greater the layback, the longer the ramp.
If a pitcher lacks layback, we refer to it as a pitching characteristic called High Hand. High Hand is very easy to identify. Simply advance a pitcher to maximum external layback in the "face-on" view. Draw a horitzontal line that bissects their elbow joint. If the ball is above the line, the pitcher has a High Hand. Look at the pitcher in the red shirt (High Hand) vs the pitcher in the green shirt in the header above.
Though external rotation of the shoulder is a critical factor in a pitcher's ability to achieve layback, it is wrong - and dangerous - to assume that shoulder ER is the ONLY factor.
ASSUMPTION #1: IF A PITCHER HAS HIGH HAND THEY SHOULD FOCUS ON IMPROVING SHOULDER ER.
WRONG. Our pitching screen includes a Shoulder 90/90 test that assesses a pitcher's shoulder ER and their ability to maintain scapular stability in an athletic posture verses a full stride posture. Performance on this screen is related to High Hand, but it isn't the sole cause of High Hand.
Like all hitting and pitching characteristics, High Hand is multifactorial. Though the cause can be physical, it is not limited to the shoulder. Often, you'll find that High Hand is a product of inefficient technique (e.g. Early Flexion, see video below) or limited range of motion elsewhere in the body (e.g. limited extension of the hip or spine). Here's an example from a recent Q&A webinar of how something like Early Flexion can cause High Hand.
One of the purposes of developing our screen is to help coach, S&C or medical professionals identify the root cause of technical inefficiencies. Before you start cranking on a pitcher's shoulder, let's check to see if shoulder ER is even the issue.
ASSUMPTION #2: IF A PITCHER HAS GOOD LAYBACK (NO HIGH HAND) THERE'S NO NEED TO ASSESS THEIR BODY.
WRONG. Assuming an pitcher's movement capabilities based on a single checkpoint like layback is a woefully incomplete assessment. Elite athletes are great compensators, but those compensations don't always prioritize efficiency or durability. As Mike Boyle likes to say, "the body does what is easiest, not always what is best."
Therefore, just because a pitcher has good layback doesn't mean they moving efficiently or - worse- aren't a ticking timebomb. For example, if a pitcher can't extend from their hip or spine (assessed in our Lunge with Extension Test), they can compensate by seeking more external rotation in the shoulder. This may help them achieve layback and avoid a High Hand, but it also puts excessive stress on the shoulder. Want to know what body part is most vulnerable to break down in an athlete? Identify the body part that is overworked.
The lead leg block in pitching is rarely understood correctly and is often analyzed from a baseball-specific viewpoint. Looking closer at the pitching mechanics of the lead leg may require us to step outside our standard model of analyzing mechanics.
What is the purpose of the lower half pitching mechanics?
There are a couple of ways to look at this question. Between published research, research in our own lab and training high level athletes over the last several years we’ve gone through several steps in trying to figure out the best answer to this question.
Measuring the quality of a lead leg block through measures such as knee extension velocity, flexion in the lead leg etc.
Using force plates to see if our kinematic indicators of lead leg block, listed above, resulted in good ground reaction forces. Which they do!
Recently we’ve figured out how to directly measure the energy developed in the front leg and how it move up the kinetic chain
Where has that lead us?
It’s best to think of the lower half as primarily a stabilizer for pitchers to rotate their upper half really fast.
Now that we’ve defined the purpose let’s take a closer look at the front leg, we’ll cover the lead leg from the ground up in this blog:
defining what a lead leg block is
looking closer at how the front foot lands
looking at what research can tell us about the lead leg block
What is a Lead Leg Block?
When discussing the pitching delivery the lead leg block is how an athlete lands and moves their front leg interacting with the ground. Since athletes generate force from the ground up, the lead leg is a key factor in stopping the momentum created from their back leg and redirecting that energy up the chain to torso rotation and to the throwing arm.
In short, a lead leg block is how you plant around your front leg and create an effective base to rotate around.
Pitching Front Foot Landing
Breaking things down from an anatomical and kinesiological viewpoint, we start with Frans Bosch talking about the “footstrike from above”. The idea is that the footstrike should not “slide into” contact with the ground. Instead it should be directed nearly with the line of expected Ground Reaction Forces (GRFs) we are hoping to create.
We can take a closer look at this idea by looking at the angle of force with the force plates in our lab at three distinct points of time.
When the lead leg GRF first exceeds 10% of body weight to get when the foot first makes contact with the ground, shown with the gray shape below.
When the lead leg GRF first exceeds 100% of body weight to get an idea of the direction of early force put into the ground, shown with the blue shape below.
When the lead leg GRF reaches its greatest magnitude to see the direction that the force is put, shown with the orange shape below.
There are many different “arm slots” at ball release. Some pitchers are more overhand, while others are more “¾ arm” or sidearm. Regardless of the arm slot, the shoulder abduction angle should be about 90 degrees. In other words, different pitchers can have different tilts to their shoulder-to-shoulder line, but the throwing elbow should be approximately on the shoulder-to-shoulder line at the instant of ball release. Having the elbow far below or far above the shoulder line is dangerous for the tendons and ligaments in the shoulder joint.
A good follow-through is important for a pitcher’s health. The arms, trunk and legs need a good follow-through to dissipate the energy in the throwing arm. For a ¾ style pitcher, the throwing hand should come across the lead thigh. The hand will come across more toward the lead hip for a sidearm pitcher and more toward the lead knee for an overhand pitcher. The trunk should become close to horizontal, with the back of the throwing shoulder visible to the batter. The pitcher should be in a prepared position to defend himself against a line drive hit at him.
8. GETTING AHEAD
As a pitcher, we know that…
1. It’s important to get ahead. That first pitch is a big swing in results from 0-1 to 1-0.
2. Get to two strikes. Once you do, the hitter needs to protect and will take worse swings to stay alive. You are in control as long as you have two strikes.
3. Avoid three-ball counts. Well, duh, right? Walks are bad. But whenever you’re in that 3-0 or 3-1 count, in particular, the hitter has a very big advantage over you. It’s a tough place to be.
4. Pitch to contact. All of this can be accomplished if your primary goal is to pitch to contact rather than hope that the batter swings at a bad pitch. By pitching to contact early in the count, you can get more creative deep in counts when you can try to get the batter to hit your pitch.
HOW CAN THIS IMPACT HITTING
Let me do my best to summarize how this impacts hitting…
1. Be aggressive with a purpose on strikes in predictable counts. This doesn’t mean you should be overly aggressive on 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, and 3-1, swinging at pitches out of the zone. And simply swinging at the strikes isn’t enough here either.
A foul will put the batter into a disadvantageous count. A swing and miss will also hurt him. It’s important that the hitter be aggressive, but on strikes that they can hit and with the purpose of putting the ball in play.
2. Focus on fastballs in predictable counts. There’s a reason hitters are more successful in 0-0 counts than 3-2 counts, even when removing strikeouts for Major League players. The first pitch is more predictable than on 3-2. Look for a fastball, don’t react to it. If you don’t get a fastball in those counts, let it go.
3. Taking strikes is still okay. Understand that the point of this isn’t to say that you should swing at strikes at all costs while in advantageous counts. Maybe the pitcher throws an offspeed pitch at an unpredictable time. Let it go. Maybe he paints the corner and throws a strike that is difficult to hit. Let it go.
Even if your odds drop as a result of letting a strike go, swinging at these pitches would not likely lead to positive results.
4. The first pitch may be the most important pitch. It’s probably a fastball. The pitcher wants to get ahead. It may end up being the best pitch you get in the at bat. Sit on a fastball in the zone. If you get it, hit it. Just as importantly, let the bad one go by.
Many coaches advise taking the first pitch, no matter what. I was one of them when coaching the 8-10 age groups. But with time, I’m realizing this is likely not the best approach at higher levels.
As a result, it may be difficult to break habits of kids who aren’t comfortable swinging at that first pitch. Help them understand the potential advantage of swinging at that pitch. Also, help them understand what they may be letting go by.
The key is to not only be aggressive in these counts but to be ready and have the intent of hitting the ball hard in play.
What is Effective Velocity?
Effective Velocity in its simplest form is a combination of:
A hitters perceived velocity and
How far a hitter has to move his bat to make contact
In the book, it’s defined as “The Science of Effective Velocity (EV) is the study of baseball pitch speeds and how location changes the reaction time of the hitter.”
What is Perceived Velocity?
A hitters perceived velocity is measured by a invisible diagonal line starting at the hitters shoes that move across the plate into the other batters box to the hitters shoulders.
Every pitch that hits this line is seen to the hitter as the speed on the radar gun.
For every 6 inches toward the hitter from this line the perceived velocity increases by 2.75 mph. For every 6 inches away from the hitter from this line, the perceived velocity decreases by 2.75 mph.
Looks faster – If a pitch is thrown up and inside the strike zone, the perceived velocity can increase by as much as 5.50 mph. There’s a big difference between 92 mph and 97 mph!
Looks slower – The “effective velocity” decreases by the same amount if the pitch is thrown down and away
This started to make sense because as a hitter there are times when I see a pitch and it feels like its 80 mph but on the scoreboard it says 94 and vice versa.
The location of a pitch (among other things, such as how well you are seeing the baseball, pitchers hide or don’t hide the ball etc.) has a lot to do with how fast the baseball appears to the hitter. In other words, a pitch often seems/feels faster or slower than its actual speed.
The term “perceived velocity” is an attempt to quantify how fast the pitch felt to the hitter.
So if a pitcher throws a 90 mph fastball down the middle, he can throw the same 90 mph pitch up and in and the hitter sees it as much faster than if the same 90 mph pitch is thrown down and away.
The hitters perceived velocity also takes into account that when a pitch is away from a hitter he can wait longer and the bat doesn’t have to travel as far (contact is made over the plate).
A hitter makes contact a foot in front of the plate on an inside pitch. This means on an inside pitch, the hitter has to make a decision quicker because his bat needs to travel further in order to make contact. Ie. The hitter has less time to react.
What this means for Pitching Strategy
How many times during a baseball season will a manager, pitching coach, or pitcher talk about “establishing their fastball” and the importance of throwing inside effectively? You’ll hear it said constantly, and here is the reason why.
Once a pitcher can get inside, it opens up the rest of the strike zone and makes that fastball a LOT more effective at getting hitters out.
Inside Edge did a study of Major League statistics showed that most MLB hitters are proficient at hitting 90 mph pitches, and were also pretty good at adjusting to pitches 3 mph more or less than that. That’s a 6 mph window of adjustability.
However, once pitch speeds got outside of that 6 mph window, the hitter’s production dropped significantly.
What does that mean for pitchers?
If a pitcher can create a spread greater than 6 mph, it is going to make his pitching far more effective. So one way is to do that is to actually vary the pitch speed. Another way is strategic, using this concept of effective velocity to deliberately use pitch location to your advantage.
MECHANICS OF THROWING
Once we get our grip we need to know how to use our body the most efficient way possible so we can make a strong and accurate throw.
1.Keep ball at chest. To start our throw lets have our throwing hand holding the ball in our glove right in the middle of our body, around chest height.
2.Line up to your target. Have your feet and shoulders in line with your target.
3.Your front side and back side will be working together. When starting your throwing motion and you separate your glove from the ball. If your glove elbow goes straight towards your target, your throwing hand will be going in the correct position back. If you close your body off, your throwing hand will be far behind your body making an accurate throw much more difficult. Your two sides work opposite of eachother, so if one side is off, your other will be off also. Your body tries to stay in a strong position and to do that, your back side compensates by doing the extreme opposite of what your front side does. Stay in a straight line to your target so you don’t fight against your body. Let it work for you, not against you.
4. When taking the ball out of the glove, keep it facing the ground as long as possible. Your glove hand should follow along with what your throwing hand is doing. It should feel like you are leading your glove to your target with the heel of your glove hand. This is a strong position to throw.
The first instinct for many people is to take the hand out of the glove and have the baseball facing toward where they are throwing. Their glove hand will follow what the throwing hand is doing and this will be a weak throwing position.
5. Take the ball from facing the ground to facing behind you. Once your hand can’t go back any more and it is time for your hand to be in the strongest position to throw the ball from. Keep thinking of taking the ball from facing down to the ground to facing the centerfielder (if you were pitching off the mound). This position will create as much torque as possible for your body.
Your glove hand will continue out and a little upward and your glove will go in the direction of where you are throwing the ball. Some people will use their glove and some will use their glove elbow to line up where you want the ball to go.
6. When throwing the baseball, take your chest to your glove. You will take your front elbow and bring it back into your body and keep your glove in front of you so that it will eventually touch and meet up with your chest. You want to keep everything tight. The tighter you are the quicker you will fire. This is similar to ice skaters that when they want to spin faster they start moving their limbs in closer to their body.
This move will start some torque, at the same time your legs will start to fire and your hips will start to open up toward your target.
7. Throw the baseball. The last thing to fire is your throwing hand and the ball to come out. You will follow your body, the ball will go from facing the centerfielder to turning toward your target. Your elbow will stay at about 90 degrees and you will feel that you are pulling the ball down.
You want to reach and get as much extension as possible as you throw toward your target. This is like a whip effect. The further down the whip the quicker it snaps.
8. Use your fingers and wrist to throw. The big muscles set everything up for your little muscles to really fire and get the most out of your throw. Just working on using your wrist and fingers more you will really see a difference in the velocity of your throws. Continue to follow through and don’t cut it off until your arm has decelerated as much as possible.