Pitchers….here are some research findings that will help you add velocity. The article addresses the importance of the pitcher’s lower-half—-from the waist down. Some of the findings are obvious but we cite them to give evidence of their efficacy. The lower half of the pitching cycle is a neglected area in the literature so understanding how to use it to gain velocity will give you an edge as a pitcher. At WSC we usually stay away from mechanics because it is best left to pitching coaches but these lessons here we thought were too good not to pass along.
Here is the title of the article and the authors.
Correlation of throwing velocity to the results of lower body field tests in male college baseball players ….By: G Lehman, Eric J. Drinkwater Edith Cowan University, 2013
[As an aside….Edith Cowan University is in Perth, Australia. As a follow-up WSC is going to see what else is going on at ECU that can help pitchers. WSC—-combing the globe to create competitive edges for our pitchers]
The authors designed an experiment to gain empirical evidence of what factors contributed to higher velocity in college pitchers. The results can be directly applied to high school pitchers.
Let’s get right into it….
The authors reported a significant relationship between throwing velocity and grip strength.
This is new to us. We have not seen that relationship before in the literature. Lesson is obvious—–strengthen your grip. Exercise with hand squeezers to build your grip strength. An easy thing to do but how many of us do it?
Here are the findings about the importance of your drive leg.
MacWilliams et al. demonstrated that increases in force production of the trail [drive] leg in the direction of the intended target in the frontal plane correlated with higher throwing velocity leading the authors to suggest that this allowed for more potential energy to be transferred to the ball. This is congruent with Pappas et al. description of throwing as a sequential activation of body parts through a link segment beginning with the drive foot progressing through the trunk to a rapidly accelerating upper extremity
The study found the ground and pitching rubber are your friends. You need to pay attention to your drive leg to use the ground and the rubber to create force vector TOWARD the plate. You should feel the force when you start your initial move to the plate. Also be sure your drive foot is flat to create the maximum force. This is why good pitchers continuously groom the dirt just in front of the rubber to be sure it’s flat. This is where your spikes are important too. Use your spikes to create a firm grip with the ground.
Here is the next finding….
…throwing velocity is congruent with the information provided by MacWilliams et al. which stated increased ground reaction forces created by the drive leg in the direction towards the target were highly correlated with ball velocity.
What this means is a strong, aggressive first move toward the plate that uses the forces built up from the downward flexing of the drive leg at the knee and the drive foot planted firmly on the ground against the rubber.
What you have to be careful of however is not flexing with your back knee too much—-doing a one-leg squat in sense. Too much straight downward movement takes away from your forces you are trying to generate toward the plate. The flexing of the drive leg at the knee has to be in perfect unison with your initial move to the plate to create maximum velocity. Your coaches can tell if you go too far with your drive leg flex. You will look like you are trying to sit down on each pitch. Some pitching coaches call this “drop and dive.” Meaning dropping down with your knee flex THEN moving toward the plate. A real velocity killer. Watch this to see a proper drive leg flex.
Here is more from the study….
.…the increase in momentum allows baseball players to transfer more energy through the kinetic chain from the trunk, to the throwing arm, and finally to the ball to produce increased ball velocities.
The authors noted that the athletes must integrate the powerful leg drive into a fluid, continuous throwing motion.
But—-and a big but here—-you need to get the timing correct. The author’s continue….
If peak ground reaction forces occur too early during the throwing motion, throwing velocity is reduced.
MacWilliams et al. found that the forces were gradually built up and peaked just prior to the lead foot making contact with the ground.
Your forces have to be integrated to max out just a split second BEFORE you land. Easy to say—-difficult to do. Again another finding that shows why elite pitching is so hard to master. Exact, choreographed timing has to be created by the pitcher time and time again to achieve maximum velocity with every pitch.
Here are the findings on your front, landing leg.
The strength of the lead [landing] leg was identified as a difference between high and low velocity throwing groups by Matsuo who reported that the ability to demonstrate knee extension upon landing was a common characteristic among high velocity throwers. The authors concluded that the lead leg provides both a stable base while also redirecting energy superiorly towards the upper extremities.
The lesson is you transfer energy from your drive leg through your body to your landing leg and then up back through your trunk, shoulder, and ultimately your arm.
What the authors left out is information about your landing foot. We do not know why but we will contact them.
How you land is important. The best advice we’ve heard is you should place your foot on the ground in a walking motion. Your foot must be flat and your knee slightly bent to first absorb lead foot placement and then to act as the foundation of your final delivery to the plate.
A good example of this is Jon Lester’s landing. Note how it is controlled, the end product of the pace of his delivery. Come to think of it now pace—or the velocity of delivery—was also left out of the study.
Another interesting topic not in the study was delivery pace. Pace—or the velocity of your delivery— should result in a direct correlation to pitch velocity. WSC so far however does not have evidence of this so that will be a topic of another article.
As an example of foot landing here is Jon in slow motion (stay with it it’s really a slow video but note his landing foot and drive leg flex).
It is controversial about whether you should have your foot planted at a slight (<45 degree) angle or with your toe straight to the plate. Young pitchers hear: “point your toe where you are going to throw” from their coaches. The best advice we’ve gotten is your foot needs to stay planted until you release the ball—-however you land. After that many pitchers rotate the lead foot somewhat due to the follow through of the momentum they build with their delivery.
Below is a good example of good foot plant. One thing to remember is major league pitchers have a very good, firm mound to work with—-most others especially pitchers at the high school level do not. So it’s difficult for a high school pitcher to not have rotation working on a mount with soft dirt. Strive however to get to the ideal and you will be a much better pitcher.
The last lesson from the research is pitchers that weigh more create more velocity. It’s physics after all: F=ma. Obviously for pitching weight has to be coordinated with mechanics but weight—-coupled with proper force-creation mechanics as we cite above—-is a powerful combination and a way to achieve your maximum velocity. Here is what they said:
The results of this study also demonstrated that body weight had a substantial relationship with throwing velocity. Increased body weight increases the total amount of energy that can be ultimately transferred to the ball allowing for higher throwing velocity.
Lesson: weigh more but do not compromise your mechanics—-or heath.
Lastly we found an interesting conclusion of the research—that there is a strong correlation between a pitcher’s velocity and their performance in a specific test. Here is the finding from the research and a video of the test.
This study found that lateral to medial jumps, which measured the athlete’s ability to create power in the frontal plane, which is specific to the act of throwing a baseball, best predicted throwing velocity.
Can this be a way to quickly separate low velocity pitchers from high velocity pitchers through this simple test? The take away here is if you want to improve your velocity as a pitcher you should do this exercise.