By Joey Housey
Pitching is such an art. The danger of this is that, through the continuous attempt at mastery, one fights the constant urge to take to the road of 'quick fixes'. I have fallen in to this trap many times throughout my playing career. It is common to see pitchers throughout high school and college ranks start to get entrenched by this habit. One bad outing and they 'seemingly' need to go to the drawing board to figure out what is so terribly wrong. They seek out a quick fix, maybe it works temporarily (mostly mentally because they think they are "healed"). Once the placebo effect wears off, it's off to find another "quick fix". The road is never-ending and often frustrating. It does not allow for long-term progression but, instead, continues to take away the natural rhythm and flow of a pitching delivery with every needless, unnatural adjustment that is implemented.
Most of my problems dealt with of this nature stemmed from my curveball. I had to "think" and "do" differently with my curveball than any other pitch. It didn't work. It wasn't until I got so fed up with it that I got a catcher for my bullpen and told him I was just going to throw curveballs as hard as I could. I amazed myself with command of the pitch. Time and time again my curveball was excellent. I was not worried about strikes, or location, just with grabbing a curveball, and throwing it hard with the arm action I knew like the back of my hand and had practiced for years.
So how does this all relate to a "punch"? Well, throwing a punch is a lot like a pitching delivery: rotational force, stride, target, and the "want" to throw it hard. When practicing this, have a target (to start) placed about 5 feet in front of you, chest-high, in-line towards the outer half of the plate. If there was $1 million dollars on-the-line to punch that target as hard as you could, how would you do it? Play with it. I have suggested this scenario many time before to pitchers and asked "really? That is how you would punch it if $1 million was on-the-line?" Most of the time, their first few attempts were so tailored to their pitching deliveries because they knew that, ultimately, we were doing a pitching lesson. But, when they finally grew frustrated enough with my inability to let them "move-on" because I wasn't satisfied, they let all of the pitching mechanics go and finally produced a quality result.
What does this "quality result" look like? Well, it looks like a lot of your favorite MLB pitchers but, instead of throwing, they are punching. In essence they "cock" their punch back in a "loaded, leg-lift, stretch-like position", let their back side start pushing them to the target, create rotational force (because if there is no rotation, naturally, they know that they cannot hit the "outer-half" target with any kind of force and acceleration through the punch), create shoulder-hip separation (because of the lower-half rotational force), and transfer their weight WITH the punch as they accelerate through the target. This last part is key in so many aspects of pitching ('staying back', extension, etc.). We need to allow our arm to guarantee us that the target is "hit-able". We need to know that we will not only hit this target, but punch through it. If our upper body commits to the target before our punch makes us commit, then there is no guarantee and a loss of power. Our arm will drag behind. Therefore, we need to know when it is time to "go"; and that time is dictated by when we ACTUALLY want to start throwing that punch; this is when our upper body travels with our punch and accelerates us through the target.
When the basis of this "drill" or theory is mastered, move out to 7-8 feet from the pitcher's starting point (depending on age and height; I am assuming a developed highschool or college pitcher around 6' tall). This simple thought process really encompasses nearly all aspects of pitching mechanics except the 'arm action'. Often times when discussing theory relative to this nature with an actual pitching arm-action, I will move very close to the pitcher (10-20 feet away) and relate these techniques to asking the pitcher, "how can you guarantee me that you will throw the ball around/through my glove?" This helps because it takes the distance (60 feet) out of the equation and asks the pitcher to complete a task that may require some thought. In summary, when a pitcher aspires to get better and master his craft, the best scenario, in most cases, will be to master what comes natural with little tidbits to build on maximizing optimal body mechanics.
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