By Baseball Brains
Coaching pitchers can be very hard, and very time consuming. To add to the challenge, most of the guys we work with are not full time commits to our brilliant systems. They have school to attend, video games to play, girls to see, and couches to sit on. Hard to believe they would choose those things over working with us old guys, but somehow they consistently find a
way. This is why it’s so critical that pitching coaches keep it simple and focus on things that have the biggest bang for their buck. We’re looking for one thing we can teach a kid that will have a positive impact on all that other stuff. For me there are a few things that meet
1: Intent and goals
2: Mental approach and strategy
3: Strength and conditioning
All of these things will dramatically effect every aspect of the pitcher’s skill and ability on the mound, and they don’t take thirty sessions to explain. If the time you have with an individual pitcher is truly scarce, these topics are far more important to address in my opinion, than physical mechanics. If you have a little more time however, the first part of the body that I recommend critiquing for improvement, is the front leg.
Most coaches reading this probably just lowered their eyebrows and recoiled from the screen a little bit. That’s okay, most of the kids I coach do the same thing when I say
we’re going to work on the front leg. A lot of them have worked on back leg stuff; standing on it and balancing like a Flamingo, learning how to launch themselves down the mound, and other magnificent wastes of valuable time. Most of them however, have never spent much time
working on the front leg, and it often shows. The front leg plays the extremely
critical role of braking the pitcher’s forward momentum and turning it into powerful rotation.
The first part of the pitching motion could be described as gaining momentum and staying loaded so that the second part can turn that momentum and stored energy into powerful
rotation. Note that a baseball swing might be described the same way and the two are remarkably similar. Powerful rotation means a more powerfully delivered arm or barrel.
The second part is spent entirely on the front leg, and a sloppy one of those will make it nearly
impossible to be consistently powerful or accurate. If you’re following along, you’re
beginning to understand why I start with the front leg. It’s because speed, momentum, stored
energy, effective unloading of the hips, stable core function, proper thoracic rotation, and all of the other fancier things are useless if the pitcher is trying to do all of it into a sloppy front side. Not only useless, but harmful. More speed down the mound for a kid that can’t brace himself properly at the bottom will only serve to degrade his accuracy and exaggerate his inability to throw with much velocity.
What we’re really focusing on when we’re talking about the front leg, is its’ ability to brace and
stabilize after the front foot plants and begins to bear weight. The first thing to look at is if the
front knee is bending or drifting forward after weight bearing foot plant. If it moves a centimeter forward, it has gone too far. It’s at this point that the throwing action begins, and we have to have full bracing of the front leg to translate maximum energy up the body into the throw. Studies show in fact, that each inch the knee drifts forward equates to a loss of 1-2 miles per hour of velocity.
This is not to say that the leg should
land completely straight, or even that it has to straighten as the
throw occurs. There are great pitchers who’s front leg is bent
throughout the throw, like Roy Oswalt. There are also a lot of
pitchers who’s leg completely straightens into a bracing position,
like Justin Verlander or Zack Greinke. Both are fine, as long as the
knee doesn’t go forward after foot plant. This is an extremely common reason why
a lot of kids have postural issues in the middle and at the end of the motion, don’t follow through effectively, and don’t throw as hard as they should. It’s all related to lack of stability on landing.
The second way a front leg can thwart success, is if it moves left or right on foot plant. This is more common in young pitchers, as their muscles are not fully capable of supporting as much weight as is needed for explosive pitching. To see this, it’s best to watch (or video) from behind. If the knee moves inward (uncommon) or outward (more common), then the pitcher’s accuracy will be very hard to maintain. Accuracy is largely about release point and there’s nothing easy about consistent release point if the knee is steering the body left or right as the throw is happening. This is one of the most common factors in a youth pitcher missing left and right in the zone that I have ever found. It should be added here that if the front foot is landing open, the knee will want to follow it. The landing foot being very slightly closed on landing lends itself the best to knee and leg stability.
So as far as bang for your buck goes, the front leg is fantastic. There are a multitude of issues which will improve if front leg stability is enhanced and developed. Medicine ball throws are really great for bottom half stabilization as well as learning how to transfer momentum upward from the ground and out the upper half. Other tools that work great are sledge hammers, medicine ball downward slams, and lateral plyometric and agility drills. Pitchers can also spend some time stabilizing after a throw on the front leg and teaching that front side to stiffen and brace. Simply go into a throw, and balance on the front leg at the end of it. Make this more challenging by
walking into the throw or crow hopping into it, and you have some great mimicking of the need to brace momentum in the pitching delivery. Be sure in all of these exercises that the knee is back
from the foot and bracing the body from moving forward.
As far as big influence in the pitching motion goes, the front leg is up there with the hips and some of the other non-mechanical things I mentioned earlier. It’s a fairly easy thing to examine and improve, and will have big positive impacts for the pitcher. I always make it one of the first
mechanical pieces I look at, if for no other reason than to make sure it’s ready for all of the momentum and explosion I’ll be adding to the rest of the motion.
Improve Mechanics By Starting At The End Comment
Good comments on importance of firm front foot & leg. I teach stick the landing. Old chair drill w back foot up on chair puts all weight in front foot. Key is stride to home with back knee and don’t reach with front foot. Keep front foot in air so back leg can push to transfer and can stick foot can’t move at release.