Home Posts tagged "Pitching Mechanics"

Vertical Shin and the Pitching Delivery

I came across this picture of Cressey Sports Performance athlete Corey Kluber on the Cleveland Indians Instagram feed the other day, and it reminded me to write this blog that I've had on my mind for quite some time.

It's not an exactly perfect measure, but a vertical shin on the push-off leg during the pitching delivery is a pretty good indicator of pitchers having good direction to the plate.

When the knee drifts forward over the toes, it's a pretty good sign that hip loading isn't optimal in the sagittal plane (hip flexion). Rather, the pitcher is "dumping" into the quad on the support leg. Additionally, unless you have really good ankle mobility (into dorsiflexion) it's hard to preserve a large base of support (i.e., the entire foot) through which you can apply force to the ground. The more the knee drifts forward, the more likely the heel is to come up off the ground.

Corey is a great example of a vertical shin, and it's particularly impressive because he has quite a bit of extra "coil" in his leg lift, which can often make pitchers spin out of the hip and get rotational early. His ability to load back into hip flexion and apply force into the ground improves his direction to the plate and, in turn, his consistency and command (only 34 walks in 215 innings last year).

Some great pitchers - Chris Sale and Jake Arrieta, for instance - will sacrifice good direction to the plate in order to optimize deception and/or stuff. In spite of the fact that they don't preserve heel contact along the rubber quite as long, they still preserve stability long enough into the delivery to make it work. You'll also notice these pitchers use their glove sides and "aggressive" stiffness into the front leg to bring them back on line. It's a higher maintenance delivery, but it can still be nasty. And, chances are that the success will be more related to the stuff than pristine command.

My feeling is that with young pitchers, we want to coach to improve direction. They don't have a body of work to support the legitimacy of putting themselves into bad positions. This is where good footwork and intent during catch play is so imperative; it's where they hammer home direction and learn to load into the hip instead of drifting into the knee. Long-time Cressey Sports Performance athlete Tim Collins might be the best I've ever seen in this regard, and this is one reason why he's pitched in the mid-90s at a height of 5-7 throughout his pro career.

In more advanced pitchers, you have to ask whether they've a) had success and b) stayed healthy. If the answer to both these questions is "yes," then my feeling is that you leave the direction alone and instead focus on taking care of optimizing their physical preparation.

As example, a pitcher with a less vertical shin and more closed off delivery will need more hip internal rotation, thoracic rotation, and scapular upward rotation to get to consistently throw to the glove side. And if they can't do these things well, they'll often rip off accidental cutters to the glove side, have balls run back over the plate, or just sail fastballs up and armside.

Last, but not least, my business partner (and CSP pitching coordinator) Brian Kaplan made a really good point recently: pitch "tunneling" is generally going to be significantly better for pitchers who have better direction. It makes sense, as less moving parts equates to more consistent vertical and horizontal release points, and a more direct delivery to the plate likely makes it harder for hitters to gauge depth (even if they are likely sacrificing some deception). If there is one thing our Major League hitters have told me about facing Kluber, it's that everything looks exactly the same until the split-second.

 


So, long story short, you can't separate direction from pitch design and physical preparation; they all work together. And if you're looking for a good measure of direction, vertical shin (or something close to it) is a pretty good place to start.

If you're looking to learn more about how we assess, program, and coach pitchers - both in terms of strength and conditioning and mechanics - - you won't want to miss our Elite Baseball Mentorship Upper Extremity course. Our next offering will take place at our Hudson, MA location on June 23-25. You can learn more HERE.

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Pitching Mechanics: What to Make of an Open Landing Position

After my recent presentation at Pitchapalooza in Nashville, I received the following question from a college coach who was in attendance:

Q: "My question revolves around pitchers landing with an open foot position. From your experience and from a biomechanical standpoint what have you seen regarding this landing/stride position in regards to why it occurs and how you have gone about correcting it? And, how have you seen it impact knee and back health. My experience has been that there is either some underlying knee or back history, or something is about to occur. In the recruiting process, I've spoken with several coaches and scouts who won’t consider someone who has this issue (open foot strike) regardless of velocity, due to concerns over long term health."

A: This answer can go in a lot of directions, so I decided to film a video:

In terms of a real-world example, take a look at Cressey Sports Performance athlete and Astros pitcher, Josh James. Josh has a slightly more retroverted hips presentation, and you can see that he lands a bit open. This is his normal alignment and he controls his body well, so it works for him (to the tune of consistent 100mph+ velocity).

More often that not, though, the pitchers who are winding up in this open foot position are getting there because of mechanical faults or physical limitations.

[bctt tweet="It's imperative to have a thorough assessment process for pitchers; you never want to try to take a mechanical fix to a movement problem."]

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The Best of 2018: Baseball Articles

With baseball athletes being the largest segment of the Cressey Sports Performance athletic clientele, it seems only fitting to devote a "Best of 2018" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:

1. When Pitching Goes Poorly: 5 Strategies for Righting the Ship - Pitchers can struggle for many reasons beyond just mechanics. Here are five factors to take into account.

2. Is It Really Biceps "Tendonitis? - One of my biggest pet peeves is when all anterior shoulder pain is given a "blanket diagnosis" of biceps tendonitis. With that in mind, this webinar excerpt from my Sturdy Shoulder Solutions resource delves into the topic in greater detail.

3. How to Apply the Joint-by-Joint Approach to the Elbow - In this video blog, I discuss how we can apply the concept of regional interdependence to the elbow, particularly in the context of pitching injuries.

4. How to Win 99% of High School Baseball Games - I've haven't coached a high school baseball game in my life. I know a lot about adaptation to training in youth athletes, though, and that puts me in a unique position to comment on how to win high school baseball games.

5. Why Injuries are Highest Early in the Baseball Season (Video) - Major League Baseball Injuries are highest during Spring Training and early in the regular season. Surely, some of this has to do with the fact that some players had lingering issues from the previous season that never went away - but it definitely goes further than this.

We've got one last "Best of 2018" list running tomorrow, so stay tuned for the closer!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 7/6/18

I hope you all had a great holiday week. Here's some recommended reading and listening from around the 'net over the past week:

The Best Team Wins - This was an awesome recommendation from my buddy Josh Bonhothal. Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton provide some outstanding strategies for both sports team settings and businesses alike. The section on Baby Boomers vs. Generation Xers vs. Millenials was particularly fascinating.

Matej Hocevar on the Physical Preparation Podcast - Matej is an absolutely awesome guy with a wealth of information to share, and this podcast is an excellent example. He was also an amazing host to my wife and me when we visited Slovenia a few years ago.

7 Ways to Increase Your Training Density - I reincarnated this post from the archives earlier in the week and it was a hit, so I wanted to give it a mention here as well.

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When Pitching Goes Poorly: 5 Strategies for Righting the Ship

Pitchers can struggle for a number of different reasons, whether it's command, velocity, "stuff," or actual pain/soreness. Historically, when players run into these tough patches, they've been conditioned to look to their mechanics first - and often unnecessary modifications are made on this front before looking deeper into the situation. With that in mind, I thought I'd use today's post as a quick look at some of the other "big picture" considerations.

1. Health

Very simply, if you hurt, it will alter movement patterns. It will change the way that you prepare and, in turn, execute pitches.

When it comes to optimizing pitching performance, the challenging thing (and this will sound crazy) about pain is that it can be covered up. Anti-inflammatories/pain killers can make symptoms and allow throwers to get away with bad patterns over an extended period of time.

2. Movement Quality

There are also instances where an athlete may have a significantly out-of-whack movement pattern, but without any symptoms. The goal with these individuals is obviously to optimize movement quality to get improvements without having to touch mechanics - and before pain kicks in.

3. Fatigue

Fatigue both acutely (within a game) and chronically (over the course of a season) can markedly impact a pitcher's consistency. It's a topic that also warrants much deeper digging, too, as it can be impacted by nutrition, initial work capacity, sleep quality, environmental conditions, and a host of other factors. We know that fatigue impacts not only mechanics, but also the motor learning we're trying to achieve in our preparation work.

4. Extrinsic Factors

Some guys pitch (and feel) terribly in cold weather. For others, really hot, humid days are the problem.

Pitching on a poorly maintained mound can minimize the effectiveness of even the most elite pitchers.

Throwing to an inferior catcher - or in front of a bad umpire - can have a dramatically negative impact on pitchers' success.

Only some of these factors can be modified, but the important thing is being able to recognize them so that you don't automatically assume that the struggles are coming from a different category from this list.

5. Feel

This is likely the most subjective and hard-to-describe issue. Some days, guys just don't have "feel" for a particular pitch on a given day, week, or month. At the younger levels, it is usually secondary to one of the first four factors I've outlined. At the more advanced levels, though, you almost have to chalk it up to a bit of random variation. Even the best pitchers on the planet have some considerable variation in their spin rates and extension numbers from pitch-to-pitch (as I outlined in a previous blog, Are Pitching Mechanics Really That Repeatable?)

I think this "feel" discussion reminds us that we don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water just because a guy struggles in one outing. When someone is struggling on the mound, look for trends and ask a lot of questions.

Wrap-up

These factors don't exist in isolation. For example, sometimes a physical issue (e.g., shoulder pain) can become a mechanical issue (e.g., lower arm slot). Moreover, thoracic outlet syndrome would qualify as a condition that spans the health, movement quality, feel, and fatigue realms.

There is a time and place for mechanical corrections, but before you go down that path, check these factors out first. We apply this sequential approach to development with all of our pitchers, aiming to identify "big rocks" early on that will deliver the most profound performance improvements.

This comprehensive approach to developing pitchers will be utilized heavily in our Elite Collegiate Baseball Development Summer Program. For more information, click here.

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2018 Cressey Sports Performance Collegiate Elite Baseball Development Program

Registration is now open for the 2018 Cressey Sports Performance Collegiate Elite Baseball Development Program. This event takes place at our Hudson, MA facility, and runs from 6/4/18 through 8/11/18.

During last year's offering, we had pitchers move to Massachusetts from eleven different states (plus Australia!). This summer, we anticipate another awesome collection of motivated athletes who'll push each other to get better in conjunction with the same training opportunities and expertise we provide to our professional athletes.

This program is a good fit for pitchers who need to prioritize development over just getting innings or exposure. In other words, it's a suitable replacement for those who still need to throw, but also need to gain 20 pounds, learn a new pitch, sort out old aches and pains, or improve their mobility.

Each athlete will begin with a thorough initial movement and pitching assessment that will set the stage for individualized strength and conditioning and throwing programs, respectively. These programs correspond to six days a week of training. Generally, four of the six training days per week are double sessions, with throwing in the morning and strength and conditioning in the afternoons. A typical training week would look like the following:

Monday: AM throwing, PM Strength and Conditioning
Tuesday: AM throwing, PM Strength and Conditioning
Wednesday: Late AM throwing and movement training (at field)
Thursday: AM throwing, PM Strength and Conditioning
Friday: AM throwing, PM Strength and Conditioning
Saturday: Optional AM Kinstretch (mobility) class, followed by throwing and movement training
Sunday: Off

In our throwing programs, we integrate weighted ball work, long toss, and bullpens (including video analysis). We'll integrate Rapsodo and Motus sleeves in these bullpens as well.

All the athletes will receive manual therapy with our licensed massage therapist weekly, and nutritional guidance throughout the program. Also to help with recovery, athletes have access to Fatigue Science Readibands (to help monitor sleep quality and quantity), MarcPro, and Normatec.

Last, but not least, we'll incorporate a regular educational components to educate the athletes on the "why" behind their training. Last year, this consisted of not only staff presentations, but also conference calls with Alan Jaeger, Noah Syndergaard, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, and Oliver Drake.

The best part is that it'll take place in a motivating environment where athletes can push each other to be the best they can be. By optimizing the situation, you can help change the person.

Interested in learning more? Email cspmass@gmail.com - but don't delay, as spaces are limited; this offering sold out last year, and we'll be capping the group size.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/24/18

I hope your week is off to a great start. Just in case it isn't, though, here are some recommended reads to turn it around!

10 Nuggets, Tips, and Tricks on Energy Systems Development - Mike Robertson hit a bunch of nails on the head with this excellent article.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing - I just finished up this new book from Daniel Pink, and it was outstanding. He covers everything from nutrition, to exercise, to career success, to economic ups and downs, to sleep quantity/timing. It was a really entertaining read with many applications to the strength and conditioning field.

Organic vs. "Forced" Lay Back in the Pitching Delivery - This mechanics discussion from CSP-MA pitching coordinator Christian Wonders is very important stuff to understand if you work with pitchers.

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The Best of 2017: Baseball Articles

With baseball athletes being the largest segment of the Cressey Sports Performance athletic clientele, it seems only fitting to devote a "Best of 2017" feature to the top baseball posts from last year. Check them out:

1. 6 Key Factors for Developing Pitchers - In this article, I look at some things I've learned from some of our peak performing pitchers at the MLB level - and how they can help up-and-coming players.

2. Are Pitching Mechanics Really That Repeatable? - We hear the phrase "repeat your mechanics" pretty often, but you'll be surprised at how hard (or impossible) that really is to do.

3. Sports Performance: Study the Majority, and Stop Cherrypicking Exceptions to the Rule - The baseball community loves to try to build theories off of small sample sizes when we all should be looking at the majority to see what works.

4. A Letter to This Year's MLB Draft Picks - There are lots of life lessons in here for more than just baseball players.

5. Overlooked Uses for a J-Band: Part 1 and Part 2 - Here are some innovative ways that we use this awesome piece of equipment.

We've got one last "Best of 2017" list running tomorrow, so stay tuned for the closer!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 12/4/17

Happy Monday! It's been two weeks since my last recommended reading compilation, as I took a little blog hiatus last week in light of some travel and the chaos that is the professional baseball offseason. The good news is that it gave me time to stockpile some good content for you. Here goes...

Tinkering vs. Overhauling - and the Problem with Average - One of our interns asked me about my thoughts on the "average" range of motion at a particular joint, and it got me to thinking about this article I wrote last year. There are big problems with using averages in the world of health and human performances, so I'd encourage you to give it a read to learn more.

Core Control, Hamstrings Patterning, and Pitching Success - This was a whopper of an Instagram post from CSP-MA pitching coordinator, Christian Wonders. Be sure to check out all four parts.

Brett Bartholomew on the Art of Conscious Coaching - This was an excellent podcast from Mike Robertson, as Brett is a skilled coach and charismatic personality. It's definitely worth a listen.

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How Rib Cage Positioning Impacts the Pitching Delivery

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - MA pitching coordinator, Christian Wonders.

While it’s good to know little adjustment of mechanics in a delivery, most pitchers struggle with a few bigger rocks that need to be addressed. One of them that needs attention is rib cage position throughout the throwing motion.

Next to the lower half, the rib cage is probably the most important part of a pitching delivery. It is at the center of the body, and serves as a platform for the shoulder blades to move upon, which in turn, dictates where the hand will be at ball release. 

If you take in a large breath, you’ll realize that your thorax expands, and the opposite occurs when you blow out all your air. For this article, we will call the expansion of your rib cage inhalation/ external rotation, and the opposite exhalation/ internal rotation.

Often, we will see pitchers stuck in a state of inhalation bilaterally, where you can see the bottom of the rib cage popping through the skin. Along with this postural presentation comes an anterior (forward) weight shift, poor anterior core control, scapular depression and downward rotation, and even the possibility of a flat/extended thoracic spine.

From a pitching standpoint, the thorax is the center of the body, and is responsible for transferring force, along with assisting the thoracic spine (upper back) in delivering the scapula. When a pitcher presents an extended posture with an inability to control rib cage and pelvic position, it’s hard to make an efficient rotation at front foot strike, while still holding his line to home plate. The outcome is usually misses up in the zone, along with an inability to throw a sharp breaking ball (hanging curveball/backup slider.)

Furthermore, the anterior weight shift can create a quad dominant loading pattern of the back leg, which will feed into a pitcher stepping more across his body, and ruining the pitcher’s direction to the plate. I’m not saying that a pitcher stepping across his body is the worst thing in the world, but they must possess enough core stability, lead leg internal rotation, and thoracic flexion in order to get to a good position at ball release.

So now, the question becomes: how do I stop this from happening?

- Flexion-bias breathing drills to decrease extensor tone

- Anterior core control exercises like prone bridges, rollouts, fallouts, etc.

- Soft tissue work on accessory breathing muscles, lats, intercostals, etc.

- Educating the athlete to not feed into the pattern by standing/sitting/training in bad patterns

- Drills to drive scapular upward rotation, particularly by prioritizing serratus anterior

- Coaching

Coaching is last on the above list, because it’s by far the most important, and the challenge of coaching is figuring out what an individual needs to be consistent on the mound. If you're looking for details on coaching positioning of the anterior core, I'd highly recommend Eric's Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core presentation. It's a one hour presentation that hits on all the important points you need to understand on this front.

When it comes down to it, positioning of the ribcage can have a serious effect on arm action, extension at ball release, and even lower half mechanics. Therefore, I think it’s important to check the big boxes of pitching mechanics proximal (center) to the body, before moving distally (extremities) to drive the best results on consistency and performance.

Note from EC: Christian is one of the presenters in our Elite Baseball Mentorships. We'll be offering our first one of 2019 on June 23-25 at Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts. For more information, head HERE.

About the Author

Christian Wonders (@CSP_Pitching) is the pitching coordinator coach at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can contact him by email at christian.wonders25@gmail.com and follow him on Instagram.

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