Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Violent Mechanics of Yu Darvish

Yu Darvish is the "next big thing" out of Japanese baseball. Bids have been posted by MLB teams for the exclusive rights to negotiate with the dominant pitcher. His generous assortment of pitches, including a mid-90's fastball, have convinced several Major League teams to try to sign him.

What strikes me about Darvish are his violent lower body mechanics. He is an athletic 6'5" and uses that frame to generate a tremendous amount of power. Watching this clip and the one below, there is a lot of energy dropping down and forward toward home plate. The torque created by the separation of his upper and lower halves is incredible. In the first video there is a split second (0:21) when you can see both the front of his upper body and the back of his lower body. And in the clip below, there is a moment (0:07) when you can see both Darvish's belt buckle and the name on the back of his jersey. That takes a lot of strength and flexibility - hurts my back just to watch it. The result is a lightning-fast trunk rotation and much more energy, none of which is lost in his legs. The front leg is braced so well, it sends every drop of power to the upper half and into the baseball.

Freakish indeed. I look forward to seeing more of Darvish and I hope he holds up.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Great Mechanics Lost To the Steroid Era

Federal prosecutors requested yesterday that a judge send Barry Bonds to prison for 15 months for obstructing a grand jury's steroid investigation. Sentencing for our alleged home run king is next Friday. Meanwhile, Roger Clemens continues to face charges that he lied to Congress about his own suspected use of performance enhancers. The seven-time Cy Young Award winner's second trial is scheduled for April 17th.

What a shame. When I started teaching hitting and pitching, Bonds and Clemens were among the primary examples I used for how to swing a bat and pitch a baseball. And as much as their credibility and success has been tarnished, their mechanics were exemplary.

This swing clip of Bonds, posted by Dan Gazaway at The Pitching Academy, is a thing of beauty. The legs are perfect - fully braced front leg at contact with a 90 degree back leg and back heel up. The swing is compact with a direct path forward to the ball, the back elbow in and forearm coming up under the bat. The hips are fully rotated and then some. Contact is made over the front foot, head is over the back knee, hands finish over the shoulder.

This pitching clip of Clemens is a clinic. Simple but powerful. Up, down, forward. Palms away at separation. Long stride. Elbows shoulder-high at landing. Chest to the glove and over the front knee. Follow through low.

But what a shame. Some of our best teaching examples are now more associated with steroids and questionable integrity than they are with being among the best ever. It's probably best to stick with the stars of today anyway - Pujols, Braun (narf), Justin Upton, Verlander, etc. There are many great examples for young players to learn from on a regular basis. You can learn a lot by studying the best. Even Bonds and Clemens.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Little League Eyes 2013 for Permanent 50-70 Division

Little League International has updated its 50-70 Pilot Program for 2012. This will be the third year of the trial program, which offers certain age groups the option of playing baseball on transitional fields with 50 ft. mounds and 70 ft. base paths. This year Little League will allow participating leagues to choose the make-up of their own 50-70 division from within the 11- to 13-year-old age range.

Most significantly, Little League has announced the possibility of a permanent 50-70 division to be offered worldwide as early as 2013, including an international tournament and World Series. The organization will continue to collect feedback from leagues participating in the pilot program during its third year in order to help establish the parameters of the potential new division. By most accounts, the feedback on 50-70 has been positive after the first two years, so it is expected to be implemented for 2013.

But there are several questions yet to be answered:  What will the age group ultimately be? Will the 46-60 Major League division continue to exist simultaneously? Will big-barrel bats be allowed in the 50-70 division?

My initial reaction to this inevitable change is positive. Little League is continuing a gradual change toward "real baseball" for its younger divisions. Just two weeks ago the organization announced that its Majors division will be playing "dropped third strike" rules beginning in 2012. With 50-70 baseball, baserunners will take leads and pitchers must hold them close.

More importantly, the safety impact of 50-70 should be immediate. A 46 ft. mound is too close for 11-12-year-old baseball these days. The kids are older and bigger than they used to be, and the bats are more powerful. Of course, the safety improvements would be negated if Little League decides to allow big barrels. Backing up the mound four feet does not warrant the use of bigger bats.

While many leagues, including our own, will experience a somewhat unwelcome reshuffling of age groups, the pros will likely outweigh the cons. Given the potential parameters, I am hopeful the new 50-70 division will be an 11-12-year-old league using 2 1/4" barrel youth bats. Keeping 13-year-olds in Junior League would reduce the need to back the fences up in the 50-70 division. This is an issue for many leagues around the world. I think 225 ft. is ideal, but 200 ft. is acceptable in the regular season. Maintaining the split between 12's and 13's would also avoid any increased conflicts with middle school baseball.

We'll have to wait and see what Little League decides after the coming season. Should be interesting.