Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Top 10 Youth Pitching Flaws

My last top ten list dealt with youth swing flaws. Today I will tackle a more important topic - pitching flaws. A mechanical problem on the mound can lead to a lot of walks or hits, or even worse, an arm injury. Here are the most common flaws that I have seen in working with youth pitchers over the last several years. The older the player, the harder these are to fix.

1. Striding Too Short.  A short stride can mess up a lot of things:  front side stability, velocity, release point, follow through... Stride length should be 85-100% of a pitcher's height. That can be a tall order for a young pitcher that may not have the strength and athleticism yet to support such a stride. But if his stride is too short, he won't be able to support himself anyway. This very important mechanical aspect can be obtained through practice.

2. Incorrect Hand Separation.  Many young players begin their throwing motion incorrectly by taking the ball up and out of the glove with their fingers behind the ball and their thumb up. This leads to pushing the baseball with less energy and more stress on the arm. Pitchers should separate with fingers on top of the ball and thumbs down, raising the ball up facing away from the target before pulling the ball forward.

3. Not Getting the Arm Up.  When the front foot lands, it's time to throw. At that most important moment a pitcher's elbows should be shoulder high. The throwing arm should be bent (not past 90 degrees) with the ball up behind the head. If his ball positioning is too low, the pitcher will likely lead with the elbow forward and upward, causing high pitches. This problem is often a result of getting the front foot down too early - either because of rushing the motion or striding too short.

4. Tension in the Throwing Arm.  Loose muscles are quick. Tense muscles are slow. Many young pitchers have a tendency to shove the ball back with a stiff arm and locked elbow. This position is difficult to recover from and often results in a very "mechanical" throwing motion - sometimes looking more like a catapult than a pitch. This robs the pitcher of significant velocity. Raise the ball behind the head with a relaxed arm and bent elbow for more quickness and velocity.

5. Front Side Flying Out.  At his release point, the pitcher should be moving toward his target - the chin and chest should be brought to the catcher. This requires that the stride is on target and the lead arm is pulled down and in close to the body - elbow to the hip and glove to the ribs. This quickens rotation (like an Olympic diver or figure skater) and helps control the pitch. If the glove and elbow fly out too far, the pitcher's momentum will be thrust to the left and he may throw across his body for a ball wide of the target.

6. Opening Up Too Soon.  Power is generated primarily from the hips. Therefore it would make sense for a pitcher to rotate his hips when it is time to throw - not before. It's not time to throw until the front foot lands. So for maximum power, the pitcher should glide down the hill with the side of the hip leading the way for as long as possible. Not until the very last moment should the front foot open up into a landing position. This sends the signal for the hips to violently rotate, creating massive amounts of torque to pull the ball forward. Pitchers who gradually open their hips during the stride are throwing away a lot of power.

7. Leading With the Foot.  When a pitcher leads with the side of the hip, as mentioned above, with his head over his belt buckle and lead foot below the knee, the weight of his entire body is generating a large amount of energy going forward. This energy will be sent up the lead leg into his hip rotation. But many young pitchers let their front foot get ahead of the body, and there simply isn't enough momentum created with the body in that position.

8. Rocking Back.  When the hip is loaded and the knee is raised to the level of the waist, the pitcher must be in a balanced position with head over the back foot and lead foot under the knee. Any loss of balance will likely result in a missed target. Many young pitchers allow the raising of the knee to throw their head and shoulders back toward 1B/3B, often causing a stride that is off line and a pitch that is wide of the mark. Better balance can be obtained by tucking the chin over the belt and staying upright.

9. Collapsing.  The front and back knees should remain slightly bent so the leg muscles can be used for balance and power. But when the back knee bends too much, the pitcher's momentum is going down instead of forward. And when the front knee bends to the point of drifting beyond the foot, the energy created during the stride is not being sent up into the hips and upper body. Each leg should have some bend, but must be firm when supporting the weight of the body.

10. Not Following Through.  A proper follow through is important for the health of a pitcher's arm. Teaching young pitchers to get their chest and chin out over the front knee and finish by showing the catcher the back of their throwing shoulder is important for both arm care and control. The throwing arm should extend through ball release and freely flow behind the lead leg with a relaxed and complete deceleration. Anything less is causing additional stress on the arm and needs to be fixed.

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