The Basics of Safe Pitching Mechanics
Even though most pitchers have unique deliveries and mechanics, there are some basics that all pitchers should have in common to pitch safely. First, pitchers should generate their power from the ground up. The arm is like a bullwhip. It is mostly there to direct where the ball is going, and that is dictated by the hand/wrist and the timing of ball release. Kids should not be trying to "muscle up" on their pitches by using only their shoulders. The sequential nature of pitching allows for the pitcher to build up power from their legs, hips, and core, and then unwinding this stored power during the acceleration phase. Now, the arm does need to generate rotation about the shoulder, but the vast majority of the throwing velocity depends on the legs and hips rotating through and pushing off the rubber.
Let's cover some simple things that you, as a parent or coach, can look for in a young thrower.
1. Balance when they pick up the front leg - Being balanced on the back foot as the front knee comes up can help ensure that the rest of the delivery will be on time. It will also help make sure that the next point, the stride foot, lands where it should. This is an easy thing to evaluate while looking at your pitcher from the side. To work on this, you can exaggerate the pause when the front leg comes up. Have the pitcher lift the leg, and count 2 or 3 seconds, before continuing the pitch.
2. Stride foot landing directly towards home plate - You can assess this by looking at the footprint they leave or where the hole is after a number of pitches. If the front foot is landing off-center, it can affect how the hips rotate and thus, where the arm is in relation to the hips/core when those reach peak rotation. In other words, a young pitcher should not necessarily strive to pitch like Jered Weaver by stepping more towards third base and then throwing across his body. It can be done, but it requires special attention to the third point. Correcting this mistake just requires practice and you can use the visual of the footprints to reinforce it during a bullpen session.
3. Arm/elbow passing the midline of the body at the same time as the hips - This is a big one and is easier to assess with video technology from the side and possibly from the home plate view. In baseball lingo, when a pitcher is "flying open" this means that their front foot has landed and their hips have rotated long before the arm accelerates through. In this case, the arm lags behind the rest of the body and has to speed up in order to throw the ball over the plate. This places a greater force on the elbow and is a contributing factor to ulnar collateral ligament failure. If your pitcher is displaying this type of issue, you can have them practice pitching from behind the mound. The front foot will land on the up-slope of the back side of the mound. This will cause the foot to land sooner and create more time between foot strike and hip rotation, and helps teach the pitcher to keep the arm/elbow in better sync with the hips. They can use this as a prep drill for pitching by throwing 10-15 easy pitches from the back of the mound prior to pitching from on top of the mound.
Michael Metcalfe is a certified Athletic Trainer at Compete Sports Performance and Rehab in Lake Forest, CA. Previously, Michael worked as an Athletic Trainer for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the minor leagues.