Pitching Mechanics, a sensitive topic.
Pitching Coaches have one opinion, baseball pitchers have their own opinion, and doctors researching bio-mechanics have a different opinion. Old school versus new age. They cannot all be right … but nobody will admit their wrong.
Should we wait for technology to catch up, or maybe, let’s just wait until more baseball pitchers get injured, before we act?
This portion of the website, brilliantly categorized as “Pitching Mechanics”, will evaluate how baseball pitchers optimize their mechanics to perform at elite levels. We will also explain the fundamentals of pitching mechanics, while utilizing the latest research.
This first post will focus on the importance of the front foot and the back foot throughout pitching mechanics.
Front Foot and Pitching Mechanics
The front foot tells a lot about a baseball pitcher’s mechanics. That statement may sound crazy to you, since not every pitching coach talks about the front foot, but please let us persuade you otherwise.
First let’s isolate the front foot through the leg lift.
The leg lift is one of the first movements in the sequence of a pitcher’s windup and initiates the loading phase of the mechanics. The front knee is lifted and the weight of the pitcher transfers to the ball of his back foot (more on the back foot later). Some pitchers hook the front knee too far around, thus extending the front foot beyond the rubber, that can lead to over rotation and timing issues.
So why is over rotation an issue?
Imagine…you are a young kid, spinning in circles, to feel the sensation of being dizzy. Now that you are spinning at a slow rate of speed, try to run forward in a straight path. The likelihood of you staying on a straight path is pretty limited. What likely happens is you veer off to one side or another.
Now imagine the same scenario, but you have a lawn dart in your hand. The goal is to spin slowly and run forward while trying to get the lawn dart inside the circle on your lawn. A lot can go wrong. You can mistime the release, missing to the right of the left. Or you can release it too high sailing over your target.
Relating this back to pitching mechanics.
The pitcher glides towards home plate with his leg-stride, consider this the X-plane. Rotating the hips causes movement from first to third base, consider this the Y-plane. If the front leg is hooked round the back leg, the pitcher will have to adequately time this Y-plane movement to land on a straight line in the X-plane (towards home plate). Landing too soon on the front foot means the baseball pitcher will be throwing across their body. Landing too late on the front foot and the hips will be too open at release of the baseball, causing loss of energy transfer.
Johnny Cueto, of the San Francisco Giants, is an extreme example and one of the few pitchers who actually has success over rotating.
Notice how his knee is directed towards second base at the top of his leg left. This can lead to timing issues during the stride towards home-plate.
Some pitchers also make the mistake of swinging the front foot directly upwards, leading to poor posture (slouching, leaning, chin not over belt ), and balance issues*. While the entire leg dictates the movement, watching the front foot through the leg lift can help identify issues.
If the toes of the front foot point up towards the sky at the beginning of the leg lift, there will be posture and timing issues, leading to disjointed movements that disrupt tempo .
If the toes of the front foot point more towards second base than first base (lefty) or third base (righty), the pitcher likely has over rotation through the leg lift. Refer back to the Johnny Cueto clip above.
The front foot should be kept directly under the knee and the toes should be pointing down through the beginning stages of the leg lift or as counter-rotation of the hips occur. This will allow for the leg lift to be more of a lifting action and reduce any swinging motion.
Note that Corey Kluber’s foot is facing downwards at the onset of the leg lift and the points between shortstop and third base at to top of the leg lift. No landing issues or over rotation of the hips causing timing issues.
Derek Johnson, stated the following in The Complete Guide to Pitching.
I was taught that the foot should be pointed down when the front leg lifts, and I’ve seen some pitchers have trouble landing correctly when the toes are flexed upward at leg lift. A good technique is to keep the foot under the knee with the foot in the neutral position—neither flexed nor pointed. When this occurs, the pitcher has the ability to load the hips properly.
Now let’s transition through the leg lift and talk about the front foot through the stride.
You may know that the hip should remain in the closed position as the pitcher strides forward, but did you know the front foot can signal an issue? Pitching coaches often say that a pitcher is flying open too early, which means his hips start to run parallel to home plate, before his upper half is ready to uncoil.
The front foot should be in the closed position (pointing to third base for right handed pitchers, first base for left handed) until right before landing, where the hips open and the point.
If the hips fly open too early, the arm can lag behind the body causing timing issues in the release of the baseball. This can compound, causing a loss of command as well as diminished velocity
Let’s discuss the front foot during landing.
We previously touched on how over rotation of the hips can cause timing issues when landing on the front foot. Ideally the front toe should point towards home-plate, but slightly offset. For a right-handed pitcher, this means that the front foot should land and the toes should be pointing towards the space between home-plate and the right-handed batters box.
If the front font points towards third base (for a right-handed pitcher) at landing, then the pitcher will be throwing across their body. Opposite to this, the front foot can land in the open position and point towards the left-handed batters box (for a right-handed pitcher). This causes the front hip to open too soon and causes the aforementioned timing and command issues.
Notice how Yadier Alvarez’s front foot (orange) is fully open, pointing towards the left-handed batters box. This creates and awkward positioning of the body through release as pictured in the image above.
If a pitcher can smoothly transition from the leg lift to the front foot plant, the pitcher will land flat on the front foot and redistribute their weight to the ball of their foot during follow through. Some pitchers awkwardly land on the front heel and struggle to redistribute their weight. Others land on the balls of their feet and end up spinning like a top in their follow through.
Who knew such subtle placements of the front foot could so easily derail your pitching mechanics?
Before we dive into the back foot (spoiler in the image above in red), let’s share a bit of information from Sandy Koufax.
Koufax showed Al Leiter (LHP), then of the New York Mets, how to make the ball run away from right-handed hitters by changing the landing spot of this front foot by one inch.
Yup…the front foot is important.
Back Foot and Pitching Mechanics
The back foot plays an integral role in weight transfer during the stride towards home-plate.
A major point of contention has been the placement of the back foot on the pitching rubber.
Sandy Koufax was a big advocate for hooking the back foot, where the heel is on top of the pitching rubber, and forcing the toe to be slightly in front of the heal. He felt this helped him start the loading process of the lower body sooner, creating additional leverage of the lower half. The so called wedged foot creates stability and a firm base for the pitcher to throw from.
Others have advocated for the back foot to be place parallel to the pitching rubber. We like the Koufax method, allowing the baseball pitcher to push off the balls of their feet (almost like a sprinter in the starting blocks) rather than the side.
Now let’s talk about the back leg through leg stride and how helps indicate proper foot placement on the pitching rubber. In the image of Yadier Alvarez, you can see his back leg is dragging towards the center of the rubber and consequently towards the center of home plate.
So what does this mean?
Editors Note: In an ideal world, he should fix the posture issues and then align his placement on the mound with his arm path to the plate.
Pitching Mechanics and Footwork Conclusion
Footwork (front and back) is extremely important and helps form the foundation for efficient pitching mechanics. The feet alone can identify many issues in the pitcher’s mechanics. Hopefully we convinced you our crazy concept is not so radical.
Be sure to follow us on twitter @InningsPitched for content between articles.