Do you want better pitching mechanics? I surely hope so because developing effective mechanics is absolutely critical to your success as a pitcher.
As some may or may not know, a pitcher’s throwing delivery is considered one of the most complex movements in all of sports.
Pitching experts, scientists, and baseball professionals have spent years trying to understand how certain pitchers are able to throw faster than others. With this research, a set of core pitching mechanics principles have been developed.
This post will explain exactly how to develop excellent pitching mechanics that will give any pitcher their desired velocity results.
I will break down the throwing motion piece by piece, making it understandable to beginners or any pitcher looking to learn more.
This is a very in-depth post with over 3,000 words, so I highly recommend that you read it in sections for better digestion. Make sure you bookmark it so that you’ll be to find it at any point.
Why Are Quality Pitching Mechanics Necessary?
Developing consistent pitching mechanics will enable any pitcher, no matter their size, age, or skill level to:
- increase velocity and accuracy
- reduce the likelihood of arm injury
- be able to pitch deeper into games
- have the ability to pitch on three days rest without arm soreness
- guarantee a long and prosperous pitching career
If you’re looking to play at the college or professional level, you must develop great pitching mechanics. This post is your first step.
12 Steps to Better Pitching Mechanics
Step 1: The Windup
The purpose of a pitcher’s windup is to build the potential energy and momentum leading up to the delivery. Pitching out of the windup is not completely necessary for producing high pitching velocity.
For some pitchers, throwing out of the stretch is much less complicated and much more comfortable.
Advantages of throwing out of the windup include:
- better momentum towards home plate
- more velocity potential
Disadvantages of the windup include:
- higher level of difficulty
- too much additional movement
- could cause some pitchers to think too much
Step 2: The Starting Position
The first step to the starting position is to decide where you are most comfortable standing on the pitcher’s rubber.
There is no formula to which side is better.
Typically right-handed pitchers will stand on the far left side of the rubber, while left-handed pitchers will stand on far-right side. Sometimes both left and right-handed pitchers will stand opposite of the aforementioned positions. The purpose of this position is to become more deceptive to the batter.
For example, a right-handed pitcher who throws from the furthest right portion of the rubber will appear to be throwing behind the hitter’s back.
Making a decision on where you would like to stand is purely preferential, and pitchers should make a decision based on whatever feels the most comfortable.
Your beginning stance should be loose, athletic, and upright.
The most important part of your windup is for you to stand up on that mound with exuberayting confidence! Once you decide what side of the rubber is most comfortable, you will then need to figure out what position you would to like to have your hands in.
Some pitchers prefer to have their throwing hand inside the glove, while others prefer to have it outside. YOU decide. Now that you are confidently positioned on the rubber, you will then need to perform the next step of your pitching mechanics.
If you’re debating whether you should primarily use the windup or the stretch, then I recommend you read our in-depth article explaining the advantages and disadvantages of both motions.
Step 3: The First Step
The first step towards building momentum to the plate is to either take a small step to the side, or behind the rubber. Stepping behind the rubber is a old-fashioned approach that used by pitchers until around the early 1990s.
Flame-throwing pitcher Nolan Ryan was well known for his “rocker-step” behind the rubber. Like many other old-time pitchers, Ryan also incorporated the double-hand swing over the head.
These two pitching mechanics techniques have been phased out in today’s baseball. The new method is for pitchers to simply take a small step to the side of the rubber, usually rocking the hands anywhere between the chest and waist.
This new technique was popularized because it eliminates any unnecessary movement in the pitching mechanics. A good example of this approach is seen in Tim Lincecum’s pitching mechanics.
I recommend using this technique because it allows pitchers an easier transition into the leg lift.
Step 4: Throwing out of the Stretch
It is important for every pitcher to understand how to properly pitch out of the stretch. Despite your level of skill, every single pitcher will be forced to throw out of the stretch once you reach the high school level.
The purpose of the stretch is to prevent runners from stealing and advancing to the next base. Pitchers are usually concerned about a decrease in velocity when throwing out of the stretch. This is a common misconception.
Many current professional pitchers have completely eliminated throwing out of the windup, and strictly stick to throwing out of the stretch. The majority of these pitchers however, are usually in relief position. Most MLB starting pitchers still rely on using the windup.
Either way, it’s important you spend an equal amount of practice time throwing out the stretch as you do out of the windup. It is important to note that some form of a leg lift should be utilized in both the windup and stretch.
Slide steps put additional stress on the throwing arm because it is difficult to utilize your entire body properly. And plus, slide steps are detrimental for pitching velocity.
Most pitching experts would agree that slide steps are dangerous, and pitchers should use some type of leg lift even in the stretch. Preferably, you would use a pinch instead of a full leg lift.
Step 5: The Leg Lift
At this point of a pitcher’s delivery, it doesn’t matter whether you are throwing from the stretch or from the windup because each technique requires a leg lift. A pitcher’s leg lift is one of the most important stages of the pitching delivery.
Without an effective leg lift, a pitcher will struggle to achieve proper pitching mechanics. It is vitally important that pitchers develop a consistent leg lift because it sets the tone for the rest of the delivery.
The most important reason to have an effective leg lift is generate momentum and acceleration towards home plate. The leg lift will lead you into your pitching stride and eventually into your foot strike. Secondly, a good leg lift will help you develop a rhythm in your pitching mechanics.
If you examine any MLB pitcher, you will notice that they always have very good timing and rhythm. A consistent leg lift is what allows them to maintain their exceptional rhythm towards home plate.
Throughout pitching history, pitchers have utilized an array of unique leg lifts. Sandy Koufax was an excellent example of how pitchers in the past used to perform their leg lifts. Back then, it was considered to be more like a leg kick, than a leg lift.
This old-school method has been replaced by a more concise and effective version. While there is currently many pitchers who utilize an uncharacteristic leg kick, most utilize a simple and precise leg lift.
Step 6: Best Height for the Leg Lift
There is a lot of debate about the actual height of a pitchers leg lift. The height of a pitchers leg lift really depends on their type of pitching motion and arm slot.
For example, a sidearm pitcher would most likely avoid using a high leg kick because it would severely alter the pitching mechanics. On the other hand, pitchers who throw over the top will most likely utilize a higher leg lift, which will allow them to throw a downhill plane.
Some pitching instructors believe the leg lift should not exceed the waist level. They will contend that if a pitcher’s leg lift exceeds past waist height, then it will force the pitcher to slightly lean backwards. This is definitely an accurate argument, but it is not true in many instances.
Some of greatest and fastest throwing pitchers of all time have used very high and uncharacteristic leg lifts.
Step 7: Leg Lift Mechanics
Follow these steps to ensure a successful transition into the remaining portion of your pitching mechanics.
- Lift your leg up at an angle
- Do not lift your leg straight up because it will not allow you to achieve proper hip rotation at foot strike
- Keep your foot relaxed and aimed towards the ground
- Avoid pointing your foot in the air
- If you throw over the top, lift your leg to at least waist height
- Keep your hips close with your glove side back pocket aim at the target
- Try not to rotate your shoulders
- Your stride leg should be slightly bent, making it easier to stride into foot strike
- The majority of the your weight should be on the ball of your foot
- At the top of the leg lift, your head and eyes should be locked in on the target
A proper leg lift is essential to the rest of your delivery, and you must develop consistency with it. Develop a leg lift that is comfortable for you, and avoid trying to mimic other pitchers.
Create your own unique pitching personality!
Step 8: The Balance Point
At the peak of your leg lift your body will be at what is traditional referred to as a “balance point.”
Some coaches emphasize the importance of maintaining a proper balance point in your mechanics. In order to find that balance point, the instructor will probably have the pitcher pause at the peak of his leg lift.
Making a pitcher do so can be detrimental to his pitching mechanics, and velocity potential. Pausing at the peak of the leg lift decreases velocity potential because it does not help the pitcher gain momentum and speed towards home plate.
As well documented, a pitcher’s stride speed and momentum towards home is what generates high velocity. This is evident if you examine any hard throwing pitcher in the MLB.
Every single one is moving forward at the peak of the their leg lift. They are always leading with the hip towards home plate. By doing so, this enables professional pitchers to produce excellent stride speed, stride length, and velocity.
By stopping at the top of the leg lift, it becomes extremely difficult to generate stride speed. I agree that a pitcher must be balanced, but they must be balanced throughout their entire delivery, not just the “balance point”.
To conclude, you should never be perpendicular at any stage of your pitching mechanics.
Step 9: The Stride
A pitcher’s stride is what separates flame throwers from average velocity pitchers. Pitchers with excellent strides have a greater potential for pitching velocity. The most important aspect of the stride is generating speed and length towards home.
Stride speed and length are two of the biggest contributors to velocity.
The typical stride length for most pitchers is around 75 to 85 percent. However, pitchers who are able to reach or exceed stride length that is 100 percent of their height, will typically be in high velocity club.
A pitcher’s stride is what separates flame throwers from average velocity pitchers.
The most important aspect of the stride is generating speed and length towards home.
Stride speed and length are predominately responsible for generating velocity. The typical stride length for most pitchers is around 75 to 85 percent. However, pitchers who are able to reach or exceed stride length that is 100 percent of their height, will typically be in high velocity club.
An extreme example of extraordinary stride length is Tim Lincecum. Lincecum’s stride length has been measured around 129 percent of his height. Since his listed height is around 5’11”, Lincecum’s stride length is about 7 1/2 feet.
Lincecum is able to generate incredible stride length because of his ability to accelerate his body towards home plate. Before a any pitcher goes into a complete striding motion, several things must be focused on in the pitching delivery:
1. Your weight and momentum should already be shifting towards home.
The momentum shift should already be occurring at the peak of the leg lift as previously discussed.
2. The drive leg should be slightly collapsed.
This is a very important step, and must be refined in order to generate velocity.
The drive leg should already be slightly bent at the peak of the leg lift because it makes it much easier to drive with the lead hip. The collapse of the back leg should continue during the entire stride phase.
However, the knee should only collapse to the point that it continues to stay above the drive foot.
According to Dick Mills, author and owner of Pitching.com, if the knee of drive leg exceeds the drive foot, then pitchers will decrease velocity. Mills associates over-collapsing the back knee as a reason why Mets’ pitcher Chris Young can only reach 86 mph at height of 6’10”.
Collapsing the drive leg too far decreases the amount of potential stride speed, and makes it difficult for a pitcher to move directly towards home plate. Don’t do it! And if you are, make it a priority to fix it during the off-season.
3. The lift leg is descending down and out towards home.
This is very important step in the pitching mechanics because some pitchers have a tendency to bring their lift leg out and around in an attempt to increase stride length. The lift leg should never reach out to the plate.
Pitchers must focus on driving the stride leg directly down and out.
If this is performed correctly, the pitcher will be able to generate stride speed, good direction, and a better transition into the breaking of the hands.
4. The hands should begin to break.
At this stage, the pitcher should take the ball out of the glove with the fingers on top and thumb underneath, then swing the hand down, then back, and up to the loaded position. Many pitching instructors teach their students to show the ball to second base or center field in the cocked position.
This view has existed for decades, but according to popular pitching mechanics expert Chris O’Leary, these same instructors lack the proper understanding of what a pitcher’s arm actually does during the throwing motion.
In fact, he argues that a majority of professional pitchers do not utilize this technique, and the pitchers who do, increase their chances of elbow injury due to pronation. Most MLB pitchers will show the ball towards third or first base because it eliminates additional strain on the elbow, and every aspiring pitcher should do the same.
During both the striding and breaking of the hands phase, pitchers absolutely must stay closed with the upper and lower body. This closed position must remain until the subsequent foot strike.
Step 10: Foot Strike
Once a pitcher has reached his maximum stride length, his lead foot will forcefully strike the ground.
The foot strike is what transfers the kinetic energy through the legs, into the hips and core, through the upper body, and into the arm whip. This transfer of energy is what enables pitchers to have arm speed.
Pitchers who are able to transfer more energy, are obviously the ones who will throw harder. So how do we transfer more energy? Here are some things to ponder regarding the foot strike:
1. What is the position of the landing foot? Closed, straight, or open?
It is best to have the landing foot slightly closed off at foot strike. Landing with an open foot will open the hips too early, and will leak potential velocity.
Keeping the foot slightly closed off will force the hips to stay closed longer. When I say slightly, I am referring to a very minuscule closure of the foot! Make sure your foot is not completely closed off or aimed towards third base at foot strike.
2. Should the hips and shoulders move simultaneously at foot strike?
This is one of the most important aspects of developing pitching velocity! Hip to shoulder separation is what allows pitchers to throw at 90 + mph speeds. The key is to have your hips separated and open before your upper begins to rotate.
As you can see in the image of Aroldis Chapman, he has almost perfect hip to shoulder separation. Chapman’s hips are already open and driving towards home, while his upper body is still in a coiled position ready to explode.
This millisecond of movement between your lower and upper half is responsible for 80 percent of pitching velocity according to the National Pitching Association.
This separation coils the upper body resulting in a violent (a good violent) torquing motion that sends the throwing arm into external rotation. Pitchers must focus on developing excellent hip to shoulder separation because this is by far the most important aspect of the pitching mechanics.
Baseball pitchers who throw average velocity are not achieving proper hip to shoulder separation.
Typically, these pitchers are rotating their hips and upper body simultaneously at front foot strike. This mechanical flaw basically disables the potential power of your core, and makes is very difficult to obtain proper external rotation of the throwing arm.
Just by simply achieving a good level of hip to shoulder separation, a pitcher can easily see a 3-4 mph increase in their velocity.
Step 11: The Release Point & Follow Through
Once the upper body has forcefully rotated, the pitching arm will be launched into external rotation.
From external rotation, the throwing arm will rapidly transition into internal rotation, and the ball will subsequently be released. At this stage, the head and chest should be out over the plant foot in a direct line towards home.
Make sure that you aren’t pulling to the glove side.
Once the ball is released, the arm and body will enter a deceleration phase.
The front leg should no longer be bent, and the upper body should be completely bent over the plant leg.
Your momentum should start towards home, and it should end with the same direction to home. Avoid falling off to left or right of home plate.
Try to stay in a direct line during your entire pitching delivery.
Take a look at the picture of Cliff Lee, and you can see that his lead leg is stiff, his front foot is slightly closed but not excessive, his back is flat, and his upper body is bent over his knee.
Lee’s follow through is picture perfect, and every pitcher should strive to achieve something similar.
Step 12: Use a Camera
There are no instructors, even the most experienced ones, that can eye ball the distinct characteristics of a pitchers throwing motion.
The only way to effectively improve pitching mechanics is through video recording so that you can slow down their motion frame-by-frame. I highly recommend aspiring pitchers, parents, and coaches to utilize the camera.
I may or may not have answered your mechanics concerns within this article, but I know it has laid down a foundation for developing proper pitching mechanics.
Developing proper mechanics is absolutely essential to increasing your pitching velocity. Unfortunately, what I wrote above is only scratching the surface! If you’re looking for a complete routine and are serious about increasing your velocity before next season, then I recommend 3X Pitching Velocity by Brent Pourciau.