Baseball coaches teach proper pitching mechanics at a young age in an effort to increase a pitcher’s efficiency, improve velocity, and reduce the risk of injury.
But it’s not only youth pitchers who can benefit from the study of great pitching mechanics.
Efficient, sequential timing of a pitcher’s delivery — often referred to as, “sequencing the kinetic chain” — is also essential for upper-level pitching.
How to develop great pitching mechanics (13 steps)
The pitching motion consists of 13 steps. These steps are intricately linked to one another resulting in an efficient generation and transfer of energy from the lower body into the trunk, the upper body, the arm, the hand and, finally, the baseball.
To generate high velocity, a pitcher must optimize the coordinated use of muscle segments throughout the body to sequentially transfer energy from the legs to the baseball.
The more efficient that is, the harder you’ll throw.
Inefficiencies in a pitcher’s mechanics or a failure of any parts of the kinetic chain can decrease performance and cause injuries.
To maintain top velocity and performance, knowledge of the kinetic chain and key parameters of the throwing motion can improve pitching technique, assist in performance enhancement, speed up rehabilitation, and/or prevent injury.
In this guide, you’ll learn the 13 steps to develop rock-solid pitching mechanics using photos and GIFs of MLB pitcher Ian Kennedy to illustrate proper technique.
(Love that curveball right there from Kennedy, by the way.)
So are you ready to learn better mechanics?
Let’s get started:
Step 1. Starting stance
Here’s what happens during a pitcher’s starting stance:
- Because Ian Kennedy is throwing from the stretch in these pics, he starts with his back foot along rubber in middle.
- If Kennedy was pitching from the full wind-up, his starting stance body position would be squared to plate, relaxed and balanced.
- Ball in center of body and hidden in glove.
- Right-hander on right side of rubber; left-hander on left side of rubber.
The first step to the starting stance 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 right side of the rubber, while left-handed pitchers will stand on far left 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, as well as what position works best for the type of movement or run they get on their pitches.
- Pitcher stands tall and relaxed.
- Feet shoulder-width apart.
- Weight evenly distributed.
Your starting stance should be loose, athletic, and upright.
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.
Now that you are confidently positioned on the rubber, you will then need to perform the next step of your pitching mechanics.
Step 2. Wind up
Here’s what happens during a pitcher’s wind up:
- Hands together.
- Hands in middle of body.
- Focused on catcher.
- Hands in middle of body.
- Focused on catcher.
From the stretch, the hands should come set between the belt and the chest. Ian Kennedy comes set at the high end of the resting position.
Step 3. Leg lift
Here’s what happens during a pitcher’s leg lift:
- After a short start step, leg is lifted under control.
- Head over posting leg foot.
- Glove stays in center of body.
- Not much body movement.
- Posting leg stays firm.
- Leg lift under control.
- Stay tall.
- Posting leg firm but slightly flexed.
- Ankle under knee.
- Head over ball of posting foot.
- Head and glove have little movement.
- Body stays under control.
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.
Step 4. Maximum knee height
Here’s what happens during a pitcher’s maximum knee height:
- Lifts leg to highest point under control.
- Head stays over firm posting leg.
- Hips closed with knee pointed at third base.
- Shows back pocket to hitter.
- Glove in center of body.
- Shoulders and head lined up to home plate.
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 5. Stride
Here’s what happens during a pitcher’s stride:
- As lift legs starts to lower, apply pressure to back foot.
- Hands break in center of body between letters and waist as leg starts down.
- Hands break thumbs down.
- Ball comes out of glove going down, then back, with fingers on top of ball.
- Arm stays flexed.
- Lead foot drifts down and out close to mound.
- Shoulders lined up with home plate.
- Stays tall but post leg starts to flex to keep weight back.
- Lead leg stays closed, leading with the side of the shoe.
- Lead foot drifts across mound surface.
- Head stays back behind belt buckle.
- Weight stays on ball of back leg foot.
- Leg moves toward landing in proper synchronization with throwing arm going down, back and up.
- Arm stays flexed as elbow is lifted in line with shoulder.
- Fingers stay on top of the ball.
- Lead elbow is in line with home plate.
- Hips begin to open.
- Posting leg ankle turns over as knee turns and hips open.
- Lead foot moves forward in a straight line.
- Foot turning over to land is signal to get the hand up.
- Both elbows nearly at shoulder height just before front foot turns over to land.
- Head and trunk are still back behind belt buckle.
- Lead arm still at shoulder height.
- Head in line with target.
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 6. Stride foot contact
Here’s what happens during a pitcher’s stride foot contact:
- Lands flat footed approximately 81%-90% of body height.
- Landing foot closed 1-2 inches across midline.
- Landing knee flexes 135 degrees.
- Back leg ankle heel up.
- Head level and in line with target.
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 7. Arm cocking
Here’s what happens during a pitcher’s arm cocking:
- Throwing elbow reaches shoulder height before trunk rotation begins.
- Elbow reaches shoulder height, fingers on top and behind ball.
- Ball is cap high facing short-stop position closer to third base than elbow.
- Lead elbow still in line with target, but lead arm ready to start down.
- Shoulders lined up between home and second.
- Trunk still closed.
- Back foot pulls away from rubber.
- Front knee braces up allowing trunk to rotate.
- Head stays back until trunk starts to turn.
Step 8. Maximum external rotation
Here’s what happens during a pitcher’s maximum external rotation:
- Trunk squares to plate.
- Forearm lays back nearly parallel to ground.
- Throwing elbow just ahead of trunk.
- Trunk flees forward pulling backside through.
- Head still back behind lead knee.
Step 9. Arm acceleration
Here’s what happens during a pitcher’s arm acceleration:
- Throwing arm goes full extension.
- Elbow in line with shoulders.
Step 10. Ball release
Step 11. Arm deceleration
Here’s what happens during a pitcher’s arm deceleration:
- Head level.
- Trunk flexing forward pulls backside away from rubber.
- Heel up and facing back.
- Glove pulled in.
Step 12. Maximum internal rotation
Here’s what happens during a pitcher’s maximum internal rotation:
- Trunk flexes forward to full extension.
- Hip comes up over braced leg.
- Long arc of deceleration.
- Hand finishes down and outside lead leg.
Step 13. Follow through
Here’s what happens during a pitcher’s follow through:
- Head still tracking ball.
- Shows back of shoulder to hitter.
- Glove pulled to side.
- Head finishes just outside of lead knee.
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 this 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.
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