How Cliff Lee Regained His Pitching Form
Three years ago, in October 2007, C.C. Sabathia and the Cleveland Indians finished off the New York Yankees in four games to advance to the ALCS.
Cliff Lee was a Cleveland Indian back then, too. Only he had been left off the Tribe's playoff roster after struggling mightily throughout the season, battling injuries and riding the merry-go-round of call-ups from and demotions to the Tribe's AAA club.
How times have changed.
Tonight is Game One of the 2010 ALCS, featuring the New York Yankees and their pitching ace, C.C. Sabathia, against a hot-hitting Texas Rangers ball club. Lee, now the Rangers' number one guy, won't pitch until Game 3 on Monday.
The Yankees must feel like the sun is shining down on them, because Lee has been lights out. In his two starts in the ALDS, he dominated the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing two runs on 11 hits through 16 innings and striking out 21 batters. Over the course of the season, Lee was a model of consistency, throwing first-pitch strikes 70 percent of the time.
Lee is a fiery competitor who pitches with a chip on his shoulder. He may have the Indians to thank for that—but it was after their 2007 postseason snub that Lee reworked his mechanics and delivery.
The biggest changes for the left-hander were pitch selection and location, especially against right-handed hitters, who had been hammering his inside fastballs—one of his go-to pitches at the time.
The simple solution was to work the outside part of the plate with a fastball-change-up mix. He also added a cut fastball to his repertoire. "By throwing his change-up and fastball away, and then jamming right-handers with the cutter, he was able to throw to both sides of the plate," says Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker.
According to renowned pitching coach Tom House, precise pitch location results from a strong and stable posture. He calls it "Stack and Track." House says, "It's about keeping your head and spine upright as your shoulders square to the target. The more upright you keep your spine, the longer you're able to stay upright. The better you Stack and Track, the easier it is for your hips to deliver your shoulders, and your shoulders to deliver your arm."
Another key element is holding your head still. "The less head movement, the better the posture," House says. "And the better the posture, the better the throw."
Strong and stable posture: something to look for when you dial in to this weekend's broadcast. Meantime, read the rest of the article on proper delivery for pitchers, featuring Coach House.