Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants and Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers are known for their ability to take over ball games. Both aces can rush fastballs to the plate in the upper 90s and bring hitters to their knees with a nasty change-up.
One difference between them is obvious. Verlander towers at 6'5" and weighs in at 225 pounds; Lincecum, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, checks in at 5'11" and 170 pounds. How can Lincecum get the same velocity and longevity as Verlander? And how did one of the smallest starting pitchers lead the Majors with 265 strikeouts in 2008? According to renowned University of Southern California pitching coach Tom House, it starts with basic mechanics.
"When you look at a pitcher, you've got to realize that his movement, [his] performance skill, is the foundation," House says.
If pitching is all about mechanics, think of House as the crew chief of the mound. Known as the "Father of Modern Pitching Mechanics," the former big leaguer has spent more than 20 years researching all aspects of pitching. Follow along as House details the importance of posture for pitchers.
Signed, sealed and delivered
House studies the "signature" of his pitchers using three-dimensional motion analysis, which allows him to identify flaws in their wind-up and delivery. This signature is also known as kinematic sequence.
Most pitchers have a signature where the legs deliver the hips, hips deliver shoulders, shoulders deliver arms and arms deliver the baseball. The key in the sequence is balance as you shift your weight, and that starts with a stable posture.
Find a posture
Your posture throughout the sequence is crucial for hitting your location on the plate.
"Every one inch of inappropriate head movement is going to cost you two inches of release point," House says. The release point, according to House, should be between eight and 12 inches in front of your landing foot. Anything shorter allows the hitter to see the ball longer before it is released from your fingertips.
House recommends, "Find a posture and keep that posture all the way through your delivery."
A stable posture doesn't necessarily mean "standing tall." For a pitcher, it's about keeping your head and spine upright as your shoulders square to the target. This variation of posture is what House calls "Stack and Track."
"The more upright you keep your spine, the longer you're able to stay upright," he says. "The better you Stack and Track, the easier it is for your hips to deliver your shoulders, and your shoulders to deliver your arm."
Stable posture starts at the top with your head.
"The less head movement, the better the posture, and the better the posture, the better the throw," House explains.
With Lincecum's freakish delivery, the key to his effectiveness is the slight tilt in his head and his ability to keep it stabilized.
House points to another ace as a prime example of superior pitching mechanics: Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, whom House coached when he served as the pitching coach for the Texas Rangers.
"His head didn't veer. It was less than one inch from start of delivery to release point," House says.
What you don't want to do is shift your head to pull your arm through in the delivery. This often leads to control problems and possibly shoulder and elbow injuries to your pitching arm.
House adds, "As long as the head stays stableparallel to the mound as you initiate your delivery toward home platethen you've done your job."
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