Nearly every pitcher that I have ever been around, whether it was while I was playing or throughout the years with Oates Specialties and the Texas Baseball Ranch, have wanted two things: to throw harder and stay healthy. Usually it is in that order and this post primarily addresses that first concern. Unfortunately, most pitchers will be forced to end their baseball careers at some point due to the fact that their velocity is not sufficient for the next level—or perhaps even their current level. This, understandably, creates the desire for pitchers to want to increase velocity and therefore causes them to ask this question: what can I do to increase the velocity of my fastball?

Almost every pitcher has some constraint that is keeping him from throwing harder. It could be any number of things including flexibility, lack of strength, or an inefficient arm action. But today’s focus is going to be on another major constraint that plagues the majority of pitchers at all levels—the inability to effectively incorporate the hips and legs during the delivery.

It is sort of ironic that so many pitchers struggle to incorporate their lower half when they pitch given the tremendous amount of attention that is placed on doing so by coaches, parents, and trainers. I know throughout my baseball playing career I heard at least three different philosophies that coaches tried to teach me in order to best use my hips and legs. There was the “drop and drive,” the “tall and fall,” and the “up-down and glide out.” I was an “up-down and glide out” pitcher throughout little league (thanks to my pitching coach who advocated that theory) and I somewhat more naturally adopted the “drop and drive” delivery during high school and through part of college.

While many of us have heard of these theories for incorporating the lower half, they all miss the mark. None of them effectively get the hips and legs involved in the delivery like they need to be in order to maximize the contribution of the lower body into the kinetic chain so that more energy can be transferred through the body and to the baseball. Fortunately, Coach Ron Wolforth at the Texas Baseball Ranch decided to dissect how the best pitchers in the world use their lower half in order to gain an understanding of why they are able achieve such superior velocity. From studying these elite pitchers Coach Wolforth realized why the other theories I listed above fall short of achieving enhanced velocity: elite pitchers simply didn’t move their lower half in the way that those three theories describe.

Instead, elite pitchers moved in a way that can best be described by the phrase “load while moving forward.” This term encompasses the movement that so many of the world’s best pitchers made and actually refutes some of the other theories that are taught regarding the lower half. Coach Wolforth noticed that these pitchers didn’t stay tall and fall down the mound nor did they drop down at the beginning of the leg lift and then drive forward. These pitchers actually stayed taller/straighter with their balance leg at the beginning of the delivery but as they moved down the mound the flexion angle of their leg increased. This means that the lower half generated a greater load as the forward movement toward home plate occurred. Hence, “load while moving forward.”

As the old adage says, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” here are a number of elite pitchers during their delivery. Notice that early in the delivery their leg is more extended but as they get into their delivery they begin to load. In other words, the pitchers get more into their legs as they move forward.

Nolan 1

Nolan 2

 

Nolan 3

Nolan 4

Chapman 1

Chapman 2

Oswalt 1

Oswalt 2

 

Verlander 1

Verlander 2

 

Harvey 1

Harvey 2

 

As you can see from the above pictures, pitchers should strive to create more of a load in their lower half as they move down the mound. While this is easy to say, it is much more difficult to accomplish due to the strength and mobility required in order for an athlete to control and support the body’s mass throughout this complex movement. One of the reasons many athletes don’t move in this manner is because they simply aren’t strong enough and/or aren’t flexible enough. Often the reason for this lack of strength and mobility stems from the exercises done to prepare a baseball pitcher to pitch. For example, coaches love to have their pitchers, and all baseball players for that matter, perform traditional two legged squats. While this does strengthen the legs it fails to properly prepare a pitcher’s lower half for the specific type of loading that is occurring in the pictures above. Those pitchers are loading their lower half while on one leg and while moving forward. That is a lot more dynamic than a typical two legged squat.

Because of this, the Texas Baseball Ranch has its athletes perform specific drills designed to help teach the feel of loading while moving forward as well as to prepare the athlete to handle that load when attempted. One example of a drill that could effectively strengthen the hips and legs in this manner is by performing one legged, slow eccentric squats. This helps the lower half prepare by forcing one leg to control the pitcher’s body as a greater load is placed on it. Additionally, doing squats on a slide board can help to simulate the load while in motion movement. Essentially, the only way your body will be able to learn to move in this manner is to adequately prepare it for the demands of such a movement. This is a situation where the sport specific movement is extremely important and generic strengthening movements are inadequate.

I think it is in your/your pitchers best interest to look at a video analysis of your pitching motion to determine how you are using your lower half. But it is important to remember that the question of whether a pitcher is using his lower half is not simply a yes or no answer, but instead it is a continuum in which there is always room to improve and become more efficient. Nobody uses their lower half perfectly. Most pitchers fall well short of that, but at the same time most pitchers use their legs to some degree. Therefore, pitchers simply need to focus on improving and increasing the efficiency of this lower half movement. If you can improve your lower half and start to load while moving forward you will be well on your way to realizing increased velocity.

Until next time,

Brian Oates

Brian@Oatesspecialties.com