"Max Effort" Pitchers
I began pitching when I was a kid, around 8 or 9 years old, and continued until I was in my mid 20’s, yet one of the things I heard throughout my childhood, high school, college, and professional career was that I was a “max effort” guy. I remember coaches at all levels, but especially in college and pro ball, telling me that I need to calm down, smooth things out, make my delivery more pleasing to the eyes. At first, I heeded this advice, thinking that if I could be smoother and deliver the ball with less effort my stuff would be somehow enhanced. The more I studied the game of baseball though I continuously saw Major League guys, top draft picks, and college All-Americans who were throwing with just as much intensity and effort as I was. This eventually led me back to what I already knew, in the end nobody cares how it looks if you get guys out.
Coaches and scouts are always going to be concerned with how a delivery looks and sometimes rightfully so. Often a delivery needs to be tweaked but not because of intent or the amount of effort. I’m not sure I have ever seen a pitcher who lacks intent to throw the ball hard or isn’t giving significant effort. Look at the faces of even the pitchers with the most “effortless” deliveries and you see a look of intent to throw the heck out of the ball. Having a smooth delivery usually is more of an indication of how well your body and its muscles are synchronized than if you have good or bad mechanics. Some pitchers have such highly tuned and efficient muscle firing in perfect succession that they appear as though they are giving no effort.
Now don’t mistake what I’m saying as meaning a pitcher should tense up and try and throw the ball as hard as he can. To be completely objective in my own self-analysis the problem arising out of my own delivery at times was more along the lines that I carried too much tension in my arm and body as opposed to being max effort. But most coaches who told me to smooth things out didn’t know this. They just wanted my delivery to fit into what they conceptualized as ideal.
Take World Champion Tim Lincecum for example. His delivery is explosive. I’d say it is max effort. But his arm is as loose as a whip the entire time. It seems to just hang out until the body tells it, “Time to go!!!”
Or a similar guy such as UCLA ace Trevor Bauer. He is probably classified as a max effort guy yet his arm is loose.
We have all heard the stories of the numerous people throughout both of their lives who tried to change their deliveries yet these two were just stubborn enough not to listen. The video above of Lincecum shows how he had the same delivery from little league to the Major Leagues. But like I said before, in the end nobody cares as long as you get guys out and both of those guys get a lot of batters out.
A delivery is personal, it is part of who you are and that is what makes you unique. Some pitchers are naturally going to look as though they are exerting more effort than others and that’s ok. What is more important is evaluating that delivery. Does the pitcher have a firm glove side? Is there a late disconnect in the delivery? How is the pitcher’s momentum into delivery? Is there good tempo/rhythm to the delivery? Is the pitcher carrying his lower half as far down the mound as possible? These are the questions a coach or player should be asking, answering, and focusing on. Not worried about the amount of effort a pitcher seems to have.
Think about players that are considered to have smooth, effortless deliveries. Two that immediately come to my mind are Mark Prior and Stephen Strasburg. Neither would be classified as max effort guys (at least in my mind). Yet both have had injury issues. Obviously you can point to numerous pitchers with smooth deliveries that have stayed healthy but my point is that being smooth, or max effort, has very little effect on whether or not you get hurt. It also has very little effect on the type of stuff a pitcher has. It’s not about effort but what you are doing within the movements of your delivery.
An adage I have heard over the years is, “How easy can you throw hard.” This sounds good right. But it is somewhat of an oxymoron if you ask me. In order to throw hard there must be intent to throw hard. In order to throw really hard, such as mid 90’s, you must have serious intent to let the ball fly. What I did personally with this saying is applied it to my arm action and not my entire delivery. It helped me let my arm stay loose and be whip-like as opposed to forcing it through my arm action.
Categorizing a pitcher as effortless or max effort sounds good but is essentially a fruitless undertaking. Understanding the movements that a pitcher is making and whether they are helping, hurting, or have no impact on velocity and command is far more important than diagnosing purely stylistic characteristics such as how much effort it looks like a guy is using to throw a pitch.
At the end of the day, all that matters is whether or not you can get a hitter standing 60 feet 6 inches out.
Until next time,