I haven’t posted a blog in a couple of months due to an extremely hectic schedule. First, I was busy preparing for and taking law school finals in December. When finals ended my father and I were busy shooting some videos of new products that we recently added to the Oates Specialties product line (I will be featuring those products on future blogs). I then attended Coach Ron Wolforth’s Elite Pitcher’s Bootcamp down at the Texas Baseball Ranch in Montgomery, Texas in order to catch up on the newest drills, philosophies, and thought processes occurring at the Ranch. We then ended this busy time by attending the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago, Illinois and the Texas High School Coaches Association Convention in Waco, Texas. My dad and I enjoyed seeing many of you at these conventions. Although my hiatus was longer than I intended, I came away with a number of great blog topics that I will be posting over the next few weeks/months.

This blog is going to discuss what Coach Wolforth has coined as a “late launch.” I know right away some of you might be thinking, “I don’t want to be late, late is not good. I want to be on time.” Or some thought to that effect. Often times in sports when you talk about being late it is a negative thing. But in terms of a pitcher releasing a pitch, it is one of the most important things associated with your delivery. So what exactly is late launch? Late launch is when the pitcher is able to stay on the ball and drive it toward home plate and not release it until the ball is in front of the body. Here are some pictures that demonstrate what I am describing.

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How do you achieve a late launch like those pictured above? The key is to try and drive the ball on a straight line while your torso is rotating. As you can see, the throwing shoulder at release is in front of the glove side shoulder.  The lines drawn on the first photo, which is Roger Clemens, show the amount of rotation from the time his shoulders were parallel with home plate to when he released.  This is due to the continued rotation of the upper body as the landing leg plants on the ground and the torso begins to square up to the catcher. The problem with many pitchers, however, is that during this rotation phase of the pitching motion, as their shoulders become square with the catcher, they cease to rotate. As a result, this stop in movement causes the body to release the ball at that moment, while the shoulders are square and the arm is even with the torso. This causes energy and force to be lost as the ball is released earlier than required. Here are some examples of pitchers releasing the ball earlier than would be ideal.

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As you can see, the first set of pitchers were quite a bit further out front when releasing the ball than the three pitchers immediately above.  A pitcher does not want to cease rotating the torso until the arm has completely decelerated. This does not mean that the glove side is not firm. A pitcher should always be rotating into a firm glove side, but instead of simply staying square as the shoulders even up with the catcher, the entire torso continues to rotate with the distance between the glove and the arm remaining the same.

A late launch does not only help a pitcher exert more linear force behind the ball toward home plate (resulting in better velocity and command), but it is also key to efficient pronation of the arm. Coach Flint Wallace often says, “It is impossible to decelerate/pronate efficiently if early launch occurs...The earlier the launch the more problematic the deceleration.” This is true because with early launch it is more difficult to keep pronating as your arm goes through the later stages of deceleration. If your torso stops rotating then the arm, which is still traveling at a high rate of speed, will be forced to slow down on its own, and the only way it can accomplish this is by straightening out across the body causing a banging to occur at both the elbow and shoulder. Because in situations where early release has occurred, and the body has already stopped rotating, it is nearly impossible to again generate rotation, resulting in the loss of pronation and a straightening of the arm.  Take a look at Strasburg after he has stopped rotating and his arm has banged out across his body.

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Now compare that finish to Cliff Lee and Nolan Ryan - notice how much more rotation and flexion post-release has occurred.

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In order to feel how much easier it is to pronate with a later launch, I want you to try something: Stand up, keep your shoulders square with your hips and put your arm up at a 90 degree angle like you are giving half a “field goal is good” sign with your arm. Now pronate your hand while internally rotating it (take your pronated hand toward the floor). While everybody should be able to do that, it probably doesn’t feel all that comfortable. Now, however, I want you to do the same thing, but instead of keeping your shoulders square with your hips, rotate your upper body so that your throwing arm is in front of your glove side (like in the pictures above). Pronating in that position should feel much easier on the shoulder. That is essentially why it is easier to pronate and hold pronating with a late release – that and the fact that your upper body never stops rotating allowing your arm to remain tension free during pronation/deceleration.  The second position I asked you to try is essentially what Matt Cain is doing below (notice his throwing shoulder is in front of his glove side shoulder).

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Many pitchers are not aware of the moment in their delivery when they release the ball because of how quickly it happens. The best way for coaches or players to see when release is occurring is to film a delivery and then watch it in slow motion. An early launch can also be telling over other issues with a delivery. Often times a late disconnect or a forearm flyout can cause the ball to be released earlier. This is due to the fact that energy is being lost in directions other than toward home plate (toward 1st base and/or 3rd base) and the arm is not able to drive the ball toward the intended target for as long as possible.

For those of you who are not sure when release is occurring, I highly encourage you to take a look and see if it something that you can improve. There are several drills that can help pitchers obtain a later launch that I will discuss in my blog next week.

Until next time,

Brian Oates

Brian@Oatesspecialties.com