I wrote a blog last year that described how a pitcher should use his lower half during his delivery. That blog dismissed the other approaches that many coaches take while teaching pitching mechanics such as “drop and drive,” “tall and fall,” and the “up-down and glide out.” The best way to describe the appropriate use of a pitcher’s lower half is “load while moving forward.” Elite pitchers actually stay taller/straighter with their balance leg at the beginning of the delivery, but as they move down the mound the angle of their back leg increases, meaning their lower half generates a greater load as the forward movement toward home plate occurs. Here are a few pictures of this loading.
However, that blog and discussion revolved around the back leg of the pitcher—the leg that the pitcher is balancing on and is using to drive toward home plate. This blog focuses on the other leg—the lead leg—because its movement is also incredibly important. The lead leg is responsible for helping the lower half to load properly. In order for a pitcher to load while moving forward he must effectively use his lead leg. The lead leg is responsible for keeping the lower half, and specifically the pitcher’s hips, closed. The hips and lower half must remain closed in order for a pitcher to load while moving down the mound. As soon as the hips and lower half open up toward home plate, all loading is finished and the torso is going to soon follow in squaring up to home plate.
Because the upper half will closely follow the bottom half in squaring up toward home plate, it is important for the hips to stay closed as long as possible. The movement pitchers make with their lead leg as they enter their stride dictates how long they are able to keep their hips closed. All elite pitchers essentially make one of three movements with their front leg. Coach Ron Wolforth of the Texas Baseball Ranch has identified these three movements and has labeled them as the following: (1) Leg More Straight—Leading with the Heel; (2) 6 Cleat Move—Flexed Front Leg; (3) Hybrid—3 Cleat Move. Let me discuss these movements and show some examples of pitchers who make these moves.
First, Coach Wolforth identified the movement that pitchers make where their front leg is straight and the movement they are making with their leg is being led with the heel. With this movement, the heel, leg, and hip are nearly in a straight line as the pitcher strides down the mound. Here are some examples of pitchers who make this movement.
The next movement, labeled by Coach Wolforth as the 6 Cleat Move, is made by the pitcher keeping a flexed front leg and essentially showing the bottom of his cleats to the catcher. This movement is as though the pitcher is stepping over a hurdle that has been placed on the middle of the mound. Here are some pitchers who load their hips this way.
The third movement is a hybrid of the first two. The pitcher begins to extend his leg as though he is entering movement 1, but then proceeds to flex his leg and simulate the 2nd movement. Hence, it is a hybrid movement of the first two. Aroldis Chapman is an example of a pitcher who performs this hybrid movement.
What these movements have in common is that they don’t allow the pitcher’s hips to swing open, like a barn door, early in the stride movement. Instead, these three movements keep the lower half closed while the pitcher is moving down the mound. This is ideal, as pitchers should keep their lower half closed as late as possible, so that at the last second the hips are forced to explode open, moments before foot strike. This explosive opening of the lower half creates torque, which is separation between the lower half and upper half, and is what helps to create velocity.
Additionally, these movements help the pitcher get further down the mound and thereby increase the stride length, which is beneficial for velocity, as you have more momentum going toward to the plate. A longer stride also helps with effective velocity, as the pitcher is releasing the ball closer to the hitter, making the pitches appear faster than they would if released from further away. Pitchers who have short strides, often noticeable with taller athletes, likely have an issue with the movement of their lower half. The reason for this is because once the hips open up, the body has no choice but to set the foot down. So for athletes whose lower half opens up early, they will also be forced to make foot strike earlier. Another common co-existing factor that plays a role in both short strides and ineffective use of the lower half is a lack of momentum in the delivery.
So what can you do to help yourself more effectively use you lower half? First, identify which of the three movements is most similar to the movement of your lower half. For most athletes it is easy to know what the front leg does. Now that you have identified which of the three is most similar to you, I recommend you find major league pitchers who make the same movement and watch videos of those pitchers. This will help you to picture what you should look like. As far as drills, I would recommend hook-ems. This drill requires the athlete to hook his lead leg either in front of his anchor leg’s knee or behind this knee. While balancing on one leg, make the movement with your hip and leg and try to hold them closed as long as you can while throwing to your target. If you are a pitcher who has a straight lead leg (movement one above), then I would recommend hooking your leg in front of the knee, as that allows you to get into the movement easier. Accordingly, if you make the other two movements where your lead leg is bent then you can choose which way you would like to hook your leg.
For those who lack momentum in the pitching delivery and is leading to issues with the loading of the lower half, I would recommend up-tempo throwing drills that force you to have momentum. Some examples of these drills are double plays, walking torque, step into’s, and turn and burns. All of these drills force the pitcher to enter the throwing motion with an exaggerated amount of momentum and helps the pitcher to naturally load the hips and increase the stride.
Ineffective use of the lower half is one of the most common problems with pitchers of all ages. This means pitchers are not throwing as hard as they are capable, and this is likely leading to inefficiencies in other parts of their delivery as well. The above drills can help correct this problem and over time athletes will see their lower half becomes better utilized.
If you have any questions about the lower half or anything in general please don’t hesitate to email me.
Until next time,