In my last blog I discussed what a late launch is and why it is critical to an efficient delivery. Understanding what is meant by a late release and what it looks like is extremely valuable, but if you don’t know how to train yourself or your pitchers to have it then the knowledge is not very useful. Therefore, this blog will describe a few of the drills that Coach Ron Wolforth uses to teach his athletes at the Texas Baseball Ranch how to achieve a late launch.
The primary drills that are used at the Ranch to help pitchers achieve a later launch are called the “Deceleration Drills” and the “Marshall’s.” Let me first talk about the drill that has been named the Marshall’s. The gist of this drill involves the athlete standing at a 90 degree turn from his intended target with his throwing arm closest to the wall, pad, or net that is being thrown at. Here is a picture of the starting position of the drill. I should also mention that any drill performed can be done with a Connection Ball in order to help train the correct arm action and one is being used during all of these pictures.
The athlete has to rotate his upper body in order to generate torque for the throw. The athlete should rotate as far as possible in order to obtain as much separation as possible between his hips and shoulders. This simulates the position the upper body and arms are in during a pitcher’s delivery after foot strike has occurred and the pitcher begins to rotate toward home plate. Here is a picture of this phase of the drill and compare the player's upper body, torso, and arm positions with this picture of Greg Maddux (although the pictures are taken from different angles).
Once the athlete has reached this max torque he simply unwinds and fires the ball toward his target. While it is simple to do, it is actually training a late launch. Because of the positioning of the athlete’s feet there is a great deal of rotation occurring during the uncorking of the torso and this forces the athlete to continue rotating into release, which as my last blog discussed is key to a late launch. Check out this next picture to see the position of the arm and shoulders shortly after release.
As you can see from the picture above, the throwing shoulder is in front of the glove side shoulder and release occurred out in front of the body. Performing this drill repeatedly will help train the body for the type of continued rotation into launch that should occur and will help the athlete blend this feel from the drill into his actual delivery.
The second drill used at the Texas Baseball Ranch to develop late release are the “Deceleration Drills.” As you know from my blog last week, a late launch is critical to early and sustained pronation; hence, a late launch is crucial to proper deceleration of the arm. As such, it should come as no surprise that drills by the name of “Deceleration” will help develop a later launch.
There are two types of Deceleration drills and the primary difference has to do with how the drill is finished by the athlete. In order to perform the Deceleration drills there are generally two items that are needed: a pronation bench and an oval balance pad. Two other products that are normally used but not absolutely necessary include the Extreme Duty Weighted Ball Set and a Connection Ball.
To begin the drill, the athlete should spread his legs out wide (uncomfortably wide) to mimic his stride and then place his back knee on the oval balance pad, which is secured to the pronation bench. The pronation bench is angled to allow the athlete to adjust up or down the height at which his knee is resting depending on how tall he is. The first action the athlete should take is to simply bow his arm and upper body back into a type of “scap load” position while in a semi-torque. Here is a picture of this position with the athlete using a Connection Ball as well.
Next, the athlete rotates and fires the ball toward the screen/net/pad with the focus on continued rotation into release and pronating as much and as soon as possible. The athlete stays on one knee while allowing the arm to slow down via pronation and the throwing elbow should elevate above the pronated hand. Also, see how in the picture below, although release has already occurred, the athlete's throwing shoulder is well in front of his glove side shoulder.
As the athlete rotates and his hand/arm near the landing leg/knee the athlete must continue to rotate over and around that leg. This ensures that the trunk of the body is helping to decelerate the arm and that the arm does not ever straighten out. A good goal to aim for is to never allow the hand to wind up across the belly button. If a pitcher rotates enough this will not be a problem. It only happens when the trunk stops rotating and the arm is forced to straighten out. Because the lower body in this drill is stationary and the focus of the athlete is to try to keep rotating so that the arm never straightens out, it helps teach a late launch because the body is focused on rotating both into the throw and after the throw. This causes the throwing shoulder to be in front of the glove side shoulder at release. Here is what the continued rotation after release looks like.
The first set of drills are performed while remaining with one knee on the pronation bench, but the second set or Deceleration Drill #2 requires the athlete to actually come over his front leg very similar to a pitch. This forces the athlete to simulate his pitching follow through as the back leg comes over and through so the pitcher can get the feeling of rotating over his front side.
Like I mentioned earlier, most of the time these drills are all done with Extreme Duty Weighted Balls and a Connection Ball. The weighted balls help teach pronation because the heavier the instrument that is being thrown the sooner the body naturally wants to pronate in order to protect itself. One only has to look at a quarterback throwing a football or a shotputter throwing a shotput to realize this. The Connection Ball is used to help the athlete improve whatever his main inefficiency in his throwing motion is. For example, a pitcher who has a weak glove side will want to use the Connection Ball in every drill between his glove side bicep and forearm so that he can squeeze it into rotation to help develop a firm front side.
These drills are a great way to help teach late launch and I highly encourage you to utilize them in order to improve the timing of your launch. Remember: not only does a late launch help with velocity and command, but it will also improve your ability to decelerate your arm, which is key to recovery and staying healthy.
Until next time,