It is critical for a pitcher to be in a good fielding position once he has released his pitch. In order to get into this proper fielding position a pitcher must end his delivery with his chest square to home plate, glove in front of his body, and his feet should be shoulder width apart in a good athletic stance. This is imperative so that the pitcher will be ready for any balls hit back at him. I would actually emphasize concentrating on how a pitcher finishes as much as anything else in the delivery so that as the pitcher is coming into foot strike and release he is focused on finishing the pitch in a good fielding position. A pitcher’s delivery should never cause him to rotate or spin so that his chest and/or hips are facing 1st base for right handers or 3rd base for left handers.
Okay, I have to stop. I can’t keep adding to this load of garbage I have just written, although some of you who read my first paragraph might have found yourself agreeing with all or some of what I said. Let’s just take a quick look at some pitchers and how they finished their delivery.
As you can see from the sampling of pitchers above, it is not critical, in fact I would argue it is almost not even important, how a pitcher finishes his delivery in terms of ending in a good fielding position. Yet, just recently I overheard a coach talking about how one of the most important things he tries to teach his guys is to finish with their chest square to the catcher and to take the approach that they are now a fielder on defense just like every other infielder. I would like to explain why I think that a pitcher ending up in a good fielding position is a bad thing to try and emphasize in most instances. Here is an example of what I mean when I say teaching a pitcher a "good fielding position."
First, teaching a pitcher to finish his delivery with his shoulders and chest square with the catcher so that he is in a good fielding position will not allow a pitcher to decelerate his arm properly. After release of the baseball the arm has to find a way to decelerate from a very high speed. Pronation is the body’s natural way of accomplishing this and should begin to occur the moment that the baseball is released from the hand. But pronation after release is not the only movement needed to properly decelerate. Once a pitcher releases the ball and begins to pronate he must also continue to rotate over his front side so that the arm can decelerate while tension free. Like this:
If the trunk 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. For example, check out Mark Prior's arm and the difference between his finish and those above.
An apt analogy of this in a different setting is a passenger in a car. If the car is traveling at a high rate of speed and then suddenly slams on the brakes while the passenger is not buckled up then the entire torso will move forward together and if it wasn’t for the dashboard there would likely be no injury. If the passenger is buckled up, however, then the seat belt stops the forward movement of the torso and the energy moves up the spine and causes the head to whip forward, which can cause injury to the neck.
Therefore when you train to stop so that you are in a good fielding position you are actually training for the torso to stop rotating once it squares up with home plate, thereby forcing the arm to bang across the body and increasing the stress to the posterior shoulder and the posterior elbow. Instead, it is more important to instruct the pitcher to continue to rotate his torso over the front leg so that the arm can remain tension free and allow the energy from the pitch to dissipate throughout the larger muscles in the back. Ideally, the hand will never cross your belly button due to the rotation of the torso.
Additionally, developing electric “stuff” should be much more important than the position that a pitcher finishes his pitch in. Whether you are a coach, a pitcher, or a parent, your primary focus should be for your player, yourself, or your child to develop velocity, hard and late breaking off-speed pitches, and command. A central focus should not be whether or not the pitcher is ready to field a ground ball up the middle. Think about it, would you rather be known as the best fielding pitcher anybody has ever seen or have the best stuff that anybody has ever seen? Which is more likely to make the varsity baseball team, receive a college scholarship, or get drafted?
I am not saying that being able to field a ground ball as a pitcher has no importance. I do realize that it can make a difference in the outcome of a game. So there is something that you can teach your players (or learn to do yourself) that will be the best of both worlds. It will help you to be ready to field a ball hit back at you and it will allow you to continue rotating through the deceleration phase to ensure a healthy arm. All that a pitcher has to do is add a little hop after rotation is completely finished in order to return to a fielding position. This hop essentially unwinds the body and repositions it so that you are once again facing the catcher. Greg Maddux used to add this little hop at the end of his finish in order to square himself with the catcher and be ready for any balls hit back at him. This hop is why we became so used to see him in this position:
My advice for coaches and pitchers is to remember what is important. Throwing hard with dynamic stuff and staying healthy while doing so is going to win far more games and take you much further in the game of baseball than simply ending a delivery in a good fielding position. But for those of you who want to focus on your fielding position try adding a simple little hop at the very end of you rotation in order to reset your feet.
Until next time,