Before I start we need to all understand how I am attempting to explain posture in regards to the pitching motion or delivery. There are many different "styles" to pitching and if you watch a major league game you will be able to witness those different "styles" firsthand. But while I am explaining posture for the sake of this blog we are going to think about phase 1, a young pitcher who is first learning how to deliver a baseball from the mound across home plate. When I refer to specific positions of the body for the set-up and then delivery of the pitching motion, make sure you understand that this is what I would be suggesting to an athlete or coach learning about posture. Once the athlete has a good hold on the concept of posture and what it feels like to maintain their posture during the throwing motion, they can make it look any which way they choose. The "style" will be their own and the "technique" will be universal.
When we talk about posture in relation to the throwing or pitching motion we need to first think about locking in an initial position. Even though "locking in" may be too deliberate of a term, it is really true. I don't mean this in the way that you must be stiff and immobile in your movements but if you can maintain an initial position once you go into leg lift, it will assist you in maintaining your energy for the duration of the throw, as well as allowing your levers the freedom to set-up and move like they want to.
Let's start out by visualizing a right-handed pitcher in the stretch position. The first thing I want us to picture is a pitcher staring into the catchers mitt prior to leg lift. They should be taking a stance that allows for athletic movement. What this means is the pitcher should have some flex or bend in their knees and a slight lean or bend at the waistline (where the hip and spine create an angle). This is very similar to hitting. When a hitter sets their body up to see the pitch out of the pitchers hand, there is a specific angle they want to be setting up. It is a specific hip and spine angle that allows them to rotate powerfully. The same goes for pitching. If you can create a specific position to start that enables you to feel powerful and athletic and then maintain this position basically until foot plant, you will be in a great position to rotate and finish the throw.
Let me reiterate this here for everyone. I want everyone to really know how important the initial set-up/posture position is for pitching. Think of it this way, if you can start well, you should be able to finish well. Now I know many of you are reading this blog and saying, "Gee thanks for the breakthrough Doug, really helpful." But think about this for a second. If we set our body in motion properly to begin with, our bodies levers will do what they need to do to perform the task at hand. I am very serious about this. If any of you at home have ever watched a major league pitcher throw in slow motion you will know what I am talking about. The bodies levers (arms, legs, etc...) work very well if the body is positioned correctly from the start and then maintained through the movement. If the powerful and athletic position is locked in, then there are only a few ways the levers can actually move. The joints function in specific manners, such as external and internal rotation, they can only do so many things. So again, if positioned properly your body will work for you, not against you. The issues pitchers have all over the world aren't mechanics, it is the belief that their body won't do what it needs to do. They don't realize that the functions the joints, muscles and bones are making are very normal and natural if you get out of the way.
Ok, so off my soapbox and back to work. Once the initial position is set and the pitcher is ready for leg lift, now the pitcher just needs to perform a leg lift that will allow them to stay with the posture they have already set up. If the leg lift takes them off course it is because it is too violent or high and they just are not able to handle the movement. So just back off a bit until you can get the feel for a powerful leg kick while maintaining an athletic posture.
Now we can fast forward to foot plant. The pitcher should be able to maintain the initial hip and spine angle until landing into foot plant. There are always shades of gray when referring to angle and degrees of angle but you get my drift. When watching film of a pitcher from behind home plate you should be able to see a very similar position at the hip and spine from pre-leg lift, to leg lift, then into foot plant. If there is any drifting or movement out of that initial hip and spine angle you will be able to notice it and make the corrections.
The video clips that come to mind for me on this topic are Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. If you can youtube or find some video of these two pitchers, watch them, but make sure the view is from home plate. You will notice that once they perform their leg lift, they lock in a posture and don't deviate from it until foot plant. The other thing you will notice is how their levers (scapula, arms, thoracic spine) move independently of their posture and it doesn't effect their posture. That is because their bodies understand how the separate parts of their body work to sequence the whole movement. The reason the younger pitchers can't stabilize their movement patterns is because they are not mobile in the areas of the body they need to be to make the corresponding movements. For example, what I just mentioned above about Clemens and Ryan. When you watch the film you will see the scapula, thoracic spine and then arms act as they are supposed to. That is because their body is aware of how to move. This can be taught if needed.
Once at foot plant it is time for the front side to stabilize so the back side can deliver the pitch and follow through. At this point in the delivery you will get very different looks from many different pitchers. It is all about the individuals arm slot from here on out. The posture created during rotation is to support the arm angle/slot that the pitcher throws from. Most of the time you will see pitchers clear their head so their arm can come through and be delivered. The cases where you see pitchers heads really start to pull of the target can be from many different reasons but I will cover a couple major ones now.
The first could be from poor initial momentum. If a pitcher starts their motion but doesn't gain the proper momentum/tempo/direction that they would like to produce a sufficient amount of velocity, they have to make that up somewhere. Most pitchers (definitely the younger and weaker pitchers) will try to pull their upper body through in one violent pull to try and create some velocity. This will definitely show up in film as someone who pulls their head off target too soon and ruins their posture.
The second could be from poor front-side arm stability. If a pitcher starts to rotate after foot plant but they are not aware of how their front arm is supposed to act, you will see a lot of east to west action with their shoulders. (chicken winging) You will see the front shoulder pull off target too soon and therefore the head needs to go with them.
The third example ties in with the second example. When a pitcher does not know how to properly use their front side, they do not know how to finish their throw with more north to south movement then east to west. What I am referring to here is understanding the movement of the upper body when going into release point and through to the finish. The upper body (more specifically in the thoracic spine area) must have some angle to its finish. The example I always use, which I got from a friend, is the ferris wheel. Picture your upper body as a ferris wheel. Or more specifically, picture your spine as the ferris wheel. So when you rotate your chest towards home plate and it is square to the plate and you are ready to release the baseball, their must be some ferris wheel to your movement. Your upper body or spine, needs to finish with some tilt, not east to west rotation. If the pitcher is not behind the baseball and working through the baseball into finish it will show up with the head pulling off the target too soon. It is kind of like the pitchers head is running away from the hand and we obviously don't want that.
In the end, if you can create a healthy and powerful starting posture prior to leg lift, then continue with that same posture into leg lift and then have that carry you all the way into foot plant, you will be 3/4 of the way there. The rest is rotation, pronation and a finish. Watch film of the best in the game from the home plate view. See what they do and how long they are able to maintain their posture into foot plant. Show your young athletes what they look like and what the best look like and start copying them. In no time at all you will see a huge difference in their perfomances!
That's all for now...if you have any questions feel free to email or call me on this topic. Lots of information in this one...LOL!! Good luck Passion for Pitching family and happy pitching to you!!! Stay tuned for the next requested topic....coming soon!!!