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Coach Speak: Breaking Down Pitching Mechanics

Breaking down the physics behind pitching for the casual fan

Disclaimer: This is not a bash a Tech athlete article, but rather a scouting report and breakdown comparison between two pitchers.

As a baseball coach, my day job is to examine, train and develop baseball players. From kids learning the game, to high school players, to pros, I've worked with them all to get them to their very best potential. One thing most players have a hard time with is making in game adjustments. In the opening series with Milwaukee-Wisconsin, two pitchers caught my eye with regards to mechanics. The first being Ryan Moseley, who started opening day. The second, was Ty Damron. Normally, I would be right beside them during a pen session and get a high speed camera to take shots of each stage of their motion and break it down frame by frame. However, pictures of college baseball pitchers are not all that plentiful. Who knew? So I'll break down the motions of both Moseley and Damron with the pictures I did find. Here goes. 

Ryan Moseley

In 2014, Moseley had a terrific Freshman campaign, posting a 2.84 ERA, an OPP BA of .202 and a K/BB ratio of 1.64. In 2015, Moseley posted a respectable 3.46 ERA an OPP BA of .232 and a K/BB ratio of 1.8. And after watching just one start, what did I see? Difficulty with accuracy, minimal movement  and a flat pitch trajectory. Yes it was one start, but when you factor in his pitch trend from year to year, tendencies of sinker-ballers and Moseley's mechanics on Friday, I'm not sure he'll be able to get back to his Freshman form. Here's why:

Moseley's go-to pitch is a sinker. A sinker has late movement with fastball type velocity down an in to a right-handed hitter, down and away from a left-handed hitter. Velocity is slightly less than a true 4-seam. Note: I call it a sinker, it could be a heavy two-seam. Sinker-ballers tend to drag their arm through "the zone" (area from slightly behind shoulder to full extension release as measure by the elbow) thus to decrease arm and shoulder rotation, affect rotation of the ball and create late movement on the back-end of the pitch. Clear? Ok so let's take a look at Moseley's mechanics in picture form for a visual analysis. 

Ok. So a couple of things. These pictures aren't great, but hope to illustrate a few things about mechanics so that while watching a game you can examine pitchers like coaches do and understand the game better. 

In this first picture, let's point a few things out. First, it's a curve ball grip, not a 2-seam or sinker. The "BLUE" box is The Zone mentioned earlier and the "LIME GREEN" line is the pitchers weight, centered during the stride at the point this picture is taken. 

Ok, so two things. First, his hips are fully rotated towards the plate and his arm has not yet entered "The Zone". This is what coaches call "Dragging" the arm. Second, the body is at release, but the arm has not yet caught up. This is done by sinker-ballers, again, to create a certain rotation on the ball and create downward movement as the ball approaches the plate, thus making it hard for the hitter to elevate. For a better angle, let's look from above. 

Ok, this is a shot of Ryan from a frame or two before the first picture, but from the front and above. Looks awkward right? Hips are fully rotated to the plate (gold), foot has released to the plate (short red), but the upper body has yet to rotate. Let's take a look at the upper body. It's a Sinker grip, with the thumb on the inside of the ball so that the index finger can have pressure there to force rotation from index to pinky finger. His shoulders have what we call an inverted-W. This is when he loses structure in his chest and his shoulder blades press together (Red). This also causes his front shoulder to open which in turn, decelerates his rotation causing more movement on the back end of the pitch.

Doing this however, he'll never get to flat back and be able to increase velocity. Because his hips have already rotated, he's basically throwing from the waist up when it comes to power and endurance. Why is this a big deal? Physics. 

In this last picture, only a red arrow is highlighted. This is the downward force of gravity. It's something we all deal with, even non-athletes. As Moseley rotates through, but drags his arm, the rotational stress on the shoulder from gravity is immense. The good news, is that a pitching motion takes so little time that pressure is only on the shoulder for a brief moment. But one pitch does not a pitcher throw. That builds up over time and fatigues the small shoulder muscles needed to stabilize and control the joint. When put under stress that often, it won't be long until a rotator cuff injury happens. See Brandon Webb. In the meantime, as the muscles needed to get on top of the sinker to create the downward motion fail, the ball becomes flat and harder to control. Hence Moseley's over compensation into the dirt so often on Friday. 

Yes this is just looking at one start, and I could spend a lot more time and get into a lot more detail about this, but we'll see how he does throughout the season. Time is not on his side though and sooner or later, gravity always wins. 

Ty Damron

Now in comparison only, I want to look at left-handed pitcher Ty Damron. He pitched in the second game on Saturday and really impressed me with his mechanics, tempo and keeping his body in sync. 

First thing to notice in comparison to Moseley is where Damron's weight is centered. Moseley's weight was centered forward with his front foot firmly on the ground as his arm reached the "Power L" position. Damron on the other hand, has his weight centered, back, with his front foot not yet touching the ground as his arm reaches the "Power L" position. This is what we see out of a true fastball style pitcher. He has his legs under him and still has the ability to drive as his upper body rotates towards the plate. 

Also notice his shoulders are more bowed than Moseley's lessening the downward force of gravity on his shoulder and placing it on his sternum. Damron even pauses just before his front foot lands to allow his arm to get through the zone on time. This is textbook mechanics 101. Damron utlitzes his legs more than Moseley, less stress on the shoulder than Moseley and therefore, increases velocity easier, limits his injury risk and will have more endurance.

Readers Try: If you want to feel the strain gravity places on a dragging shoulder, here is an at home test. Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder width. With your throwing arm, make an L with the elbow even with height of the shoulder, like you're waving. Have a friend stand behind you facing the opposite direction with their hand flush against yours. The friend will apply gentle but firm pressure as you try rotate your body towards a target. Let me know what you feel.

Now none of this takes into account, opponent, the individual hitter, the umpire or errors by the defense that may or may not prolong an outing for a pitcher. This comparison is strictly based on how a pitchers body works during the pitching motion and battles and struggles with physics such as gravity. This is not everything. From their mechanics and the physical nature of the world they fight to get the ball to move or go straight or any of that. This is, again, just a brief snapshot.

Hit up the comment section if you have any questions about mechanics that I can extrapolate further for you or if you just found this topic interesting. Hope it shed some light on what to look for with pitchers while you watch games, because you know the coaching staff is.