I was slightly shocked—and slightly alarmed—that so many more of my pitching videos had been viewed, when last I checked, than my hitting videos. I’ve researched Deadball Era hitting and labored to reconstruct it for well over ten years; as for pitching, most of what I know came from working with my son as he evolved into a submarine artist. I’ve lately been trying to shore up my bit of mound knowledge with historical research. I haven’t so much delved into the Deadball Era as into the decade or so before World War II. Pitchers before that time were even less photographed than batsmen in revealing positions; and they were also allowed to throw spitballs, scuff balls, shine balls… a whole arsenal of what we’d consider weapons banned by the Geneva Convention. The later Twenties and the Thirties became a period of adjustment to something more like the mound-craft of today’s game. Whatever searching I’ve done so far through the past’s record has taken me there.
At any rate, I wanted to respond energetically to this active interest in unusual arm angles. I think I understand it. Especially if you’re a shorter person, your chances of being a starter in college, or even high school, are remote. My son, at five-foot-eight (on a good day with a kind yardstick), didn’t start any games after middle school, as I recall. The lower angles which his broad frame allowed him to access effectively, however, made him an ideal short reliever. (Sorry about the pun!) Even at its most elite levels, and perhaps particularly there, the game is being delivered into the hands of relief specialists more and more. So why wouldn’t you want to buy stock in that prospering venture if you could get in on it?
I’ll never forget seeing Paul Reddick—whom I admire, and whose authority I would seldom think to question—write a public answer to a father who’d wondered if his son might have more of a pitching future from the rare submarine angle. Paul’s opinion? Submarining is a “gimmick”: better to learn well the mechanics of conventional pitching than to chase after smoke and mirrors. I can agree that a lot of boys pitch themselves into surgery by trying to drop down. I’ve seen kids throwing from Down Under for no better reason, apparently, than that they had a lanky build and could sling the ball from the side. Their motion was often so out of kilter that I winced every time they delivered.
But if you can get your limbs moving smoothly in the same plane, more or less, there’s no a priori reason why you shouldn’t stay healthy from a given angle. I’ve just posted two videos about pitching from the 9:30 slot (very low overhand, almost sidearm). The first of them discusses the importance of working within a single plane, and the second is an actual demonstration performed by this 65-year-old man which didn’t end in an ambulance trip. I chanced to notice just last night that Brad Peacock of the Astros uses that same kind of delivery, carrying the leg only about 60 degrees from the plate-line and then kicking it forward and a little open. (Kirby Yates and Diego Castillo do the same thing: I mention them in both videos.) It’s all very Nineteen-Thirties… and those oldtimers, you know, often stretched their careers halfway to forever.
A funny thing happened as I was loosening up for the demonstration. The thought popped into my head, “Hey, what if I were to use this non-closing leg lift that falls open about 15 degrees from the plate-line to throw submarine? Why wouldn’t I? Why do submariners always throw over their body, losing velocity and risking joint injury? Why do they have to go through all those contortions—which also allow baserunners and extra jump? What about just a straight drop-and-fire from the mound’s dirt, almost?”
Well, it works… kind of. The initial problem I’m having, as you might expect, is with accuracy—but I’m missing over and over in the same spot, which suggests to me that the right adjustment could solve everything. I’m also able (and I know this sounds crazy, but it’s my personal and patented test-drive technique) to throw submarine left-handed with some modest degree of success out of this motion. I usually try to apply my theories to the weak side to see if their effect is objectively valid or if my good side is just covering up the deficiencies. I’ve never been able to throw submarine from the left side at all, with any degree of success or comfort. Now I’m starting to find some promise in the new method.
A new video discussion of this exploration is also on YouTube. (You might say that I really threw myself into pitching when I detected the public’s level of interest.) A demonstration should come soon, whenever I’m well enough rehearsed not to miss the backstop.
I don’t understand why the low angle should ever be rated a mere gimmick. The Big Leagues don’t think it so, apparently. If you can deliver a pitch to a hitter from an angle where he seldom has to look for it and send it on a trajectory that he never has to track during the rest of his week, then why wouldn’t that be effective? Hesitation in the batter’s box means less time to react to the pitch—and reduced reaction time means that the pitch’s perceived velocity speeds up. Shorter guys can’t squeeze top speeds from their modest stature… but they can sure find ways to confuse hitters so much that reaction time shrinks to what the fiercest fireballer gives his adversaries!