coaches and trust, fathers and sons, low arm angle, pitchers of short stature, pitching, Uncategorized

Listen to Established Coaches… But Also to Your Body

I’ve been repeating two things in my pitching videos (including one I made yesterday—the first after a six-month layoff): 1) I do not pretend to be a pitching coach or to have been an effective pitcher at any level of competition; and 2) I know more than most pitching coaches about living in a relatively short, broad-framed body.  Because of the first fact, I wouldn’t dream of trying to countermand the advice of a Paul Reddick, a Brent Strom, or the gurus at Sidearm Nation.  Yet because of the second fact, I don’t allow the coaching fraternity to shut me up entirely on the subject of pitching.

A lot of what I say about hitting (where I do profess some degree of knowledge, thanks to decades of research and experimentation) applies here.  Today’s pitching instruction is mostly fashioned for tall, slender body types that enjoy several natural advantages when it comes to achieving high velocity.  Since those types will fill about 90 percent of any high school or college pitching roster, why be concerned about the 5’7” walk-on who throws a mean slider?  Yeah, you trot him out there once in a while to eat up some innings.  He gets people out.  But you also know that he has already hit his low ceiling. Coaches at the next level are not going to woo him with scholarship money, and scouts are not going to blow him away with a signing bonus.  Statistically, he doesn’t exist.

I’ve actually written before, if only in making a brief reference, about Coach Reddick’s public advice to a dad who queried about his kid’s becoming a submariner.  The word Paul chose to use was “gimmick”—this was his estimate of the sidewinding delivery and other low arm angles.  The advice was essentially, “Don’t do it.  Persist with tried-and-true methods.  Don’t fall for some gimmicky quick fix.”

Now, I’ve seen many a boy slinging pitches from down under in tournaments who was cruising a direct course for serious elbow damage.  Odd angles can be effective because the hitter never sees them in ordinary play; and, because they don’t appear in ordinary play, coaches don’t know what to teach about them.  Advice can be very bad, if any advice at all is offered.  So “stay away” is certainly not the worst thing you could tell a parent who’s looking to lower his boy’s release point radically.

At the same time, some of us are so designed by Mother Nature that slopping the ball from belt-high or lower just seems right.  We don’t need minute instruction—and we’re less likely to hurt our arm sidearming than we are by trying to come straight over the top.  I was always that way.  I could imitate Willie Mays’s underhand flick of the ball back to the infield without any particular rehearsal.  (The basket catch was another matter: I never could carry my Willie impersonation that far.)  I’m convinced that the reason for this was simply my broad frame.  Look at any photo of Mays and you can tell that he, too, was very broad-shouldered.  Wide-framed people actually have to work at coming over the top more than “normal people”, whereas coming around the body can often be a very fluid motion for them.

I don’t recommend, however, doing what coaches call “throwing over your body”: typically vague coach-speak for cutting off your straight path toward the plate by landing with your front foot angled toward third base (for a righty).  This is another recipe for arm problems.  Even I, pitching-coach interloper that I am, grow shocked at the number of ex-Major Leaguer color commentators who extol how Jake Arrieta or some other horse enhances his effectiveness by slinging the ball over his body.  I’d never recommend that.

But in trying to work out the ideal sidearming motion for broad-framed guys, I encountered a terrific amount of trouble removing the “over the body” approach from the equation.  Especially for a low submariner, landing on a front foot that goes straight to the plate almost means landing in a face plant.

I still think that the low angle is specially suited to wide frames, which also tend to be shorter than average.  I would dare to disagree with my son (who threw sidearm-submarine very successfully for a D2 university) that his build really wasn’t best fitted to the motion.  Yes, the lanky guys can make up for some of the velo lost through “over the body” motion when they slingshot with their gangly arms… but they’re also, I continue to maintain, taking the quick route to joint damage. Shorter, broader frames appear to me to execute these movements more naturally and less riskily. Just last month, I saw a short submariner on the Single A Rome Braves look very smooth and effective.

Nevertheless, my son Owen was convincing enough that I decided to dedicate my next experiments to lifting the arm angle just above sidearm—to what might be called the 9:30 slot (where sidearm is 9:00 and an impossibly perfect overhand would be high noon).  This plan seemed the more logical in that my review of yesteryear’s best pitchers, brief though it has been so far, shows many of them using exactly the 9:30 slot and avoiding the true sidearm position.  I had downplayed the evidence for a while that was staring me in the face through the examples of Dickie Kerr (5’7”), Dolf Luque (5’7”), Art Nehf (5’9”), Bobby Shantz (5’6”), and others…. but I always end up regretting any act of brushing evidence under the rug.  I did that occasionally when I was analyzing Deadball Era swings: “Ah, that can’t mean anything, and it looks so awkward… let’s just ignore it.”  Always a bad idea.

So… in future months, as I get settled in my new home, look for me to investigate the 9:30 angle with much greater thoroughness.  It has a pedigree of success from the old days, it was popular with pitchers who “weren’t allowed” to have sore arms and had to grind away like huskies in the traces, and I persist in thinking that it must work especially well for broad body types.  These are the coordinates of my newly corrected course.

low arm angle, pitching, Uncategorized

I Love Paul Reddick, BUT…

I first encountered Paul Reddick through his online 90 mph Club.  My son was about twelve years old at the time, as I recall.  Reddick was so devoted, not just to growing his business, but to helping young people that one could actually book a free online counseling session with him after sending a video.  My son did so.  I think he learned a few things.  As the years passed, he probably soaked up a lot more from SidearmNation.com and other sources because of his unique motion.  Mr. Reddick never had much use for sidewinders or submariners.  I recall his writing very publicly to one dad that the submarine pitch was a “gimmick”.

This, I’m afraid, is one of the weaknesses “that flesh is heir to” (in Hamlet’s phrase).  We start out small and fight bravely.  Perhaps we prevail and begin to grow large… but we still carry the scars of those earlier skirmishes.  We perceive challenges to our triumphant method (hey, it’s selling, isn’t it?) as renewed attempts to pull us down, so we ignore them.  We develop a thick hide.  Criticism is all lumped together into a black plastic bag and hauled to the landfill.  I’ve lately heard and read a lot of talk from Mr. Reddick that follows the pattern, “I can hear the screams from coaches right now over what I’m about to say… believe me, they’ve called me every name in the book….”  A bit of persecution complex there, don’t you think?

I must have landed permanently in the Reddick doghouse when I lately broke the rules—which I didn’t know at the time—with an attempted post on one of his discussion groups.  There’s that voice within me which wants to respond, “Heck with you, Jack!  I’ve been in classier doghouses than this one!”  I’m very much a small guy, of course, and one who sees no convincing signs that he’s on the way up.  You can easily get defensive, and even combative, in this game of trying to teach a game.

I’ve retained enough sense, though, to say this: if you ever see a recommendation about pitching on my site and a counter-recommendation on Reddick’s, follow Paul’s advice.  Despite his offhand dismissal of submarining (which isn’t really sound empirically: the altered arm angle, besides being tough for hitters to pick up, puts different spin on the ball), he’s the expert.  The things I volunteer on any mound topic are mere suggestions, and all come with the urgent caveat to cease and desist what you’re doing the first time it feels uncomfortable.  Always listen to what Mother Nature’s telling you through your body.

The video (or videos) that I’m planning to cut soon under the title, “I Love Paul Reddick, BUT…” are all going to address hitting topics.  Mr. Reddick has categorically condemned a whole list of ideas and practices: swinging down on the ball, using hitting tees, relying on pitching machines in the cage, etc.  I actually agree with him on most of these issues… up to a point.  But what disappoints me is the sweeping condemnation.  “Never do this!”  Um… don’t you mean don’t do this in a certain way or in certain circumstances?  I’m sure that the “categorical imperative” approach markets better over the Internet.  I’m also sure that it doesn’t serve the cause of truth.

But then, I don’t really believe that Reddick uses this formula because it markets well.  As I said before, I think he just can’t sheath his sword and trade a few prisoners.  The en gaile of the Old Irish heroic epics is fluttering about his chariot and filling his ears with her shrieks.  “Never… always… never!  Attack, attack, attack!”

hitter reaction time, low arm angle, pitchers of short stature, pitching

Socrates to the Pitching Oracle: “At least I know that I know nothing!”

I found myself shifting to defense at several moments as I filmed my first videos for the SmallBallSuccess.com page on pitching.  It had been explained to me just hours earlier that my hitting videos were pretty low-tech and soft-sell, without a hint of Billy Mays (or even Billy Graham).  As the immortal Dr. House might say, “Well, duh!”  Yes, we’re low-budget around here; and as far as designing sophisticated “quickies” for a generation of iPhone addicts whose thumbs can’t stay still, we’re also pretty low-skilled.  Guilty as charged.

Everything on this site is intended for thoughtful students of the game in search of real solutions.  I know our hitting advice can lead to good results.  I’ve tested it myself.  At 64 years old and with a touch of arthritis in one foot (not to mention a slow-healing sprain in the opposing knee), I’m not exactly the athletic equivalent of Deion Sanders; yet I can hit low liners pretty consistently off a machine that’s giving me about the same reaction time as if I were facing 90+ mph fastballs.  (See the two hitting videos marked “demonstration”.)  A young person who doesn’t have the physique to jack pitches over the fence could nevertheless be getting himself on base very reliably in front of those guys if he would take my advice.  Games are won by runners crossing the plate: you get no extra points for batting yourself in.

Now, pitching is another kettle of fish.  I don’t claim to know much of anything about pitching, and I say so in my first video on the subject.  I tried to unpack that remark somewhat in the second video, and I’ll try again here.  Pitching coaches can teach you the inside move and the slide step.  They can (let us hope) teach you the change-up grip.  They can advise you about how to pace yourself, and maybe about how not to get rattled when your fielders let you down.  All good stuff.  Some of them—the best—also know really helpful tips about how any pitcher may be effective while staying healthy.  Paul Reddick’s simple “wall drill” works for everyone.  When Jimmy Vilade used to coach at my university, he offered summer clinics that my son often attended—and I’ll always remember Jim’s urging his young understudies to “show the ball to the center fielder” as their front foot came forward in the delivery.  I diagnosed a little problem in my own experiments the other day by recalling this tip.

Nevertheless, not even Paul Reddick or Jim Vilade knows what it’s like to be “serving a life sentence” in a short, broad body type.  Pitching coaches (though not these two, as far as I know) will typically not even let a short guy on the mound, starting in lowest Little League.  They have no advice for us; or, rather, their advice is to go somewhere else.  I recollect a response that Paul wrote publicly to a father who inquired about his son’s maybe seeking more lethality from a lower arm angle: “That’s just a gimmick,” he said unencouragingly.  Now, I do not recall if Reddick was specifically targeting the submarine pitch with this comment or all sidearming below the nine o’clock angle; but gimmicks, you know, can get people out, especially in a short reliever.  My old pitching machine makes me swear like a sailor when it decides to chew on the ball a while after giving the green light for imminent release.  This is none other than the “Cueto technique” of varying release time.  Don Larsen was using it when he pitched his World Series perfect game entirely without a wind-up.  For crying out loud… all of this is “gimmickry”!

My son set a season record for appearances at his competitive D2 institution by throwing somewhere between sidearm and submarine.  Granted, he got great movement on the ball—but the odd release angle itself must have diminished the hitter’s reaction time.  Through my own trial-and-error methods, I have found that the “8:30” slot actually permits my ancient body to throw with maximal speed and accuracy; and if my increase in velocity only nudges me up from 52 to 60 mph, the same proportion would bring your 70 close to 80.

Can I guarantee that?  Of course not!  Furthermore, “I know nothing about pitching”—meaning that I really don’t want you to hurt yourself trying to do things that might strain tendons and ligaments in ways of which I’m unaware.  I can only tell you that a) I have a low-stature body type, b) I can throw most effectively at 8:30, and c) I haven’t yet run into any nagging arm or back pain at all because of this delivery.  Could my “nothing” be more than some professional pitching coaches know?  Well, if they’re telling you just to give it up… aren’t they really telling you, in “always preserve the illusion of omniscience” coach-speak, that they don’t know how to work with someone like you? ~ JRH