coaches and trust, low arm angle, pitchers of short stature, pitching, pitching velocity, submarine pitching, Uncategorized

Multiple Arm Angles: Another Secret Weapon in a Dusty Closet

If my arthritic right heel lightens up, I may attempt a video today where I demonstrate the advantages of using different arm angles—or the possibility thereof, anyway.  (I can’t show the advantages unless I can put you in the batter’s box; and at my age, my best pitch is unlikely to intimidate or bumfuzzle a good teenaged hitter.)  Do you know that successful pitchers of yesteryear once did this routinely?  Why wouldn’t they?  Throwing the same pitch from a different angle is equivalent to throwing a different pitch, as far as confusing the hitter goes; and the change of angle is likely to ensure that, in fact, the pitch will move differently, as well.

In an era when hurlers like Johnny Cueto and Pedro Strop are slipping in an extra kink in their wind-up or not always coming set with no runners on base (Satchel Paige must be smiling up there), a pitching tip that doesn’t involve turning on the after-burners may be ripe for reconsideration.

Now, when this strategy popped into my head the other day, I recollected that I had volunteered it to my son’s coach back in his high school days.  I probably packed it away in memory’s attic because the coach immediately rejected it.  (No surprise there: he would always reject any suggestion from any dad.)  Even at the time, however, I remember being struck by the lameness of his curt answer.  He said that a change of motion would signal the hitter what pitch was coming.  Drop down to submarine level, and he thinks, “Oh, one of those: the low one that corkscrews in.”  Throw from just above sidearm, and he thinks, “Uh-huh: here comes the slider.”

In the first place, I really doubt that most hitters at any level could process that the arm slot was changing as the routine wind-up shifted an instant before the ball’s release, then further match the surprise angle with a particular kind of recollected pitch.  Especially in the case of guys with limber arms that can go to odd places, the batsman will not have seen this pitcher two or three times in the game already—for we’re describing a reliever.  In the second place, even if the hitter’s calculations could occur so quickly, how would he know that the submarine angle means a fastball or change-up rather than a slider?  Are we talking about a pitcher who has only one item on the menu from all of his angles?  Why would we assume that… other than to stop pesky dads in their intrusive tracks?

To be sure, altering the arm angle within a sequence of pitches to a given hitter requires great skill.  You run the risk not only of missing your target badly on the first attempt at surprise, but also of messing up your mechanics when you try to recover your more routine motion.  I have no doubt that this is precisely why contemporary pitchers don’t plunder history for the technique: it’s just too hard to master.  Their coaches are badgering them, instead, to keep repeating exactly the same motion.  Every time.

But here’s my answer to that: if it weren’t hard, everyone would be doing it.  As a pitcher of unusually short stature, I would want my secret weapons to be really tough to perfect.  Mother Nature has already given my competition several advantages.  If I can claim an advantage or two of my own, therefore, simply by working extra-hard, then I’m happy.  I’ve found a way to level the playing field—and all I have to do is practice more and better than my rivals!

Always remember to “practice smart”.  Hard work without a clear objective may well be wasted effort.  Practice hitting your spots from different release points.  Ignore velocity, at least until you nail down accuracy.  Perry Husbands wrote a book called Downright Filthy Pitching a few years ago wherein he explains, with the aid of many charts, how the same pitch thrown at the same speed becomes different pitches at different points.  A low-away fastball is as good as a change-up, since the bat’s barrel leaves the zone of possible contact very quickly.  A high-in fastball at the same speed becomes a rocket, because the barrel has to get out in front of the plate super-early to make contact.

In other words, Coach I-Don’t-Talk-to-Dads, even if a pitcher has nothing but a fastball from either of two arm angles, he will have at least four pitches with an accompanying mastery of location.  You should know that, Coach, if you’re really the genius you pretend to be.

(N.B.: The video proposed above was later produced and uploaded.  See it here.)

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 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