arm health, Deadball Era, low arm angle, pitchers of short stature, pitching, pitching velocity, submarine pitching, Uncategorized

What’s New With Pitching?

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!

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

Make Haste Slowly With Pitching Technique

I don’t think Paul Reddick would object to my reproducing some of the dramatic letter he shared with those on his mailing list yesterday. (The message is already dramatic enough without the punctuation… but I’ve left everything as I found it.)

His name is Mike Reinold.

He’s worked for the Red Sox, Dr. Andrews, and more pitchers than any one of us can count.

This week I’m going to be bringing you the Golden Nuggets I’ve learned from Mike Reinold’s Truth About Velocity Program.

Here we go:

  1. Baseball injuries are up 37% in MLB since 2008 despite the advances in technology, recovery, and strength training. ??
  2. Youth injuries have increased 10x over the same period. 10X!!!!!! ??
  3. Tommy John surgery has seen increased by 193%. (It’s not uncommon for players to have two TJ surgery’s now.) ??
  4. Why is this so? Here’s why: The baseball world is overly focused on velocity.
    As Mike points out, go to any showcase, and you’ll see this: [There follows a photo showing at least a dozen scouts crowded together in the bleachers with their JUGS guns all pointed in the same direction.]
  5. ??The increase velocity directly correlates to the increase in injuries.
    There’s no doubt about the trend.

Look at the chart Mike shows during his presentations showing how the rise in velocity matches the rise in injuries.  ?? [Photo of chart not included.]

  1. Mike points out that this may be the injury era of baseball, not the velocity era!

  2. When parents tell Mike their kid needs to throw hard to get noticed, he argues the velocity will always be important, but because of the injury trend, velocity will not be the only thing that scouts evaluate. ❤

  3. Mike points out that pitchers with the top 20 W.A.R. in baseball threw 93mph. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s not 99mph. ??

I think Paul means the top twenty pitchers in WAR… which is a stat that I began to respect for the first time when I saw it in this message. We need a better number to use in evaluating pitchers, without question. I would watch my 5’8” son lob his submarine slider at hitter after hitter in a D II college conference to produce weak rollovers to the left side; and some of these would be misplayed by shortstops who were still brooding about their last at-bat, and some wouldn’t even be touched by shortstops who were bird-dogging the inherited runner at second rather than setting up where a 72 m.p.h. breaking ball would end up nine out of ten times. But to me, it seemed obvious that this 5’8” kid could have been an “out” machine under the right circumstances. Instead…

Well, instead, college scouts and coaches are unable to replicate the Jamie Moyer Phenomenon, apparently—while, under their watchful eyes, the 6’4” kids (and this is just as outrageous) continue to place the risky bet that they can win a ticket to the next level before their arm explodes.

I want to write more about pitching in the near future, and of course to produce some videos about it. Right now, the stars are not aligning. We’ve had technical problems that have led us to invest in new, hopefully much better video equipment… but the adjustment is time-consuming. I also waged a similar battle with the twenty-first century in trying to figure out how to open a new YouTube channel. I think I’ve prevailed, at last. I realize that not every student of the Deadball Era and of strategies for giving smaller players a headstart is interested in discussions of whether or not God exists. (I’m very confident, by the way, that they play baseball in Heaven.)

I’m also waiting for the weather to cool off and for my own body to recover from one or two setbacks. You see, I have my own preferred high-tech method for experimenting with pitching: I try to do left-handed what I’m doing right-handed. The supposition is that, if I really understand what’s working for me from my good side, I should be able to reproduce it from my weaker side with at least a bit of observable success. Occasionally, this leads to some sore-and-stiff mornings. Sometimes the latest design hardly gets airborne before it nosedives.

Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure that I’m on the right track. You can read a brief description of where our current hypothesis is taking us at the bottom of the Pitching page (click the link in the menu). I’ve selected Padres closer Kirby Yates as my poster-child. The overlap of his style with what we had independently mapped out is very encouraging.

As always with pitching, though—much more than with hitting—Festina lente, in the words of Augustus: “Make haste slowly.” Paul Reddick’s message should suffice to underscore that too many of our kids are getting too banged up under the direction of coaches who pay too much attention to narrow results. Go easy. Don’t let your son or daughter continue to do anything that I or anyone else suggests that creates discomfort. A really good swing can feel awkward the first few dozen times you test it out: a really good pitching motion should never create twinges or a vague sense of, “I shouldn’t be doing this.”

baseball ethics, coaches and trust, fathers and sons, Uncategorized

Coaches Are Not Kings—And Some Kings Have More Humility

Here are a few excerpted passages from an email that online coach Paul Reddick sent around this past week:

Don’t say the wrong thing and blow it for your kid.
No more confusion about what to say.
No more wondering if you’re gonna say the right things.
No more worrying about saying the wrong things.

This is for parents and players who want to know the right way to talk to Coaches, Scouts and Recruiters.
You’ll learn how to get attention from coaches, scouts and recruiters.

PLUS: You’ll learn how to not sound like an amateur.
You’ll know what to say, how to say it and when to say it.
You’ll know what questions coaches will ask you and what questions you should be asking the coaches.
With this Masterclass, you’ll have an unfair advantage over every other parent that coach is going to talk with.

P.S. I hate to say that I have seen parents and players blow it with coaches by saying the wrong thing, but I have. It’s cringe worthy.
Don’t let that happen to you.

Now, I like Paul Reddick: that’s why I’m on his mailing list. Furthermore, the point I’m trying to draw from the missive above isn’t that Coach Paul “is at it again, doing anything for a buck”. (The pitch being made, by the way, is an offer—and a really good offer—for tutorial on how to talk to coaches.)

No, my problem is with the fact that coaches need to be addressed in some special manner. When Reddick teased this same package a few weeks earlier (and I regrettably no longer have that email), he drew a more poignant picture of a kid who gets cut from his high school team just because Dad dared to approach El Supremo and didn’t use the right words. My own son didn’t suffer this fate, but I’ve known boys who have. These are true stories, and the coaching world offers far, far too many examples of them.

In the first place, as a career educator myself, I’m outraged at the proposition that a parent might enter a conference with a teacher tormented by the thought that the child could be failed if words didn’t come out right. If I, as a teacher, were to treat a child punitively for remarks made by a parent, then I should be fired from my job, unceremoniously, and not given a reference. I would be a disgrace to my profession.

Why is a high school coach any different, or even a college coach? Why must their royal displeasure not be stirred, lest the executioner’s sword fall upon a child’s neck? These stories are reminiscent of Herodotus’s about the behavior of the Persian kings.

In the second place, even if the parent’s “talk” with Coach is obnoxiously confrontational or lecturing (“You’re not using him right—he’s never played third base. And he’d hit better if you’d bat him higher in the order!”), why should an adult professional have any difficulty fielding the proper answer? “I’m sorry you feel that way. But this is my job, and I have to do it as I think fit.” Owners of restaurants or car dealerships or shoe stores all have to handle the occasional irate and irrational customer. What is it about the coaching profession that should insulate its practitioners from any such unpleasant run-in?

And why on earth would that “professional” proceed to take his irritation out on a person who had nothing to do with the unpleasantness? If you are a professional, Coach, then don’t attempt to show it by claiming some locker-room version of Papal Infallibility. Demonstrate your superior understanding by sizing up the talent at your disposal and making good use of it. If Leroy has the makings of a good third-baseman but also a really annoying father… well, so make him a good third-baseman. What’s the problem? The father should have nothing to do with it. What kind of jerk are you, that you’re determined to punish the father by depriving the team of its best answer at a key defensive position?

This whole subject makes my blood boil. Particularly when I’ve had so much personal experience of coaches who do not know their trade as well as they ought—turning weak hitters into weaker hitters, ruining young pitchers’ arms, shattering players’ confidence with sarcasm and contradictory instructions—I should think a little humility would be a requirement for the job. Instead, too many coaches seem determined to hide the limits of their competence behind a wall of intimidation. You do what they say, unquestioningly… or you die. You clean out your locker and disappear.

This kind of behavior is neither professional, nor morally responsible, nor functionally adult. It disgusts me. And that one should need a crash course to address figures within the professions because so many of them appear to behave in just this way is a black eye on the game of baseball.

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