17 Nov 2014

Take The Time To Find The Problem

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Accuracy is everything in pitching. So many of us spend long hours working with pitchers on their location. Every now and then (which seems to come more often) we scratch our heads while working with a pitcher who has great mechanics but just can’t seem to throw the ball where he wants.

First we video and analyze, shooting at 120fps. That will freeze the ball and allow us to focus down to the fingers. We also carefully watch the throwing motion, isolating our vision on a single aspect of the motion. After years of looking at pitchers we swear our eyes operate at 120fps as well; we just can’t freeze and reproduce the motion.

During these sessions we study basic mechanical actions that may be the cause of the problem. Static and dynamic balance, core stabilization, stride leg angle and landing, and head, eyes level to the horizon, are primary body factors that cause control difficulties.

Occasionally we sneak up behind a pitcher in a set position to see how he is holding the ball in his glove. Taking a quick look or asking him to suddenly show us the ball, has uncovered basic ball grip flaws. We’ve learned never to assume a pitcher truly understands how to hold any pitch. Assured that he is holding the ball correctly, we retreat to the back of the bullpen mound.

One day while reviewing video of a pitcher who was having velocity and location problems we were viewing a segment of film that was shot from a camera directly behind the pitcher. To our surprise, and quite by accident, we discovered the exact cause of both problems. As the pitcher pulled the ball out of his glove, his fingers moved on the ball. At the flex-t position his thumb was completely off the ball! In order to do that the ball has to be held tightly against the knuckles. The pitcher, who was sitting next to us, had no idea that this was happening.

The very next week we worked with another boy with worse location problems. He was doing the same thing. The grip in the glove was good, but like the other pitcher, again we found the thumb flying off the ball during the flex-t phase.

This shot is routine as we videotape our pitchers. We look at all throwers’ fingers during the flex-t phase, especially very small and extra large handed pitchers. The smaller boys seem to roll the ball into the palm. Bigger fingers sometimes fly off the ball in several different ways. We have also found the fingers repositioning themselves on the seams, thereby altering the basic aerodynamics of the ball’s flight, producing unwanted movement on 4 seamers and slow or no movement on other pitches that are meant to move.

Funny thing about this diagnosis…if you know to look for this problem you can often see it with plain eyesight. You can’t totally identify exactly what is happening, but you are alerted that there is a peculiar movement. Common video moves at 30-60 frames per second. Sometimes that’s too slow to capture these subtle motions in a fast moving arm. If you shoot a large number of throwing motions, there is a greater chance of catching that instant on tape.

There is always a specific reason or a series of small, related factors that cause throwing problems. It is our experience that if you spend more time determining the exact cause, the solution will become apparent. Time is always an issue though.  Whether you are a teaching pro on the clock, or a field coach in the middle of practice, you manage time as well as people however, experimenting with and implementing possible solutions to undefined problems takes time.

Take the necessary time to find the problem. We use several video capture methods. They all pay off. We never begin to work with a new student without a thorough video assessment. To us it’s like going to a doctor to fix a possible broken leg. The doctor would never try to save time and quickly set the leg without taking an x-ray because there is a waiting room full of patients. For years we have suggested video analysis to coaches and parents only to receive comments like: it takes too much time, its disruptive to our practice routine, we are not a high tech ball team, we can’t afford a video camera, we don’t have enough on field practice time as it is… Pitchers rarely, if ever, work themselves out of a mechanical flaws. They almost always work themselves deeper into the problem or the into the doctors office.

A Xerox ad once said “Some people never have enough time to do it right, but they always find the time to do it over.”

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