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YCTH Drill

The drill that is discussed below incorporates the majority of the concepts that are described in the different sections of this You Can Throw Harder web site.  The drill on the surface is pretty simple and we will go in detail as to how each part is executed to achieve the desired result.

The goal of the drill is to create an effortless whip of the arm by engaging the hips and core and finishing with the shoulders.  If proper early layoff is achieved in the shoulder and the weight of the baseball is felt in the pitchers hand on each throw, then a powerful transfer of energy can be created safely.  This drill should be executed at a moderate pace to gain the feel of all the moving parts in sequence, so the athlete can form muscle memory which will allow him to have repeatability on the mound.

Start of the Drill

As you can see in this picture, the pitcher starts facing the target with hips and shoulders level, with the feet outside the shoulders and the glove about chin high.  Weight is equally balanced on the balls of both feet with knees slightly bent to achieve an athletic position.

 

 

Early Separation

The pitcher begins the drill by separating the hands and turning the shoulders and hips backward as he loads weight onto the right foot (RHP).  This teaches early separation of the hands to emphasize getting the reverse arm swing going quickly.  It also teaches a short reverse arm swing to help get the ball above the head early.  The reverse arm swing is relaxed and the ball doesn’t go below the waist.    The front hip and front shoulder are tilted upward.

Weight Loading and Tilt

The shoulders and hips continue to rotate backward with a goal of getting both the lead shoulder and the lead hip pointed above the target with a good torso tilt.  We are trying to get the majority of the pitcher’s weight on the right leg (RHP) and specifically the feel of “energy” just above the inside of the right knee (again RHP).  At the point where the lead shoulder and the lead hip are pointed above the target, the throwing elbow should be even or above the shoulder line and the baseball should be above the head.  The lead elbow should point above the target.

Early Layoff and “Spring” Loading

The actual throwing action starts by pulling the lead hip backward (opening), but the shoulders do not rotate as the lead hip opens.  As the lead hip rotates against the closed upper body, the throwing arm begins to externally rotate (lay off) in the shoulder socket.  This is the beginning of the loading of the shoulder spring.  At the same time, as the lead hip rotates the shoulders are tilted but remain aimed above the target, the pitcher builds torque in the torso (stretches the shirt).

Early Full External Rotation as Shoulders Open

The hips rotate open against the closed shoulders and a point is reached where the lead shoulder starts to open due to the torque in the torso.  As the shoulders begin to open we want the pitcher to be active with the lead elbow to begin to pull the shoulders out of the tilted position.  Ideally we want to be in full external rotation of the arm in the shoulder socket before the shoulders have rotated very far forward.

Matching Arm Speed with Shoulder Speed

The shoulders rotate rapidly and the spine is tilted toward the left hand batter’s box (RHP again).  This spine angle tilt creates the ideal 3/4 slot we want for maximum velocity and control.  The lead elbow pulling backward and down helps speed the shoulders open and helps pull the spine into the tilted position that is desired. At the point where the shoulders are square to the target and rotating at the maximum speed, the arm achieves full extension and the ball is released.  The combination of maximum shoulder speed and maximum arm speed achieve maximum ball speed.

SUMMARY

As stated at the start, this is a simple drill on the surface, but if done correctly the drill incorporates many of the keys to throwing hard.

  1. Early separation of the hands and a short, loose reverse arm swing.
  2. Full rotation of the hips and shoulders with torso tilt and ball above the head when the weight is back.
  3. Early beginning to external rotation when the lead hip begins to open against closed shoulders.
  4. Full external rotation when the shoulders are just beginning to open.
  5. The torso spring unwinds, pulling the lead shoulder open and the shoulder spring unwinds aided by pulling the lead elbow back and down.
  6. With ideal timing, the arm is at full 3/4 extension and the ball is released when the shoulders are square. Maximum velocity occurs when the arm is at full speed and shoulders are at full speed.

Elbow Pain

In the Throwing Problems page I discussed my grandson Kolt, primarily a soccer player, and his interest in playing baseball for his middle school team this spring. To prepare for that possibility we began to throw occasionally and during some of the early throwing sessions Kolt had some elbow pain. I diagnosed his issue to be his tendency to get on the outside of the baseball at release, resulting in a ball flight that was similar to a slider.

Kolt has now been on the baseball team for a few weeks and goes to practice when it doesn’t conflict with classic soccer events. Recently the baseball team played its first game and Kolt again indicated afterward that he had elbow pain. He knows what causes the elbow discomfort, but, because he really doesn’t practice baseball much there isn’t a consistency to his throwing nor is there a consistency to meaningful feedback that is helpful.

I was at that first game and took my camera with a zoom lens. The following picture and cropped isolation of Kolt’s hand shows Kolt’s grip on the baseball as he was warming up before the game.

Reviewing the isolated picture of the grip showed that the meat of Kolt’s thumb was on the side (inside) of the baseball. This incorrect grip significantly increases the chances of Kolt throwing the ball with slider spin and putting stress on the ulnar ligament of the elbow. Compare Kolt’s grip to Paul’s grip (and a left hander’s) shown below where the edge of the thumbnail is located on the baseball

goodgrip Better Grip.jpg

opposite the two throwing fingers. With this correct grip the natural arm and hand action will tend to keep the throwing fingers inside the baseball and reduce the stress on the elbow. Whether the grip is 4-seam or 2-seam, the edge of the thumbnail should be centered opposite the middle of the first two fingers. The grip doesn’t guarantee the player won’t be on the outside of the baseball at release, but it will certainly help.

Kolt’s type of problem is very typical of part time baseball players because there is so much to learn about playing the game that it is easy to forget what appear to be minor details. However, details associated with throwing correctly are critical to keeping the shoulder and elbow pain free.

High Arc Long Toss

I am a huge proponent of high arc long toss to both build and to retain arm strength. The details of high arc long toss are discussed in the Drills page of the website. The easiest way to see the difference in an “arm thrower” and a “whipper” is to watch them play long toss together. The pitcher that whips the baseball will usually outdistance the other by quite a bit.  A guy that whips the ball spreads out the energy of a long toss through his whole body versus relying on the strength of his arm to do the lion’s share of the work. In my opinion the single best exercise for all ages is high arc long toss. It promotes the closed, tilted leverage position that is necessary to achieve maximum velocity.
My goal in college was to long toss over the other ACC mascot signs on the outfield wall. It took a while but I was finally able to throw it out over the center field fence from behind home plate. Once I got into professional baseball my dad and I would long toss on football fields so we had immediate feedback on my arm and body strength as I prepared for spring training. I knew I was ready for spring training when I could throw the baseball through both field goals. Jose Mesa and Eric Plunk would throw with me during the season with the Indians. All three of us liked to throw long toss after our longer outings. It felt good to stretch out those tight muscles and to create good leverage habits.
Long toss on a measured field is a tool we like to use with all the pitchers with whom we work.  In inclement weather you can simulate long toss into a net and achieve somewhat similar results. Long toss gives the proper feedback for a pitcher as he can see gains achieved by getting their lower core involved and whipping the baseball. Long toss also has a direct relation to velocity.  The standard school of thought is 100 yards is equivalent to about 90 miles per hour. Most coaches we are familiar with teach pitchers to long toss on a line with no arc.  We believe this approach is detrimental and results in elimination of the upward tilt that is required to keep the weight back as the pitcher strides down the mound.