Hitting mechanics fallacies

By Dan Gazaway

I’ve picked two parts of the baseball swing mechanics I hear taught frequently that are incorrect. I’ll explain why in a bit of detail, but don’t just take my word for it, however, ask around to some of the hitting mechanics gurus you know and trust.

It’s always great to get other perspectives. The best thing you can do is to build your own baseball swing knowledge base. Baseball instruction is a funny thing. You can find information and hitting “experts” everywhere. However, please for your own sake make certain that you are qualifying your sources of information first before you accept and apply it to your game. If you don’t, you’ll end up spending a lot of money, and changing your batting philosophy often.

Two Mechanical Fallacies:

1. Keeping your back elbow up is NECESSARY for a proper and important.

I come across this advice mostly in the younger ages, such as Little League. To be straight to the point, there is no physical advantage or benefit for a hitter to keep his back elbow up high as he prepares to hit. I’m uncertain as to the origination of this idea, but I do know it spreads like wildfire through Little League parks everywhere. It’s like the cure all for a poor baseball swing I guess.  When it doubt, it must be the back elbow!  You’’ve all heard a fan or parent yelling the advice, “Keep your back elbow up” all too often.

Keeping the back elbow up for younger hitters is often a source of a sluggish and long swing. When the bat head travels into the zone, the elbow of the top arm on the bat is down and relaxed close to the hitter’s body (when performed correctly). Because of this, it makes no sense for a younger hitter to move his back elbow from a stiff  and upright position in the stance to a relaxed  position into the hitting zone. The extra moving parts during a baseball swing simply means less consistency. As a hitter gets older and gains knowledge and understanding of proper swing mechanics, his preference may be of a back elbow that is raised.  However, at this point he can make the adjustments as necessary as he begins his swing.

So how do you fix it?

Hitters should be comfortable when in their batting stance.  Arms should remain close to the body and relaxed.  In this position, most every hitter will find the back elbow is in fact poiting slightly down.

2. Rolling the wrists as your bat comes through the zone is essential for creating bat speed.

I bite my tongue (quite hard actually) whenever I hear the above advice being offered for baseball instruction. While the back elbow up philosophy can be dismissed somewhat as a youth baseball strategy that does relatively minimal damage, this wrists rolling theory cannot be ignored or tolerated if one is going to create a fundamentally sound approach to hitting a baseball.

What “wrist rollers” can’t do:

A.    Hit line drives with back spin consistently (these are the ones that carry deep into a gap in the outfield).

B.     Hit an outside fastball with any consistency to the opposite field with power (left field as a lefty and right field as a righty).

C.   Hit inside fastballs to the pull side (right field as a lefty and left field as a righty).

I make those statements so confidently for the following reason. In order to roll the wrists through a baseball swing, your arms must be nearly straight at the elbows when contact is made with the baseball. Youth hitters can get away with this and escape many time undetected because the velocity of the pitch is not overpowering. Add 10-15 mph to the pitch and those inside pitches will not be hit hard by a hitter (or if they do, it will sting like crazy). Outside pitches will also be difficult because the barrel of the bat will only cover the outer portion of the plate a fraction of the time necessary as the bat is sweeping through the zone.

So how do you fix it?

Teach hitters when swinging at a baseball to have their palm facing up on their top hand as they come in contact with the baseball. As the hands stay close to the body through the swing, the hitter should extend his arms fully only after contact is made with the ball. Creating proper extension is extremely valuable and important for generating good bat speed and maintaining good plate coverage.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net. Get tons of tips and information from Dan here.

How many swings per day?

By Dan Gazaway, Owner & Founder of The Pitching Academy

If you are a looking to become a good baseball player, there is no secret that it will take some hard work at some point. And while hitting drills are immensely valuable, there has always been some discussion about how many swings one needs to take daily or how much time one needs to spend to become “good”. I remember growing up having my coach tell me that I needed 200 swings a day if I wanted to make it anywhere as a ball player. This thinking is flawed. Hitting drills are important ONLY if the hitter has the capacity to focus on the drills at hand. Let me explain.

Baseball is a game of focus. Every motion you make as a baseball player gets stored in your mental memory bank that your body uses to form habits and movements. If you mess around playing catch before a game, your muscles won’t react consistently during the game. If you dink around during hitting drills and swing your bat wildly at the ball on the tee, or forget to pay attention to your form, your muscles will be programmed to swing out of control or inconsistently in a game. Therefore, if you want consistent performances, you have to have consistent movements in practice.

Having worked with all ages of youth baseball I have seen 10 year olds focus better than 15 year olds and everything in between. Some players naturally mature at different rates and at different ages. You must take this into account as a coach when you are working with your athletes on hitting drills, especially those that are stationary and without a lot of action. Pay close attention to your hitters and how much focus they are applying to the drill itself. Once you begin to see a focus breakdown, interrupt the drill, help refocus the athlete and let him start again. Simple breaks in the routine will help many athletes become more productive during hitting drills and will ultimately help their muscle memory become more consistent.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net.

Finding balance and posture from the stretch

Proper pitching mechanics are key to your success!  Before a pitcher begins transferring his weight toward home plate, he has to establish a solid starting point or foundation (Balance and Posture). This foundation must be set properly or a pitcher will not have balance in his delivery. With little or no balance, too much pressure can be put on the throwing arm and the location of the pitch can be effected.

If a pitcher is having a hard time throwing strikes, he may need to work on his posture and balance. To create proper balance and posture, a pitcher should follow a few basic guidelines. Here are some simple steps for successful pitching mechanics :

1. Line up your feet- Line up your feet properly to establish an effective delivery. All pitchers should start with their feet shoulder width apart, in the stretch position. If he starts with his legs further apart than shoulder width, weight transfer often goes back toward second base when he lifts his front leg, throwing off his balance.

Right-handed pitchers start with both feet evenly together, move the left foot forward about 2-5 inches, then spread the feet shoulder width. Left-handed pitchers line up the same way; however, they would be moving their right foot forward instead of their left. This way you start in a closed position with the intent of ending closed at foot strike.

2. Bend your knees and keep weight on the balls of your feet-I cannot think of one sport where an athlete keeps the weight of his body on the heels of his feet. Could you imagine a basketball player guarding his opponent that way? Anyone would be able to get around him and score. Why is it then that many pitchers are often found putting a lot of their weight on the heels of their feet? It makes no sense. Pitchers have a hard time finding the strike zone if they have that habit. Why? They cannot maintain proper balance. Think about it! If the pitcher lifts his leg up and the majority of his weight is supported on the heels of his feet, his balance goes where? Directly behind him! Where is their momentum supposed to go? Toward home plate.

3. Incorporate your hitting stance into your pitching posture- what does this mean? If you are a coach or parent, watch the athlete take a few swings with their bat. If you are the athlete, get into your hitting stance and look in the mirror. What are we trying to identify? We are looking for the angle of your shoulders in your hitting stance after you load. This is not only a natural angle for the athlete, they will find that angle to be much more comfortable for them because they will have more balance. If this is incorporated correctly into his posture, the pitcher will maximize his power throughout the delivery. The key to a successful pitch is to maintain this same posture until the lead foot strikes the ground.

4. Place glove and baseball in the center of your body- if the glove and ball are placed too far to the right or left of your body, you will struggle finding balance. If a right-handed pitcher places his glove too far to the right, too much weight will be transferred back when he delivers the pitch. In turn, his momentum will be lost. The majority of his weight can continue to stay back, but he has to correct the problem at some point in his delivery. It’s best for the pitcher to start with his hands in the center of his body. If a pitcher begins positioning his glove too far in front of his center, he will also have a problem maintaining proper balance.

5. Chin over shoulder- this is a very simple concept to understand. Wherever your chin goes, your head goes. What direction should your head go throughout the delivery? Forward. Keep your head level with the target for a smooth delivery.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net.

Five Baseball Pitches

By Dan Gazaway, Owner & Founder of The Pitching Academy

To make it to a higher level in baseball, a pitcher should have three great pitches, not necessarily a best pitch, but three outstanding pitches he can throw for strikes on any given day. This allows the pitcher to dominate his opponents with a good change of speed and great movement. If a pitcher can throw three outstanding pitches to two locations, it keeps the hitter off balance, keeps them guessing and improves the chances of the pitcher getting the win and making a habit of it. Before I share information on pitching grips; understand the ratio of pitches thrown. 60-65% fastballs 15-20% curveballs and 20-25% change-ups. Here are a few examples of some of the most effective baseball pitches.

Baseball Pitching Grip: Four-seam Fastball: Place your index and middle finger over the horseshoe of the baseball. Thumb and middle finger split the baseball in half; so your thumb should be placed directly under your middle finger. Don’t grip this pitch too tight; in fact, it should be held as if you were holding an egg. Doing this allows the ball to leave your hand quickly minimizing the friction, between thumb and middle finger, to create maximum velocity. If your thumb is not directly under middle finger you will not have the correct rotation on the ball; spinning from the bottom to the top. The average speed of this pitch at the major league level is 89-91 Mph. This fastball is the most commonly thrown pitch.

Baseball Pitching Grip: Two-seam Fastball: For the two-seamer, movement pitch the first and second fingers lay across the narrow seams of the baseball between the two horseshoe-shaped seams. This ball is thrown the same as the four-seam fastball with thumb and middle finger splitting the baseball in half, causing force behind the ball. This pitch goes on average 1 to 3 miles an hour slower than the four-seam. You will see a slight difference in movement with the two-seam as you compare it to your four-seam fastball. Most pitchers throw a combination of both four and two-seams for variation. Many coaches tell their pitchers to grip their two-seam a bit tighter and hold it deeper in your hand. By doing that, they feel it takes velocity off the pitch. In reality, the ball will end up on your fingertips anyway, won’t it? So the ball won’t necessarily slow down. You impart force on the baseball when the ball leaves your middle finger. Important: A pitcher must understand the basic fundamentals of pitching mechanics before they start experimenting with other pitches. It is pointless and even can be dangerous to teach athletes an additional pitch without first knowing and implementing basic throwing mechanics. Every pitch should be thrown with fastball mechanics, only changing grip as well as wrist and forearm angles.

Baseball Pitching Grip: Circle Change: Make a circle or an ok sign using your thumb and index finger. The smaller the circle the tighter the grip actually is, so this pitch may take awhile to master. I encourage my pitchers to start off with a C-change which is really making a large C instead of a circle with your thumb and index finger. The important part while throwing this pitch is wrist and forearm angle as shown in the change-up illustration above. Both pitches are thrown the same with the C or the Circle thrown at the target. I see a lot of coaches teaching the Circle change because it is a popular pitch. However, they don’t teach their pitchers that the Circle is thrown at the target. By changing the position of your wrist (Pronation, turning your palm slightly out, example on bottom page of article) you are imparting rotation, not force, on the baseball. This way you have a nice fading movement while reducing the velocity of the ball. The biggest mistakes most pitchers make while throwing a change-up is slowing down their delivery which in turn slows down their arm speed. Keep your fastball mechanics and arm speed with this pitch and you will find more success with it as it can be deceiving to the batter. Also, don’t roll or pull the circle change. It will not only affect location, but put undue stress on you throwing arm.

Baseball Pitching Grip: Split-Finger Fastball: Basically you’re throwing a fastball with split fingers. The hardest part about the split is the grip. Where the two seams come together, lay your index and middle finger on the outside of each seam. The grip should be firm. The wider the split the slower the ball is going to be. Thumb cuts the baseball in half; the v in the split takes place of the middle finger in the ball. All you do then is throw it like a fastball. It is said that the split can be harder on your arm. That is true, only if you twist your throwing arm at release of the baseball. Twisting the ball is easier to do with this pitch because you are not splitting the baseball with thumb and middle finger. Again, you want to keep your fastball mechanics here.

Baseball Pitching Grip: Curveball: First and foremost, curveballs are harder on your throwing arm because of your arm position at release. However, recent studies show that the slider is the most stressful pitch on the arm. What makes most pitches, like the curveball, unsafe is that pitchers try twisting the ball when throwing instead of focusing on wrist and forearm placement. How we grip the curveball: Simply place your middle finger on the top seam (as shown in the illustration) and place your thumb on the back seam, splitting the baseball in half. Apply pressure on your thumb and middle fingers. Your index finger rests on the ball next to middle finger with no pressure on it whatsoever. A curveball does take a lot of work to master the pitch and throw it effectively for a strike, so be patient and continue working on it. Remember to use the same arm speed as your fastball, just use appropriate wrist and forearm angle while you throw the pitch. What the curveball does and why it does it: Because you’re throwing on the side of the ball and imparting rotation; the ball will be slower, so it looks like a fastball because of arm speed, but drops at the last minute. One of the biggest obstacles for beginners is timing the release of this pitch. If a pitcher lets go of the ball too soon, the ball will stay high and won’t drop. If that happens, a pitcher may have to squeeze the ball a little harder, again, with thumb and middle finger, so he can release the ball later.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net.

Stride Length: What Pitchers Should Know

By Dan Gazaway, Owner & Founder of The Pitching Academy

How long should your stride be? That is a question that we get from many coaches, parents and pitchers. Many coaches give their opinion of how long a stride should be; some say as long as you are tall, some say longer and some say 75% of your height. The answer is as far as your body will allow you to while maintaining proper pitching mechanics. You don’t want to jump to foot strike (losing balance and posture) just so you can add a foot to your stride. You want to push off the ball of your pivot foot while maintaining a closed posture to foot strike. Don’t jeopardize your pitching mechanics at the expense of gaining distance. There is a way to do it right. Your ultimate goal however, is to get a stride at least as long as you are tall.

Why is a long stride important? There are two reasons why you need a good stride. One is to gather enough momentum to foot strike so your fastball has pop. The most exciting reason is that 1-foot = 3 mph perceived pitching velocity. The closer you are to home plate when you release the ball the better. To the batter’s eye the ball appears to be going faster than it really is. Furthermore, when you throw inside, the batter has to react that much quicker to the pitch as well. In order for him to hit the ball on the fat part of the bat, he has to react much quicker to get the bat around.

How do you get a longer stride? Maintaining a proper strength and flexibility pitching workout is important. For example, if your hip flexors aren’t conditioned to handle the demands of the workload pitching places on them, it will affect your distance and you will be more prone to injury. To add distance, try a delayed shoulder rotation. Some pitchers gain an extra 6 inches to a foot delaying their shoulder properly. Work on releasing the baseball later; this will also help you gain velocity. Pushing off the ball of your pivot foot not only keeps you balanced, it also helps you to explode to foot strike adding some distance along the way.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net.

Two Steps to Creating a Blazing Fastball

By Dan Gazaway, Owner & Founder of The Pitching Academy

When you are out working on pitching mechanics this off season, take some time and work on your torque. It’s the key to throwing deep into games as well as improved velocity.

This past week I was out at a local baseball training facility working with a bunch of youth pitchers on pitching mechanics. We were focusing on the lower half of the body (waist down pitching mechanics) and looking at some video clips of Big League pitchers. The purpose was to crack the code so to speak and figure out how these guys created so much velocity and torque that allowed them to whip the ball towards home plate.

After the 30 minutes of watching these video clips and explaining, all of the pitchers, ages 10-18 were seeing the secret all Major League Pitchers understand. It’s the technique of creating torque. There are two points that need to be accomplished while working on pitching mechanics in order to increase torque and pitching velocity.

1. The Leg Lift: Most all youth pitchers I’ve instructed on pitching mechanics understand that lifting your leg into the balance position is an important step. We modified the process slightly. Instead of bringing the front leg up into a balanced position with the knee pointing in the same direction as the chest, we turned in the leg some to close the lower-half of the body off even more. This slight twisting motion, or coiling, prepares the body for the second and most valuable torque- creating technique. Take a look at the picture of Harden (above left) for a visual of this step.

2. Delayed Shoulder Rotation: The second part of the torque process will take some more time to work on during your pitching mechanics training. However, once our pitchers worked through the mechanics, they immediately felt less tension on their throwing arm as their body acted like a giant sling shot.

Upon landing with the front foot, the front foot and front knee should be turned towards home plate. The hips will be slightly open, and the chest and front shoulder should remain closed off and not open at all towards the catcher. The longer my guys were able to keep the upper body from rotating, the more whip action they were able to create.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net.

Improve Your Bat Speed – Part 1

By Dan Gazaway

The single best way to improve your bat speed is to work on the sources of your power and bat speed as a hitter. Hitting a baseball well is nothing more than moving the right parts of the body at the right time. Once you understand what parts of your swing mechanics are in charge of creating the most bat speed, you can target those areas with some baseball hitting drills. This is the first part to a three part series of articles that will help explain the three sources of power to your baseball swing. I will provide a good drill for you to use below.

The first source of power to improve bat speed is your back side. It’s a combination of movement of your back knee, thigh and back hip. Before I get into how this movement works, I need to make sure you understand how to maximize this movement. Prior to the pitch, it’s necessary to shift some weight onto your back leg. This “load” process will allow you to rotate your backside with some force IF you have enough weight loaded up on your back leg. Hitters who avoid loading properly won’t have any pressure on their back leg and consequently won’t rotate their back knee, thigh, and hip properly.

Ok, now that you understand what a proper load is, I’ll explain how this rotation occurs. After the pitch is thrown, the hitter begins to rotate his back knee, thigh, and hip toward the pitch. Simply spinning the back leg in a circle without gaining any ground on the pitcher is not effective and will not produce power. All of your baseball hitting drills should focus on taking energy towards the pitch. A good way to make sure you are doing this correctly is to see if your knee cap is closer to the pitcher than before you started your swing.

One good drill to work on is to begin in a pre-loaded position with a batting tee set up in the strike zone. At about 70% of your full swing potential, take some swings working on rotating and taking your back knee towards the pitcher. Keep in mind that it’s absolutely vital to keep your front leg fairly straight when you are doing this movement. A front leg that bends will prevent any power from being transferred into the second step.

When working on your baseball hitting drills on your own, work as long you can remain focused. Once you lose your focus, you’ll lose the intent of what you are working on. Look for Part II in this series next issue.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy and Simplified Pitching (www.simplifiedpitching.com). He has instructed over 2,000 players in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net.