This is an excerpt from Complete Guide to Pitching, The by Derek Johnson.
Balance and Momentum
Before we delve into the nuts and bolts of lower-body mechanics, be sure to note that the lower body—feet, legs, and hips—is directly responsible for the creation of momentum in the delivery. The pitcher starts the delivery by moving the feet and lifting the leg, which generates the force needed to propel the ball. This momentum builder is referred to as the tempo of the delivery. Along those same lines, the lower body is responsible for maintaining balance during these movements, allowing rhythm and timing to occur. The pitcher wants to gain momentum so that more force can be harnessed and applied; at the same time, he needs to remain balanced so that the rhythm and timing of his movements will allow him to apply these forces at the proper time. As mentioned in chapter 2, balance serves as one of the seven foundational principles of this book. It promotes athleticism in the delivery, and if the pitcher strives to balance all areas of pitching, he has a better chance of becoming a complete pitcher.
The ability to move from one foot to another with power, precision, and balance is vital for the pitcher. These movements harness the pitcher's power so that he is able to apply maximum force to the baseball and control of the pitches that he throws. Every pitcher should practice developing a solid foundation on the back foot, as well as learning to land solidly on the front foot.
So how does a pitcher remain balanced and athletic with his lower body? As the lead foot and leg lift up to start counterrotation, the majority of the pitcher's weight should be distributed on the ball of his post-leg foot. As the delivery unfolds, the pitcher should be able to completely control the movements he is making, keeping his head in the middle of his body. And when landing, the pitcher should land flat with the majority of his weight distributed onto the ball of his stride foot as the ball is released. This is athleticism. This is balance! The pitcher moves his body where he wants and how fast he wants. He coordinates the upper and lower half of the body to create symmetry for the impending explosion at the end—the pitch.
This drill uses an Airex pad, a foam pad designed to promote balance. The pitcher's main responsibility is to travel from one foot to the other while on the Airex pad, maintaining balance and posture. This drill can be completed with or without the use of a baseball.
The pitcher will execute this drill in sock feet so that he can feel the foam pad better. The drill will start with one foam pad and then an additional pad will be needed.
- The pitcher steps on the foam pad with his back foot and starts in the set position. He lifts his front leg multiple times trying to keep the back foot stable on the foam pad. An actual throw may or may not be used during this portion of the drill.
- The pitcher starts in the set position with the foam pad directly in front of him at a distance that allows for a proper stride. He lifts his front leg one time and lands with his front foot as stable as possible on the foam pad. An actual throw may or may not be used during this portion of the drill.
- The pitcher starts in the set position with the foam pad underneath his back foot and a second foam pad in front of him at a distance that allows for a proper stride. He lifts his front leg one time and lands with his front foot as stable as possible on the foam pad in front of him. An actual throw may or may not be used during this portion of the drill.
It should be noted that pitcher should start slowly with his movements and build speed as he gets more comfortable with the foam pad underneath him.
As discussed in the previous chapter, posture is a series of movements that make up the delivery and help determine body alignment and direction to the plate. Subtle moves that the pelvis, spine, and head make during the delivery can cause inefficiencies and inconsistency of movements. Obviously, it then makes sense that posture can also affect what happens in lower-body mechanics. If the center (pelvis and core) isn't used as the engineer for movement, steering the body down the mound will be difficult, and poor direction can occur because, as noted, the legs and arms will always follow the center. A relatively common example of this is the lack of proper posture in a pitcher who strides across his body. This occurs because, as the pitcher lifts to the top of his delivery and starts his descent to the plate, the pitcher's head and spine work in front his center of gravity, causing a forward lean. As a result, the pitcher fails to initiate his core properly, and his body drifts toward the side, causing him to stride across his body (see figure 4.2). His legs did not necessarily lead him to striding across his body. It was poor posture and a poor “center” that led the way.
Another common postural deficiency that affects timing, alignment, and momentum is bending the back knee with too much flexion instead of angling the knee toward the plate (see figure 4.3). When the back knee is flexed, the posture of the pitcher changes dramatically (the pitcher sits, or lowers his profile and becomes smaller), and the hips are limited in their ability to move out toward the plate because they are stacked. This sitting action angles the knee toward the open-side base (right-handed pitcher toward third base and left-handed pitcher toward first) instead of keeping the knee under the hip and directing the back side toward home plate. This can create a stalling effect, or a starting and stopping and then restarting, which disrupts momentum to the plate. Stalling will often create rhythm and timing issues, and the pitcher's command and stuff can be compromised.
The pitcher should instead attempt to get “down the hill,” turning the back side and back knee into a closed-off front side, as shown in figure 4.3a. This will leverage the body and is known as riding the back leg down the hill.
The following list includes important features that can positively or negatively affect posture. A pitcher can work on these areas to improve posture naturally during training or bullpen sessions without changing large movement patterns—they are small details that create big changes.
- Setup—The feet should be hip-width apart in the stretch position; the front-foot arch should be in line with the back-foot toe so the pitcher is in a position that makes it easier to lift the front leg; the pitcher should be in an athletic starting position with knees bent and weight distributed evenly.
- Ball of foot—The weight of the back leg should be on the ball of the back foot and spread evenly along the foot; the pitcher wants to avoid letting weight go to the heel of the back foot, or too close to the toes.
- Leg lift—For a more compact delivery and for a greater chance of good posture and connection with other body movements, the leg should lift instead of swing; the front foot should be under the front knee the majority of the time through the lifting phase.
- Chin over belt—During the lifting phase, the chin should remain over the center of gravity; some flexibility can be allowed here as long as posture is not adversely affected. A still head early in the delivery is something the pitcher should strive for.
- Tight belly button—The pitcher should tighten the abdominal muscles directly behind the belly button when the front leg is lifted to start the delivery; this tightness can lead to proper alignment and posture.
- Angled back knee—As the pitcher lift and starts his decent, the back knee should start the chain reaction for rotation by angling itself toward the plate. If the back knee is angled properly, good alignment and proper rotation will occur.