More on improving your Fastball

Coach Bagonzi's New Book, The Inner Sanctum - Mastering the Act of Pitching is currently being finalized and will be released in Nov. 2011! 

E-Book Now Available !  

Preview & Order Coach Bagonzi's Act of Pitching Series in E-book format.

 

The Fastball - No one is doomed to mediocrity because of a humble fastball. Even a weak fastball can be juiced up!

Getting the Fastball to Move - I find in a lifetime of pitching, coaching and instructing that THIS (lack of movement) is the single most consequential and yet lacking trait in prospective pitchers particularly in right handed throwers.

The Spin on Speed - Hurling fastballs is an art form.  Here's how to paint a picture for your pitchers.

The Effects of Graded Weighted Baseballs... - When used properly, and with patience, the weighted ball can be an extremely effective aide. I've had nothing but success with them and several of my subjects who've gone on to the pros, swear by them and are absolutely dedicated to them.

Doctoring the Fastball - Getting the Second Stage - Natural movement of the fastball is rare and is reserved for those few individuals by the nature of their anatomy and delivery make a ball move or veer with little or no effort. Most pitchers do not have this arrangement and find it necessary to "DOCTOR" the fastball. "Doctor" here means imparting different pressures, spins, grips and releases mainly to make a fastball act, or do something other than be straight. This article discusses the types of fastballs and provides information to assist pitchers in developing these pitches.

 

Preview Coach Bagonzi's 2-hour DVD, The Holy Grail - The Fastball - the first in the planned 4-module DVD series.  Click here to preview the DVD designed to help one understand, build, and hone this all-important foundation pitch.

 

Expanding the Toolbox - The Breaking & Off-speed Pitches -. Go to the Pitching DVD and Video Clip Library for more info & DVD preview, click the DVD inset to go to detail page and see a preview of the Integrated Curveball Drill Set segment.

 

 

Increase Your Velocity And Develop Your Arm (at the Same Time)

 

By Dr. John A. Bagonzi

Former Pitcher, Boston Red Sox Organization

 

The magical term for a baseball pitcher is velocity – A fastball with speed on it is a priceless quality.  Zip on your main pitch enhances everything else.  Reducing the time that it takes for a baseball to travel the sixty feet, six inches that comprises the batter/pitcher confrontation is the great mystique all pitchers seek.  In the past, velocity or the speed of a thrown ball was considered to be genetic endowment.  But today, it is apparent that velocity in effect can be taught.  That is, we can increase the speed of a pitcher’s fastball. 

 

The beauty of this phenomenon is that we can increase arm strength at the same time.  Arm strength and arm speed may or may not always correlate.  Possessing a big strong arm may not mean one has the necessary arm speed important to deliver a high-speed pitch.  To increase arm speed may increase arm strength.  The reverse of this is not necessarily true.

 

I’ve done numerous studies on this and concluded that overload training, particularly in a simulative (pitching-type motion) exercise will increase pitching velocity.  I do not believe in heavy weights when it comes to simulative exercise.  Making your pitching arm strong and developing a fastball go hand-in-hand.  Arm speed is the direct connector to a good fastball.  It is one of the most precious qualities a baseball player and particularly a pitcher can have.

LOWER PART OF THE BODY

One must pitch with the legs.  I feel strongly about the “push off.”  I suggest that the transfer of energy from the bottom part of the body to the arm and ultimately to the fingers is where the art of pitching resides (from a mechanical standpoint).

 

Velocity happens if you do enough correct things.  Anatomically, the fastball is a constructive pitch; curves, sliders, and knuckleballs are not necessarily destructive pitches, but they surely do not develop the arm.  Used judiciously, breaking pitches enhance one’s repertoire, and if not overused do not deteriorate arm power.  However, overuse of the breaking pitches can result in diminished arm speed.

 

FACTORS IN VELOCITY

 

  1. Arm angle (3/4)
  2. Wrist action and speed
  3. Rotation – Tightness of Spin
  4. Balance and use of  “off-arm”
  5. Launch phase – Arm Speed
  6. Unison of forces – Lower with Upper
  7. Putting it all together (Full mechanics)

 

AIDS TO INCREASE VELOCITY

 

  1. Weighted balls
  2. Long toss
  3. Consistent throwing
  4. Specific drills
    1. Wrist Drill
    2. Knee Drill
    3. Stride Drill
    4. Full Mechanics – Refined

 

OVERLOAD TRAINING

 

Overload training falls into the following areas:

 

  1. Isometric – against resistance
  2. Isotonic – against moveable resistance
  3. Isometric - Isotonic
  4. Simulative – Throwing motion utilized
  5. Long Distance Throwing

 

I am a proponent of overload training, having had success with my pitchers using this concept.  I favor simulative isometric – isotonic exercise along with long distance throwing to develop arm strength, arm speed, and velocity.

 

WEIGHTED BALLS

 

Weighted balls have long been a part of my pitching scene.  I feel this is one of the fastest ways to increase arm speed and velocity.  Weighted balls come in the following:

 

  1. Red (7.5 oz) for 10 –12 yrs
  2. Green (9 oz) for 13 – 14 yrs
  3. Blue (10 oz) for 15 – 165 yrs
  4. Yellow (11 oz) for 17 yrs
  5. Black (12 oz) for 18+ yrs

(A regular baseball is 5 – 5.25 oz)

 

The sequence of throwing (utilizing the Stride Drill) is:

 

  1. 15 times, every other one hard (weighted ball) – get about 40 –50 ft. apart (keeping back leg back).
  2. 10 times, every other one hard (regular ball) – keeping back leg back.
  3. 10 times, every other one hard (weighted ball) – keeping back leg back.
  4. 10 times, every other one hard (regular ball) – bring back leg around.

This is a total of 45 throws.  The first three phases (1, 2 and 3) should have the back leg staying back – This isolates the overload more to the arm – on the fourth session the back leg can come around.  Note: on No. 2 – the first few throws may go into the ground because the release point has been lowered – this quickly goes away.

 

Another overload exercise that is useful is utilizing the wrist drill to throw 10 with weighted and 10 with regular to speed up the wrist.  In all instances with the weighted ball every other one should be delivered crisply.  Notice I haven’t said real hard.  This program should be every other day.  It can be alternated or mixed with long tossing on a 6-day-a week basis.

 

LONG-DISTANCE THROWING

 

  1. 90 to 100 ft. or more apart
  2. 25 to 30 throws using pitching motion
  3. Stride drill motion can be used
  4. Reduce distance if too difficult

 

This can be done out of a regular pitching motion or as an outfielder does with a short run.  This will undoubtedly emphasize the push-off with the back foot. 

 

Some pitchers cannot throw every day, so that long distance and weighted ball throwing can be alternated.  However, for those that are able to throw everyday – long throwing can be done daily, but weighted ball throwing should always be done every other day and never every day.

 

The following are drills to enhance pitching mechanics:

 

WRIST DRILL

 

  1. Take glove hand with glove and place it on elbow of throwing arm
  2. Raise throwing arm up so that elbow is as high as shoulder or higher
  3. Get grip on ball that enhances fast rotation (1/7 for righties, 11/5 for lefties)
  4. Load wrist by cocking the hand (this is done by bringing the hand backward so that back of the hand is parallel to the ground)
  5. Bring forearm and hand rapidly forward (the player should be throwing to a partner 15 to 20 ft away and aiming for his chest) to impart as much tight spin as possible.
  6. A slight “burn” should occur on the fingertips if done well – a loose grip should ensure this
  7. Do not allow the elbow to drop or an undesirable “pushing” effect will happen
  8. A ‘clawing’ effect should be emphasized
  9. Repeat until it becomes a comfortable exercise

THE STRIDE DRILL

 

In reemphasizing the foregoing, the "HOLY GRAIL" of baseball pitching circles is the fastball.  All pitchers desire to have a high quality Number One.  Coaches are eternal in their pursuit of drills that will enhance the most prized of a pitcher's repertoire.  In reiterating the approach of the "Era of The Technicians" and rightly so, we discover that some of our age-old maxims are faulty and statements such as "you either have it or you don't" are not as ironclad as they previously were.  Being a part of the technician gentry, I vigorously uphold the belief that you can enhance, improve, fortify, embellish and even generate a fastball.  I believe it can be done through the following techniques:

  1. DRILLS to enhance arm speed.

  2. Overload Training - ex-weighted baseballs.

  3. Long Distance Throwing.

  4. Planned and Consistent Throwing.

  5. Emphasis on Mechanics.

  6. Launch Phase Correctness.

  7. Superior and Correct Rotation.

Points 1, 5, and 6 are worthy of some thought.  It is generally understood that you pitch with four parts of your body.  The are:

  1. Throwing Arm

  2. Back Leg

  3. Left Leg

  4. Glove or Off Arm

When a pitcher ultimately uses FOUR parts of the body in a smooth, harmonious manner, mechanical efficiency flows out of this and a newly discovered and improved fastball often times emerges.  

 

It is rarely in a young pitcher that you find a smooth integration of the four parts of the pitching process.  The Stride Drill satisfies a large part of the pitching ABSOLUTES and is essentially a self-correcting drill.  The Stride Drill evolves out of the seventh part or phase of the full mechanical process (if we allow and consider that there are 10 phases) and this is the Launch Phase.  It is undoubtedly the most important phase.  It is the time when forces come together to get the interaction of the Hips, the Shoulders, the Off Arm and naturally the Throwing Arm and Wrist.  This integration with the inertia already created by initial coiling events (hip loading, etc.) causes a surge of power here.  It can be a productive, useful energy release when timing, mechanical dexterity and accuracy are united.  It is necessary to understand the ten steps in full mechanics to appreciate the impact of the Stride Drill.

Ten Steps in Full Mechanics

  1. Address the batter – get sign – stand on right side of pitcher’s plate (assume right hand pitcher; left side if lefty).  This is sometimes called the ‘purchase’.  Both feet on plate or left foot slightly behind (right foot if lefty.  Feet should line up parallel.
  2. Hand and ball in glove (deep in web) – perhaps this has already taken place in addressing of the pitch.
  3. Bring hand, ball, and glove over the head (back of glove facing hitter).  This is optional as often a short position where the glove is in front in a more compact or shortened tension can be utilized.
  4. Pivot on right foot (left foot if lefty) by lifting heel and directing toe towards third base – (first base if lefty) glove starts down and balance and closure is arrived at by coming up on toe of back foot.
  5. Rotate completely with left leg (right leg if lefty) coming as high or higher than belt and load hips by bringing point of lifting knee toward back shoulder (pitching side).  The button of the cap should be directly over the ball of the back foot – (center of gravity is the belt buckle) this is the halfway point.
  6. As the knee comes down – hands break with the thumbs down – (glove side and pitching side).  Hand reaches down and back – this is the first wrist break.  At this point, the front leg has not landed yet and the body is still in a closed position.  The back foot is pushing off (or in the eyes of some it is not, and there is a controlled fall forward).  My observations tend to suggest a push off guarantees a forward motion so important to the pitching process.
  7. The front leg has landed and the arm is in a launch position – hand is above the head (about 10 o’clock) – elbow is even or higher than shoulder – with fingers on top of the ball.  This is the most important part of the mechanical process; for all energies and rotations come together at this critical time.  It is for this reason that we need to be correct and technically sound at this juncture.
  8. Hips rotate, shoulders rotate, arm accelerates, back foot has pushed, torso has passed over “The Wall” – pitching hand is reaching for release point – (a point below the hat on a line from chest to plate).
  9. Pitching hand has passed through release point and shoulder has buried with pitching hand group into imaginary bucket.
  10. Swiveling or rotation of hips pulls back leg off and back foot gently lands (like an airplane touching down) – even up or ahead of  stride foot.  This position has a lot of variation to it.  Tolerance for the ending should be allowed.  However, there should be a distinct ending of the pitch.

Zero in on Position 7 (The Launch Phase –everything seems to be tied to this).  If we begin right and rotate properly in reaching (7) the rest should fall into place.

The Phenomenon of the "Wall"

In the explanation of the stride drill, the concept of the “WALL” is imminent too the effectiveness of the drill.  In many sports, we carry little invisible barriers or even COMFORTERS along in our pursuit of the active visualization process necessary for athletic performance.  Many of these little invisible areas cause us to correctly execute skills (by being mindful of them) and reach higher levels of accomplishment.  Nowhere is this invisible concept more present than in the act of pitching where we want to mechanically achieve the best leverage that our bodies can yield and truly be pitching “DOWNHILL” and be “tall and fall”.

 

Being mindful of the “WALL” which is basically midway through a pitchers stride will encourage the thrower to constantly get his head, shoulders, arm and upper body over this barrier at the proper propulsion time.  The upper back should pass over to the extent the pitcher's number (on his back) can be seen by someone looking straight at the hurler.

 

A pitcher should recognize that "going forward" is absolutely essential in arriving at a consistent release point and also paramount in determining a proper delivery angle (downward) which enhances the pitcher's effectiveness and is constantly advantageous to the pitcher's deception.

The "Double Bar T"

In initiating the Stride Drill, is is well to see the concept of a "TEE."  The back part of the "T" simulates the pitcher's plate.  The long leg of the "T" is actually an imaginary line going directly to home plate.  A second bar or line is the aforementioned "Wall."  this needs to be adjusted for each pitcher as strides vary greatly.  This "T" can be scratched into the ground or pitchers mound or can actually be put down with lime.  On an indoor mound (wood or fiberglass), tape can be used to identify the "Double Bar T."

 

The Stride Drill should be started in this way:

  1. Back foot (right foot if right-handed thrower - left if left-handed) placed against the back part of the "T" (at the junction of vertical line with the horizontal.)

  2. Stride foot should be placed out on the long leg of the "T" and should be partly closed on the line.

  3. The power arm should be placed into the launch position (about 10 o'clock) - behind the ear with thumb facing the outfield - the thrower should be able to see the back of his hand.

  4. The elbow of the pitching arm should be even or higher than the shoulder.

  5. The lead arm (glove side) should have elbow pointing to the target and glove should be "palm" down.

  6. The chin should be over front shoulder as much as possible.

  7. The front leg should be flexible and act as "shock absorber."

  8. Action should be initiated with push off coming from back leg - pivoting on the ball of this foot - with heel pointing up as pivot takes place.

  9. Arm action commences with a 10 to 3 o'clock movement to indicate release point - release point will always be behind the bill (visor) of the hat.

  10. Wrist should snap through release point with thumb being slightly to right (right-hander - to left if left-hander).

  11. Pitching hand should pass into an imaginary "bucket" to the left of the lead leg (to right if left-hander).  This would be a point 7 to 8 inches to the left of the landing leg- fingers should be pointing down (to right of landing leg of lefty).

  12. Pitching arm shoulder should be pointing directly to target.

  13. Chest should be over the front knee and the knee should be over the ball of the front foot.

  14. The face or chin should be over or past the front foot - this should insure proper balance.

  15. The action of the hips should pull the back leg off the pitcher's plate after the pitch is made, and the back leg should come around with the toe landing gently even or slightly ahead of the lead leg.

Cover the Box

When the pitching arm is in the launch position (10 o'clock and more or less on top of a pitching circle), the batter gets a good view of the pitcher's hand.  Good hitters focus on this point, and an imaginary seven-inch square "box" surrounds the pitcher's hand at this point.  If the pitcher in this launch phase will raise his lead arm with glove palm down so that it is on a line with the pitching hand, he can effectively "cover the box" and obscure the pitch that he is throwing.  This requires constant practice to get the timing and position correct.

Knee Drill

A variation of the Stride Drill is the Knee Drill and this can emphasize the following:

  1. Balance
  2. Weight transfer
  3. The "Wall"
  4. Arm Action
  5. Off arm action and location

Assuming a right-handed thrower, action is initiated by:

  1. Right knee on ground or floor (left knee if lefty).
  2. Pitching arm raised to "Launch Position" - fingers on "Top."
  3. Lead arm forward with elbow pointing at target and glove inverted palm down - "Covering the Box"
  4. Chin over front shoulder pointing at target.

Action begins by thrower extending forearm and wrist in a throwing motion to the release point in a smooth forward motion.  Chest is brought over the knee and arm is "buried" to left of knee with fingers pointing down.  Head and shoulders as well as upper back pass over the "Wall".

REMINDERS

In executing these drills, certain absolutes should be emphasized:

  1. Use the "off arm" to accelerate the throwing arm and to balance the body.  This should be visualized as a "captain's wheel" (The off arm and the pitching arm).
  2. "Cover the Box" -  Batters fixate on this little area called "The Box."  A glove placed at the proper elevation can effectively obscure this imaginary square.  This should be done regularly in performing the aforementioned drills.
  3. Finish in the "bucket" always whenever completing the throw.
  4. Always Go Over the "Wall"

These drills can be used to correct flaws and to implement refined mechanics particularly at the "Launch Phase."  Pitchers respond quickly to these drills and invariably increase their balance point thereby enhancing their leverage and accuracy.


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