Getting the Spin is Only One Part of Movement

Recently we worked with one of the country’s top high school pitchers. Her riseball had a lot of potential. The spin was right, but we knew the movement could be far better, so we spent a couple of days working on the other components of the pitch and then turned her loose. At that point the catcher was baffled by the riseball.

Our pitcher could throw it low enough to be called for a strike, but just as the catcher closed the glove it would jump over her shoulder.

We all agree that the ball must spin in the right direction, or the seams must be angled correctly, in order to create movement. However, that is only the start. Footwork, body position, and technique heavily influence the actual movement. Let’s say a pitcher is working on a curve. If she steps over too far, her hips are lost and she has to try to “muscle” the ball back across the zone with her shoulder. She still has great spin rates, but she loses the drive from the back hip which can help the ball to explode across the zone. If her hips are neutralized, far too much work is being done by the shoulder, a part of the female body that normally is not designed for heavy loads. The elbow will fly outward, which can affect movement while increasing the injury risk. If the same pitcher steps too much to the center line, she often does not get that angle across the zone that compliments the pitch. It may be a good pitch, but can it be better?

How they create the spin can also affect the pitch. With today’s emphasis on spin rates, pitchers will try to “twist” the ball heavily with the wrist, which can draw the elbow and shoulder into the movement. Those things negatively affect the ability of the core to enter the pitch. Let me give you an example that any parent can try. Stand sideways as if you are in the open position like a pitcher. Take a light step toward the catcher while making an arm circle. As your hand comes down to the hip, snap your fingers right at the hip. Most of you will see that your arm and your back leg immediately stop. If a pitcher suddenly imparts a twist on the ball with wrist alone, the same thing can occur, so she tries to compensate for the sudden tension in the core by lifting or rolling the shoulder, which throws everything out of sync and can cause pain. She may have good spin, but the ball just does not move as well as hoped.
The hips are an incredible force with females. This is a mystery to many people because mechanical moves are often memorized at the expense of “feeling” the power radiating from the strongest part of the female body. That is a discussion for another day.

The other thing that occurs with today’s emphasis on spin rates is the direction of the spin. Kids come to us with great spin numbers, and they may look good in the drills for specific pitches, but once they go full speed that spin is compromised in a different direction. It may be centrifugal force that pulls the wrist into an unintended direction or the speed of the circle can keep the pitcher from being able to sense the correct hand position. She may be measured with great spin rates, but the direction of the spin can be ineffective for movement.

If you are around us, you will see a lot of emphasis on the correct spin, and specifically how to use the hips to accelerate the rate of spin, but the bottom line is that we want maximum movement. That means the people watching should actually gasp at the sudden and unexpected change in direction of the ball. Spin is just one of the elements that causes that to occur.