Why are all these MLB pitchers injuring their arms? s Matt Moore to name a few. How could this happen to so many young pitchers with such great arms? My answer to that questions is how much wear and tear was their arm under from when they played as a youngster. Think of it this way: If you drove your car for thousands of miles with your front or rear tires unaligned then eventually you would expect them to fail or blowout. The same holds true for a pitcher’s throwing arm. When the pitcher’s technique is unaligned and they are throwing thousand of pitches starting from little league, then one should expect the throwing arm to fail or blowout at some point. The problem starts at the little league levels where pitcher’s are not taught the correct way to throw first, before they take on pitching. If a youngster is throwing a baseball with a bad technique that is bad enough, but when the start to pitch on a mound magnifies the problem 10 fold. It is like the unaligned tire analogy mentioned above. My belief system is based on teaching kids at a young age that the body generates the throw not the throwing arm. How many times have you heard someone say, “Wow! that kid has a great arm” but does anybody look to see if the kid has a great technique to go along with that great arm, no. Because since the youngster in little league throws hard, is accurate and shutouts every team then we all think they have great “mechanics” (technique). I know this for a fact because it happened to me a couple years ago when a close friend of mine asked me to look at a 15 year old left handed pitcher who had a very bad elbow. He went to high school at a very successful (winning program) that parents send their kids to for the baseball program (another huge problem for throwing arms). My friend ask the coach if he could have Frank DiMichele take a look at his delivery. The coach replied, “sure! but tell Frank his mechanics are fine, it is in his head”. Well it was isn’t in his head it was in his delivery and elbow, because before I even had a chance to take out my camcorder to videotape the boy it was so obvious to me that his technique was horrible and that is why his elbow is killing him. Here is the reason no one ever took the time to help the boy who now stands at 6′ 5″ LHP was accurate had a great curveball and helped his coaches win a lot of games when he was young…..He has since has recovered from Tommy John surgery, transferred out of the high school and will pitch in college next season and before I forget………He hasn’t had any issues with his arm. So for this blog I want to share some of the things to look for in a pitcher’s technique before they become major issues down the road.
Most pitching instructors, coaches and gurus emphasize arm positioning @ “foot plant”. I say, “too late” you need to focus on………
Arm Positioning @ Foot Touch
Arm care should be at the forefront of everyone’s agenda when managing, teaching or training young pitchers not only to pitch, BUT to pitch for a long period of time. Arm care is mostly thought of as; weight training, rotator cuff exercises, weighted baseballs, medicine balls, band work, long toss, flexibility and mobility training etc. These are all significant to a pitcher’s in-season and off-season conditioning programs and are important to the strength and elasticity of the throwing arm as well as the body. But proper arm positioning @ foot touch should be first and foremost to make sure the arm is positioned to last and stay out of harm’s way.
The following photos below of Curt Schilling-Greg Maddux-Mariano Rivera-Roger Clemens each display two intersecting red lines, creating 4 quadrants. The 1st quadrant is the lower right, the 2nd is the lower
left, where the elbow is shown in the photo. The 3rd is where the throwing hand is shown and the 4th quadrant is the closest to the pitcher’s head.
All the pitchers in the above photos have their throwing elbow positioned in the 2nd quadrant while the throwing hand is in the 3rd Quadrant @ “foot touch”. Positioning the throwing arm in this manner will enhance the pitcher’s longevity, accuracy, and velocity by creating a healthy pathway for the arm to travel.
HERE ARE THE IMPORTANT FACTORS @ Foot Touch
1. Throwing Hand • Positioned above the elbow and above the shoulders/acromion line (the line from top of the shoulder to top of the opposite shoulder). • Hand inside/in front of elbow.
2. Throwing Elbow (The Olecranon-Point of the elbow) • Slightly below the acromion line (the line from top of the shoulder to top of the opposite shoulder).
3. Elbow Flexion • The elbow must be bent/flexed.
The proper timing for the throwing hand to enter the 3rd quadrant is at “foot touch”. The reason the timing at “foot touch” is so critical is because at this moment in the delivery the front shoulder starts to separate itself from the throwing shoulder, leaving the throwing shoulder behind. The separation of the shoulders will cause the scapula to come a.k.a “scap loading”. Please understand that “scap loading” does occur, but it should be noted that it is a “result” and not an action.
The throwing arm positioning at this stage of the delivery is where the main focus should be when it comes to evaluating the efficiency of a pitcher’s technique/delivery. Is the arm action built to last?
If you look closely and focus on the throwing shoulder and not the throwing arm, you will see that the back shoulder (white arrow) has not moved from touch to plant. But the front shoulder has started to rotate away from the back shoulder causing the chest to expand and the scapula to come together. The location of the pitching hand in relation to the elbow (Olecranon) and the shoulder line @ “foot touch” is an indicator of whether the pitcher is creating a safe and effective pathway for the arm. As you can see in the photo above this pitcher’s arm is not in a good position @ foot touch (red arrow) restricting the throwing arm from reaching its full range of motion which will increase the wear and tear on the throwing arm.