Four Key Principles of Pitching by Kirk Walker
There are many terms that can be used to describe the important pieces of the pitching motion. The terminology PitchingMagic uses describes five key points in the delivery and the students watch great pitchers at each of these five points and try to emulate their technique. There is of course far more to it but these form a simple guide that beginners and advanced pitchers can understand. The PitchingMagic terms are Push, Position at (or transition to) toe touch, Position at elbow connection, the Forearm swing and the Follow through. These are described elsewhere on this website.
Kirk Walker did research, studying slow motion video of pitchers for several years, and developed the four key principles behind throwing a pitch. He has given me permission to use his terminology in describing the principles. He calls the Alignment, Posture, Spacing and Sequencing. These are not technique per se but describe the result of applying technique to the pitching motion. This allows for variation in technique as long as the key principles are achieved. For beginning pitchers I teach everyone the technique based on the PitchingMagic 5 key points. When more advanced pitchers start with PitchingMagic their current technique is analyzed in the context of Kirk's 4 key principles and adjustments are made as needed to get to those four, but not necessarilly to match my 5 key points exactly.
Basically this means that everything is moving in the same direction, towards the target. Side to side motions divert energy from the forward direction of the pitch and also make pinpoint control more difficult to achieve. Alignment also deals with the arm circle, and the stride as well as other things. As an example of how technique differes from principles consider the path of the ball on the front side of the circle. The PitchingMagic technique has the elbow above the power line (the line that runs from the outside of the push leg to the target) on the front side with the ball in front of the face due to a slight flex of the elbow. Jenny Finch, as an example, brings the ball up on the power line, in front of the shoulder and not the face. So why does PitchingMagic technique differ from Jenny's, one of the best pitchers of all time? They both follow Kirk's alignment principle.
There are several reasons but the most compelling one is that virtually every other great pitcher brings the ball in front of her face. Jenny, being one of the best female athletes of her time can do things that would be difficult for others to do. By the time the upper arm makes connection with the body just before release, Jenny looks just like everyone else with the ball facing the side and close to 45 degrees of elbow flex (hand lag). Another reason is that there is anecdotal evidence that bringing the ball up on the power line leads to more shoulder injuries. Also from my personal experience teaching pitching the 10U and 12U pitchers who are on the power line all the way around, while they can be very effective at those ages, seemingly tend to fall behind performance wise as they move into high school. PitchingMagic technique is meant to give the girls the best opportunity to thrive as pitchers both in the short and long run.
That is one example of how technique is differentiated from the key principles of throwing a pitch.
Th specific pieces of the technique described elsewhere on the website that deal with the key principle of alignment are as follows.
The foot of the push leg remains pointed towards the target until the knee and ankle are fully extended
The knee of the push leg does not turn to the side until the first quarter of the arm circle (Q1) is completed.
The shoulders and hips face the target until Q1 is completed
The arms are fully extended together at Q1.
The elbow remains above the power line until toe touch.
The ball is above the power line from toe touch until release.
The stride foot touches the power line at toe touch.
The elbow on the follow through points to the target.
Kirk's description is that every pitcher has a phase when they lean forward, then lean back then stand up straight at release. The PitchingMagic technique follows those principles. I define the lean based on two things - the relative position of the knees and the toes and also the relative position of the shoulders to the knees. So at the start of the circle the knees are closer to home plate than the toes and the shoulders are closer than the knees. The reverse is true at toe touch and at release everything is stacked on top of each other.
Simply put the ball needs to have an unobstructed path to get past the hips. The PitchingMagic technique can be described as a "relaxed slouch." Stand straight up let the arms dangle striaght down then do some combination of rolling the shoulders forward, bending at the waist or moving the hips backwards so that the dangling arms can pass freely in front of the hips. Also it is key to avoid having too much rotation of the hips by release, about 30 - 45 degrees works best for most students.
This is the essence of pitching well and it is difficult to master. Paying attention to the details from the first throw will help the students prepere for the time when their bodies and minds have developed enough to allow for the precise timing of the sequence. Kirk's description is that a sequence of events allows the transfer of energy from one part of the body to another, from the legs all the way to the hand. The steps I see are the rotation of the body to get sideways, toe touch, heel plant, the firming of the front side, the hips rotating before the shoulders, the hand lag at elbow connection and the release with a good push with the fingers. Note that the "wrist snap" occurs after tha ball is released and is caused by keeping the wrist loose as the arm starts slowing down. A peel drop and certain change ups may incorporate a wrist snap of sorts.
Kirk Walker is an assistant coach at UCLA. The research he did was commissioned for the Right View Pro (RVP) software. RVP was introduced in the VHS tape days when is was impossible to analyize a pitcher's motion on a frame by frame basis. With RVP it was possible for the first time to study the precise pitching motions of the geat pitchers and that led to a whole bunch of knowledge. As Cindy Bristow once put it (shortly after some conversations I had with her), "Everything we know about pitching is wrong." That's a bit of an stretch, but the ball faces out (not back or down) on the back side of the circle, the elbow arrives at body connection with the hand lagging 30 - 45 degrees behind and there is no snap of the wrist before release. Those facts shook the core beliefs of what "everybody" thought. Most of the great pitchers from 20 years ago were taught to snap the wrist and they were absolutely sure that they were snapping the wrist at release. Many have continued to teach that even when video of themselves pitching shows no wrist snap. "My technique must have slipped since college" is what one coach said to me when she saw her own video in slow motion. The same can be said for the arm being straight and the ball facing back or down on the back side.
After two years of study focusing on great pitchers, Kirk had basically nothing to show for his efforts. Then he started looking at some not so good pitchers and the differences became much more apparent. With looking at both sides he came up with his four key principles.
I extended his work down to the 10U and 12U pitchers, using the same process of studying slow motion video of the good and the not so good pitchers. The conclusions are a bit different. Alignment and spacing are the two things that the good young pitchers did better than the not so good ones. But posture and sequencing did not seem to have a great impact on velocity. But looking at the pitchers over time showed that those trying to do posture and sequencing at the younger ages hd a much better chance to became very sucessful pitchers in high school.