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THE PITCHER'S STRIDE

Ah, the elusive magical mystical stride. “Shorten up that stride son. You’re overstriding.”
“How do I do that, Coach?”

Telling a pitcher he is overstriding is treating the symptom of a disease instead of treating the cause. It’s giving aspirin for Strep Throat to treat the fever instead of an antibiotic to kill those nasty little streptococci, the cause.

How long should your pitcher’s stride be? From the front of the rubber to the end of the toe of the landing foot it should be somewhere between 80-90% of the pitcher’s height.

Maybe what we call overstriding is really the result of poor balance and posture. If a pitcher has good dynamic balance, efficient body movement toward the plate and good direction he will not over stride.

Let’s treat the disease and as Tom House would say, “Let stride happen.”

  1. The result of overstriding is that the pitcher cannot get his head out over his lead knee at ball release.
  2. It prevents proper trunk flexion during acceleration and release.
  3. It prevents proper trunk rotation.
  4. Causes control problems, usually high.
  5. Decreases velocity.

The causes are:


  1. Improper weight transfer; the upper body gets ahead of the lower. This is very common in young pitchers. You can see that front shoulder lean toward the plate as they come out of their balance position. Probably all pitcher experience rushing problems at one time or another. That’s why they’ve got pitching coaches.
  2. Pushing off the rubber before the front foot has landed. Experienced pitching coaches do not teach “Push off the rubber.” It invariably causes rushing. Of all the years and times I have talked to professional and college pitching coaches I have never heard one say, “Push off the rubber.” If that is in your vocabulary, delete it.
  3. Loss of dynamic balance. There are several times in the delivery that loss of balance can occur.

    • Too big a rocker step. Head moves back, head moves forward; not very efficient.
    • Swinging the leg up to get to the balance position-fraught with danger.
    • Not balanced at the balance position; may be on heel instead of ball of foot.
    • Swinging the stride leg out to the landing area. There should be a more controlled down and then out to landing.

The cure:


  1. Small rocker step to keep head movement to a minimum.
  2. Lifting the leg to balance instead of swinging it.
  3. Lead with the hip as you come out of the balance position. This keeps the head over the center of gravity and prevents rushing. Make the pitcher aware that the front shoulder should follow the hip and not the other way around. A good tip is to tell the pitcher to try to put his hip in the catcher’s glove.
  4. Lead with the side of the foot instead of the toes. Keep the outside of the foot pointing at the catcher for as long as possible. This will help keep that front side closed longer.
  5. Make sure the pitcher lands flatfooted with his toes slightly closed.
  6. Keep head movement to a minimum. Any excessive movement of the pitcher’s head up or down, back or forward is inefficient.

To summarize: Don’t teach stride length. Teach good balance posture and direction.

Striding Too Open Or Closed

A pitcher’s stride should take him to landing within an inch or two of a straight line from the ball of his foot to the plate. Stride too far to the left of that line (RH Pitcher) and he is striding open. Stride too far to the right and he has landed across his body.

Too Open

When a pitcher lands too far to the left of that imaginary line, his front side will open too early resulting in a poor arm path; one that is more rotational instead of one that is efficient and releases on a more downward plane. (The arm path is too wide.)Landing open will decrease control as well as velocity. And it puts added stress on the front of the shoulder as well as the medial side of the elbow.

        It is caused by:

  1. Poor balance and weight transfer during the stride portion of the delivery. The more a parent or coach learns about the pitching delivery the more he comes to understand the importance of balance. It is crucial in all successful athletic movements but ignoring balance in the pitching delivery can be catastrophic to the pitcher in terms of health as well as performance.
  2. Not closing the front side (hips and shoulders) during leg lift and into the balance position.

    The left knee should be pointing at third base. The front shoulder should be slightly closed. This movement into the balance position should not be exaggerated, ala Hideo Nomo but controlled and closed just to make sure that front shoulder is not open to the plate.

    As the pitcher’s front side closes to the plate make sure his head stays on target; remember, minimal head movement.

    Failing to close off the front side is quite common in young pitchers. It can be due to inadequate abdominal strength as well as a coach failing to teach proper mechanics.

    To reinforce this position I like the “Upside Down Bucket Drill”.
    (Our “Pitching Mechanics-Teaching the Delivery” Video)

    Place a plastic bucket upside down under the pitcher’s stride leg at the balance position. Have him try to reach the correct closed position without the bucket and then use the bucket when he tires or can’t sustain the position.

    He can rest with his foot on the bucket and then move up to the proper position. This ‘assistance’ allows him to keep his balance with his positing foot. The coach can then use ‘hands on’ to get the pitcher into the correct position.

    This is a simple little technique that allows a young pitcher to get the ‘feel’ of an important segment of the delivery.

      Cure

    1. Close up properly in the posting (balance) position.
    2. Keep the front hip and shoulder in a straight line as you move toward the plate.

    Too closed

    Striding across the body (Blocking) can be seen even in some professional pitchers. Two or three inches are okay but more than that can create problems.

    1. It inhibits proper trunk shoulder and hip rotation.
    2. Affects control and velocity.
    3. Negatively affects the breaking pitch.
    4. Causes added stress on the back muscles of the rotator cuff and muscles in the shoulder.

    Cure

    1. Keeping good dynamic balance during rocker step, leg lift and balance point.
    2. Transferring weight (Leading with the front hip) directly toward the plate.
    3. Hanging the front leg about straight down with the knee flexed during leg lift and balance position. Kicking that leg out can cause a loss of balance.
    4. Lead with the outside instep of the front foot to the plate. Open only just before landing.

    It is very difficult for a pitcher to know where his stride foot lands. He is concentrating on the glove and cannot look down to see the result of his landing.

    There are a few things a coach can do to help his pitcher.

    1. He can draw a line in the clay that runs from the ball of the pitcher’s foot toward the plate.
    2. This is Bill Thurston’s drill. Place a wet, white hand towel on the mound just to the right of the midline of the pitcher’s stride. The pitcher will see the white out of the corner of his eye as he strides out. The idea is not to step on the towel. This drill can be used for striding too open or too closed. (Wet towel so it won’t blow away.)
    3. Tom House’s Towel Drill. We demonstrated that drill in the past. To hit the target consistently the stride, among other elements of the delivery have to be efficient and on line with the target.

    Not Bracing the Stride Leg

    When a pitcher’s stride foot lands his leg should be flexed and become a support for his body to rotate against. Some pitchers have the tendency to allow that front leg to continue forward during acceleration and release.

    Because the leg does not brace up, the body is still moving forward when it should be taking advantage of the rotational forces generated by the trunk and hips. This delays proper trunk rotation and prevents trunk flexion. This causes a loss in velocity. It affects control, especially the outside fastball.

    The causes:


    1. Not landing on a (slightly) closed front foot. You will see some pitchers land on their heel with the front toe pointing open.
    2. Not straightening the front leg as the trunk begins to square off to release.
      Correct this fault by making the pitcher aware of it and making sure he finishes his pitch by his upper body coming down over his lead leg.
    3. Making him aware of his back side drive. (Drive that back knee toward the plate.)

    A good drill is a one knee drill where he goes from the flexed knee up onto a braced leg at ball release.

    This is a relatively easy fault to overcome and can be easily seen from the ‘hands side’ as you watch your pitcher perform. Concentrate on his front leg at landing. His knee should not move forward after his front foot lands.

    Landing On A Stiff Front Leg

    This fault is due to the leg straightening too early.

    It is caused by:

    1. Pushing off the rubber.
    2. Swinging the stride leg out.
    3. Landing on the heel with the toes pointing open.
    4. That old bugaboo, poor balance.

    This fault hinders good trunk flexion and causes a recoil action as the body moves upward and back. Control will be affected with pitches “up.”

    Cure

    1. Work on controlling the stride foot and leg. It should glide out and not swing or kick out toward landing.
    2. Make sure the pitcher lands flat-footed and not on his heel. Those toes should be pointed ‘in’ slightly. (Pointing at the RH batter’s box.)

    The time to correct many of these faults is when the pitcher is young. Hours of correct muscle memory are necessary and as a pitcher matures it becomes more difficult for him to make a change.

    The aptitude and make-up of a young man also play an important role. He has to want to and be able to make changes in his delivery; no small feat for some.

    Many striding faults are interconnected and the fix for one might very well be a fix for another.

    Once again, good balance, posture and direction will cure many pitching ills and allow the pitcher to have his own style (usually a result of body type). Thus the pitching coach can paraphrase and borrow a page from the physicians’ credo. “Thou shall do no harm.”

    Time and again we bring up this important point. A coach cannot make a player. He can only give the player good information and show him the way. It is ultimately up to the player to succeed or fail.

    Inexperienced coaches will sometimes gnash their teeth and wail at a player’s inability to succeed when it may only be because he cannot or does not want to change. He may not have the aptitude or the attitude.

    ASMI and Coach Bill Thurston have done extensive studies on the pitching delivery. The Video laboratory in Birmingham, Alabama has the latest state of the art equipment and many pitchers have been studied there. Much of the above material has been compiled by Bill Thurston, Glen Fleisig, et al.

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