A brief refresher: Dr. John Bagonzi, also known as the �Pitching Professor,� is a very highly respected pitching instructor and the author of the book �The Act of Pitching� (http://pitchingprofessor.com/home.html).
In Part III of Baseball Time in Arlington's three-part Q&A series with Coach Bagonzi, the venerable pitching oracle weighs in on the pros and cons of tall pitchers, top Texas Rangers pitching prospect Derek Holland, and a plethora of questions from one similarly esteemed pitching mind.
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Q: Is it more difficult for taller pitchers to maintain mechanical consistency? Should, for instance, teams be more wary of drafting players who are over 6' 5"?
Coach Bagonzi: It probably is more difficult for really tall pitchers (6' 5" and up) to maintain the mechanical consistency and dexterity that smaller pitchers have, because corrections may inflate margins. However, I would never back away from signing a 6' 6", 220-pound pitcher, and I've seen more of this type lately - great leverage with tremendous potential.
A pitching technician may well have to recognize that refining and correcting flaws in the big guy may require a patient approach with steady and careful observation of results. The leverage factors, which are important in a sound delivery, are obviously enhanced with a 6' 5" pitcher.
Nonetheless, we are dealing with a relativity here, and while a 6' 1", 190-pound pitcher may be a prototype model to go by and easier to mold to a style or at least to adjust shortcomings with, we still have a similarity in delivery with all the same mechanics at work. It's that the areas of correction may be more delicate and precise and require extra time. Probably all worth it.
Q: Curious to hear what you think about the way Holland bends his back on his load that, as a result, causes his left hand to end up about a foot closer to third base than his right shoulder. Just going by the pictures, is Holland putting himself at a greater injury risk by rotating his arm so far behind his head?
Coach Bagonzi: I really like Derek Holland. In the launch phase, he is letter perfect. I can hardly find anything to nit pick about.
The Trip Somers Section
Trip is a former NCAA pitcher, pitching instructor, and one of the most knowledgeable pitching minds I have had the privilege of knowing. This Q&A would lack technical proficiency if Trip were not involved. Many thanks to him.
Q: A lot of organizations handle their pitchers with an �If ain't broke, don't fix it� mentality when it comes to pitching mechanics, often waiting until an injured pitcher is rehabbing before making any serious mechanical adjustments with stride length, scapular load, poor hip/shoulder rotation, etc.
Are those organizations really concerned about such adjustments negatively impacting a pitcher's stuff, or do they just not know any better?
Coach Bagonzi: I suppose the mentality is that if they got this far, they must have the goods. Leo Mazzone, then the pitching coach for the Braves, did a lot of preventive work with pitchers by doing systematic pitching routines - certainly when he had [John] Smoltz, [Tom] Glavine, and [Greg] Maddux, and they are all in their forties and doing reasonably well. Of course, Smoltz (with really ideal mechanics) has had two arm surgeries (hard slider?) but should be coming back.
Realistically good throwing programs head injuries "off at the pass." Mechanical adjustments should be an ongoing thing, as refining and tweaking should be part of the overall pitching package. Waiting until it's broke might be too late, and probably doesn't have much value. On the other hand, overreacting may also have its drawbacks. Wisdom in the observation department may be the key.
Q: My favorite aspect of Dr. Mike Marshall's delivery is that his release, without fail, requires pronation that protects both the elbow and the shoulder. My second favorite aspect is the finger pressure �bonus� caused by the combination of pronation and the forward release point of his delivery. In the past few decades, many pitchers have chosen the slider as their breaking pitch of choice rather than the curveball, with the idea that it is easier to throw and command.
Unfortunately, an overwhelming majority of them, including some of the top pitching prospects in the country, throw the pitch completely the wrong way - with extreme supination (wrist turning up so that the hand and fingers move under the ball). This is usually allowed to continue in the college rand professional ranks until a pitcher hurts himself, with the exception being when he actually asks an intelligent pitching coach for help with his slider.
It seems like it would be good practice for Major League clubs to find out how their pitchers throw their pitches before something goes wrong. What is your opinion on this?
Coach Bagonzi: I agree that pronation is probably beneficial to throwing, and that it may protect the elbow and shoulder on many pitches. However, to throw the classic supinating pitches (i.e. curveball, slider, slurve, cutter) via the pronation effect stretches this concept.
While it can be done, as Dr. Marshall has shown, I feel most can probably not throw their breaking pitches that way (pronation) and that supinating here is more natural; granted, it certainly is traditional.
Fastballs and their cousins surely are pronating pitches, and any high-quality fastball should absolutely undergo pronation (early pronation as a sinker or late pronation as a four-seam, high-velocity fastball). Pitchers who throw sliders with fingers coming under the ball are asking for trouble. Throwing a spiral-type spin with fingers coming to side likely protects the arm some, but sliders can cause arm stress because of the high acceleration through the release point.
A well-thrown curveball (supination variety) creates some deceleration through the release point, relieving elbow stress and giving a good downward spin which creates an effective curveball. Umpires often don't give close calls on curves, but often do on sliders, because the entry porthole on curves is narrower. Hence, one throws sliders (easier to master).
I opt for the curve. I agree that clubs should intimately know what and how their pitchers throw, particularly their breaking pitches. This should not be a private secret.
Q: Why are there pitching coaches out there who honestly believe that active scapular loading is a tenet of solid mechanics?
Coach Bagonzi: Scapular loading is the brainchild of Paul Nyman, whom I'm quite familiar with. He and I have exchanged a lot of viewpoints on pitching, and I certainly recognize that Paul verifies his work scientifically. So my view and philosophy is that most pitchers who throw hard do this anyway to some extent and that verifies and accentuates the existence of such, but I don't give a lot of devotion to this phenomenon.
In utilizing the pectoral girdle and loading this part of the pitching system (upper quadrants), scapular adduction happens, and for some this may be vital for power. For others, it's the integration of the four quadrants in pitching, with scapular loading being a by-product of the upper-torso activity. Elbows during scapular loading need to be below the level of the shoulders.
Note: I do not teach scapular adduction in my pitching camps!
Q: I've long believed that swimming is among the best conditioning exercises a pitcher can do to protect his arm. With the intense shoulder rotation and pronation in a good stroke, a pitcher builds good habits while strengthening and conditioning what are typically the most injury-prone body parts for a pitcher - the shoulder and elbow.
Are you aware of any studies - past, present, and/or future - that put this idea to the test?
Coach Bagonzi: It seems to me that early on in my professional career, swimming was prohibited for pitchers. I don't exactly remember the �whys� involved - perhaps fatigue? I agree that swimming is a great muscle toner and relaxer. Swimming may create the flexibility in the athlete that transcends and overlaps into other sports. As long as one doesn't overdo the activity, swimming should be a pleasant adjunct to athletic fitness.