I'm going to start by saying two things that, when taken together, will make me sound insane:
- A pitching coach can't make effective changes to a pitcher without video analysis.
- Video analysis is well on it's way to destroying an entire generation of pitchers.
I not only sound insane, I sound a little overly dramatic as well. I'll explain the first one now, and the second one later.
I firmly believe that there are zero baseball coaches out there that can watch a player pitch and truly identify his strengths and weaknesses. At least not the ones that truly matter.
Now sometimes with really young kids there are some things going on that we can put an end to. Like if he's falling over after he throws, we may be able to talk a little about a more balanced finish. However, outside of VERY obvious things, pitching coaches are just guessing.
Beyond not being able to initially determine what a pitcher is doing inside his very fast and very complicated pitching motion, coaches that don't use video (or use it incorrectly) have no way to truly track the changes he's causing. The pitching motion is a system, a large set of movements and coordinated actions. Without being able to analyze the pitcher in slow motion now and then, a coach may be changing things he never meant to change and that didn't need changed at all to begin with.
This means that a lot of pitching coaches are simply standing there and comparing the pitcher to some "perfect" form that they have in their head. Maybe it's Roger Clemens, maybe it's Tim Lincecum, maybe it's Pedro Martinez. Whoever has their favorite pitching mechanics, that's who they're comparing their young pitcher to.
So we have a pitching coach that's standing there trying to turn you into his "perfect" mechanical animal, but he can't truly tell what's going on inside your personal mechanics because nobody can without slowing it down with high speed video analysis. If they say they can, they're wrong. If you're paying somebody who says they can, ask for a refund.
They know they can't really tell what's going on, and they know that breaking the actual movements down would be outside their expertise, so they break the pitcher down into steps. 5 steps. Or 7 steps. Or 12 steps. They have them stand their like a flamingo, that's position one. Balance.
"Start here, like a bird in a pond. We're doing this because I have to slow you down, I can't see what's going on. Now get into a new position and stand there. Arms up, like you're a goal post. I saw a picture of a professional pitcher that was in this position so we're going to stand in it."
I will promise you that that professional pitcher never practiced standing in place in that position. He is simply moving through that position. You happened to take a still picture of an explosion, it doesn't come close to telling the whole story. I digress.
The number one reason I hear for pitching coaches slowing pitchers down and making them statues in all kinds of ridiculous positions, is that the kid can't throw strikes. "His balance is off, so his pitches are off."
So you're going to sacrifice everything else...natural rhythm, athleticism, explosiveness, velocity, deception, efficient movement patters, health...all in the name of throwing a strike? Why?
Is it possible to throw a strike without "perfect mechanics"? Even learn how to do it consistently?
I throw with my right hand naturally, but I can also stand on the rubber and throw a lot of strikes left handed. They aren't good at all, they would never get a hitter out, but they are strikes.
Are good mechanics the reason? No, the mechanics are awful. It hurts, it's slow, it's uncomfortable, it's horrible. But the umpire would call them strikes. It's just because I've manipulated my movements in a such a way that I can direct the ball fairly accurately. It's certainly not what I would call pitching, but I would call it throwing strikes.
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If my sole measure of success with my left hand was throwing strikes, I would consider myself successful. That's no different from a lot of these young pitchers being taught 7 positions to throw a strike. It's not pitching, it's dart throwing. But if the pitching coach's only measure of success is strikes, then he's achieved success. That is out-of-this-world foolish.
So why this obsession with robbing a kid of all of his natural tools, to trade them for a mechanical model that is designed to make him throw strikes? Even if your coach knew how to make you move exactly like Roger Clemens, how do you know that wouldn't destroy you? I could get fairly close to throwing like some people I know that pitched at high levels, but that would be a terrible idea that would carry with it a very high likelihood of injury, and no chance at confidence.
It's been proven that the same pitcher cannot EVER repeat two pitches exactly the same way. You read that right, no two pitches are exactly the same as each other, ever. Not even from the same person. So how on Earth could somebody be expected to consistently throw like somebody else?
Who has better mechanics, Roger Clemens or Greg Maddux? Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson? Tom Glavine or Andy Pettitte? Does this coach you're working with have an answer to that? Why are so many Hall of Fame baseball players so different from each other?
It's because we're all individuals.
Can we look at MLB guys and study biomechanics to find out what the most efficient movement patterns are? Yes. How to rotate the hips most effectively? The shoulders? Yes.
How about the sequence of things, can we watch video to see how segmented rotation works and determine what the optimal way to transfer momentum up our body is? Yes. Can we teach a pitcher to do it exactly like the guys we're studying? NO.
There are fundamentals out there, plenty of things that form "optimal" movement patterns. However, how a kid gets there and what his body does in the process are all his. All unique, all personal, all his very own.
A coach must study the pitcher he's working with in order to make him the best he can be. He must coach THAT pitcher's mechanics, HIS movements. Is your coach sure that he's setting you up to be great? Are you sure he's not just setting you up to be a little better in this moment? Are those two things different? Yes.
If your coach isn't studying you with high frame rate video analysis, he isn't coaching you. He's coaching a theory, he's coaching mechanics that aren't yours. We can help you with video analysis, but if you're working with a coach that isn't, politely tell him no thanks.
Soon I will post an article about why video analysis is horrible for pitchers. Don't worry, it'll make perfect sense by the time you're finished.