This summer, Dean Taylor, Great Lakes regional director of the National Pitching Association and an athletic trainer by trade, had a regularly scheduled pitching mechanics lesson with a 9-year-old with whom he often works. The boy’s father is the varsity coach for a local Ohio high school, and brought one of his future players along to his son’s lesson. The boy – whom we will call “Billy” – is a 14-year-old right-handed shortstop who often pitches for his 14U team. He was having some control issues when throwing off the mound. Most notably, he was missing up and in, or down and away, to right-handed hitters.
Taylor watched Billy’s pitching mechanics as he moved through his warmup, but gave him no coaching, despite a suspicion as to what Billy’s problem might be. Taylor knew he was going to use the Mustard app early in the session and wanted the data to reflect Billy’s delivery in a raw and untouched state. And sure enough, when he uploaded video of Billy’s pitching mechanics to the Mustard app, the data showed his head position was 20 degrees off of center at release point, to the first base side.
“Players never realize how tilted they are,” Taylor says. “They don’t feel it, but they know where their misses are. When they are moving that fast, unless they are particularly attuned to their neuromuscular system, they can’t feel what the head is doing because the arm is moving too quickly.”
Ideally, head position will be no more than 10 degrees off-center, which optimizes balance and keeps the eyes level. But, when head position is greater than 15 degrees off center, it actually doubles the weight of your head, which causes excessive stress on the body, excessive lateral movement on the ball, and also causes the glove to move as a counterbalance.
“When kids move from the field to the mound, well-intentioned coaches who don’t know much about pitching mechanics will encourage them to throw over the top, which causes the arm to climb more vertically,” Taylor explains. “When you do that, the head has to get out of the way. The relationship between the arm and the head is always 90 degrees, so as the arm rises, the head will tilt.”
Because Billy is also a shortstop, Taylor asked him to throw as he would normally throw in the field. “It never fails,” Taylor says. “When they just throw normally, instead of trying to pitch, the arm slot just naturally falls to where it should be, and the head stays still.”
Then, Taylor ran Billy through several drills. First, a kneeling, then standing torque toss on flat ground, so he could feel his balance and control his head position and eyes. Then, the towel drill from the mound, so he could learn to trust what he had just learned without worrying about the path of the ball.
Finally, they moved back to the baseball. On the very first pitch, Taylor used the Mustard app again to analyze Billy’s pitching mechanics, and the angle of his head had gone down to 10 degrees. And, while command had been an issue before, the throw was perfect; it nicked the towel hanging at the center of the net into which he was throwing. Billy, and his future high school coach, were thrilled. Billy could feel the difference in his pitching mechanics, and he could confirm and reinforce that feeling with the numbers in his Mustard app Report Card. And due to that same-session feedback, the improvement had taken a scant 15 minutes.
“It’s an amazing tool to be able to show kids, parents and coaches data that correlates to what you’re working on, because without it, they just have to trust you,” Taylor says. “We always want those light-bulb moments, because they are very high-impact. And the Mustard app is the light switch that allows for the light-bulb moment.”
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