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Sample Chapter from Saving the Pitcher by Will Carroll


Chapter 5 (Continued)

The ideal motion uses a longer force application to increase the velocity of the ball, reduces unnecessary and counterproductive motion, and directs all forces over the driveline to increase both control and apparent velocity, all while reducing the need for the body—specifically the elbow and shoulder—to accept and dissipate energy. Just as the creation of light creates heat as waste, pitching can never completely apply all force to the ball. Wasted energy must go somewhere—another physical law, this time in thermodynamics—and in pitching, most of the energy is either misdirected or brought inward to generate force on parts of the body.

As a pitcher nears the ideal motion, he will begin to feel it as a fluid process, the ball becoming a lightning bolt or beam of light directed in a straight line from hand to catcher's mitt. No matter the pitch—fastball, breaking ball, or change-up—this motion and energy is nearly the same: bringing the ball through the driveline, using the kinetic chain and Newtonian physics to throw the ball past the batter for strikes.

Some of you probably paused over the words "breaking ball" and "change-up." In relation to the ideal motion, the changes that a pitcher makes to throw other than a fastball are extremely minor and external to the force application through the driveline. A breaking ball uses spin and fluid dynamics to impart external forces that move the ball off the driveline after release, while a change-up exploits a mechanical inefficiency to deceive the batter and change his timing. A knuckleball is a wholly different beast but requires an even greater attention to mechanics to be effective.

While I might talk about the methods of throwing the various pitches—the two- or four-seam fastball, the cutter, the curve, the hammer, the screwball, the knuckler, the circle change, the slider, the palmball, the forkball, the splitter, or any of the twenty-eight legal variations that I know of—there are better ways to learn these pitches and better people to learn them from. Performed properly, no pitch is more damaging than any other. The concept of "pitch cost"—that a breaking ball inflicts more damage than a fastball—is true only in cases where a pitcher performs either pitch with significant mechanical inefficiencies. But I should add that I do not believe in "curveballs" or "sliders"; to me they are all "breaking balls."

Photos of Mark Prior showing 6 different baseball grips

Simply put, there are several pitches that seek to use outside forces to move the ball off the driveline and increase the motion and deception that a batter must deal with while attempting to put the ball in play. An ideal curveball breaks "12 to 6" or "falls off the table." The reason the ball performs this way is that the pitcher, by use of grip and release, causes the ball to rotate in a certain manner. The seams and ball surface interact with the air during the flight of the ball; following scientific laws as inflexible as Bernoulli's Principle and the Magnus Effect, these forces cause a ball to move.

Only the difference in rotation distinguishes one variety of breaking ball from another. A "12 to 6" curveball can easily be adjusted by turning the position of the hand slightly, becoming a "2 to 8" slider. A screwball, one of the most difficult pitches to master, is merely a reverse curveball. While the mechanics of the screwball are different—releasing the ball during and not before pronation—the actions on the ball are the same.

Any motion caused by the intentional rotation of the ball is so similar that it can be accurately described as a breaking ball. A pitcher who understands the principles behind the breaking ball should be able to adjust his delivery in order to make the ball act like any of these pitches. While differentiation may help in the description of these pitches, it does nothing toward easing the teaching of them. To me and to science, a breaking ball is a breaking ball. As Shakespeare might have said, "A breaking ball by any other name is still decelerated by gravity at a rate of thirty-two feet per second." Come to think of it, he probably wouldn't have said that.

A pitcher in possession of good mechanics is near priceless. This pitcher will throw effectively, has a base in which to control a variety of pitch variations, will have less injury and soreness, can pitch deeper into games, and will increase his velocity, both real and apparent. That pitcher is going to be one batters do not want to face.

SAVING THE PITCHER. Copyright © 2004 by Will Carroll. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

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