Mound Mechanics, Part 1 

As I mentioned last week, I recently had an email conversation about Barry Zito's new delivery with a minor league pitcher in the Brewers organization. Sorry, I can't say who. He asked that I not identify him any further at this point, but I did get video confirmation of his identity. Our discussion gets into some finer points of pitching mechanics, fascinating to me and, I hope, to some of you.

Soon after we began our conversation, word came out that Zito was going back to his "old" style -- his upright delivery that helps him snap off the 12-to-6 curve. But we continued and I learned a lot about current theories of pitching mechanics, specifically that what Zito had hinted of doing -- crouching more at first and extending his stride -- is a core part of what Tom House teaches. I'll post the interview in two parts. Here's part one:

El Lefty Malo: I hear that you're familiar with what Barry Zito's doing, changing his delivery back to what he did in college. Any thoughts on what's going on?

Brewers pitcher: Sounds like he's doing something that I experimented with last year with Tom House. Zito has been known to work with House in the past. [E.L.M. notes: I e-mailed House to ask about Zito but got no response.]

If you watch most pitchers, they start tall on the mound. At some point in the delivery their head has to drop a bit in order for them to throw. The crouch will eliminate this drop and make it so that Zito's head moves in a straight line toward the plate. The head drop is considered unnecessary movement.

E.L.M.: Is the goal to maximize the pitcher's vision of the target?

BP: The point is not so much to maximize vision, but that any movement not toward the plate is wasted energy not put into the pitch. The way to find out just how much one should crouch is to go to the release point and simply back up to the rubber without moving the head. This will show you where to start and how much to bend your knees.

E.L.M.: What about the exaggerated take-back before he begins his stride? Zito called it "old school" -- I imagine Luis Tiant or Dizzy Dean or someone with lots of wild extra motion. Righetti said it'll be a problem when he gets on a real field because the mounds tend to fall off quickly, not like the gentle slope of the practice mounds.

BP: [It's] probably just Zito bringing his knee up high and toward 2nd base. As he is doing this, his hips will start moving toward the plate resulting in extra potential energy that will be used later in the delivery. The result will be a longer stride. Without even thinking about it, the extra momentum will help Zito stride farther and get his release point closer to the plate. The release will be noticeably lower. This change will almost definitely change his famous curveball but could enhance his fastball.

[E.L.M. notes: Here is a photo of Zito on the first day when he tried out the new mechanics -- courtesy of the Chronicle. For comparison, I haven't found an adequate photo of his return to the "old" delivery. As soon as I find one, I'll link or post it.]

As far as other big league pitchers that throw in a similar fashion, Anthony Reyes of the Cardinals is probably the closest example. He definitely doesn't have the big leg kick, but if you watch him, particularly from the stretch, he bends his knees a bit and makes sure his head goes straight to the plate.

[E.L.M. notes: I can't find a photo of Reyes in the stretch position. Readers, please let me know if you find one. But remember in the N.L. playoffs last year when Reyes got into trouble against the Mets? Pitching coach Dave Duncan told Reyes to pitch exclusively from the stretch. Interesting.]

Two days later...

E.L.M.: So, in today's reports Zito backed off his new delivery.

BP: I'm not all that shocked. I knew Righetti would be uncomfortable with the changes, and apparently he won out. If Zito does try and incorporate a couple of the changes, it could be difficult. I tried this last year and ran into some consistency issues. If anyone can do it, however, it is Zito because he really is an amazing athlete and has incredible balance.

To be continued...


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