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2.27.2007

Mound Mechanics, Part 2 

Here's part two of my e-mail conversation with a minor-league Brewer pitcher about mechanics. We started e-mailing when Zito seemed to be drastically changing his delivery to bring his body farther down the mound and his release point closer to the batter.

Brewer pitcher: There are two schools of thought when it comes to the position of the release point. The traditional thought, and the one most scouts use when evaluating a pitcher, is making sure the pitcher is throwing on a downhill plane. A higher release point is preferred.

Zito's change will result in his release being much closer to the plate, therefore affecting a hitter's reaction time and in theory making his pitches move closer to the plate. His curve will probably have much less break, but the break will occur closer to the plate. If you watch Zito's traditional curve, it actually goes up fairly high right out of his hand, while his "new" curve will look more like a fastball at first. Zito's fastball, while it may or may not pick up some velocity, will probably be more effective as it will get on the hitter quicker due to the release being closer to the plate.

The momentum that Zito is creating with his body is the reason why it feels so stress free on the arm. His body will be moving quicker and more efficiently and his arm will be "along for the ride." My one concern is that the crouch will tire out his legs, as it takes time to get used to the new delivery.

[E.L.M. notes: That was one of Righetti's concerns, too. It also bears noting that the teachings of Tom House are not universally admired. Perhaps his most famous detractor is Mike Marshall, the former Dodger pitcher and current pitching instructor. Marshall has plenty of his own detractors, including this guy. I won't even try to take sides.]

E.L.M.: You say that if anyone can incorporate the changes, Zito can because he has great balance. I've read that pitchers are turning more to yoga. This is fascinating because a lot of pitching -- the forces of momentum, the balance, the stillness within the violent motion -- is similar to what one learns in yoga. Have you tried it? Is this something organizations are asking pitchers to try?

BP: I've been meaning to get involved with it. Many pitchers have been using it in recent years. The flexibility and other elements definitely seem great for pitching. In our program, we have four days of lifting and Wednesday is an off-day, but we were encouraged to take part in activities such as yoga or pilates.

[BP sent E.L.M. a video of his own motion to illustrate some of the principles Tom House espouses and Zito temporarily tried.]

E.L.M.: Got it, thanks. That's quite a crouch at the set position. Looks like it actually puts a lot of pressure on the knees.

BP: I wouldn't say there was too much pressure on the knees, although I didn't pitch like that long enough to find out.

E.L.M.: I'm also curious about the exaggerated closed stance. What's the thinking behind that? Doesn't it force you to throw across your body, which I've always thought was a no-no?

BP: My closed stance was probably more than most, but I'm pretty sure House suggests a slightly closed stance only because the leg has less distance to travel into leg-lift. It could [result in] throwing slightly across the body, which is generally a no-no but not necessarily the worst thing in the world. Excessive throwing across the body can be harmful, though.

[E.L.M. notes: If anyone remembers former Giant right-handed reliever John Johnstone, he was an example of "throwing across the body." When viewed from center field, it looked like his stride went toward the right-handed batter's box, not home plate. This slight angle shift forced his arm to travel farther to make up for the mis-alignment of his torso. Jonathan Sanchez also looks like he throws a bit across the body.]

Thanks for your excellent questions from the first part of the Q&A. I haven't sent them to our friend yet. I'll wait to see if this segment spurs more questions, then I'll send them all at once. So fire away.

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