Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Monday, July 27, 2015

How Henry Knight learned to throw with both hands

Henry Knight - Ambidextrous Pitcher

Switch pitcher Henry Knight - Columbia City Reds, Seattle


Switch pitcher Henry Knight was a starter on varsity for four years in high school. He threw six different pitches, for strikes with both arms, and posted a 12:1 Strikeout-to-Walk ratio.

Coaches and umpires couldn't tell if he was a natural righty or lefty.


Reason for Switch Pitching: Just for fun

How he got started:

A natural righty, Henry Knight started throwing left-handed when he turned 9-years-old. As a Seattle Mariners fan, he was inspired by LHP Jamie Moyer, who kept batters off-balance by changing speed and location.

Henry thought that it would be fun to face batters as a left-handed pitcher – like Moyer, so he asked for a lefty baseball glove for his birthday and that's when it all started.

Note: Most ambidextrous throwers start when they are three to five years old, not by choice, but are  encouraged to throw with both arms by their dad. Some natural left-handers start throwing right handed so they can play shortstop or catcher. A few players start throwing with their non-dominant arm after an injury to their natural throwing arm. Billy Wagner, a natural righty, broke his arm twice when young, then started throwing left-handed.

Knight pitching lefty
Making practice fun

Initially, Henry practiced throwing balls left-handed into a large bucket at home – trying to hit the bucket in 8 out of 10 throws. He also made a game of knocking down water bottles lined up by a fence. The  target practice made a game of learning to throw lefty and helped Henry to develop accurate throws.

Switch hitting made ambidextrous throwing easier to learn

He was already a natural switch hitter, since 5-years-old, so throwing from both sides was not that difficult to learn. Henry started throwing left-handed two or three times a week in the off-season. This allowed him to rest his dominant right arm for several months, which is recommended by physical therapists.


Pitching Lessons

Once Henry could throw well with both hands, he thought that it was time to take lessons, so he signed up for a pitching clinic at Bellevue College.

Coach Mark Yoshino, a former lefty pitcher, taught Henry proper throwing mechanics, pitching grips, throwing drills, plus how to change speeds and location. Several college players worked with the pitchers on throwing drills, including how to throw long toss.

Henry participated in the clinic as a left-handed pitcher and the coaches said that he looked like a  natural lefty. The pitching clinic motivated Henry to work hard on throwing with both hands.


Proper Warmup is Very Important!

Pitchers learned dynamic warmups and arm exercises to get ready to throw. Coaches stressed the importance of proper warmup before throwing a baseball. Warmup to throw – not throw to warmup.

Knight pitching right-handed

Practice, Practice, Practice

After six months of regular practice, Henry became proficient at pitching with both arms (70% strikes). On flat-ground, he practiced throwing his four-seam fastball, 2-seamer, and change-up with the same arm speed.

He also threw long-toss twice a week – using all three grips.

Advanced Pitching Lessons

In the offseason, Henry was ready to learn how to throw a breaking ball. His dad wanted him to learn a safe way to throw a curveball, so he would not strain his arm like other kids in the league. After researching options, he decided to take a class from Pete Wilkinson - a local pitching expert. Pete taught Henry how to safely throw a curveball and locate a changeup.

More importantly, Henry learned how to make adjustments on the mound, so that he could be his own pitching coach.

Throwing a Breaking Ball

Although Henry learned to throw a curveball when he was 13, he didn't start using the curve in games until his junior year in high school. A college coach encouraged Henry to work on developing his fastball & changeup from both sides, and wait until high school to throw the curveball.  Tyler Davis, an All-American college pitcher, said it would be better to focus on throwing hard, and work on developing a changeup using the same arm speed.

Throwing Hard Daily

In the offseason, Henry focused on throwing hard every day and using the same arm speed with different pitching grips. Playing "burn out" was one of his favorite activities.

Controlling the Glove Side

One important lesson was how to control the glove-side in order to make accurate throws. Many young players yank the glove sideways or way behind their back, causing the shoulder to rotate early which can lead to inconsistent throws or wild pitches. By controlling the glove arm, a pitcher can really improve their pitch location.


Be Your Own Pitching Coach  

   Throw strikes!  Just play catch!  Relax! 

In Little League, I often hear parents and fans yelling instructions to the struggling pitcher. This sideline coaching is distracting and doesn't help the pitcher to throw strikes. 

A better strategy is to learn to be your own pitching coach. Learning how to make simple adjustments on the mound helps a pitcher to consistently throw strikes. 

By using self coaching techniques, Henry was able to throw 75% strikes and consistently locate pitches in the strike zone.


Throwing BP

During the regular season, Henry helps to throw batting practice (BP) from both sides. This experience gives him confidence facing some good right- and left-handed hitters.


Pitching in Games

First Start as a Switch Pitcher

Henry got his first start as a lefty pitcher, in Pony League, when he was 10-years-old and retired the first three batters. The next inning, he switched gloves to throw right-handed and did not give up any runs. Players where yelling "Watch the new pitcher!" when Henry was warming up in the second inning. 

Gloves and Pitching Strategy

Six-finger ambidextrous glove
Until recently, Henry used two separate gloves for pitching left- and right-handed. The first inning of a game he would use his left hand to pitch, then the following inning he would switch to throw right-handed. The league only allowed 10 year-old players to throw up to two innings per game (no pitch count rule).

If he struggled throwing left-handed, then his coach would call time and bring the other glove to the mound so that Henry could pitch right-handed. Being his own reliever was a great way to get out of a jam and build confidence.

During his second season of pitching left-handed, he worked on hitting the corners and started striking out more batters. The low inside change-up was very effective against right-handed batters. His approach is to locate the ball low in the strikezone, change speeds, and use movement to keep hitters off-balance.


Pitching in High School

Henry Knight made the varsity baseball team as a freshman and pitches against the best players in the state. As a sophomore he only gave up one earned run throwing left-handed and posted 22 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched.

As a relief pitcher on varsity, he tallied a 2-0 record.

In the off-season, Henry worked out regularly with elite pitchers at Driveline Baseball. Kyle Boddy worked with Henry to develop a custom throwing and arm care routine for switch pitchers.

Over four years on varsity, Henry posted a 12:1 Strikeout-to-Walk Ratio
Now that's having command of his pitches.


Pitching Highlight

In the summer league, he threw 11 innings in a game as a switch pitcher, allowing only one earned run while throwing 94 strikes.


Knight threw nine scoreless innings with 87% first pitch strikes.




..

Switch Pitcher
In baseball, a switch-pitcher is an ambidextrous pitcher who is able to pitch with both the right and left hand from the pitcher's mound. (Wikipedia)
...

Throw More, Pitch Less


Baseball players are strongly encouraged to participate in multiple sports. This results in better athletes, who stay healthy and don't get burned out.

Players experience success by throwing more, and pitching less.


John Smoltz Issues Warning To Parents Of Young Baseball Players

"You have time ... baseball is not a year-round sport."


I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there to understand that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old. That you have time, that baseball is not a year-round sport. That you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports. Don’t let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses that this is the way. We have such great, dynamic arms in our game that it's a shame we're having one and two and three Tommy John recipients.

So I want to encourage you, if nothing else, know that your children’s passion and desire to play baseball is something that they can do without a competitive pitch. Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. They don’t go outside, they don’t have fun, they don’t throw enough — but they’re competing and maxing out too hard, too early, and that’s why we’re having these problems. So please, take care of those great future arms.

- Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz