Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Throwing Strikes - The Curveball

Curveball - The curveball is a type of pitch in baseball thrown with a characteristic grip and hand movement that imparts forward spin to the ball causing it to dive in a downward path as it approaches the plate. (Wikipedia )

Explains the curveball grip and throwing technique.

When Should Young Players Start Throwing a Curveball?

One thing that I've noticed in my 15 years working with pitchers is that there are more pitchers who hurt themselves from throwing fastballs due to poor mechanics or because they aren't functionally strong or because their workloads are too high - than ever hurt themselves throwing curveballs.

Any one pitch thrown with the proper mechanics is not going to hurt your arm. Any pitch thrown with improper mechanics can and will lead to arm problems. (www.hardballacademy.com)

Know when to throw the curveball

Once a Little League player learns the curveball, they fall in love with the pitch. When they start striking out hitters with the breaking ball, they tend to throw the pitch too frequently in games - in the wrong situations. Some tournament players throw the curveball on 70-80% of their pitches. This pitch can be very effective against young hitters who don't see the curveball in league play, but it doesn't work as well  against a skilled hitter who can lay off the pitch or blast it into the outfield.

Ask your pitching coach when to use the curveball. You want to reserve the pitch for special situations. Don't use it on a batter who is not going to swing at any pitches.

If you have two strikes on a hitter with the 0-2 count, then forget about throwing a breaking ball. Throw the fastball low and away. Lots of young pitchers try throwing a curveball is this situation, but will leave the pitch hanging over the plate - resulting in a hit to the outfield. This happened several times in the Little League World Series.

Remember, the primary pitch should be a good four-seam fastball. The changeup is a good second pitch to use in Little League. 

Nicknames for the Curveball
Popular nicknames for the curveball include "the bender" and "the hook" (both describing the trajectory of the pitch), "'Uncle Charlie," "the hammer," "yakker," and "Public Enemy No. 1." It is also referred to as "the deuce" or "number two" because catchers have traditionally signaled their pitcher to throw the curveball by showing two fingers.

The Truth about Breaking Pitches

By Bill Ripken
There are many young pitchers who enjoy tremendous success as 10- , 11- and 12-year-olds. They have a pretty good fastball and develop a breaking pitch that seems to baffle most of their opponents. Unfortunately, many of these successful young pitchers are never heard from again once they move to regulation-sized diamonds. What happens to them?

Pitchers who fall in love with their breaking balls at young ages often risk or even ruin their futures on the mound for the sake of winning a few games that really won’t have a whole lot of meaning in 10 or 15 years. The more breaking balls a young pitcher throws, the fewer fastballs he or she is throwing. Kids develop their arm strength by throwing fastballs. Developing arm strength by throwing fastballs with proper mechanics helps build the foundation for a successful pitching future.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pitching Velocity

Is pitching velocity overrated?

Yes, maybe. Young pitchers with a strong arm often have trouble locating the fastball in the strikezone. An experienced umpire commented that pitchers would do better if they took a little off the fastball - maybe 3-5 mph and controled the location of the pitch. The best pitchers have success locating the fastball low and away for strikes.

It is more important to locate a pitch, have movement and change speeds. This will keep a hitter off balance and mess up their timing.

My son prefers to have a low pitch count inning - under 10 pitches.  By locating his pitches and changing speeds, he is able to get out of an inning quicker than the power pitchers.

A Little Leaguer can use three pitches to keep a hitter guessing:
4-seam fastball, 2-seam fastball and change up (10 mph slower than the fastball).

Add in a splitter or a knuckle ball and watch the hitter walk back to the dugout shaking their head. Remember, a ball with movement is very hard to hit.

Why can't anyone throw a baseball faster than 100 mph?
By Noam Scheiber, Slate Magazine
When baseball's elders swap stories about fireballers, the name that ends the conversation isn't Nolan Ryan or Sandy Koufax. It's one that never appeared on the back of a major-league uniform: Steve Dalkowski. Legend has it that the 5-foot-11-inch, 170-pound lefty threw his fastball well in excess of 100 mph. We don't have an exact number for the same reason Dalkowski, who toiled in the minors in the late 1950s and early 1960s, never made the big leagues: He was too wild to time. 
In the last two decades, baseball managers and GMs have focused less on speed and more on injury prevention. According to Fleisig, whose clinic has diagnosed mechanical problems in professional pitchers since 1990, "[Baseball executives] don't come to me and say make this guy a few miles per hour faster. They say, help this guy stay on the field."
Read More 

Where can I get an ambidextrous baseball glove?

A baseball glove for switch pitchers is available from Akadema

Until recently, ambi gloves were custom made and very expensive ($400 - $600), so players used two separate gloves. Now you can order a high quaility ambidextrous glove for $135 from Akadema or $100 from Amazon. This can be cheaper than owning two separate pitching gloves - plus it's really cool.

My son has been using an Akadema ambi glove for six months and likes being able to switch between throwing arms without changing gloves. The six-finger glove is stiff out of the box, and requires breaking in like other quality gloves. I tried it out and it's fun to use.

The glove doesn't have webbing like a standard glove - which is actually ok since it means you use two hands on the catch. When you get it down on the ground to snatch ground balls it fans out like a large scoop which is really nice. Sure beats the old flattened gloves.
Akadema's Ambidextrous Glove

12" Trap design. Each year Akadema makes a limited 100 gloves for Ambidextrous players.
Akadema website
Information about glove options for young ambidextrous players.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Stephen Kenkel - Ambidextrous Pitcher

IKM-Manning High School (Class of 2011)
Manilla, Iowa
#5, Wolves Baseball

Positions: RHP / LHP
Glove: custom ambidextrous glove TPX $400
Bats: Switch hitter

Stephen Kenkel, a high school switch pitcher, hopes to follow Pat Venditte's example and play professional baseball. He says he still has some work to do. Sometimes when he switches sides, he gets confused and forgets his form. Kenkel also said he needs to work on his velocity.

KETV.com feature (YouTube)
Interview with Stephen Kenkel, ambidextrous pitcher - shows him pitching from both sides.

Ambidextrous Pitcher Jeered, Cheered - Sports News Story - KETV Omaha

World Herald honors area baseball players

August 19, 2011
The Omaha World Herald released its All-Western Iowa baseball teams on Wednesday.

IKM-Manning senior pitcher Stephen Kenkel was named to the second team in Class 2A/1A.

Kenkel two-hits West Harrison in Wolves’ victory

June 17, 2011, DBRnews
Kenkel also hurt West Harrison with his bat, going 2-for-3 with a double, a home run and two runs batted in. Stephen Kenkel tossed a complete-game two-hitter and struck out 19 West Harrison batters on Monday night, as IKM-Manning claimed its sixth consecutive baseball victory with a 6-4 triumph at Manilla. Read more

Kenkel pitches, hits Wolves past West Harrison

June 10, 2011
IKM-Manning extended its winning streak to four games on Wednesday night, as the Wolves dumped West Harrison 10-4 in Western Valley Conference baseball action at Mondamin.
The win moved IKM-Manning to 5-1 in the WVC and 6-2 overall.
Stephen Kenkel went the distance to get the pitching win. He allowed four runs on four hits and struck out 13.
Kenkel also went 3-for-4 with one RBI at the plate. Read more

Kenkel, Blake power Wolves past Westwood Sloan

July 9, 2010
Stephen Kenkel blasted two home runs, including a grand slam, and Rick Blake added another long shot, as IKM-Manning claimed a 17-7 victory over Westwood Sloan in action during the Western Valley Conference baseball tournament on Tuesday night.
The win was the ninth in a row for IKM-Manning, which concluded its regular season with a fine 20-5 overall record.

Joey Watson - High School Ambidextrous Pitcher

Joey Watson, a switch pitcher, was featured in the news during his junior year in High School.

HS School Team: Harselle Tigers (Class of 2003)
Harselle, Alabama

College: Wallace State Community College, Hanceville, Alabama - 2005

Dominant hand: Naturally right-handed
Glove: six finger custom glove with two thumbs

LHP: 83-84 mph fastball; curveball
RHP: 86-87 mph fastball; curveball

His father taught him to throw with both arms when he was five-years-old. Practice throwing a bucket of balls every day. Started switch pitching in games at 10-years-old.

If he is pitching well with one arm he will usually stay with it until he gets tired, then he can switch and fool everyone. According to the coach, nobody notices the switch since he is so smooth.
Averaged 10 strike outs per game. The coach said that his best pitch is the curveball - on both sides.

News feature in 2002

48 WAFF - Double Duty (YouTube)

Fox News feature story (YouTube)

Two armed pitcher (AU Baseball forum)
I trained a ambidextrous pitcher from the time he was 12 years old. He is my best friend's youngest brother and since his dad knew I worked with pitchers, he had me start working with his son. Joey Watson is his name and he pitched at Hartselle High School and then Wallace State Community College (they finished third in the JUCO CWS his sophomore year). He transferred to UAT and was on the team there, but he never got any time on the mound.

His dad had special gloves made for him that would fit both hands, because he could not change gloves in the middle of a batter, so this way he could change arms if he wanted too. However, he very rarely changed arms in the middle of a batter. Most of the time, it was pretty much set which way he was throwing to a particular batter.
Read more

High School Stats - Baseball America, Preseason Top 50 Poll (2003)
19. Hartselle, Ala., HS (39-8). Tigers return their top two pitchers, RHP Tyler Eddy (12-1, 1.47) and LHP/RHP Joey Watson (8-1, 1.91), along with Auburn-bound OF Blake Heym (.455-4-40).

College Stats - Wallace State Community College - Hanceville (2005)
3-1 record, 3.38 ERA, 14 SO in 29.1 innings

Friday, November 19, 2010

Throwing Strikes - Control the Glove

It is critical for a pitcher to have good glove control. Pitchers who control the glove side throw more strikes and reduce their chance of injury.

This young pitcher finishes a throw with the glove up behind his back - with the body totally exposed to a hit up the middle. The uncontrolled glove arm puts a lot of strain on the shoulder. Blocking the glove, in front of the chest, would help solve the problem.

Problems I see with young pitchers:
- glove side elbow moves behind the center of gravity creating counter rotation
- no glove control; the glove goes way behind the back causing shoulder strain
- yanking the glove into the armpit causing them to open up to early
- glove flops to the side and causes release point to be off

Lack of glove control results in fielding problems:
- no glove protection from a line drive
- glove is out of position for fielding ground balls
- pitcher is off balance, falling way off the mound, with their back to the hitter

Midshipman 2nd Class Tom Van Dam throws a pitch during the U.S. Naval Academy season home opener game against University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). Note the glove position. photo credit

How to maintain glove control:
- "block the glove" by keeping the glove out in front of the body
- watch slow motion videos of pro pitchers for examples
- practice blocking the front side in front of a mirror

Pedro Martinez controlling the glove side.

Advantages of controlling the glove side:
- blocking the front side leads to a consistent release point
- serves as a timing mechanism
- creates leverage for a stronger throw
- glove protection from line drives
- reduce arm and shoulder strain
- better fielding position with the glove out in front
- better balance when throwing
- easier to locate pitches
- throw more strikes

Note the glove position of Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux controls the glove side on release

Blocking vs "Pulling the Glove to the Chest" (video clip)
Demonstrates the benefits of "blocking the front side" as used by pro pitchers. Quarterbacks, tennis players and other athletes use blocking the front side to improve technique.


Suggested Reading

The Importance of Good Glove-Arm Action by Phil Rosengren

Stabilizing the glove arm - with examples of pro pitchers

Felix Hernandez wins AL Cy Young Award

Thursday, 18 November 2010
Right-handed pitcher Felix Hernandez captures the AL Cy Young Award. Henandez did a great job on the mound despite the lack of run support by the struggling Mariners team.

Felix Hernandez wins AL Cy Young Award

Felix Hernandez wiped away tears of joy and praised the support of Mariners teammates in helping him capture the AL Cy Young Award.
But the support of Baseball Writers' Association of America voters came through in a far bigger way for Hernandez on Thursday than did most of those bat-wielding teammates. The voters overlooked, in unprecedented, historic fashion, the fact Hernandez won only 13 games in 2010 and chose instead to laud his statistical dominance in most other categories.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pitching Tips

Pitching Tips:
- do dynamic warmups before pitching
- have a plan for each hitter 
- communicate with the catcher and know the signs
- keep the batter guessing; change the tempo  
- take your time, don't rush the delivery
- stay balanced and keep your head steady
- control the glove side - move your chest to the glove
- keep the elbow up and inline with the shoulder
- stay closed as long as possible 
- use the lower body to generate power
- keep the glove in front of your chest 
- follow through with the delivery
- relax and have fun

Practice, Practice, Practice 
- play long toss twice a week 
- do mirror drills to work to improve balance and mechanics
- get the mechanics perfected on the dominant side first, before switching to the other side
- if you don't have control of the fastball, then try slowing down a little 
- after you have the pitching mechanics down  - go faster
- work on developing a good changeup

- get feedback from a pitching coach

Get Help:
- learn from the best - checkout videos and pictures of Randy Johnson, Tom Seaver, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan and other 300 game winners.
- read books about pitching by Tom House 
  (The Picture Perfect Pitcher; The Pitching Edge; The Art & Science of Pitching)
- take pitching lessons from a coach who knows about good biomechanics
- get visual feedback: capture videos of your pitching technique, then have the coach review the video clips and make suggestions

Pitching Mechanics 101

Pitching Mechanics 101 explains how to teach proper pitching mechanics to new pitchers, regardless of their age.

Proper Pitching Mechanics
Proper pitching mechanics are those that allow a pitcher to throw the ball...
   1. As hard as necessary.
   2. With exceptional control.
   3. With exceptional movement.
   4. With exceptional deception.
...while minimizing the risk that the pitcher will experience an injury.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Roy Halladay wins NL Cy Young Award

Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Roy Halladay was amazing this year -  throwing a perfect game plus a no-hitter for the Phils. He went 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA and 219 strikeouts.

Phils' Halladay unanimously wins NL Cy Young Award

Roy Halladay arrived in Philadelphia to a standing ovation, a $60 million contract extension and the billing as baseball's top ace. That was before he threw a single pitch.
AP Baseball Writer
Roy Halladay arrived in Philadelphia to a standing ovation, a $60 million contract extension and the billing as baseball's top ace. That was before he threw a single pitch.
Doc delivered, and then some.
Halladay added another victory to an almost perfect season Tuesday, unanimously winning the NL Cy Young Award and becoming the fifth pitcher to earn the honor in both leagues.

"It's by far the most fun I've ever had playing this game," he said on a conference call from Mexico, where he was golfing with Phillies teammate Mike Sweeney, Cardinals star Chris Carpenter and pitcher Chris Young.
"It was everything I hoped it would be," Halladay said.
In the Year of the Pitcher, he became the only one ever to throw a perfect game and no-hitter in the same season.
Halladay was an easy choice after going 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA and 219 strikeouts. He led the league in wins and topped the majors in innings (250 2-3), shutouts (4) and complete games (9).
Halladay received all 32 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Alex Adami - Iona Prep

Alex Adami
Hometown: Thornwood, N.Y.
High School: Iona Prep HS, 2008
College: SUNY Binghamton

Height/Weight:  5' 11", 175 lbs.
Bats: Right
Throws: Both (ambidextrous)
Gloves: used two different gloves to throw right- or left-handed

Alex does a nice job of blocking his glove on the throw.

At Ion Prep HS, Adami had a cumulative record of 16-8 with a 1.16 ERA over three seasons. 
He was 8-2 with a 0.93 ERA during his senior year in 2008. 

Naturally right-handed, Adami started to alternate pitching left-handed in games.

The Switch-Pitcher - The LoHud Baseball Blog

Switch Pitching Videos

Switch Pitchers on YouTube >>

Make sure to take pitching lessons from an expert before you start switch pitching. Many of the video clips posted online show young pitchers with very poor pitching mechanics, which will lead to arm or shoulder injury. Here are a few examples of good and poor pitching mechanics.

Switch Pitchers with good mechanics

Pat Venditte -  minor league switch pitcher
This is the switch pitcher featured all over the news. He was a walk-on pitcher for Creighton University, then was drafted by the NY Yankees organization.
Glove: Switch pitches using six-finger custom glove
Feature on Venditte

Venditte had instruction from college and pro pitching coaches, which helped to develop his mechanics. Note the good glove control - he blocks the glove out in front of his body.

Pat Venditte Northwoods League Allstar Game 2007
Venditte warming up left- and right-handed

Ambidextrous Pitcher Drew Vettleson
Features pitching and hitting videos of Drew when he was on the NW Timberjacks Baseball team.

Drew Vettleson has a high leg lift, long stride, stays closed and maintains good glove control when throwing right-handed. Sometimes the glove moves behind his back on the left-handed throws, then he adjusts the glove position after the pitch so he is ready to field the ball. 
Vettleson was selected in the recent MLB draft to play for the Rays organization and most likely will be an outfielder since he is a solid left-handed hitter.

Drew Vettleson selected No. 42 overall in Major League Draft

Cole Critchfield -  14yo ambidextrous pitcher 

Caesars Baseball #6

Good pitching mechanics, nice glove control and follow through. Knows how to locate pitches in the strike zone. Using an ambidextrous glove to pitch. 

Cole Critchfield pitching video - throws right-handed, then left-handed

Switch Pitchers who need to work on their mechanics

Jarett Massey -  Clovis, CA
Jarett is a young switch pitcher who could do well with professional pitching instruction. His pitches are around the strikezone, but he needs work on bimechanics including controlling the glove side.
Glove: Switch pitches using two separate Rawlings gloves.
Dominant hand: right-handed
Jarett Massey pitching video - throws left-handed, then right-handed

Note the lack of glove control - the glove moves way behind his back on the follow through - putting the glove out of position for fielding balls hit up the middle. Left-handed, Jarett separates his hands early, opens up too soon and lands open, resulting pitches out of the strike zone. Right-handed, he tilts backward on the leg lift, putting him off balance, then he opens up too early on the throw.

  Jesse Harris - 12yo, demos use of ambidextrous glove
Jesse Harris is ambidextrous and pitches with a custom made six finger glove made by Mizuno. 
Jesse Harris pitching video - left and right-handed
Fun to watch, but note the poor throwing mechanics and lack of glove control. A short stride plus the unbalanced landing results in the pitcher falling off the side of the mound. With the glove way behind the back, it would be difficult to field grounders or hard hits back to the pitcher. 

Video of Jesse Harris pitching in a game. He throws some good pitches, but notice the lack of glove control. It looks like he gave up some hits/walks since there were three different runners on second base (#21, 1, 14).

Read - Pitching Tips


RainierBaseball - YouTube

Featuring ambidextrous pitchers from Little League, high school, college and the minor league.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Ryan Perez - Switch Pitcher Leads Team to State Title

Ryan Perez
Hometown: Hampshire, IL
High School: Westminster Christian , Elgin, IL
HS Team: Warriors - 1A State Champions 2010
Travel Team: McHenry County Hurricanes 

Height:  5-11  Weight:  165
Positions: RHP, LHP, 1B, 3B, SS
Fastball:  RHP: 84-86 LHP: 83-85
Curve:  RHP: 67 LHP: 64-66
Changeup:  RHP: 72 LHP: 73

Bats: Switch hitter

Dominant hand: right-handed

When it comes to brushing his teeth, eating, writing and playing other sports, Ryan is always right-handed.

Glove: Akadema Abidextrous Glove
Ryan Perez uses a special glove his brother found after a long search led him to Akadema, a company that specializes in baseball and softball equipment. The glove has six fingers, allowing Ryan to easily switch from one hand to the other.

Goal: "At first I didn't think about that stuff, or at least I'd try not to," Ryan said. "But I think if I keep working really hard I can definitely get to the major leagues."
(source: wcwarriorbaseball.net )
The Warriors standout is ambidextrous in pitching, fielding and hitting. 

Why he started pitching with both arms

A lifelong passion for the sport led Juan Perez to experiment with developing an ambidextrous ballplayer when Ryan came along as the youngest of his six children.
"From the moment I put a baseball in his hand, at that time I decided to see if it could be done," Juan said. "I figured he was my last son and I always wondered if it could be done. So I took the chance and tried it with him."

Both father and son agree the process wasn't easy.

Despite being naturally right-handed, Ryan was conditioned by Juan to throw with both hands. When Ryan would pick up a ball with his right hand, Juan would make him move it over to his left.

Eventually it became second nature for Ryan to handle a ball with both hands and throw with both arms. These days, he thinks nothing of the talent.

"A lot of times if he goes to a clinic or something, they go on the side of it being a gift," Juan said. "But Ryan and I know it was a lot of work."


Westminster's young Perez a dual threat
Ambidextrous Perez turning heads on baseball diamond
Read more 

Mercy! Westminster Christian run-rules Goreville for first state title
Chicago Tribune, June 5, 2010

Neither of his pitching arms was operating effectively, but switch-pitching sophomore Ryan Perez's left-handed swing had never been sweeter.
Perez hit two home runs, drove in seven and left the heavy pitching to sophomore reliever Kevin Elder on Saturday as Westminster Christian captured its first state championship in any sport with a 15-5, six-inning run-rule victory over Goreville in the 1A final at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
Perez (9-0), who pitched three innings with his left hand and 1/3 of an inning right-handed Friday in a semifinal, and Elder (12-4) split pitching duties during games all season. They combined on a no-hitter Tuesday in a supersectional.
Player of the game: Ryan Perez, Westminster Christian, 3-for-3, 2 HR, 7 RBIs.
Read more 

Westminster Christian pitcher Ryan Perez uses both hands to knock out Lebanon

June 04, 2010|By Mike Helfgot | Special to the Chicago Tribune
Ryan Perez pitched left-handed and right-handed and played third base and shortstop — all before pitching two consecutive innings that were separated by nearly two hours.
Meet Ryan Perez - Westminster Christian Warriors Baseball
The rarest of talents recently attended a Prep Baseball Report Underclassmen Showcase, Meet Ryan Perez, a 5-foot-11, 150-pound freshman from Westminster Christian, a Class 1A parochial school in Elgin. Perez will never be forgotten at the PBR headquarters after he brought two mitts to the mound and proceeded to throw freshman cheddar with either arm.
Read more