Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Sidearm Pitching: A Simple System

Sidearm Pitching: A Simple System

Forward - Why Sidearm?

When I first tried out as a pitcher in my over age 45 baseball league, I had been only pitching batting practice to my junior high players; I delivered pitches from every angle on the protractor. In my first game in winter league, I did the same. I must have hurled over 200 pitches. I found that my overhand fastball was less than overpowering. I thought I had my greatest success came throwing sidearm as I had in my two or three starts as a little leaguer. So I decided to stick with sidearm. My first pitch, the sinker, was built in to the delivery. The rest of the pitching arsenal I would have to create myself. This is my exposition of the system of pitching I developed. I think any sidearm pitcher will find at least some benefit to understanding my system. 

If you been around baseball in recent years you have may have a been told that throwing sidearm will injure your arm. Perhaps in future editions of this monograph I can add a detailed section on why that is not the case at all. In fact, sidearm is easier on the arm. 

OK, you take my word for it that sidearm is a safe way to throw, but now you are told that, yes, you may be an effective gimmick relief pitcher, but you will short circuit your development and never be a starter. Batters will quickly adjust to you and really hit you hard if they see you again in the same game. This I have also found to be untrue. I have thrown complete game victories; I find that batters often become more perplexed with my delivery the more they see it. Even batters who have gotten hits have reported that they hate to bat against my sidearm delivery. 

Section 1 The Windup

I use a no windup delivery. Most of the movements in a typical delivery do not help propel the ball toward home plate. With fewer moving parts, fewer things can go wrong. You will also tire less quickly because you are expending less energy. With no one on base, I look in for the sign, rock back on my striding foot, turn my pivot almost perpendicular to a line going toward home plate, then stride toward home while driving off my pivot foot. I start on the far glove hand side of the pitching plate, but where you stand on the pitching plate is a matter of personal preference. The pitching motion should be natural and relaxed while still exploding toward home plate. 

When runners are on base, I always pitch from the stretch. I start with the ball in my  throwing hand in my sinking fastball grip hanging at my side with the glove hanging on the other side. My pivot foot is in the almost perpendicular position I use to drive toward home plate. My striding foot is in front of my pivot foot, slightly offset toward the glove side.  I do not move my striding foot before the delivery. I simply bring my throwing hand with the ball together with the glove hand in front of me, hanging in a relaxed manner in front of me for the necessary moment of pause. I then step directly toward home while driving off my pivot foot to deliver the pitch. 

From either the wind up or the stretch I finish in a good fielding position facing home plate. My pivot foot comes down slightly ahead of where my striding foot lands, but I am still facing home, ready to field a batted ball. 

Section 2 The Sidearm Throw

Sidearmers at release have their arm in the same place, relative to their spine, as any other pitcher. Typically a pitcher will release the baseball at a point where, observed from directly in front (as a catcher would), a straight line can be drawn from the glove side shoulder through the throwing shoulder and on through to the throwing hand. This 180-degree angle may have some variation from pitcher to pitcher. The arm may diverge from the 180-degree line at a 5-degree, or so, angle either above or below the shoulder. I recommend the throwing hand below the shoulder line as the hand above the shoulder line (hyper-abduction) can damage the shoulder. 

If a sidearm pitch is not distinguished from a regular pitch by arm to shoulder line angle, then what makes a sidearm pitch? The answer is: the same thing that makes an overhand pitch - trunk tilt. An overhand pitch features trunk tilt toward the glove hand side, while a sidearm pitch features trunk tilt toward the throwing hand side, or zero tilt, which would be a Randy Johnson or Satchel Paige brand of sidearm. Extreme trunk tilt to the throwing hand side leads to a submarine style of sidearm. 

Some people find throwing sidearm very natural and comfortable. If you have spent time skipping flat rocks off a pond, you have thrown sidearm. 

Section 3 The Pitches

My system includes three basic pitches: a sinking fastball, a slider, and a change of pace. The sinker and the slider both have some variations according to speed, but I start all pitches from my sinker grip. I make small, undetectable grip changes mid-delivery or right before delivery to throw the slider or change up.  

The sinker grip is  a standard four seam grip. I use this grip because the natural sidearm spin is sideways toward the throwing hand side. Using the four seam grip allows for maximum speed and lateral or downward movement. At release, a slight bit of pronation, or turning the palm from facing home to facing down, can give more movement and protect the elbow joint. This pitch tends to ride in on same side batters, often resulting in weak handle hits or harmless pulled foul balls. The opposite side hitters, it is often thrown away hoping in induce an easy grounder to second base. To either lefty of righty batters, work the corners with this pitch keeping it low in the strike zone to induce ground balls. 

For the slider, I simply change my sinker grip by moving my index finger over to meet my middle finger. I may make a small adjustment of my thumb for comfort and to help impart the characteristic slider spin, a spiral. I believe my way of imparting spin to the slider is unique and also easier on the arm than other ways. I throw the slider with my palm facing up while I literally spin or twirl the baseball between my index and middle fingers and my thumb. Otherwise, the arm motion feels just like the sinker. This pitch tends to do the opposite of the sinker. It tails, sometimes radically, away from same side batters and toward opposite side batters. I have had success with it back as a ‘back up’ breaking ball to same side batters and thrown to outside corner. As always, work the corners for success. When the slider is really tailing, I have had success with it anywhere near the plate as a swing and miss or a called strike. The slider can also be used as change up. Simply ‘pull a string’ at release for a super slow, floating version that can have comical swing and miss results.

The change up is a very effective pitch and a rarity among sidearm pitchers. Starting again from my sinker grip, I simply shift the baseball slightly toward my palm so it is against the meaty part below the index and middle fingers while moving my thumb up to the side of the baseball. I hold the ball between my thumb and ring finger while my index and middle fingers are lifted just slightly off the baseball and held loosely. I deliver the pitch in the same way as the sinker. The index and middle fingers ‘roll’ across the baseball as it is released. The side spin imparted and slower speed make for a very effective pitch. 

The similar delivery and simplicity of changing grips means that you will not be tipping off your pitches.

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