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The Hidden Problems With Pitch Design

No, this is not a blog about building the best sales pitch even though this will more than likely show up in a handful of searches for pitching a product or company. The baseball version of pitch design has taken on a whole new life of its own in the last few years. Companies like Trackman, Hawkeye, Rapsodo, and Yackertech have allowed players and coaches to tweak and refine the way the ball moves as it makes its trek to the catcher's mitt. Never before have we had this level of availability to understand and change something with a pitch on the fly. It's possible to find optimal grip, release, finger pressure, and release height for a pitch in a single bullpen.

With this much access to tech, the desire to want to make each pitch as perfect as possible or even change the shape of a pitch to better fit an arsenal is incredibly high. Having the mindset and setting of a "pitching lab" where you tinker and test different experiments to find that one great pitch is appealing, but we must remember that for every action there's a reaction. A response to the change. Sometimes it's more like a "no free lunch" scenario. There are many factors that can be manipulated in pitch design to change the final product which is essentially what the pitch looked like going to the catcher. If you're tinkering with stuff in the lab you need to be prepared for what might occur while chasing the desired result.

It's important again to remember that everyone is different. Their anatomy, their movement preferences, their level of strength, and their experiences all of this can be impacted in making changes. An example would be a pitcher trying to improve the ride on their fastball. Maybe their spin axis is off which is due to their arm slot dropping slightly. The pitching coach sees this through motion capture and trackman data that the release height and movement profile may be changing. The plan is to talk through what may be happening and try to change that through catch-play and bullpen sessions. The goal: get the spin axis to match closer to a 12:00 position. The problem: there may be 100 different solutions to achieve this, but 95 of them may create problems somewhere else in the chain. Maybe they raise their arm slot by moving from the shoulder which may create more impingement symptoms. Maybe the change is in spine angle which is trunk tilt, this could result in an over-use or switching of their movement system into the low back, which can alter their rotational patterns and lead to not only overuse injuries to the low back due to the amount of stress absorbed by muscles that don't typically take that much force. What also can happen is that they start building more neurologic tone and muscle hypertrophy from those new movement patterns. There could be multiple solutions for each attempted change and maybe only one or two create the least amount of problems.

Another example may be that the pitcher's extension is limited or is decreasing every start. This is a case where both motion capture and trackman can confirm this information, but the solution isn't as simple as reaching as far as you can, extending your leg out as far as you can, or flexing your spine out as far as you can. It may seem simple, but the potential for solutions and compensation is incredibly high. The anatomy and movement solutions of the athlete should be some of the most important factors when discussing the best options to make a change. They may have short legs or even just short femurs, they may have a long torso, or they may have bad ankle mobility. All of these things will directly impact the quality of the attempted solution. So when making changes to a pitcher's mechanics make sure to pay close attention to how they move and monitor if the changes they're making are creating more problems than solutions.

I've seen some of these problems the most when a pitcher is trying to adjust their direction towards the plate between being linear and being rotational. It's important to know which muscles are prominent in each direction to help guide how to make these changes. If you eliminate the main sources of stability and control, some term this the attractor state, then be aware the body/brain will latch on to whatever it can to make up for what is lost and with elite and professional athletes this will commonly not end well.

To round this out, if the pitching or even hitting coach goes out of their way to learn anatomy and kinesiology then not only will they be miles ahead of their peers, but they'll also benefit their athletes the most while also coming to a successful solution faster. Not knowing any of these may lead you down the path of making them worse and losing trust in your abilities. Seems like a big deal, go be the best you can be.


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