Maine’s Stride Length Explained

We mentioned yesterday that Dan Warthen finally did some tinkering with John Maine’s mechanics, as we’ve been suggesting since last June.

One of the adjustments Warthen is making to Maine’s motion is lengthening the stride:

“He’s cutting himself off, landing too soon,” Warthen said. “In the back of his mind, he was afraid to let go.”

So Maine threw about 50 pitches Monday under Warthen’s intense observation. Maine lengthened the stride his front foot took by eight inches. Warthen seemed pleased with the results. “The ball was coming out of his hand very well,” he said. “Still a golden arm.”

Inquiring minds may want to know what that eight inches can really accomplish. In a nutshell, by lengthening a pitcher’s stride, you accomplish three thing:

1. Allow the arm to “catch up” to the body, and time the release closer to the hip rotation / explosion.
A pitcher who strides too short can end up opening his hips too soon, putting the brunt of the pitch’s velocity on the upper body / arm. Kinesiologists suggest that the the length of the stride should be about equal to the total arc of the throwing arm’s motion, starting from the break of the hands to the release point.

2. Increase the amount of force applied to the ball.
This could be partially explained by Newton’s Second Law of Motion (interestingly, if pitching coaches paid even slight attention to Newton, we’d have less pitching injuries). In short, by lengthening the stride you are also generating momentum and increasing the time that force is applied to the baseball. Think about it this way: if you were going to punch someone, would you start your jab at a few inches in front of your chest, or would you rear your fist back to your armpit before punching forward? The latter, of course, because the increased distance of your fist’s path results in more power generated to your opponent’s jaw (try this at your next bar fight). The same principle works when hurling a baseball.

3. Shorten the distance between the release point and home plate.

This is a no-brainer: by lengthening the stride, you also release the ball further away from the rubber, and decrease the distance the ball needs to go. Again, this is simple physics — by decreasing the distance, the batter has less time to react to the pitch — even if the velocity stays the same. This is why Randy Johnson has been so devastating on hitters — because of his height and long arms, his release point is about foot closer to the batter than any other pitcher; his 93 MPH may be perceived as closer to 96 MPH because he’s decreased the time (maybe some math nut can give me the correct numbers, but you get what I mean).

Now the million-dollar question: why doesn’t every pitcher increase his stride?

First of all, a pitching coach worth his salt will indeed lengthen a pitcher’s stride as long as possible, because of the three points above. However, there is a point where pushing more length will hinder rather than help — particularly with pitchers at the MLB level who have been throwing one way their entire lives. Everyone is unique, and everyone throws differently, and I believe biomechanics and kinesiology play a major role in determining the perfect stride length — but I’m not expert enough on either subject to speak intelligently.

In Maine’s case, Warthen apparently saw a shorter stride than Johnny had used prior to his shoulder injury, and it makes sense. As a pitching coach, the stride is one of the first indicators I implore my pitchers to check when they’re having issues — they need to stride the same distance and land in about the same spot every time to pitch consistently. I’d be interested to know if Maine was not only striding shorter, but if he’s striding straight. But that’s for another day.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. murph March 25, 2009 at 12:57 am
    Nice analysis, Joe.
    Good to see old Newton’s Law.
    Brought back memories of 3 semesters of physics in college.
  2. CatchDog March 25, 2009 at 7:07 am
    Joe; spot on. You called it from the beginning. Hope these tweaks get Johnny over the top.

    For a classic example of custom taylored mechanics and fundamentals which maximize velocity, look no further than Tim Lancecum. He is living proof that incorporating a sound mechanical approach, including a wicked long stride into the delivery, can be extremely effective. Lancecum’s career will be very interesting to watch.

  3. sincekindergarten March 28, 2009 at 4:03 pm
    I seem to remember Joe saying that Maine’s control would improve at the same time. Oh, Joe–why would this be? (I was a bio major in college, so please don’t explain it in physics’ terms.)
  4. joe March 28, 2009 at 4:56 pm
    SK – the longer stride by itself will not help with Maine’s control issues. Maine’s bigger mechanical flaw is that during the leg lift, he brings his hands toward his right shoulder, which in turn causes his right hand to break back behind his right hip, which in turn causes his front (left) shoulder to turn toward second base, which in turn causes his entire upper body to over-rotate toward second base, which in turn causes causes the hips and front shoulder to open up early and over-rotate toward first base as his arm comes around toward the release point — in essence, his arm is “behind his body” at release, which both puts significant strain on his shoulder and often causes a release that is too high — which is why you often see his fastballs up and in to the RH hitter/up and away to lefties. To spot the ball with better control, he has to hold onto the ball a bit longer, but because his front side is already flying sideways toward 1B, his throwing arm follows along that linear plane as opposed to a more downward plane — the result are flat pitches that stay up.

    This is an issue he has dealt with since his days in the Orioles’ minor league system, but he’s had periods where it was less pronounced.

    All of this can be fixed quite easily by having him break his hands closer to the middle of his body (near the belly button) and having him focus on an arm arc more in line with his right leg / along a straight line toward home plate.