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.