Theories Abound as to What Makes Hard Throwing Pitchers

Conventional wisdom (what scouts and baseball people say) suggests that tall athletes with lean muscles are more likely to be effective as pitchers than individuals who are shorter with more compact muscles. If you observe enough major-league pitchers on TV you might come to the same conclusion.

Dear Mr. Frost: My son plays baseball for one of the best high school teams in the country. Since he throws from the left side, I think it would be wise for him to concentrate on pitching. However, he believes that he does not throw with enough velocity due to limitations in his tendon structure. Is there any truth to this idea? Also, can he gain more velocity by taking pitching lessons or working out with weights?
– (Name withheld by request)

I have heard a number of theories addressing the question of why some pitchers throw harder than others. Your son’s belief about the “tendon structure” of his arm makes as much sense as some of these other ideas.

Obviously not every major-league pitcher is a clone of 6-foot-10-inch Randy Johnson. One of the premiere pitchers during the ’90s, measuring in at a mere 6-1, has been Greg Maddux of the Braves. He did not become so successful because of his overpowering fastball. His greatness is due to his control and ball movement. More than any other pitcher, Maddux can throw any pitch to a location of his choice, regardless of the count. This makes it impossible for hitters to look for a certain pitch. And since nearly all hitters have weak spots in their swing, his control allows him to exploit their weaknesses more effectively than most other pitchers.

Tell your son that even though pitching velocity is probably the number-one characteristic scouts and coaches look for in a pitcher, it is not the only feature that is important. A moving fastball, a great breaking ball, excellent control and an abundance of mental toughness can also impress those who will make the decisions that affect your son’s future in baseball.

Getting back to your question about increasing pitching speed, yes, I do believe that proper technique and weight training can result in an increase in velocity. But no matter how perfect the delivery is, or how strong the body comes, a pitcher is only going to be able to throw within the limits of his physical capabilities.

While with the Angels, I had the privilege of playing with Nolan Ryan for two years. For 26 seasons, he threw a baseball faster than anyone else. Nolan had a nice delivery and he worked hard, but I knew other guys who had flawless mechanics and incredible work ethics who never made it out of the minor leagues. Ryan was just gifted.

Guys like Ryan were always scarce, but today’s baseball people are concerned that the hard thrower is becoming even more of a rarity. They are mystified by this development but not without ideas as to why it has occurred.

One theory is that kids start playing too early. They throw hard before their muscles are ready, resulting in subtle wear and tear on their arms. This unrecognized damage keeps them from reaching their ultimate potential later. It would be very difficult to prove this idea.

Others hypothesize that the big, strong kids are more likely to gravitate toward glamour sports like football or basketball. These sports draw crowds while high school baseball games often bring yawns.

Some even blame video games. Too much time spent pushing all those buttons damages the tendons in the wrists and forearms.

My favorite theory concerns the urbanization of America. Over the years, our farm communities have gradually dwindled. Consequently, the number of “hard-throwin’ country boys” has decreased. These guys used to be a prized commodity in the baseball world. Now they are almost nonexistent.

If you really want to throw hard, I guess there’s just no substitute for spending a couple hours a day throwing rocks against the side of barn.

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