Pitch Movement, Part IV: Tunnel Vision

June 25, 2020 • Training

About a week ago, I was inspired to add another entry to the Pitch Movement series. The inspiration was this pair of tweets:

What's particularly great about the videos from Hughes is that the shots are aligned nearly perfectly with the initial trajectory of his pitches and give a great view of the pitch's initial spin (when not overlayed with other pitches). The stationary perspective also lends itself incredibly well to release comparisons and pitch tunneling overlays.

Smith's tweet seemed like a pretty obvious signal to me, so I reached out to Hughes to provide the details for a blog post aimed at helping other pitchers produce their own pitch trajectory overlay videos. He did not disappoint.

What follows is a blogified version of the notes he provided. Those source notes are the result of a collaborative effort by Smith, Hughes, Connor Hinchliffe (@conhinch), and Andrew Smith (@roo1776).

SETUP

The basics of the setup are not hard to understand: get a high-speed video camea, put it on a tall tripod, put the tripod in the right spot, and aim it at the center of the strike zone.

To select an appropriate camera, you need to figure out what you already have, your desired frame rate, and your budget. Hughes uses the Sony RX100 VI digital camera and records at 960 frames per second (fps), but that isn't likely in your budget unless you've played in the bigs, too.

240 fps – roughly 8x slow-motion – might be enough for your needs, and if it is, the GoPro HERO8 might be a better fit for your budget.

Before you go out and buy a camera, check out what your phone or existing digital camera is capable of. You might be surprised. For example, almost every iPhone model can easily record at 120 fps, but certain iPhone 8 and newer models that default to 120 fps for slow motion are capable of 240 fps at Full HD 1080p resolution with a small settings adjustment.

At 240 fps, a video of a 90 MPH pitch from release to the plate is about 3.2 seconds in length. I think most applications of slow-motion video would be fine in the 400-500 fps range which would produce a 6-7 second video. Unfortunately, there aren't many mid-range high-speed cameras out there. 120 fps and 240 fps options are aplenty, but above that, you're looking at 960+ fps cameras that are all quite pricey.

240 fps should provide decent but not ideal results, and with the right editing tools, the playback speed can be adjusted to slow it down – at the cost, of course, of fine detail. If there's another argument to make for lower frame rates, it's that higher frame rates produce longer videos that require extra storage and take longer to process.

Once you've got your camera, you're going to need to get a tall tripod. Compared to the cost of the camera, this won't be expensive, but your standard $25 basic model won't cut it. Since you will need it to look down at the strike zone through your release point, it will need to be pretty tall or elevated on a sturdy surface.

With the camera on the tripod, you'll need to work out the exact location to get the shot lined up with the pitch trajectory. You will need to take some test shots, so I recommend using the standard frame rate during this step. When you find the exact right spot and height, mark it or measure it to save time spent setting up for your next session.

Hughes has a pretty low 5' 6" vertical release height, and after adjusting for breathing room – you won't want the camera crowding you or getting knocked over by a stray limb – his ideal camera height is 7' 1". He also warns that windy days can be trouble for tall tripods.

The tripod will be wide to your arm-side to create the correct angle for the video and, again, far enough away from you so that neither your arm swing nor your back leg hit it. The final position is going to seem far away and really high, but that's where it needs to be to line up the tunnel.

RECORDING

Touch the camera as little as possible once it is in the recording position. If possible, only touch it to start and stop recording. Additional touching runs the risk of unintentional camera movement. If you're feeling fancy, you might be able to find a remote control or trigger to start and stop recording so you don't have to touch the camera at all. If you go the GoPro route, some of their models accept voice commands.

Extremely flexible and/or aggressive pitchers may struggle with the back foot blocking the camera during follow-through. There isn't a good way to deal with this, unfortunately. The clearest option is toning down the follow-through, but that could lead to misleading results due to altered mechanics.

Hughes advises that if you are planning to match up your video with data from a Rapsodo or other tracking device, you will want to take notes on each recorded pitch. In his words:

I typically scribble 4 things on a piece of paper after each recorded pitch. “Pitch type, video #, rapsodo #, release (x,y)”. I include release because it helps me see which pitches will likely tunnel well in an overlay. Also, the goal is to release every pitch from the exact same place. If I’m not at my best release height I can make adjustments to get back to it.

Lighting Note: Hughes also warns that if you are outdoors, bright sunlight may reflect too powerfully off the white baseball leather and create too much glare to be able to see the seams clearly.

BONUS: DATA CONSIDERATIONS

Hughes provided some additional notes to improve data accuracy and consistency:

Use a new baseball if you want a true read on how your pitch is moving. If you want to compare how different grips move, use the same unscuffed baseball each time you throw a new grip. I typically warm up with my batch of scuffed baseballs, but when it comes time to record, I use my new baseballs.

PRODUCING THE VIDEO

There are a lot of options for editing, combining, and overlaying video clips. This is not going to be a full tutorial, but it may provide you with a couple of ideas you hadn't thought before. You should research video editing options for yourself and figure out what works best for you.

For Hughes, who records at 960 fps, he only records a couple of pitches per bullpen due to file size and how long it takes to write the massive video files to storage. The files can be upwards of 1 GB!

You can experiment with on-camera editors, but Hughes offers that trimming and editing on-camera may result in reduced video quality in the form of a lower effective frame rate. To avoid this, he uploads the original files to Dropbox where he keeps a video archive of his recorded pitches along with notes.

The file is then downloaded to his phone (iPhone 11 Pro Max) via Dropbox – the file has now gone from camera to Dropbox to phone – where he loads it into an app called Fused where he creates his overlays. At this point, video quality is greatly reduced but remains more than high enough to visualize release, movement, and how different pitches and locations play well together to create tunnels.

If you own a quality laptop or desktop, you can likely find some free or low cost video editing software, such as Blender or iMovie, that may produce higher quality videos or may simply feel more comfortable to you while editing.

Taiki Green produced a good tutorial for doing this with iMovie a while back:

You will have to experiment to find out what works best for you, but your end result should be a pretty cool, pretty valuable tool for analyzing your pitch tunnels.


Discovering the Intent to Throw Hard

January 25, 2017 • Training

Intent is vital to every kind of training. It is the difference between reaching for goals and going through the motions. Applied to physical training, specifically for sport, intent can take many forms: trying to set a PR in the weight room, trying to beat your last 60 yard dash time, or trying to throw the ball harder than you ever have before.

The most common use of "intent" in modern pitching training refers to the intent to throw hard, a phrase coined by Paul Nyman, which is most succinctly summarized as "If you want to throw hard, try to throw hard." -- a thought you will see echoed across blogs and Twitter timelines.

The tricky thing about the intent to throw hard is that young athletes often have trouble accurately assessing their own maximum intent level. Back in 2013, Kyle Boddy wrote a blog post that touches on it:

[They] thought they were trying to throw hard, but they had no idea what it actually felt like to even try.

Driveline Baseball, https://www.drivelinebaseball.com/2013/10/role-intent-pitching/

Any pitching coach that has had more than a few clients has run into a pitcher that can look you square in the eye and tell you that he is operating at 100% intent... in between throws that look like they were performed underwater. The catch is that he's not intentionally lying to you; he's just clueless.

Using a variety of implements (wrist weights, heavy balls, light balls) and techniques (constraint drills, running throws) can go a long way to helping athletes discover intent they didn't know they had.

I've always felt that intensity is something you know when you see it, so in addition to training variety, I make judicious use of Tweets and Vines that demonstrate clear and undeniable intent.

Show a kid this video of Driveline Baseball's Matt Daniels performing a pivot pickoff, and ask him if he still thinks his pivot pickoffs are at 100%.

Or you can show him video of recent Pittsburgh Pirates draft pick John Pomeroy performing a walking windup.

Or you can show him video of pulldowns performed by Trey McNutt, Peter Bayer, Eric Jagers, and Spencer Mahoney.

Seeing is believing. Don't be surprised if, after watching videos of true intent, that "underwater" kid suddenly looks a lot more athletic.

Getting a kid to discover for himself what the intent to throw hard really feels like is a major developmental milestone.


Season Preparation: On-ramping

December 15, 2016 • Training

It's still December, but in Texas, it's already time to start thinking about your spring season on-ramping. With high school and college teams beginning practices in January and many youth leagues not far behind, the training window is already turning into the preparation window.

Sufficient preparation is essential for both performance and health. Whether you spent the off-season training your butt off or resting and recovering from a year-round schedule, you don't want to show up to that first practice -- especially if it's a tryout -- and not be ready to go.

If you've been training, on-ramping for the season will mean transitioning to focused flat-ground work and eventually throwing from a mound. The goal is to translate off-season gains into baseball-ready performance.

Professional players are still 8-10 weeks from reporting, and at Driveline Baseball near Seattle, the pros have just started high-intensity throwing:

If you've been resting, however, on-ramping for the season will mean gradually returning to throwing. Most youth pitchers will fall into this category, and nearly all year-round pitchers should fall into this category. (Some pitchers don't even give themselves time to rest, playing in fall leagues and showcases well into December!)

Traditional prehab-style on-ramping focuses on constrained throwing (wrist flicks, elbow extensions, etc.) with limited intensity and restricted distances. As part of the ramp-up, throwing constraints are removed, intensity is increased, and distances are extended.

Coming off a period of rest is a great time to introduce a plyo ball program. The low-intensity, constrained throws at the beginning of such a program will not only physically prime the body for more intense throwing, it also gives the pitcher time to learn the new movements.

Starting out with heavier implements, such as Driveline's green and black PlyoCare balls, a plyo ball program tests the brain's neurological map for throwing, challenging it to become more efficient. As lighter implements are introduced and constraints are removed, the body continues to move toward readiness while a more efficient throwing pattern begins to take hold.

On the other hand, a traditional on-ramp program that uses only a standard 5oz baseball, while it will help prepare the pitcher for the upcoming season, will generally not provide enough of a training stimulus to challenge movement efficiency.

The clock is ticking on this off-season. Make sure you're ready for 2017.


My Approach to Training Pitchers

May 29, 2015 • Training

No two pitchers are the same. Even two pitchers with similar body types and mechanics likely have different diets, sleep habits, attitudes, experiences, and physical adaptations. They learn in different ways and respond differently to stress. 

And it doesn't make sense to give the same program to a light-tossing, pain-free pitcher that you would give to a flame-thrower with anterior shoulder pain, does it?

One size does not fit all. The program needs to fit the pitcher.

I want you to throw without pain.

My first step isn't far off from the first step at Ron Wolforth's Texas Baseball Ranch where they start with the pain. No matter what your other limitations are, pain will unquestionably hold you back.

A simple physical assessment taken from Kyle Boddy (Driveline Baseball) and a pain survey are the first steps in this individualized approach to training. This will help identify the cause(s) of the pain and help determine our initial focus for reducing and hopefully eliminating your pain.

If you are free of pain, you are free to train.

I want you to throw harder and stay healthy.

Driveline's throwing program is designed to produce efficient mechanics through guided self-discovery -- drills designed to help you teach yourself how to be more efficient! The program isn't just about building efficiency, though; it's also about fitness.

The strength portion of the program will be emphasized for those lacking a good foundation of strength. A good strength program will improve not only strength but also general kinesthetic awareness. You will discover how to feel what your body is doing.

The throwing program will use a variety of implements and modalities to train your body and arm to produce healthier velocity. Among these are heavy baseballs, light baseballs, heavy wrist weights, reverse throws, long toss, resistance bands, and more!

A full warm-up that focuses on proper muscle activation and a post-workout recovery protocol are vital to the process and included in the program.

I want you to think about executing your pitches not your mechanics.

It has been 7 1/2 years since I gave my last "pitching lesson", and I do not intend to ever give another. We may discuss mechanics and movement patterns and their pros and cons, but I will not micromanage your mechanics.

Mechanics will be learned during the drills in the throwing program. When you are on the mound, your primary focus must be on the pitch you are throwing. If we have done our work properly, your training will handle the rest.

If you work hard and commit to the process, you will get results.

I say this with confidence because I know the man that put the program together has done his research and has proven his results in practice. Kyle Boddy has tested every drill and exercise in this program, and I trust his work. (I highly encourage you to check out the Driveline Baseball website, especially the blog!)

Ready to learn more?

If you're still reading, that probably means you're either ready to sign up or you have more questions. Either way, the solution is to head over to my contact form and send me an email.


"Delayed Internal Rotation" revisited and elbow roll-in

December 8, 2012 • Training

Almost 4 years ago, I wrote an article that was sort of a spit-balled take on an arm action sequencing concept. Practically immediately, it was torn apart by Dr. Mike Marshall. I realized then that the article was poorly written. Part of that was the spit-ball nature of it, its kind of "thinking out loud" approach, but a big part was my wonderfully awful descriptions of and references to the kinetic chain.

Shortly thereafter, I threw a disclaimer at the top and promised to re-write the article. Well, there really isn't much point because, even cleaned up, I don't think the concept holds water. [UPDATE 2019: ... or does it?]

Today, at Ron Wolforth's Pitching Central Ultimate Pitching Coaches Boot Camp, that exact article was mentioned in reference to an analysis of different types of lay back, what causes lay back, and how someone can have late forearm turnover and avoid the dreaded reverse forearm bounce.

It's an action that I've addressed before in my pitcher analyses. In my analyses (both professionally and on this site), I've drawn attention to when a pitcher decreases reverse forearm bounce by "picking up" his elbow. You can see this very well in my 2009 analysis of Brandon McCarthy. Back then, I described it like this:

It's hard to tell from this angle, but McCarthy's reverse forearm bounce might be exaggerated by some elbow flexion. By this, I mean that he picks his elbow up high enough that gravity plus natural elbow flexion - rather than inertia - appear to be causing some of the ball's downward motion. This view is inconclusive, but I don't believe his ulnar collateral ligament would hold up for very long if inertia alone caused a bounce that large.

You probably noticed that I was having trouble effectively articulating my thoughts about it. Chris Holt of Pro Bound USA in Clearwater, FL [2019 UPDATE: now pitching coordinator for the Baltimore Orioles] -- who didn't know I was in the audience -- has solved this problem for me by calling it "elbow roll-in". If someone before him coined the term, I'd never heard it.

With that term in mind, watch some of those McCarthy pitches again. Pay attention to his elbow and layback. While there is almost definitely an intertial lag component that helps with McCarthy's layback, the bulk of the layback was done by the way he rolled his elbow into position to lead his forearm.

This method of layback is something for which I've become a big proponent over the past 4 years (for a number of reasons that I don't have time to get into right now). I've needed a succinct way to describe it for some time, and now I have it.