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    Left-handed pitching is something of an enigma in baseball. all teams want them, but few know how to develop them. even if they’re not very good, they’ll probably have a job in a team’s bullpen. most lefties are considered soft shooters or control artists and those who can “bring it” are considered gems. There are few of these power lefties in the minors, and those that exist top this list. —baseball examiner

    In the first article in this series, “A Bridge Too Far,” I began the quest to understand the how and why of Barry Zito’s missed fastball (what little he previously had). it is simply the result of never learning how to throw a baseball efficiently. The how and why of Zito’s missed fastball is the how and why of pitching mechanics (as opposed to pitching mechanics), along with what makes the pitcher successful in the major leagues.

    Reading: Average left handed pitcher speed


    Finding Zito’s lost fastball requires an understanding of throwing mechanics (as opposed to pitching mechanics) and what makes a pitcher successful at the major-league level.

    It is generally accepted that left-handed pitchers often have an advantage over their right-handed counterparts at all levels of baseball. why? As with all matters of casting mechanics, there is as much mystery as reality. for example, many people in baseball believe that a left-hander’s ball moves differently than a right-hander’s ball. Some will tell you that lefties throw differently because of the left brain versus right brain “thing,” that lefties are “wired” differently.

    I became interested in left-handed pitchers because of their ability to be successful with a slower ball than their right-handed counterparts. understanding how lefties throw could tell me something about how the body throws by studying the fastball exception instead of the fastball rule.

    Going back in time to find videos of the best baseball pitchers has helped me understand how the body optimally throws the ball.


    Hall of Fame left handers Herb Pennock and Carl Hubbell were not your typical left-handed pitchers; they knew how to throw the ball.

    my answer to why lefties can be successful with less pure stuff than their right handed counterparts is the same explanation as why/how a fastball goes up. Physicists tell us that a fastball doesn’t rise, because there isn’t enough translational and rotational speed to fully overcome the effects of gravity. But players who’ve faced fire throwers like Nolan Ryan will swear his fastball went up!

    Physicists will explain this apparent contradiction by saying that Ryan’s ability to throw the ball at 100 mph did not give the ball as much time to fall as someone throwing at 90 mph or less. and because hitters don’t see 100 mph fastballs as often as 90 mph ones, pitches approaching 100 mph can appear to increase because they (we) expect the ball to drop more. In other words, our eyes and brain trick us into thinking the ball is going up.

    This same phenomenon or principle can be applied to a batter facing a left-handed pitcher. as hitters get older, they don’t face many left-handed pitchers, especially quality ones. at the lower/younger levels of amateur baseball, 90 percent of the pitches they see come from a pitcher throwing from the right side of the mound.

    Most hitters don’t develop the same level of comfort with left-handed pitchers as they do with right-handers. this disparity continues up to and including the major leagues. the same phenomenon also helps explain why some people believe pitches thrown by left-handed pitchers move (behave) differently than the same pitch thrown by right-handed pitchers.

    mel antonen has observed at usa today that most left-handed prospects rate themselves on a lower scale. “They get drafted when a similarly talented right-hander doesn’t. they get more time to develop in the minor leagues. And if they establish themselves in the majors, they can turn a 10- or 15-year career into a 20-year career and pitch into their 40s.”

    In general, the velocity of left-handed pitchers is less than that of right-handed pitchers. the average major league fastball is 88 to 90 mph. a right-hander with an average speed of less than 88 mph is more the exception than the rule. but a significant number of successful left-handed pitchers throw fastballs in the 86-88 mph range, especially those who are considered left-handed “specialists.”

    Lefties who don’t have good fastballs have another potential advantage: Hitters adjust their swings to the pitch velocity they see most often. at the major league level, it’s typically an 88 to 90 mph fastball. a left-handed pitcher in the 84-86 mph range can mess up a hitter’s timing, especially if the hitter doesn’t see lefties often. but mlb hitters will adjust (that’s why they’re mlb hitters) and it’s not unusual for a lefty (or righty) to complete the order the first time and run into trouble the second time.

    all of which would seem to be the good fortune of being a left-handed pitcher. But there is a nasty potential side effect: a left-hander may never have to learn how to throw the baseball.

    what constitutes an effective pitch?

    In my previous article, I pointed out that you throw a baseball without throwing it, but you can’t throw a baseball without throwing it. I also said that pitching instruction is all that is needed to beat the batter, while pitching instruction is how to optimally move the ball through time and space. and, the article said, “launch mechanics” is really a misnomer. it should be called a throwing mechanic.

    In trying to better understand how the body optimally throws the ball, I distinguish between skills and abilities. the ability to get the batter out is the ability to pitch. the attributes that are important in developing the ability to throw are shown in the following diagram.


    The physical aspect of pitching skill

    See also: Where is former World No. 1 Jennifer Capriati now?

    abilities such as strength, physical size, muscle composition, connective tissue, range of motion, flexibility, nervous system, etc. they are physical attributes that play an important rule in the ability to develop the ability to throw. professional baseball understands this, as evidenced by the amateur draft (with an emphasis on the physical size of pitchers). but again, lefties are given a special physical dispensation. major league clubs are more willing to take a chance on an undersized lefty than an undersized righty.

    That’s often a mistake, as pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Johnny Cueto demonstrate.

    hall of famer steve carlton and future hall of famer randy johnson have physical attributes.

    mechanical aspect of the casting ability

    Simply put, this is the ability to throw the baseball efficiently and effectively. Efficiency means throwing with the least amount of effort while developing ball speed, placement, and movement. Attributes like a quick arm and arm speed are highly sought after. there is also a somewhat mystical amount that has to do with effort. scouts want to see pitchers who can throw 95 mph with minimum effort, as opposed to what they think is maximum effort. what they’re really talking about is being able to shoot without useless, unproductive moves. there is no maximum effort.

    hall of famer sandy koufax may have had the best pure “stuff” of any southpaw.


    Mental aspect of pitching skill

    all voluntary movement is the result of doing what is necessary to achieve an end. The intent to launch is the most critical aspect of the launch process. From a pitching perspective, this means that the intent to get the batter out is the most important part of the pitching process.

    Intent affects all aspects of getting the hitter out: pitch type, pitch location, pitch velocity, pitch motion, etc.; all are determined by the caster’s intent. the mental aspect of shooting is what allows shooters, whether right-handed or left-handed, to be successful without having the best shooting mechanics or physical attributes.

    hall of famers warren spahn and whitey ford knew how to get hitters out.

    A few words about intent and max effort pitchers: I frequently hear the term “max effort pitcher” used as a negative with regards to a player’s pitching (throwing) mechanics. how do you throw a baseball at 100 mph without maximum effort? here is a clip of nolan ryan. From the look on his face and looking at the muscles in his neck, I’d say that Ryan, while he may not be putting his maximum effort on the field, is getting pretty close.


    When people call a player’s mechanics “max effort,” I believe they are saying he doesn’t use his body to throw efficiently. That’s because unless the player is putting close to 100 percent of his effort (intent) into throwing the ball, he is not going to succeed at the major league level.

    A few more words about individual differences: No two people respond identically to the same situation or to the same stimulus. this difference is embodied in the principle of individual differences, which applies to almost every aspect of human behavior, from how the body responds to training to how effectively and efficiently the body acquires movement skills.

    optimal flexibility varies considerably. these two teammates underwent similar training programs during high school and college. variations in flexibility may lead to variations in techniques, selection or sport profile. the stretched-out athlete in the first image was a national champion freestyler; the stretched athlete in the second image was a national champion in the butterfly stroke. performances is the product of flexibility, strength, and neuromuscular integration.


    This principle of individual differences as applied to throwing a baseball is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it helps explain how players succeed at hitting and pitching by being different. On the other hand, not fully understanding or appreciating the principle leads to misinformation regarding how the body optimally swings and throws. Two words that I find frequently used in player selection and development as “fudge factors”—words used to explain the unexplainable”—are “talent” and “style.”

    When throwing a baseball, the biggest abuse of individual differences is trying to predict injuries based on how the player appears to be throwing the ball. factors such as strength, flexibility, neuromuscular integration, all combined to create a unique capacity in each individual. trying to judge a player’s mechanics as good or bad based on a single set of stereotypical mechanics is a potentially pointless exercise.

    some lefties who throw like lefties

    These are players who don’t seem to be putting in maximum effort and aren’t shooting very efficiently either. one of the first southpaws that caught my eye was denny neagle, because at the time he was trying to understand the role of arm action. Neagle was listed as 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, with an 86-88 mph fastball. Neagle’s arm action is “smooth”, as is his entire delivery. lefties have a tendency to throw the ball. Still, Neagle took out the batters and was rewarded with lucrative contracts.


    Early on I used Neagle as an example of how not to throw the baseball.

    Another lefty whose delivery I consider to be one of the worst I’ve ever seen is a player I thought several years ago would be out of baseball, but he seems to be doing pretty well. mark redman has atrocious arm action, but it’s another testament to the rule that if you’re left-handed and can shoot (location, speed changes, and movement), you’ll be handsomely rewarded.


    One left-handed pitcher who personifies the combination of adequate throwing mechanics and very good pitching mechanics (how to get batters out) is Andy Pettitte.


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    His success is in no small part due to his consistent ability to throw a 90-plus mph fastball along with his pitching smarts.

    “Old Rivers” are players who have found the right combination of shooting intent and reasonably decent shooting mechanics for their physical abilities. this combination leads to longevity. One of the great potential advantages of a left-handed pitcher is the ability to minimize wear and tear on his body if he can find and maintain the minimum speed necessary to get hitters out. these four launchers have managed to do this.

    imageimage imageimage

    Old men (by MLB standards) throwing a baseball. From top left clockwise, Jamie Moyer, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson and Kenny Rogers.

    Show me a lefty who throws like a righty, and I’ll show you a pitcher with the potential to be very successful. Left-handed pitchers who pitch like right-handers have a greater chance of achieving success in MLB than their right-handed counterparts.

    One of the most egregious examples of how little MLB pitching coaches really know about pitching mechanics was the Mets’ trade of Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano. Word on the street was that Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson thought it necessary to change Kazmir’s mechanics to prevent future injuries. apparently kazmir did not agree, and thus the exchange.

    I found it quite interesting because I fell in love with Kazmir’s mechanics the first time I saw him throw baseball (high school video clip).


    I will also say that it appears that Kazmir’s mechanics have changed his since high school, and in my opinion not for the better. Possibly that’s a subject for another day.

    Some of the youngsters who have right-handed “stuff,” starting in the top left and going clockwise: Scott Kazmir, Erik Bedard, C.C. sabathia and dontrelle willis.

    imageimage imageimage

    erik bedard throws the ball well, having led the american league in strikeouts last year. he also has a very interesting baseball history.

    bedard, franco-ontario, began his baseball career in the orleans little league and the ontario baseball association. He pitched for the 1992 Orleans Junior Red Sox team that beat Glace Bay in the 1992 Canadian Championship. Bédard did not play baseball in high school, which is the norm in Canada due to the short season. Just 5-foot-4 and 120 pounds his senior year, he grew seven inches and gained 30 pounds over the summer between graduating high school and starting college. He accompanied a friend to a tryout at Norwalk Community College in Norwalk, Conn., and made the baseball team as a walk-on.

    While in college, he added 10 mph to his fastball, gained another 30 pounds, took the “lowest level” non-credit English course to improve his knowledge of the language, and became a junior college all- America.

    bedard has the pitching tools to be a successful left-handed pitcher. At least that’s what the sailors think.

    willis burst onto the baseball scene in 2003 with both his original form and his success on the pitching mound. Willis’ delivery was a throwback to the likes of Louis Tiant. and willis can throw the ball. he had statistically strong years from 2003 through last year. his era jumped, as did his home runs, and his ability to position himself seemed more of an issue than in previous years. it would be interesting to compare his 2003 mechanics to what he was doing last year to see if he is another potential victim of mlb coaches making his mechanics “look better”.

    sabathia is probably the most interesting of all. winner of the cy young award in 2007, he is off to a shaky start. and then there’s the little matter of his release for hire this year. The conversation on the hot stove before the season started was whether Sabathia would break Johan Santana’s contract record. (The three biggest pitching contracts have been lefties: Mike Hampton, Zito, and Santana.

    sabathia has been a workhorse for cleveland since 2001, averaging nearly 200 entries a year. hde can get it there (fastball consistently in the low 90s). but I never liked the way he threw the ball; in my opinion, a part of his speed is simply due to his size.

    Raw pitching ability does not guarantee success in the big leagues. you still have to know how to throw. but given two pitchers with equal pitching ability, the left-hander has a better chance of success.

    Still, the same things that work for a southpaw also work against him. and in some ways, the left-hander is on a more precarious precipice than his right-handed counterpart.

    next: what the lord gives, the mlb hitter takes, and what exactly are effective pitching mechanics?

    See also: MLB All-Star Voting Results 2018: Full Selections, Starters, Snubs and Voting | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors | Bleacher Report

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