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If you’re a pitcher born after the year 1980, you have grown up in the era of Modern Pitching Mechanics.
The birth of the modern delivery dates back to the late 80’s/ early 90’s and can be attributed to the relationship between Tom House and Nolan Ryan. Therefore, a young pitcher born in the early 80’s would have been exposed to the modern delivery as he climbed the ranks of Little League Baseball and beyond. Here’s the story of how the most common pitching delivery seen in baseball today, and how it manifested into its current form.
In 1968 a train called “The Ryan Express” pulled out of the station filled with 100mph fastballs, high leg kicks, no hitters, and a seemingly never ending supply of strikeouts. The Ryan Express was driven by conductor and Hall of Fame Pitcher Nolan Ryan, who set a standard for speed, power, and endurance. For years The Ryan Express made it’s way through the National League and American League overpowering hitters and logging thousands of miles on its long journey. But, as The Ryan Express grew closer to its inevitable return to the station, it’s cargo had a few new additions. The additions were manufactured and built by Texas Ranger pitching coach Tom House, who began working with Ryan in 1989.
According to Tom’s website tomhouse.com, he is considered by many “The Father of Modern Pitching Mechanics”. Prior to House working with Ryan, he already began to study the pitching delivery using motion video analysis. In 1986, he started his own company Bio Kinetics Inc. and was one of the first to blend scientific based pitching study into training methodologies for pitchers. At the time, many of Tom’s methods were seen as radical, but when the working relationship between House and Ryan began in 1989, the methods gradually molded into mainstream absolutes, and shortly thereafter, a shift occurred from a traditional pitching methodology into House’s scientific based methodology.
With Ryan being regarded as one of the best of all time, Tom’s information reached the masses with their joint publication “Nolan Ryan’s Pitchers’s Bible”; A must read at the time for any aspiring pitcher. If you want to throw hard, just lift your leg like Nolan Ryan right? I know my little league was filled with young kids imitating Ryan’s leg kick and an effort to throw harder. But, the mechanical information produced by Tom House and backed by Nolan Ryan, solidified the embodiment of their information to new heights. Coaches, players, and parents latched hold of the information and the “Bible” made its way through the game of baseball everywhere. The “Nolan Ryan’s Pitcher’s Bible” was released in 1991, three years after House and Ryan met and started working together. Tom would continue to release publications on pitching but the commencement of Modern Pitching Mechanics had been established, and provided a platform for the next decade to shape how pitchers throw a baseball.
As mentioned earlier, the “new additions” House brought on board can be seen clearer with a better understanding of where Ryan’s mechanics first started with the New York Mets. In order to paint a picture of how pitching mechanics changed form over the years, I will use Nolan Ryan as a case study. Ryan’s 27 year career provides glimpses of changes in information and how the information transformed his mechanical pattern. See the video below to gain a perspective on the changes Ryan made throughout his tenure with the Mets, Angels, Astros, and eventually the union of the Texas Rangers and Tom House.
The video provides a visual glimpse of Nolan Ryan’s mechanics throughout his career but I will dive deeper into the technical aspect of Ryan’s mechanics in order from first organization to last. In the video, I purposely highlighted two specific frames within Nolan Ryan’s delivery to provide a basis of comparison. First, I stopped the video where Ryan separated his hands and his lead leg became fully extended. Second, I showed where Ryan’s right forearm became vertical behind his head. The two still frames will be topics of discussion as you continue to read through the article.
If there ever could be a right handed Sandy Koufax, it began to surface with Nolan Ryan in a Mets uniform. During the early part of his career, Ryan’s delivery resembled the fluidity and looseness of the era. Many young baseball enthusiasts never realize where Nolan’s delivery truly started. In my professional opinion, Nolan’s mechanics during his career with the Mets, far exceeded his mechanical pattern throughout any other point in his career.
The biggest change between Ryan’s mechanics came when Angels pitching coach Tom Morgan worked with Ryan to keep his upper body compact earlier and longer.
I had a tendency to fly open like a swinging door (open up my front side too early). Tom Morgan identified the problem and had an unusual method of solving it. He would stand at the exact spot where my landing leg hit at the end of my delivery. I couldn’t open up without hitting him, he basically functioned as a block or barricade, a very effective way to force me to stay closed. – Nolan Ryan
Nolan may have felt he was flying open but really his body was opening up into thoracic extension early, which is a good thing! The video footage indicates perfect alignment between his lower half and upper body as the arm prepares to accelerate forward. Morgan wanted Ryan to stay compact and maintain direction but his methods directly led to Ryan keeping his posture forward longer and moving away from the ideal rotation of his upper body. The adjustment Ryan needed to make was to keep the same rotation but let his trunk and head continue forwards towards the target into the release of the baseball.
Tom House is another advocate of sound mechanics . When I first joined the Rangers he mentioned his four absolutes of pitching: balance, direction, deception/launch, and weight transfer. Well, to be honest this terminology was something I had to evaluate for a while. We were speaking two completely different languages. – Nolan Ryan
Any pitching coach preaching new methodology to an established veteran deems a potentially impossible task. You have to commend House for his persistence in working through an inevitable trial period of confusion, frustration, and questioning Ryan would have endured.
Once I finally figured out what Tom was talking about, I realized we were in 100 percent agreement. The four absolutes do go hand in hand with throwing a baseball properly. I’ve stayed in line with the four absolutes throughout my career, though I never put a name on them. – Nolan Ryan
Don’t start any forward momentum toward home plate until your leg reaches its apex. – Tom House
In my delivery for instance, I have to bring the knee of my lift leg up to shoulder level before I start any movement toward home plate. This is my most important checkpoint. Any movement in the direction of the plate before I finished lifting my leg will destroy my sense of balance, the first absolute.
Tom’s company, Bio-Kinetics videotaped my delivery while I was pitching for Houston in 1988, and then again with the Rangers in 1989. In 1988, for instance, the analysis indicated I was drifting forward before getting my lift leg up to full height. And this drift was forcing me to open up my hips too soon. – Nolan Ryan
Maybe Nolan didn’t realize for the past 22 seasons prior to 1989, his lower body routinely moved forward throughout the entire phase of the delivery; an absolute to generating momentum. But now his mind consciously came to the top of his iconic shoulder height lift and generated a slight pause. A pause that would eventually be evident in many young pitchers. The concept of achieving balance through a slight pause was now created.
Once you achieve optimal balance, begin a controlled fall toward home plate, your front foot leading the way. Turn your thumbs under to force your elbows up into launching position. Your entire front side, glove, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee and foot should be perfectly directional and online with home plate.
Maintain the same upper body posture you achieve in the balance phase of the delivery.
Think of the body as a gate that moves together as a single unit, no part of the gate should fly open as you advance toward home plate. If a pitcher opens up, hips rotating outward first or third base, he’ll place undue stress on the throwing arm while limiting the efficiency and power of the delivery. – Tom House
The delivery described by House thus far is very familiar to the UP, DOWN, & OUT which I have covered extensively prior to this article. The lift leg goes up; the front foot comes down, and the body moves out toward home plate as one compact piece. If you are unfamiliar with the UP, DOWN, & OUT, I encourage you to click the link above and read how getting the front foot out early impacts rotation and the rest of the delivery.
Your throwing and front-side elbows will both attain shoulder height at the launch phase. Let your forearms and hands form a 90-degree angle to maximize arm strength and leverage. The forearm, wrist, and glove on your front side, if they’re properly aligned, will impede the hitter’s view of your pitching arm in its launch position – this is the deceptive element of the equation. – Tom House
In this deception/launch stage of the pitching motion, you want to stay closed as long as possible. A closed delivery allows the hitter less time to see the ball. The second checkpoint in my delivery is that you cannot throw the ball until your landing foot hits the ground. – Nolan Ryan
Hips must stay directional (toward home plate) until the landing leg hits; all hip rotation takes place after this point. Land with your front side directional but your landing foot “closed off”. A right handers left big toe should point slightly toward the third base side of home plate, blocking off your forward movement. This transfers your forward momentum up through the body and into the arm at your release point, and ultimately ensures a less stressful deceleration of the arm.
Once your throwing elbow leads the throwing arm forward, your strong side replaces the directional side as weight is transferred the landing leg. Your shoulders pass each other in opposite directions. Your head stays directly over the bent knee of your landing leg.
Here is what happens at the release point: Your throwing arm and wrist snaps straight to full extension, then the palm rotates the thumb down and out, away from the body, as the ball leaves the fingertips. At this precise moment all acceleration ends and deceleration begins. Weight transfer is completed as our head and upper body are pulled past the knee of your landing leg. This final coup de grace allows the forces of deceleration to be transferred from the arm, through the upper torso, into the lower back and finally to the legs, rather than compelling the shoulder to bear the brunt of the resistance. – Tom House
Compare my mechanics in ’88 to ’89 and you’ll see a few interesting changes. My higher release point improved the efficiency of my weight transfer, my head stayed more in line with my front knee in the launch position. This refinement reduced the stress placed on my shoulder as my arm decelerated. – Nolan Ryan
I found a short clip of Tom House and Nolan Ryan working together in a bullpen setting. I’m not sure the time this video took place, but it looks like Ryan has already retired. Watch below to see if you can pick up on the Four Absolutes in Ryan’s throwing mechanics.
To be clear, when I state MODERN PITCHING MECHANICS, I’m referring to the origin of where the delivery started as the Four Absolutes earned its way into accepted pitching instruction in baseball circles everywhere. The Four Absolutes or what I refer commonly to as “The Up, Down, & Out, continue to exist predominately at the youth pitching instruction. I would venture to say it takes roughly 10 years for a change in hitting or pitching methodology to surface at all competitive levels of baseball. From personal experience, I grew up learning the ideals of the Four Absolutes in the late 90′. And as of today, most young pitchers who walk into our facility, showcase a predominately Modern Delivery instilled into their mechanical pattern by a little league, travel, or high school coach.
Not at all pitchers resemble this methodology, in fact, many amateurs and professionals exhibit a totally different pattern but again, we are talking about an overwhelming advantage on the side of the Modern Delivery. I see two fundamental differences in the way Nolan Ryan threw a baseball with the New York Mets compared to that of the Texas Rangers. The first and most important difference is the way the body must rotate when the body is abiding by the Four Absolutes.
I found a clip from Tom House where he’s talking about arm slot and getting on top of the baseball which directly deals with how the torso must rotate to deliver the baseball. I’m not sure of the exact date of the clip, but since he talks about Mark Prior, we can deduce the clip is after 2003.
Tom is essentially talking about maintaining head position and posture through the acceleration phase of the delivery and let your arm naturally come into release. I fundamentally believe to maximize total potential output and support the arm through rotation, a pitcher must achieve a high arm slot. Achieving the higher arm slot is linked to how the trunk and spine move into rotation prior to release. If a pitcher’s posture and head stay forward, the shoulders are forced to rotate horizontally, leading to a lower arm slot and increase stress on the throwing shoulder and elbow. In the video below, I show the two different ways to rotate the upper body to deliver the baseball. We encourage you to rotate similar to Ryan in 1969. For more information on how negative forces impact the health of a pitcher’s shoulder read my article on Roy Halladay.
The second fundamental difference I see is how Ryan moves into and out of his leg lift. If you revert back to the video of Nolan throughout his career, notice where I stopped each clip. I provided a still frame of Ryan after he fully separated his hands and extended his lead leg outward from the body. With New York, Ryan seemingly kicks his foot away from his body. This unique movement, seen in many traditional pitchers, allows the body to move down the mound longer and aids to increase a pitchers momentum. The hips become engaged during the movement, and substantial increases in mass and leverage are obtained. The movement also directly influences proper stride alignment (heel to heel) to let the lower half completely open up in an ideal path towards home plate.
As Ryan’s lower half movement (hips and leg extending outwards) decreased with the Rangers, his stride alignment became closed off. With the information derived from the Direction Absolute, we know Ryan delayed hip rotation until his front foot landed slightly closed towards third base. Will Fox, our Performance Specialist, talks about how this closed landing effects joint mechanics.
Not only is landing closed-off potentially going to limit full trunk rotation within the throw thus limiting a huge source power, but it produces exponentially more stress at the hip joint based based on the mechanics. Think about if you tried to internally rotate your leg farther than what your body allowed..probably wouldn’t feel too great. This is actually what is occurring when you land closed-off. The only difference is that your body is now rotating over your leg (because your foot is locked to the ground) instead of the other way around. The problem is that momentum and the mass amount of rotational force created will likely force you beyond what you have dictated at your hip by landing closed. It is either that or you aren’t going to max-out your turn. Damage your hip or damage your velocity, either way a lose-lose. Combine this with the fact that the majority of pitchers already have limited internal rotation in their front leg and you really aren’t doing yourself a favor. – Will Fox, MATCS, CSCS, PEX
On a final note, I’m not advocating Tom House still teaches off his initial Four Absolutes. I’m sure he continues to research his information and apply the updated information into his teaching and training. We all have different methodologies, and many of my pitching “absolutes” differ from Tom’s. But by writing this article, I wanted to educate all readers how Tom House’s relationship with Nolan Ryan started the birth of a specific style and how that style has dominated the pitching landscape for the last twenty years.
– Justin Orenduff, Leader of the Pitching Rebellion
21 thoughts on "THE BIRTH OF MODERN PITCHING MECHANICS: TOM HOUSE AND NOLAN RYAN"
Great job Justin! Dad/Coach really appreciates what you are teaching.
Keep up the good work and great information…we are listening.
Thanks for the nice comment, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I hope you and your family are doing well!
When you say high arm slot do you mean overhand or 3 quarters?
Yes I’m referring to a pure overhead slot or a high 3/4 slot. Thanks!
You guys should do a piece on the rise and fall of Dontrelle Willis. That would be interesting.
I will look into Dontrelle’s story more specifically and see what I can gather. Thanks for the recommendation.
One thing that you fail to address here, which Nolan Ryan addresses when talking about his own delivery, and why he went to higher leg kick, and why his drive toward the plate changed is the natural aging process. Sure, Ryan doesn’t throw the same in ’69 as he did in 89-93. He was 20 years older! He stated that his leg kick got higher, and he changed his approach because of a “timing thing”. He adjusted his delivery throughout his career to better suit his physical changes. HIs time with the Angels, he was stronger than he was with the Mets He also talks about keeping his head directly on the target, and that the longer he kept his head going towards the target, the better he pitched. His thoracic torque changed when he made that change. It happens with a lot of pitchers, and is the point where many people state a pitcher learns how to “pitch” rather than “throw”. When a pitcher is younger and has “great stuff” they can rely more on raw talent and physical gifts, but as they age, and either start to physically decline, or hitters simply catch up with them, they have to rely more on placement, pitch type and location, and crossing up hitters, something which Ryan also talks about in his many seminars.
What you’re looking at in your videos isn’t a decline in the mechanics as much as it is an evolution in mechanics that Ryan made along the way to suit the physical gifts he had at the time. Roger Clemens is another good example of this. In one of his first seasons (if not his rookie season) Clemens only walked 27 or 37 batters, for the SEASON. Yet towards the end of his career his walk ratio climbs pretty dramatically. Why? Because physically he wasn’t able to do the same things, and he became less effective. So, he developed another pitch, the split finger, and different mechanics. Because of that change he was able to regain his effectiveness and continue a longer career.
Basically, the type of delivery, the forces you bring to bear, and what a pitcher should or shouldn’t do depend on the pitcher, and the physical attributes they bring to the table. Yes if you clearly see something that would cause undue stress or injury, you should correct it, but just because it doesn’t fit into a mold, and by that I mean ANY mold, doesn’t make it wrong, or dangerous. Just like any science that deals with the human body, you’ll find that each case is completely different and should be addressed that way.
Are you trying to tell us it’s easier to lift your leg higher as you get older? Your argument makes no sense. You are just producing someone else’s thoughts on this blog. The body needs to be very stable to lift the lead leg that high. At 40, Ryan was strong enough to lift his leg high, therefore he would be able to support the same rotation in 69. It simply was coached out of him. That’s a fact.
If I 9 year old kid can do the move consistently, I think Nolan Ryan could have done the move during his playing career as well.
Your statements of “the type of delivery, the forces you bring to bear, and what a pitcher should or shouldn’t do depend on the pitcher” is totally false. It’s a common thought process of many individuals who never teach and don’t have a process. I prove your comment false everyday.
Thanks for your commentary, Baseball Rebellion will use it as fuel for change.
I would argue that the high knee lift/leg kick wasn’t due to it being easier, but rather an attempt to offset potential timing issues caused by House’s instruction regarding the deception/launch absolute. Ryan would break his hands at a later point in his delivery later in his career. With the higher leg kick, he has more time for his arm to get up as well as more time to re-gain the momentum due to other changes in his mechanics.
No one knows what would have happened if Ryan would have stayed with the Mets and never changed his mechanics. There is a good possibility that Ryan would have never solved the control issues that plagued him early in his career. Similarly, he could have become more dominant than he actually did if he had maintained his early career mechanics and solved his control issues.
I wish I could place myself back in the late 60’s and be Ryan’s pitching coach for twenty years. Would have a been a fun journey. His pattern in the late 60’s was elite. He just needed someone to explain his movements and make the dominant energy consistent.
I’m beginning to like this website more and more, i feel like what u guys are saying makes allot of sense and in all reality is what should be taught. So in your opinion, and I know this is kinda a difficult question ,is what Tom house teaching wrong? All these years has he been mis leading people in mechanics all these years? I feel like I can’t ever understand pitching mechanics cuz someone always has something else to say differently. Form What I know the guys who pitched early in the game of baseball threw more ininings and I haven’t really heard any of these guys having crazy arm problems. Am I wrong? Should I avoid tom house mechanic books? Do u guys have a book on mechanics?
Haha, I’m glad to hear that. I will continue to grow your interest. I don’t agree with how Tom House teaches for a multitude of reasons but they all lead to forcing the arm to rotate in a negative way. I’m doing an article very soon, which you should find particularly interesting.
You are correct about the guys who pitched 40 to 50 years ago. They still had injuries and surgeries but they were able to pitch much longer before the event of an injury/surgery occurred. I do not have a book on mechanics, because each day my training processes evolve. I think as soon as I wrote a book and published it, I would have to write another one.
Are you a coach or an active player?
Ya I still play but just for fun in a Sunday league, love to give it another run, but I feel like with baseball its not about how good u r but who u know, I’m in my late 20’s I coach at the high school level , but I’m the lowest one on staff, it’s kinda awkward cuz the head coaches have the kids hitting and pitching are wrong or Im mis understanding there terminology,” swing down through the ball, no stride..,” stuff like that. They don’t ever tell them about getting on plane with the ball, or any thing to that affect. This pass season was my 4 th year coaching, I love the kids but don’t know how long I could make it through this coaching philosophy of there’s. and I feel like I don’t know enough about pitching to be confident in teaching them, I’m still learning. Hitting I’m more confident cuz I’ve learned allot from a former dodger catcher who played in the same era as Nolan Ryan, he taught me most of what I know and it lines up with what u guys teach. Anyways ,thanks for repsonding so quickly it’s much appreciated. Thanks for your time
Justin, you are doing very good research and your conclusions in this article have a lot of merit. I have studied under Dr. Mike Marshall, 1974 Cy Young Award winner for 7 years.
Many of his current throwing and training theories run against what “traditional, modern” pitching coaches teach. And he was able to rehab me to where at age 54 I have the ability to throw 75 mph plus. That may not sound like much, but 34 years ago, I was throwing 93 to 94 in college and was heading for the draft, until a series of arm injuries ended any chances of pitching pro ball. UCL tears and labrum tears as well as a torn teres minor put an end to all that. No surgeries. Back then amateurs did not get them.
But today, I can throw pain free. Most of what Marshall teaches has to do with keeping the momentum going and staying long armed thru “pendulum swinging”. Learning to pronate the release of all pitches is pivotal to staying healthy. He advocates standing taller while leaning 45 degrees to your glove side to throw. I can’t say that I agree with 100% of what he teaches, but the bulk of what he teaches runs in line with a lot of what you are saying.
Basically, arriving at the “balance point” over the rubber, then driving your pitching arm down into the “low L” position, then trying to drop the glove side leg down and “slide step” toward the mound causes you to get the feeling that you are “stalled” over the rubber and cannot get clear of it. Like an airplane that try’s to climb straight up until it stalls out. All momentum is lost and has to be re-generated again.
Then “scap loading”, or “the inverted W”, or “chicken winging” or whatever you want to call it results in a first class express pass to the Tommy John store.
Pitchers need to get back to something akin to how so many of the “old-timers” threw the ball.
Scap loading in and of itself is not the problem. It happens on every throw, even with the Marshall mechanics. Some players will pre-load using one of the inverted arm actions (W, V, and L), or by breaking their hands with their elbows even if they don’t use the inverted arm actions. This pre-loading may result in timing issues which make the arm late. The injury risk is increased by the arm being late, which also results in scap loading beyond the natural level in throwing. When timing is good, scap loading still occurs and is noticeable when the shoulders start to rotate.
Hi, Justin … Very interesting article. I recently listened to Tom House talk at my son’s school and took him to a clinic that House and some of his certified coaches led. I have plenty of doubts about the bulk of what House currently teaches … He no longer teaches a balance point, by the way. He now says that there should be no slowing down in the delivery, that from first movement of the torso toward home to foot strike should take about one second. But I can’t see where he is wrong about arm slot. Would you say that pitchers like Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez are anomalies, with their low arm slots?
Just to be clear … I do not disagree with House about the time from first move to foot strike. That is something that can probably be empirically verified.
This is one of the most comprehensive articles I’ve seen breaking down mechanics, and you do a great job putting it in layman’s terms.
Thanks for the article!
I really appreciate the comment. I took 6 days over last christmas to write the article. I wanted to make sure I covered my bases and presented a very informative article for readers.
Great write up
Hello, and thanks for posting! You use “separation” as a natural term here. Do you know when that became a standard word fo describing the hip-shoulder rotation in baseball?