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What do 94% of HALL OF FAME pitchers have in common?

Written By: Justin Orenduff

WOW

71 pitchers are currently in the Hall of Fame.  I managed to find an image or video of 54 of the 71 pitchers.  Of the 54, 51 pitchers (94%) took their hands over their head in the full windup.

The Backstory

OH Common Thread

Hall of Famers taking their hands over the head

Recently, I had one of my students tell me “My high school coach told me I can no longer take my hands over my head in my windup.” He was visibly upset, worried he may not be able to do a motion he has worked so hard at over the last several months. I responded, “did he tell you why?”, “He said, it will make my arms tired and cause me to get off balance.” The high school also went on to say, “You don’t see pitchers in the Major League’s taking their hands over their head all the time.”

Is this fair for the High School coach to say to my student? OF COURSE! Most people stay within the comfort zone and are afraid to look outside of the box. If no one on TV has their hands over their head, it must be wrong right?

So, I decided to look back and see how many Hall of Fame Pitchers took their hands over their head in the windup. The numbers are staggering, but paint a very clear picture. The concept of bringing the hands over the head isn’t just for visual purposes, the concept serves a very real purpose that very few coaches, players, or parents understand in the game of baseball today. In simple terms, the movement forces the pitcher to create energy and timing in a rhythmic fashion that keeps the pitcher in a fluid motion and prevents tension within the arm and body prior to the release of the baseball.

The game of baseball has truly changed over the last 50 years.  Many things in life have a tendency to progressively change over time, but not the modern day pitching delivery has progressively declined.  Just ask Tommy John.

My conversation with Tommy John

First, after looking at Tommy’s statistics, I have no idea why he is not in the Hall of Fame.  The man pitched over 5,000 professional innings over the course of 28 years .  The ability to stay in the game that long should automatically enroll you in my opinion.  Either way, I had the pleasure of speaking to him about several facets of pitching recently, and I enjoyed every minute.  We talked about the current status of MLB injuries, youth baseball, long toss, mechanics, and various other potential factors surrounding the development of a pitcher.

One of the areas I found most fascinating, and continues to affirm my belief in his era,  is where Tommy John learned how to pitch.   While sitting on the couch watching baseball with his father, his father simply said, “If you want to learn how to pitch, do what the best do.”  According to Tommy, the best pitchers at the time and the pitchers he chose to mimic, were Robin Roberts and Whitey Ford.  I provided a clip of Tommy John below for you to gain a perspective of his delivery.

The conversation Tommy had with his father brings up a valuable reference point for ALL current players and parents. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, whether it be a high school coach, parent, or young player watching the average MLB pitcher on TV, they will see a style far removed from the one Tommy John witnessed with his father 50 years ago. Therefore, a young kid who has an interest in becoming a pitcher will be inclined to go out in the backyard and mimic what the best in the world are currently doing. The problem, although we have become bigger, stronger, and faster in EVERY major sport in America, a professional pitcher has moved less athletically with each new year. Why is this?

Well, both Tommy John and I agree more kids are worried about lighting up the radar gun from a young age instead of learning how to develop an efficient pitching delivery to truly pitch. Today, kids grow up learning how to throw weighted baseballs, long toss, or lift weights to become a better pitcher, instead of striving to repeat and become an expert in their own pitching delivery. The bulk of pitching instruction both online and in-person is geared just to throw harder. No wonder, we have so many pitching injuries.

I asked Tommy about his thoughts on today’s professional pitcher. He simply referred a problematic culture that involves a declining number of pitchers who know how to move their lower half in pitching delivery (resembling more of the UP, DOWN, & OUT), an overemphasis to throw curveballs to get hitters out from a young age, and too many pitchers long tossing as the source to build arm strength.

Through my research, I can now statistically prove, a pitcher who takes his hands over his head in the full windup, will be more inclined to utilize his entire body which will yield a better support system as the arm moves through its path of acceleration towards home plate. This forgotten move, once rampant through all of Major League Baseball, is outlawed by many coaches, parents, and players in the game of baseball today. Sad, but true.

Later in this article I will provide REAL stories from players and parents about incidents revolving around a  pitcher taking their hands over their head.

 FUN FACT!

Tommy John threw 2,581 innings before his first Tommy John Surgery.  Jarrod Parker, Brandon Beachy, and Kris Medlen COMBINED to throw 1,032 innings before their first Tommy John Surgery.  After Tommy John’s first surgery, he went on to throw an additional 2,444 innings before retirement.  Jarrod Parker, Brandon Beachy, and Kris Medlen COMBINED to throw ONLY 953 before their SECOND Tommy John Surgery!

1964 ERA Leaders vs. 2014 ERA Leaders

Lets imagine the kid watching baseball with his father 50 years ago.  50 years sounds like a nice round number and happens to be the era Tommy John was a young professional moving up the ranks.  If a dad in 1964 told his son to watch and learn from the best, his son would likely choose from the list below.

1964 ERA leaders

1964 Top Ten ERA Leaders

  1. Dean Chance
  2. Sandy Koufax
  3. Joe Horlen
  4. Whitey Ford
  5. Don Drysdale
  6. Chris Short
  7. Juan Marichal
  8. Gary Peters
  9. Juan Pizarro
  10. Jim Bunning

10/10 pitchers incorporated the Overhead Delivery.  

2014 Top Ten ERA Leaders

2014 Top Ten ERA Leaders (Current 6/27)

  1. Johnny Cueto
  2. Adam Wainwright
  3. Masahiro Tanaka
  4. Josh Beckett
  5. Felix Hernandez
  6. Henderson Alvarez
  7. Julio Teheran
  8. Yu Darvish
  9. Mark Buehrle
  10. Jeff Samardzija

1/10 pitchers incorporated the Overhead Delivery.

The numbers paint a very clear picture of the dominant style of pitching in the game today.  Young kids will likely aspire to be like the professionals they see on TV.  Coaches and instructors will refer to the dominant pitchers of the last decade, and the cycle will continue until a new wave of style surfaces.  A style that is reminiscent of 94% of Hall of Fame pitchers.  A style Baseball Rebellion aims to educate and show the many positive attributes attached to simply taking your hands over the head in the windup.

FUN FACT!

In 3 years, and nearly 500 initial pitching evaluations, I have had 10 kids take their hands over their heads in the full windup.  That’s  2% of the population on the youth level. 

Yu Darvish Starts out of the STRETCH 

Why is Yu Darvish starting the game out of the stretch?  Manager Ron Washington has no idea.

He says he figures it out in the bullpen.  When he comes in the game if he feels like his stuff is better from the stretch, he will just pitch from the stretch.  If he thinks it’s better from the windup he will go from the windup.  And certain pitches work better from the stretch than they do from the windup.  -ESPN Analyst, John Kruk

First, it’s apparent the Rangers let Darvish do whatever he feels like doing. Rightfully so, he’s been successful. But it’s also apparent; the Rangers don’t have anyone in place to help Darvish feel more comfortable out of the windup. I doubt Yu Darvish would consider starting out of the stretch 50 years ago. It could also be the case; Yu Darvish has never learned or felt the true advantage of any full windup. I’m not sure how certain pitches work better from the stretch than they do from the windup. I would argue you have the opportunity to enhance any pitch if the windup is executed properly.

I’ve had many students opt to take advantage of the Overhead Delivery because I presented options in front of them and let them decide what they feel most comfortable. One of my online students recently made the decision to take his hands over his head.

BR Student’s Decision to Go Hands Overhead 

In his words…

I never thought about it to much until recently while I was playing around with it during a catch. I felt that it was helping with my rhythm and timing and it made it easier to bring my hands down the center of my body more consistently. I have only been practicing it for about a week now but I will stick with it. By going over head it brings my body to a more consistent place where I can really drive my hips down the mound better.  -BR Student

The student above pitched through college without ever taking his hands over his head. He wasn’t told not to take his hands over his head, but the option was never introduced or taught to him as a prime way for him to efficiently move his body into the throw.

If you watched the video, you can’t help but notice the dramatic chance in his pitching delivery. Look at the momentum created by simply taking his hands over his head!!! Wow. I taught him the foundation of how to move his body but the decision to go over his head was ALL his.

If you are a young aspiring pitcher, it will be OK to mimic what you just watched above.

Now, here are some factual stories that materialize how ridiculous our culture has become and how little some individuals know about the game of baseball.

Horror Stories! Well, should be.

13 year old student, RHP

Yesterday, in my middle school game, I struck out the first six batters, and before I pitched to the first batter in the third inning, the umpire came out and talked to me.  He said, ” I need you to stop the acrobatics out here.  I was like, “OK”.

My guess is the umpire hasn’t seen a kid move like that out of the windup in a long time and had a hard time picking up the baseball.  Hard to define your strike zone when you can’t see the ball.

Baseball Rebellion Dad,

When my son was small we attended a baseball camp where a highly respected local high school coach advocated not bringing the arms over the head as it would “fatigue” the pitcher. I always thought that was ridiculous. If a pitcher gets worn out by simply bringing his hands over his head, he needs to get in shape.

I felt like I needed to hire this Dad to work for me after his email.  He hit so many valid points right on the nose.   He went on to comment the following below.

From my observation I tend to think bringing the arms over the head has several benefits.
1.   Tends to keep the pitcher’s shoulders back. It appears to me that today’s pitchers tend to not have their shoulders (and therefore their body’s) as far back as in the earlier days.
2.   Seems to create more of a rocking motion therefore builds up more momentum when going forward.
3.   Creates a “windmill effect” using gravity and acting as a fulcrum to generate more power  for the throwing arm.
4.   As the pitcher’s leg is “hooking the Rubber “ (think Koufax) with the hands over the head and shoulders back it naturally forces the pitcher’s weight to stay back.

Conclusion

The pitching delivery back in 1964 was far superior on so many levels compared to the average pitching delivery we see today. Why could so many pitchers throw far more innings on shorter rest 50 years ago? Why did Tommy John pitch for almost 30 years? Why have Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, and Jarrod Parker undergone two Tommy John surgeries with better nutrition, training, and physically bigger and stronger than Tommy John?

Take a close look and the answers are glaring. Don’t get blinded by the current culture. Do some research and make your own observations. If you are a dad, and sitting on the couch with your son, think twice about who you tell your son to mold himself after.

I have no problem at all if any pitcher wants to keep his hands low and never opt to take his hands over his head. But, I have a major issue with coaches who tell a kid not to take his hands over his head because it doesn’t look normal, or it will make him tired.

Best of luck to all rising young pitchers! Building and developing your own style. If you currently take your hands over your head in your windup, tweet me @justinorenduff and #overhead to become a part of a movement to bring back the style of 94% of Hall of Famers!

Justin Orenduff, Leader of the Pitching Rebellion

18 thoughts on "What do 94% of HALL OF FAME pitchers have in common?"

  1. Brent Dukate says:

    Justin,

    Great article. Reading your article brought back memories of watching my dad throw BP to his players growing up. He was a long time high school and college coach who was drafted by the Cubs out of HS and the Pirates after college. During the fall would open the field up on Saturdays mornings. Players from around the area would come and play and he would often pitch for both teams for a couple hours or until the kick off of the Michigan football game. While by no means a hall a famer, he could seemingly throw forever without changing his mechanics. He loved to discuss pitching and I remember him talking about how taking his hands over his head allowed him to stay loose and in sync and in turn allowed him to throw pretty hard without much effort or having to “muscle” up as he would often describe it.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
    Brent

    1. Brent,

      That’s a great story! I appreciate your sharing with all of our readers.

      -Justin

  2. Owen says:

    Great article, Justin. There are just too many bad coaches out there.

  3. Matt says:

    Nice article, Justin. Question that I’m sure you get a lot… For a kid just starting to learn how to pitch at 8-9 yrs old do you start them out in the stretch or windup?

    1. Matt,

      Thanks! The earlier and more often a young thrower can begin to throw out of the windup the more likely he will be to incorporate the movement into game competition. Practice the movements at home and encourage repetition. With any pitcher, you want to begin to feel comfortable with any delivery before you can wrap your head around taking it into the game.

      -Justin

  4. Guy says:

    Great article Justin , i truly enjoyed reading from top to bottom.
    I did also focus on your students before and after delivery .
    To me he looked like off his rocker step he took a better 45 degree angle before getting his hips fully into the delivery and his landing off the kick creating more power.

  5. Gc says:

    Great article Justin like always… One thing I’ve been wondering and waiting to see if you would write an article going into more depth of how a clean arm swing can be created possibly drills to do in order to achieve the creation of a clean arm swing… Is there any chance you could write an article on that? Love all of your info on pitching keep it coming thanks !!!

  6. Chad says:

    My son and I were playing catch last night and he asked me why very few pitchers raise their hands, before they start their motion. I told him that I honestly didn’t know why. I will definitely have him read this article, as he wants to learn more and more everyday. Thanks guys!

    1. Simplification over time but I hope we can all bring back the overhead style and see a new wave of throwers. Thanks for reading!

  7. John Warren says:

    Hey Justin – I was discussing this with a friend who played in college. He commented that with the extra time in the overhead windup, would give the baserunner at 1st more time to steal second. What are your thoughts on that – leave it to JK to throw faster?!?

    Thanks!

    1. John,

      We wouldn’t use the overhead windup with a runner on base. We would be throwing out of the stretch at that point. I wrote an article on the slide step of how we still can create power but be quick.

      Thanks!

  8. Ray Melillo says:

    Justin,
    Great article. My 9 year old is making the jump this year to kid pitch. Last summer I took him in the backyard and without a 2nd thought, I started teaching him the overhead windup. At his baseball practices I notice that they are teaching the kids to throw from the waist. That is why I did a Google search and stumbled on your article. This old schooler was wondering if there were any pitchers still employing the overhead method. I will stay with the overhead. As a matter of fact, I think it has improved my sons throwing in general. Last year he was pushing the ball as many young kids do. Thanks.

  9. Jim says:

    I think the key here is let the player decide what works best for him. To me this a style issue, whatever makes you comfortable and helps you be better is fine so long as you are successful doing it.

    Having twin 15 year olds, i hear lots of “goofy” things said by their hs coaches. Well intentioned but often ill-informed.

    1. Jim,

      You make a valuable point but most young pitchers will adopt the style of what is most common in the culture. Being able to present a variety of styles and how to successfully implement each is the role of the instructor.

      -Justin

  10. Mike says:

    I believe what my son’s pitching coach always says (and he’s coached Maddux, Zito, and Berlind) . . . Anything you do before your front foot leaves the ground or after you release the ball has no effect on your throw whatsoever. You’ve found a statistical anomaly, that’s all. I would bet a great deal of money that in a controlled, blinded, large-scale study, scientists would find that hands over the head does not affect the speed, break, or accuracy of a pitch at all. You’ve committed the “correlation is not causation” error here. 100% of hall of fame pitchers use shoes with laces, not velcro. That doesn’t mean that shoe laces cause you to be a good pitcher.

    1. Mike,

      To understand why it’s relevant, you would need to be able to understand how it affects potential movements and now the movements translate to ballflight/speed. I don’t need a closed environment with scientists to see the impact a proper full windup beholds. We do it everyday, and our students love it.

      Who’s your son’s pitching coach?

      -Justin

    2. EJ says:

      I agree 100% with Mike. I’ve been doing a lot of research lately and discovering that the windup in general is practically unnecessary for performance, rather it’s used for style and rhythm. Some pitchers would benefit from scrapping the windup, but traditionalists make it almost embarrassing to try something different. The stretch if used properly can throw off the timing of batters better than out of a windup. A quick slide step, a stalled start, a higher leg kick can all be utilized from the stretch. Why not use this advantage with no runners on as well?
      Justin, I very quickly understood your bias toward stretch only pitching when you wrote about Darvish. You made it clear when you said, “I doubt Yu Darvish would consider starting out of the stretch 50 years ago. It could also be the case; Yu Darvish has never learned or felt the true advantage of any full windup”. I doubt he hasn’t had the opportunity to learn the “true advantage” of a full windup surrounded by top pitching players and coaches.
      Mike, there are scientific studies that show windup to stretch velocity is little to none. A 1/2 mph max increase has been determined to be achieved from the windup. But I would argue that the advantages of the stretch I mentioned earlier outweigh a 1/2 mph increase.
      My guess is that more and more pitchers will see the advantages of stretch only in the coming few years. Also more and more pitchers will do the hand over head style especially because of opine articles like this.

      Justin, good thought provoking article!

  11. John Porter says:

    Justin,

    I just had a conversation with a friend whose son will be out for the season with an injury to his pitching arm and I brought this very issue up — why did we ever get away from the overhead windup? As a youngster who looked at Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver as models, I had done enough pitching to know exactly what you are talking about. The “rock and roll” motion initiated by moving your hands over your head is by far the best way to load your leg and prepare your entire body to be involved in the pitch. Under the modern windup, it is harder to get the lower body involved. While velocity has increased, it has been the result of other factors than the windup and I am convinced that the modern windup has been a major factor in the exponential increase in injuries.

    Thanks for the great article. You have showed that sometimes thinking outside the box involves nothing other than looking for old boxes!

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