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In my article last week, I touched on the importance of the fastball. All pitchers begin their venture into pitching by throwing a fastball, but many stop developing this pitch before truly understanding how to throw it properly with a downward movement. If you are looking to continue to develop your fastball mechanics and spin, check out the key mechanical techniques you need to work on first.
One of the most important factors in throwing a fastball well is ensuring that your arm is rotating properly throughout your arm circle. The easiest way to perfect your arm circle at any age is to incorporate a stationary drill into your warm-up routine. Below, is a simple stationary drill that I have my pitching clients complete.
Another common problem that keeps pitchers from throwing and spinning their fastball properly is incorrect drive off the mound. It is very common for a pitcher to turn their drive foot or their hips too early within their push off the mound, which can position the body incorrectly, leading to a variety of problems. An easy way to incorporate a proper push off the mound is to incorporate this drive and drag progression into your warm-up routine.
In the first step of your drive progression, you'll want to begin in a normal stance on the mound. From there, you will begin your pitching motion, but instead of completing a full pitch, you will only complete the initial drive off of the mound. You will also incorporate the beginning of your arm swing in the first part of the drill. Make sure that the pitcher completing the drill is swinging both arms forward rather than thrusting their arms straight out.
Points of Emphasis:
Front View of Initial Drive
Side View of Initial Drive
The stop and go drill allows a pitcher to understand where their body is positioned in the midpoint of their pitch. At the midpoint of the pitch, a pitcher should have their heel in the air so that they can drag lightly on the inside top part of their toe. The pitcher should be slightly open at this point in their pitch, but not completely sideways. To finish their stop-and-go the pitcher would then complete a normal "K" drill, whipping their pitching arm down to finish their circle while dragging lightly with their back toe. Below is a video explanation of the stop and go drill.
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Finally, the pitcher will complete a full pitch from the mound. It can be helpful to utilize a foot box, as seen below, to make sure that the pitcher's foot is not turning on the initial push.
Although there are many common issues that can arise within the mechanics of the softball pitching motion, the two techniques above can often impair a pitcher from creating an adequate topspin on their fastball. Now that we’ve addressed those mechanical issues, let’s define topspin and identify how to achieve it.
Topspin is the 12-6 (on a clock) rotation that is created by positioning the hand directly behind the ball at release. Constantly creating proper positioning behind the ball takes many repetitions to become common practice. For a young pitcher to begin to develop topspin, it is important that they are able to see the spin of each pitch they throw. In order to adequately see spin, it is helpful to use a taped softball, spinner, or a similar tool that allows a player to easily see the type of rotation they’re getting. Below are some of my favorite tools to use when working on developing topspin.
Spin Right Spinner
When using a Spin-Right Spinner, if the hand is even slightly off in its positioning behind the ball, the spinner will not only wobble but also tail to the left or the right of the plate depending on how it’s released. In order to throw the spinner in a straight line with no wobble, a pitcher’s hand must be placed perfectly at release. I will warn you, using the spinner may be very frustrating at first, but if your pitcher is determined to improve, she will keep utilizing this tool until she gets the spin correct.
Spin Line Softball
It's important for younger pitchers to utilize a taped ball when throwing so that they can adequately see their spin. When gripped on the "C" of the softball, the pitcher's middle finger should be lined up with the black tape-line. Having a taped ball will give your pitcher immediate feedback on how the ball came out of their hand. If a pitcher starts to understand her spin, it will be easier for her to make quick adjustments within her pitch.
It can also be helpful to utilize different sized objects in order for a pitcher to get a better feeling for how the ball comes out of her hand. I recommend using a 14-inch ball, baseball, basketball, or a combination of the three. For younger pitchers, it can also be helpful to roll any size ball on the ground to create the feeling of getting their hand behind the ball.
As I mentioned before, it can be helpful to have young pitchers roll a ball across the ground in order to help them understand how to get their hand behind the ball. When completing this drill, it's important to emphasize using the index and middle fingers to roll off the ball at release.
When utilizing a different sized ball to enhance topspin, I like to start from a "K" position. In the "K" position the pitcher's hand should start facing their target and both their back leg and their glove side should be engaged as they start the whip or pull-down of their pitch.
The hand should naturally pronate (turn so that the palm is facing downward) after the release of the pitch. This motion also occurs at the end of an overhand throw. Although there has been little research conducted on how pronation affects a softball pitch, there have been many studies conducted on the importance of pronation in the overhand throw. This article published by Brent Pourciau summarizes how proper pronation after release can lead to increased velocity while also decreasing injury in baseball pitchers. Since we know pronation also happens naturally after the release of an underhand pitch, I believe it is important to practice this within a pitch. Below is a drill that will help pitchers get their hand behind the ball and pronate at the end of their pitch, leading to better topspin.
Developing topspin requires an understanding and feel of how the fastball should be released and the execution of proper mechanics. As research expands on the biomechanics of softball pitching, we will begin to develop a more in-depth knowledge of how pitchers can adequately position their hand behind the ball, creating the desired spin.