Pitching is one of the most difficult aspects of baseball, yet one of the most important. Only the cream of the crop have the natural talent to learn all of the aspects of becoming a successful pitcher. On the little league level, it usually takes a good fastball to succeed. On the high school level it is much different. With one good pitch you could compete, with two you could win and with three you could dominate. Beyond the high school level three good pitches is the bare minimum to be able to compete. This article is mostly for high school pitchers who are still working on building sound mechanics. Both little leagues and college to professionals might be able to take something out of this article but it is mostly for high school athletes.
The first step in becoming a good pitcher is getting the mechanics down. Regardless of your pitching style there are certain mechanics that are universal through all styles. The main mechanical components are the five basic balance points. Just as the name implies, at these points you should be 100% in balance. The first two are specific to pitching from the windup while the next three are common to both stretch and windup.
Balance Points 1 & 2
The first balance point is the first foot /leg movement and the corresponding arm/glove movement. The next balance point is the dominant leg movement and corresponding arm/glove movement. These first two balance points are very style specific and vary drastically from pitcher to pitcher. The main focus on these two points is that you are balanced and not falling in any direction.
Balance Point 3
The third balance point is the front leg lift. This is where most of your momentum towards the plate is created. Again there are many different styles for the leg lift but whatever your style; balance should be the main focus. Higher leg kicks offer more momentum but a much slower plate time. This will come into play with runners trying to steal bases. After becoming comfortable with the balance point at a regular leg lift, you should try to develop a slide step or modified slide step. The slide step is where instead of lifting your leg straight upwards, you move your leg of the only forward. This produces a much quicker time to the plate but decreases momentum towards the plate, thus decreasing your velocity. Also a problem with this is getting your arm up for balance point four because there is much less time therefore your arm must move up quicker to compensate. There is a middle ground however, it is called the modified slide step. The modified slide step as the name implies, is a hybrid between a full leg lift and a slide step. It is also very easy to learn. Instead of just moving forward like a slide-step the modified slide-step involves showing the front knee to the back knee. This may seem awkward at first but after some practice the modified slide step will become your best friend. This is a perfect middle ground where a good time to the plate is produced and very little if any velocity is lost.
A typical pitcher from the stretch should strive for pitch times (the time it takes from the first leg movement to glove impact) at around 1.3 seconds. This makes it hard for the fastest runners to steal a base, granted a good pop time from your catcher. The third balance point is one of the most difficult to master as a young high school pitcher. This is often because of poor coaching in little league, because most high school players were little league" all-stars" and therefore were not taught any good mechanics and pitched on talent alone.
Balance Point 4
The fourth balance point is after your lead legs comes down, outward and lands. At the instant you land, your lead foot should be pointed at a 45 degree angle and with a firm and flexed leg. Your throwing arm should be up with your palm facing towards centerfield. This is crucial to your delivery because if you arm is not at its maximum height and palm facing outward your body will try to correct itself and this will result in off target pitches. Your elbow should be pointed at your target and your body should be in an athletic position fully balanced. The fourth balance point is key to getting the most out of your momentum.
After the fourth balance point your glove side elbow should collapse downward with your glove coming inward. Bring your throwing arm forward and releasing near the brim of your cap. Your arm should extend all the way to touch your glove side of your body. A good drill to make sure you are doing this properly is to hold a towel and make sure the end of the towel is hitting your back on the follow through. Your dominant leg should come through and the bottom of your foot should face up to the sky and then come forward.
Balance Point 5
The fifth balance point is when your dominant leg lands and your body should be balanced and ready to field a ball hit in any direction. Some people teach a hop after the pitch to center yourself and try to get in a better fielding position. I would stay away from this until all of your mechanics are sound and you feel comfortable with all other balance points. The first four balance points should be more stressed and mastered before working on the fifth which mostly focuses on being in a solid fielding position.
Learning these 5 balance points is difficult to learn and almost impossible to master. Finding the right mix of style and sound mechanics through trial and error is the only true way of becoming the best pitcher you can be. I hope this article helps someone and there will be more articles coming on how to throw various pitches, from fastballs to ephuses.