On the left Matt Harvey throwing 93 mph. On the right Matt Harvey throwing 99 mph.
In Part 1 of this series I listed the following:
The critical factors in effectively throwing a baseball
Development, storage and release of connective tissue elastic energy
Muscle potentiation stretch shortening cycle
Dynamic Systems and Constraits
In Parts 2-5 I went into detail on how each of these parts affects the throwing of a baseball.
In this final part I will try to put all this together. The method I will will use is to compare Harvey throwing 99 mph versus Harvey throwing 93 mph.
In Part 2 of this series I provided an example calculation of momentum transfer. In this example assumes a 6’2" pitcher weighing 200 pounds rotating his upper body at 1200° per second. If that picture could totally utilize that rotation momentum to throw the baseball is velocity would be approximately 143 miles per hour.
The point of this example is to demonstrate that OPTIMALLY throwing a baseball is not about arm strength. It’s about the ability to develop momentum and then transfer that momentum through the arm to the baseball. The key word here is OPTIMALLY. OPTIMALLY means the most efficient way to throw the baseball.
How does one determine whether a pitcher is OPTIMALLY throwing a baseball? Without sophisticated instrumentation to measure momentum produced by the body it becomes "eye of the beholder". One method that I use is to carefully observe how rapidly the upper body rotates when throwing the baseball. Comparing a player who throws very hard to a player who doesn’t throw hard is one way to gauge how effectively a player is throwing the baseball. One of the most effective indicators is how long it takes from the time the hands separate the ball from the glove to the time of release of the baseball.
In the case of Harvey comparison of him throwing 99 mph and 93 mph a side-by-side comparison whereby the two clips a synchronized to release of the baseball.
For the "untrained eye" it may be difficult to see the significant differences between the two clips. Two things that I look for are how long it takes from hand separation to release of the baseball and after release of the baseball what the body does. Both of these are indications of how aggressively the body is used to throw the baseball.
In this clip I’ve reversed the throwing sequence starting with release of the baseball and backing the clip to the point of hand separation and then reversing from hand separation to release the baseball. I’ve been this to demonstrate the timing between the two clips of how quickly Harvey throws the baseball using the time of ball removed from glove to release of the baseball.
From this clip you can see that Harvey throwing the baseball 99 mph delays separation of his hands by almost 2 frames. What this means is that an audit to reach the same release point as the 93 mph clip you must move faster from hand break to release of the baseball. Moving faster to cover the same distance means that he is moving his body faster and as we know from the previous articles momentum is the product of mass and velocity. His body mass remains the same but his body velocity has increased. Therefore he has more momentum transfer to the baseball.
If we define that the work in throwing a baseball is from hand break to release of the baseball then the amount of power that Harvey is producing when throwing 99 mph versus 93 mph is greater.
Another momentum development and transfer aspect of the delivery that I look for is how the pitcher finishes the throw.
Effective transfer of momentum should result in a very whip like action of the arm. If you look closely at the 99 mph clip look at the finish of Harvey’s arm as it whips around and up into his body. Compare that with the 93 mph arm follow-through action after release of the baseball.
Also look at Harvey’s back leg after he releases the baseball.
In the 93 mph clip the leg continues around and heads towards first-base whereas ending 99 mph clip it comes to a rest position beside his plan foot. What this indicates is that Harvey has done a better job of transferring the momentum out of his body i.e. doesn’t have much left as compared to the 93 mph clip where there is still momentum carrying him toward first base.
Development release of elastic energy
After Harvey separates ball from glove the creation, capture and release of momentum becomes critical. A change in movement speed immediately increases or decreases the amount of momentum. Therefore it is critical to either maintain or increase movement speed. Momentum is also directional (a vector). In our to develop and conserve maximum momentum is critical to consistently apply force in one direction.
In our to harness maximum rotational momentum from the upper torso is critical to maintain the plane of rotation of the elbow in the same plane of rotation is the upper body. Hand break separation should be in the direction of upper body rotation. As the ball was taken out of the glove the elbows should lift as much as possible in the the plane of shoulder rotation. This does at least 2 things; 1 it maintains momentum in the direction of rotation of the plane of the shoulders and 2 it allows momentum and energy to be transferred to connective tissue that will then a in throwing a baseball.
In this clip comparing how the ball is taken out of the glove if you look closely you can see in the 93 mph clip Harvey is lifting the elbow in more of a vertical direction as compared to the horizontal plane of the shoulders. Where is in the clip of Harvey throwing 99 mph separation is more in the plane of rotation. This is what I would call scapula loading also described as pinching the shoulder blades.
The important point here is that by separating more in the plane of the shoulders Harvey is capturing elastic energy in the connective tissue of the shoulders which then can be used in the release of the baseball. Also this is a very good example of the "butterfly effect". Meaning a small change in how he takes the ball out of glove can have a significant impact on the velocity of the baseball.
Muscle potentiation and stretch shortening cycle
Many articles have been written by other "experts" stating that arm strength is important for throwing velocity. This is usually interpreted as the arm shoulder complex is the primary mover in throwing the baseball. And therefore I’m strength as defined by the muscles in the arm moving down to throw the baseball i.e. the strength of those muscles is important for throwing the baseball.
I also believe that I’m strength is important in throwing the baseball but not what I would term "active arm strength". Active arm strength means that the muscles in the arm them are solely responsible for throwing the baseball. I believe in what might be termed "passive arm strength". Passive strength meaning that the arm needs to be strong in order to transfer the momentum of rotation of the upper body to the baseball.
An important element in this passive arm strength would be the transition of the upper body from rotation away from home plate to rotation to home plate. This reversal in upper body movement puts tremendous stress on the arm because of the inertia of the arm wanting to lag (external rotation of the shoulder) the rotation of the body and therefore requires significant strength in our to overcome this lag. This reversal of direction and the increase force on muscle and connective tissue that it creates also has the potential to create increased force production (muscle potentiation):
An important example of this history-dependence is “force potentiation,” defined as the transient increase in isometric twitch force evoked by prior contractile activity “Force Potentiation in Skeletal Muscle” by Rene Vandenboom
the direction that Harvey breaks his hands and how forcefully he breaks his hands can have a significant impact on the velocity of the baseball.
In this clip I’ve emphasized that Harvey throwing 93 mph he is lifting the elbow vertically i.e. not in the plane of rotation of the shoulders. Whereas in the 99 mph clip is aggressively separating his hands arms in the horizontal plane i.e. plane of rotation of the shoulders.
Dynamic systems and constraints
A complex system can be also viewed as a system composed of many components which may interact with each other. In many cases it is useful to represent such a system as a network where the nodes represent the components and the links their interactions.
In mathematics, a dynamical system is a system in which a function describes the time dependence of a point in a geometrical space. Examples include the mathematical models that describe the swinging of a clock pendulum, the flow of water in a pipe, and the number of fish each springtime in a lake.
Simple nonlinear dynamical systems and even piecewise linear systems can exhibit a completely unpredictable behavior, which might seem to be random, despite the fact that they are fundamentally deterministic. This seemingly unpredictable behavior has been called chaos.
Chaos theory the branch of mathematics that deals with complex systems whose behavior is highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions, so that small alterations can give rise to strikingly great consequences.
The human body is a complex dynamic system. And therefore is subject to the principles of complex dynamic systems which includes chaos.
No matter how well practice no major league pitcher throws the baseball exactly same way twice. Especially taken in the context of attempting to get the batter out. Fastball versus curveball versus change of versus….. It’s no wonder that pitchers, no matter how well practiced how many times he throwing the baseball, without their knowledge or realizing change how they throw the baseball.
Most often these changes a very subtle and really significantly impact velocity. But a subtle change initial conditions such as in the case of Harvey, thoracic outlet syndrome could cause significant changes in how he throws the baseball.
In this series I’ve tried to show illustrate the complexity and how difficult it is to determine cause and effect in how the body throws the baseball. And how in general those who practice coaching and training of major-league baseball players is ill-prepared to deal with these complexities.
And hope that Harvey’s return from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery allows him to regain his former throwing capabilities.