Eva Voortman - Insideout softball science, May 2020

Throwing, smijten or pitching? Pitching from top till toe to the top – the phases of a softball pitch

What do you need to throw hard? Well actually, everything. From the big toe of the push-off foot, to the hand in your glove, and from the toe of your landing foot to the fingertips of your pitching hand. To accelerate the ball in an optimal way, you need the fingers of your pitching hand to go as fast as they can, and this acceleration literally comes from your big toe. The reasoning behind this, and how you can accelerate your body from that toe to your fingers is what I will explain the coming weeks along findings from scientific articles combined with my experience as a pitcher(trainer). This week: the phases of a softball pitch

 

Like mentioned last week. The principles are discussed, the link with the separation time of the trunk is explained. It is time to put the link in the chain, in the phases of pitching. From set-up to follow-through.

 

Before I share my vision on the phases of pitching, I will share an image and description of the phases that are mostly used in softball literature. Maffet et al. (1997) described the softball pitch phases, in which the throwing arm is compared to the small clock arrow. For right-handed pitchers the phases go from wind-up to 6 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 12 o’clock, 9 o’clock, to ball release and the follow-through (image 1).

Image1. Maffet et al. (1997). The 6 phases of the softball pitch

  • Phase 1: first ball motion to 6 o’clock

  • Phase 2: from 6 o’clock to 3 o’clock

  • Phase 3: from 3 o’clock to 12 o’clock

  • Phase 4: from 12 o’clock to 9 o’clock

  • Phase 5: from 9 o’clock to ball release

  • Phase 6: ball release to follow-through

After the article of Maffet et al. (1997) more articles followed, who continued the phases proposed: Rojas et al. (2009), Oliver et al. (2011) and Corben et al. (2015). Both Rojas et al. (2009) and Oliver et al. (2011) added a description of the positioning of the upper body and mentioned a transfer of power. However, with all that is known now about the kinetic chain where the power of the pitch finds its source in the lower extremities, it is a remarkable choice the phases of the pitch are chosen based on what the arm is doing.

The research of Maffet et al. (1997) focused on the muscle activation in the throwing arm, so that might explain why this specific research divided the pitch into phases based on the position of the throwing arm. Nevertheless, if we look at the entire pitch, then the throwing is ‘only’ the end of the chain, not leading or demanding.

It seems like literature carries the phases, introduced by Maffet et al. (1997), on to further research. However, based on the last few articles and the current knowledge about the softball pitch, the following division of phases shows a more insightful and more clear division of the kinetic softball chain and the key points that go along with that. In the image below (image 2) the phases are shown using stick figures, in order to make the different segments of the chain visible.

Image 2. The 4 phases of the softball pitch

  • Phase 1: set up to push-off

  • Phase 2: push-off to landing push-off leg

  • Phase 3: landing push-off leg to landing stride leg

  • Phase 4: landing stride leg to release

 

The key point when using the 4 phases and looking at the pitch from the kinetic chain perspective are the following: the push-off, landing of the push-off leg, landing of the stride leg and release

 

What stands out now, is the acceleration of the ball happening when the front foot is planted. This phase, just like the other phases, is initiated by the activity of the leg/legs. Remarkable about the image shown in Maffet et al. (1997) (image 1), is the 9 o’clock arm position phase, where the stride leg has not landed yet.

 

So, pitching is quite complicated, that was made clear already, but let’s not make it any more complicated than it is. Focus on the key points, and let yourself be driven by your legs, just like you do when you hit, run or walk through the days.  There is more to tell about the different phases, so the next article will be devoted to phase 4. The beginning lies at the finish.

 

Are you still following me? Or do you have a question? You can reach me on @eva.voortman and info@evavoortman.nl

 

Until the next one!

 

Eva

 

 

 

References.

 

Corben, Jeffrey & Cerrone, Sara & Soviero, Julie & Kwiecien, Susan & Nicholas, Stephen & McHugh, Malachy. (2015). Performance Demands in Softball Pitching: A Comprehensive Muscle Fatigue Study. The American journal of sports medicine. 43, 8. 2035-2041

 

Maffet, M & Jobe, F & Pink, M & Brault, John & Mathiyakom, Witaya. (1997). Shoulder Muscle Firing Patterns During the Windmill Softball Pitch. The American journal of sports medicine. 25. 369-74.

 

Rojas, I. L., Provencher, M. T., Bhatia, S., Foucher, K. C., Bach, B. R., Romeo, A. A., … Verma, N. N. (2009). Biceps Activity during Windmill Softball Pitching: Injury Implications and Comparison with Overhand Throwing. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 37(3), 558–565

 

Oliver, Gretchen & Plummer, Hillary & Keeley, David. (2011). Muscle Activation Patterns of the Upper and Lower Extremity During the Windmill Softball Pitch. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 25. 1653-8.

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