I’m a big fan of pointing out silly baseball “traditions,” using examples from outside the baseball world. When I try to illustrate the points I want to make with my players, nothing seems to open their eyes more than visualizing a non-baseball example, and then trying to make sense of “the way it is” in baseball (instruction, coaching, technique, etc.).
One of the comparisons I like to make: Accepted throwing mechanics and exercises many people know to avoid.
Even though it’s been around for a long, long time, the “Inverted W,” became one of the “mechanical red flags,” back when the Mark Priors and the Kerry Woods of the world were spending more time on the D.L. than they were on the mound. The term “Inverted W,” really became mainstream when White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper used it to explain why Stephen Strasburg had to go under the knife.
Here’s a look at your typical Inverted W:
This position can (and usually does) lead to shoulder and even elbow issues. (And by “issues” I mean discomfort, pain, injury, and/or surgery.)
Non-baseball example time…
When I was a skinny teenager trying to pack on some pounds, I did what most kids did in those days (and before me): I cracked open a muscle magazine and took its word as gospel. I did all the exercises that your typical bodybuilder would do… even though most of them did absolutely nothing for me as a baseball player. (But I did start to fill out a uniform!)
Despite my misguided approach, I knew from more than one source (far more reliable than a muscle mag) that exercises like the upright row were off limits. Not just because I was a baseball player, but far too many people complained of shoulder issues where the upright row was a part of their exercise routines.
Here’s the upright row:
Hmmm. This looks familiar…
Despite a few meatheads that still do the row, it’s safe to say that most bodybuilders have found other ways (exercises and/or angles) to attack the muscles the row was intended to work. They know they have a good chance of winding up on the shelf with continued use of the upright row, so they chose to make the adjustment rather than taking a chance to see what happens.
For those bodybuilders that wound up injuring their shoulder(s), they were introduced to another exercise:
The Empty the Can Exercise.
A while back, this exercise was thought to be an excellent exercise in a series of exercises to rehab the shoulder. Basically you are supposed to lift your arm laterally away from the body, with the pinky finger leading the hand upward. Here’s what it looks like (and tell me it doesn’t look very similar to that of a player with a longer arm swing trying to get into a position to throw the baseball):
Originally this movement was part of a test that doctors used to pinpoint shoulder pain. It was a successful test, so it only made sense to make it an exercise, right?.
Of course! That is until people started complaining about the pain they experienced doing the exercise… even with dumbbells as small as two pounds.
The “discovered” solution: instead of having the pinkies lead the way up, let the thumbs go first.
The result: no pain!
The reason why I bring up these two exercises is to ask the rhetorical question: How is it that bodybuilders, doctors, and PTs (physical therapists) recognize that these positions are no bueno, yet baseball players, coaches, instructors, and even some gurus continue to believe that these moves are normal when it comes to throwing a baseball?
Especially when the correction that eliminates these “red flags” is very easy!
To eliminate both positions, simply DO NOT do what “everybody” believes you should do when taking the baseball out of your glove: brush your thumb past your pitching/throwing leg.
Instead do the opposite: brush your pinky past your leg in the same fashion, and just like correction made to the Empty the Can Exercise, raise your hand up with the thumb leading the way.
Now this isn’t something I came up with, nor is it brand new. I mean take a look at Juan Marichal (ca. 1966) in the picture below to see what I mean.
Old School coaches and instructors like use the visual of balancing a tray of drinks as you bring your hand into your throwing position. It may not really look like that, in fact you should just be focused on turning your palm away from your body. But if that’s the visual you need, go with it!
The great thing about this adjustment is that not only will you rid yourself of those two painful positions, you will also be limiting the chances of doing damage to your elbow as well. Not bad for such a simple correction!
At the end of the day, I just want you to understand that baseball is a very, very traditional sport. Unfortunately that can sometimes mean resistant to change, even when that change is the right thing to do and is right in front of your face.
If you don’t want to run the risk of being “one of those players,” who suffered a throwing injury that will ultimately be written off as simply bad luck, or your confused because the ol’ “everyone else throws this way,” wrecked your arm, do yourself a favor and start to incorporate this little adjustment into your throwing technique.