If you’re a pitcher or a pitching coach, there’s no doubt that at some point, someone told you that a key to your velocity is your stride length. That is 100% true. However, there is a misconception by many who believe that the longer you stride, the faster you’ll throw — and/or, that there is some magic ratio of body height to stride length. These myths have been perpetuated by successful MLB pitchers under six feet tall who throw (or threw) in the upper 90s or 100 MPH. Tim Lincecum and Billy Wagner are examples who immediately come to mind — many people will look at their 5’10” height, compare it to still photos of what looks like a six-foot-plus (or in The Freak’s case, almost seven feet) stride, and come to the conclusion that longer stride == more MPH.
There’s an idiom regularly told to journalists covering science and health industries (among others): “correlation doesn’t imply causation.” Unfortunately, many pitching theories and myths stem from correlations such as Tim Lincecum’s stride length. And as a result, we see pitchers at every level from little leagues to the big leagues — including outstanding ones — striding too far in an effort to gain a few extra MPH.
The irony is that in most cases, pitchers who over-stride are likely robbing themselves of a few extra MPH!
Here’s the scientific truth: every person’s body is individually proportioned. In other words, not every person who stands six feet tall will necessarily have 36-inch legs. Some may be longer, some shorter. That’s why mens’ pants have an inseam measurement rather than being matched to a man’s overall height. Further, some bodies are slim, others stocky. Arm lengths vary as well. When you consider these facts, the idea that a stride length — or a stride length ratio — can be universal becomes difficult to prove.
Now I know what you’re thinking: the reason a pitcher wants a long stride is to shorten the distance between the release point and home plate.
You’re absolutely right. But let’s look at that notion more closely, and understand the two objects on either side of that distance you want to shorten. One is the ball, the other is home plate. Do you kick the ball to home plate? Not unless it’s a soccer ball. Of course, you throw a baseball, so the distance you should be thinking about starts at the release point — in other words, the hand. Therefore the goal is to get the hand as close to home plate as possible at release.
Indeed, a nice long stride will help toward that goal, but that stride must be manageable. A pitcher should stride as long/far as he can while still maintaining proper balance and trunk tilt over the front side / front foot at release.
When a pitcher strides too far, his front knee pulls backward toward the rubber at just the moment the body is moving forward. So instead of the body tilting over the front knee, the body instead pulls backward, the arm is further back, and, in turn, the hand is further back at release — anywhere from six to twelve inches (or more) further behind where it would be if the stride were manageable. Don’t believe it? Get in front of a mirror (side view), take a stride, start your release, then straighten your front leg — you’ll watch your entire body, including the arm and hand, move backward.
Don’t be dissuaded by watching MLB fireballers who are over-striding, because yes, many of them would pick up a few MPH if their stride was a few inches shorter and more manageable. Scary to think, but even Aroldis Chapman might increase his velocity by shortening his stride a bit — this animated GIF shows Chapman’s long stride and a release point that is about in line or slightly behind his front foot instead of out in front of his foot. His body doesn’t tilt over the front side until after release. (Credit to Rob Friedman, @PitchingNinja for the animation.)
Aroldis Chapman, mechanics (side view/101 mph) pic.twitter.com/mm0u6k6TEZ
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 10, 2016
How do you know for sure if your stride is manageable? If your trunk tilts properly over your front foot, your shoulders will be out in front of your foot, your arm will be reached out forward, and your hand will be closer to the plate. You’ll probably need to see this via video taken from a side view. If you’re not seeing proper tilt — if you’re not “getting over the front leg” — don’t fret, because it’s good news! It means that with a slightly shorter stride, you can gain velocity.
NOTE: this article was inspired by a conversation with pitching motion troubleshooter and sport kinesiologist Angel Borrelli, MA, CSCS, USAW during a podcast episode of Baseball Pitching: The Fix.