Some of the most common questions that I get as a Pitching Coach and a USA Weightlifting Certified Sports Performance Coach is how did guys like Steven Strasburg and Jason Motte tear their UCL’s? My answer is always that they didn’t come down to a 3X Velocity Camp!:)
I am joking but at the same time I am very serious. On the joking side, I like to think I am not that much of a ego which this game is full of. On the serious side, I truly believe in the power of 3X Pitching. Of course, I then follow up my short arrogant answer with 3X science because at the same time I am a total nerd when it comes to the science of high velocity pitching.
In this article, we will learn from the studies that prove more elbow damage is done when you start trunk rotation too early in your delivery. It actually has no correlation to pitching velocity but a significant link to arm health. I will also take a close look at Jason Motte’s pitching mechanics and how this led to his UCL tear and also Stephen Strasburg’s pitching mechanics and how it lead to his UCL tear. We will also look at what prevents this early rotation and the most effective way to correct this major mechanical flaw in the high velocity delivery.
The Science Behind Elbow Injury For the High Velocity Pitcher
Studies show that there are several mechanical components that lead to elbow injuries and that most elbow damage for pitchers is overuse related (1,2,3). The mechanical flaws cause the overuse of the arm to do more damage to the elbow. Studies show that this damage occurs due to the load on the elbow which is referred to as elbow valgus torque. A study called, Correlation of throwing mechanics with elbow valgus load in adult baseball pitchers, discovered 3 significant mechanical components that was linked to elbow valgus torque. These parameters are; peak shoulder external rotation, elbow flexion at peak valgus torque, and elbow valgus loading rate—which accounted for 68% of the variance in valgus torque.
When it comes to reducing the load on the elbow and at the same time trying to increase pitching velocity it is a double edge sword. For example, more torque can increase pitching velocity but if it destroys the arm at the same time then what is the purpose? This study discovered the link to increasing pitching velocity or not losing pitching velocity while reducing the elbow valgus stress. Here is what the study revealed:
Thus, subsequent between-group analysis revealed that 34 of the 69 pitchers included in the sample initiated trunk rotation before front-foot contact, whereas 35 did so afterward (Table 1). Although there were no significant differences in demographics or ball velocity between groups (P > .10), the pre– foot contact players exhibited significantly more elbow valgus torque (59 ± 27 N?m) than the post–foot contact players did (42 ± 29 N?m, P = .02) (Figure 5). Fourteen pitchers displayed a sidearm delivery, exhibiting an average elbow valgus torque of 66 ± 24 N?m, which was significantly higher (P = .02) than that of those who threw with the more common overhand, or “3/4,” slot position (46 ± 29 N·m) (Figure 6).
This study has just given us the secret to increasing pitching velocity without destroying the elbow in the process which is creating late trunk rotation or not allowing for early trunk rotation before front foot strike. We also learned that the sidearm slot has more potential to damage the UCL than the over the shoulder arm slots.
Going back to the 3 parameters that are significantly linked to elbow valgus torque, most of these parameters can be reduced by creating later trunk rotation after foot contact but the two parameters; elbow flexion and the loading rate of the elbow valgus stress can also occur with late trunk rotation. These two parameters are usually caused by more sidearm slots and also the inverted W or L. I will not cover these mechanical concerns in this article.
It is important to note that late trunk rotators are not protected completely from UCL tears but that they have less of a risk. Studies show that chronic valgus stress places the ligament at risk for tearing or becoming lax (1). Because external rotation of the throwing arm causes elbow valgus stress this is impossible to avoid if you use this force multiplier in your pitching velocity. In my interview with Jim “The Rookie” Morris he talks about his 9 arm surgeries in his career and how after his second or third the famous Doctor Frank Jobe told him that most of the damage he did to his arm happened before he was 15 years old. The moral of the story here is that if you do not have good mechanics at a young age, like most young pitchers, then you could possible be like Jim Morris and cause most of the damage to your pitching arm before you even play this game at the high school level.
Jason Motte and Stephen Strausburg Early Trunk Rotation
Jason Motte and Stephen Strasburg are two great examples of early trunk rotation because they both do it differently. Jason Motte causes early trunk rotation with late hip rotation and Stephen Strasburg causes early trunk rotation by opening his front side too early.
Notice the clip of Jason Motte below and how his hips are opening towards the target with his trunk rotation. This means his hip rotation is a little late. Notice the clip of Aroldis Chapman, who is representing the late trunk rotator, his hips are opening just before his trunk rotation. If Jason Motte could follow the 3X Pitching principles of 3X before front foot strike then he would start hip rotation earlier which studies link to high pitching velocity (4).
Notice in the clip of Stephen Strasburg and how he is opening his front foot early with his drive leg is still on the rubber. The early opening of his front side before his drive leg is ready to peak ground reaction forces is causing his trunk rotation to start early. Notice how when Chapman is opening his front foot his drive leg is extending with it. This causes the early hip rotation with the late trunk rotation.
How to Prevent Early Trunk Rotation
What sucks about most sources on the web that provide pitching instruction is that they may cite a study like the one here on early trunk rotation but they do not teach you how to fix the problem. I believe this is because they do not have a comprehensive approach to high velocity pitching like we have here with 3X Pitching.
When working to prevent early trunk rotation in the pitching delivery or to remove it, the pitcher must first understand the sequence of movements of the high velocity pitcher, along with the timing of these movements. The case study cited above made this exact point in the conclusion:
This finding concurs with previously reported findings that showed reduced shoulder rotation torques in pitchers with late trunk rotation, and it supports the notion that efficient mechanics is predicated on the appropriate timing in the sequence of pelvis, trunk, and arm rotations.
Thus, a potential measure of pitching efficiency could be described by a ratio of ball velocity to valgus torque where a highly efficient pitcher is one who can maximize output (ball speed) with the least cost (joint load).
For example; in the case of Jason Motte and Stephen Strasburg, if they had a better understanding of the timing of their movements and they were using video analysis to analyze this then they could have worked to reduce the stress they have been putting on their elbows their entire careers.
The problem with these case studies and most pitching instruction is that telling a pitcher he must create a pitching sequence of the pelvis, trunk and arm rotation and that he needs to time these movements perfectly, is not enough information to help him. He must learn what it feels like to initiate the pelvis in the pitching delivery effectively and then how this energy transfers to the trunk and then the arm efficiently. As much as I would love to define all of this information here in a short video or 12 step program it is a lot more complex than that. This is why I highly recommend the 3X Pitching Velocity Program.
In the program, you will receive the 3X Pitching Mechanics Guides which map out 50+ high velocity pitcher mechanics and how they all connect to eachother. You will also learn the timing of when these mechanics must occur but don’t worry, if this is to much information all you need to do is just follow the systematic 3X Training Programs. The 3X Training Programs are loaded with tons and tons of 3X Pitching Drills that will help you implement these movements into your pitching delivery, so you can increase pitching velocity without overusing and overloading the arm!
- Rizio, Louis, and John W. Uribe. – Overuse injuries of the upper extremity in baseball. – Clinics in sports medicine 20.3 (2001): 453-468.
- Olsen SJ 2nd, Fleisig GS, Dun S, Loftice J, Andrews JR. – Risk factors for shoulder and elbow injuries in adolescent baseball pitchers. – American Sports Medicine Institute, 833 St Vincent’s Drive, Suite 100, Birmingham, AL 35205, USA. – Am J Sports Med. 2006 Jun;34(6):905-12.
- Aguinaldo AL, Chambers H. – Correlation of throwing mechanics with elbow valgus load in adult baseball pitchers. – Am J Sports Med. 2009;37(10):2043–2048.
- Keizo Takahashi1, Norihisa Fujii2, and Michiyoshi Ae2, – Kinematic Comparisons Of Different Pitch Velocity Groups In, Baseball Using Motion Model Method – Doctoral Program in Health and Sport Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Japan. – Institute of Health and Sport Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Japan.