A Baseball Sacred Cow Finally Starts to Fall

Ron Sachs/CNP, Prensa Internacional via ZUMA

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I’m getting answers to all sorts of nagging sports questions this month. Earlier I learned that, as I’ve long suspected, intentional fouling virtually never works in the final seconds of a basketball game. Today, Jared Diamond writes about the windup used by baseball pitchers, which has always puzzled me:

This spring, Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg asked a simple question that threatens to upend more than a century of baseball tradition: Why should he pitch one way with nobody on base, and another way with runners aboard? After all, he threw just as hard from the stretch as he did from the full windup, but with improved precision.

Strasburg did some research and embarked on an experiment. He ditched the windup and plans to work exclusively from the stretch this season, beginning his delivery facing third base instead of home plate. Pitchers usually deploy the stretch—a quicker, more compact delivery than the full windup—with runners on base to prevent base-stealers.

I’m not a pitcher, obviously, but I’ve never understood the weird, arms-over-the-head windup. In most sports, it’s a given that a simple, smooth motion is the best way to engage the kinetic chain, improve consistency, and throw/shoot/serve/etc. with maximum accuracy. Among quarterbacks or tennis players, for example, even small hitches in the delivery motion are mercilessly trained away by good coaches. But in baseball, an enormous hitch is not only not trained away, it’s encouraged.

I guess I always figured there must be a reason that I just didn’t understand. But maybe not. Maybe it’s just the way things have always been done. In any case, I applaud Strasburg. Pitching from the stretch should work fine, and it should improve performance with runners on base too since no delivery change is required. I wish him a great season except when he’s pitching against the Dodgers.

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