Ever heard someone say, “I just tensed up.”? Chances are you have, within the context of that person explaining why he choked under pressure. Tensing up is somewhat a figure of speech, but also a real occurrence. Muscles contract in uncontrolled ways in response to fear, excitement, anger, etc. Uncontrolled muscles are a bad thing for pitchers.
Tense muscles don’t function as they are supposed to. They don’t stretch, rebound and contract as they are supposed to. Sit down in a chair and flex all of your muscles at once. You won’t be able to get up. Why? Because all the muscle fibers are doing the same thing, all at once. Because of this all-over tension, no work can be performed, and motion becomes impossible. You’ve rendered your muscles useless.
You’ve also heard of pitchers “rearing back” and throwing the ball as hard as they can right by a batter. Problem is, this act of rearing back, of giving it all you got, of putting every fiber into the pitch, is often counterproductive.
As my good friend Zach Clark was explaining to me, your body knows how to throw a baseball as efficiently as it can. It knows which and how many muscle fibers to recruit. Thing is, you have to let it do its work, and that requires relaxation.
Relaxing as best you can when throwing allows your body to choose, and it knows better than you do, which muscle fibers to recruit in throwing the ball. Some fibers relax, and some contract in accordance with the most efficient ratio to throw as hard as possible. Tensing up causes muscle fibers that are supposed to be relaxed to contract, thus hindering the natural way in which your body wants to throw.
In theory, this makes sense and I believe in it. However, in practice it is much more difficult. When one wants to run faster he simply tries to run faster by using more intensity. This usually works until top running speed is achieved. However, as we have discussed, throwing harder is not this way. It requires the delicate balance of effort and efficiency. You have to try to throw hard, but you can’t try too hard. Pitchers have to constantly fight this urge to overthrow, and if they are successful, then they will achieve their best velocity and best control.
My best velocity is always achieved in situations when I perceive that I need it the least. This is my personal affirmation of this theory. I have two standout examples of this. I was facing one of my teammates in an intrasquad game a few years ago, and I got to 3-0 on him. The first three pitches were all 87 mph. The 3-0 pitch was 89. How could this be? Well, I thought nothing of throwing hard, but only of throwing a fat strike because I knew he wouldn’t be swinging. I relaxed.
My most recent example was last week in my first outing throwing to batters since my surgery. I was scheduled to throw 45 pitches, but threw 46 because no.45 was high and outside. I wanted to end on a strike. Keep in mind, this was the highest workload I had had since surgery, and by all rights my velocity should have peaked in the middle and tapered off at the end as I tired. This was generally true, as I was 82-83 the whole time. But my hardest pitch was no.46. I hit (a whopping) 84 on pitch 46. Why? Because I didn’t care how hard it was – I just wanted to end on a strike.
There are other negatives associated with overthrowing. The most obvious is a loss of control. That phenomenon needs little explanation. Another is loss of movement. Sinkerballers must especially keep themselves in check, because they make their money on their fastball movement. Overthrowing will usually cause a lively fastball to flatten out, rendering it much easier to hit.
And after all, the point of having good velocity and movement is to make one’s pitches more difficult to hit. Muscle tension caused by overthrowing is the enemy of a quality pitch, so If one can master his mindset to allow relaxation on the mound, then he will be maximizing his chances for success.