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Are there really shortcuts worth taking while throwing to 3B?

Take a close look at the three clips below. Which approach creates the faster release?  

A.J. Pierzynski (CWS)                                    Kelly Shoppach (TB)                                   Nick Hundley (SD)

 

Now lets take a look at the three throws in slow motion...

 

And the winner is........

Kelly Shoppach!

 

Now there are a few things to consider here. For one, each of these throws is successful in gunning down the potential base-stealer. They are all good throws as far as their teams are concerned, but Pierzynski and Hundley are attempting to take shortcuts in their throws and the percentages are against them repeating this success on a consistent basis.

Two, if Nick Swisher of the Yankees doesn't bail out of the way, Pierzynski's arm is hitting him directly in the face and the runner is most definitely safe at 3B, possibly home if the throw is errant (c'mon Swish, take one for the team!).

Finally,  I do want to point out that Shoppach is moving behind the batter a little premature, which puts at risk his ability to keep the pitch looking like a strike. Trading a strike for an out, however, is a trade off I am not opposed to making in a late-inning situation with the potential of cutting a runner down at 3B. This does not necessarily mean he has a head-start, though. If you notice each of the surrounding clips, both Pierzynski and Hundley are moving the initial direction needed to complete their throws. Pierzynski is starting upwards and Hundley is beginning a collapse towards the ground. Also, all of these clips are synced with when the glove closes around the ball. They are all starting at the same time here. The is by far the most honest comparison I can make in regards to these three throwing techniques.

The point here is that Kelly Shoppach, despite covering more ground during his throw, actually gets rid of the ball sooner than Pierzynski and Hundley. The key is the fluidity in his throw created by the momentum constantly moving in the direction of his throw. He's able to get his body behind the batter and still generate a tremendous amount of energy towards his target. He never stops moving.

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Shoppach vs. Pierzynski

Do me a favor...stare right in between both of these clips to the left for a few seconds. You can clearly see Pierzynski and Shoppach's bodies going in opposite directions in the beginning stages of their throws. Pierzynski is actually loading backwards towards the 1B dugout, attempting to change the direction of his momentum in the middle of the throw. This creates a "two-step", "Load & Throw" action which costs him valuable time on his release. Not to mention the fact that the lack of footwork created an arm slot which could have given Nick Swisher an unwanted nose job and caused an errant throw.

There are a few things we can do as catchers to slow our release down, the biggest culprit being moving in the opposite direction away from our intended target. Pierzynski has to wait to start his throw until he has finished his load backwards. Shoppach's load, on the other hand, is incorporated into a continuous motion towards his target. Again, he never stops moving. This is what allows him to get rid of the ball faster.

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Shoppach vs. Hundley

While the difference in the release time of these throws is minimal, what is Hundley actually gaining by staying closer to the ground, thus avoiding "all that time" spent coming up out of his crouch? The answer is simple. Nothing! What is he potentially losing? Well that is a different story.

For every MPH you lose during a throw from your knees, you need to see a positive gain in the release time to make the mechanics of the throw make sense. Unfortunately, Hundley takes just as long to get rid of the ball as Shoppach and he is most definitely losing arm velocity as he takes his lower body out of the throw.

There is also the accuracy issue. When we have our legs underneath us, we are able to control the direction and momentum of our body much more so than if was are collapsing to our knees during the throw. Hundley risked a slower and more inaccurate throw without gaining a single hundredth of a second. In my opinion it's an incredibly unnecessary risk.

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We need to realize that less doesn't always equal more or better when it comes to our throws. There is a proper sequence to it all, which when completed in order, allows the body to work extremely efficient during the throw, thus generating a very quick release. When we take perceived shortcuts, we may actually be sabotaging the process which is required to achieve the result that we are hoping for. An out.

Thanks for reading,