Traditional Pitching Wind-up Has Returned

Growing number of major league pitchers are using bigger wind-ups

By Don Weiskopf, Publisher, Baseball Play America

A major change continues to occur in the game of baseball. A growing number of major league pitchers are using bigger and more traditional styles in winding up. They have switched from the no-wind-up delivery used by most pitchers the past couple of decades. Among the many big league hurlers using a traditional type of wind-up are Adam Wainwright (Cardinals), Roy Halladay (Phillies), Max Scherzer (Tigers), Matt Moore (Rays), John Lackey (Cardinals), and Francisco Liriano (Pirates).

Adam Wainwright

Wainwright has been one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers. The Cardinals brilliant right-hander won 20 games in 2014, compiling a 20-9 WL record, 2.38 ERA, and fanned 179 hitters. Wainwright finished the 2013 season with a 19-9 record, with 219 strikeouts and a 2.94 ERA. He got his 1,000th career strikeout when the Mets David Wright was called out on a first inning curveball. He became the first pitcher since 1900 to strike out at least 28 hitters without a walk in his first five starts. During his highly successful major league career, he has compiled a 119-66 WL record, with 1,306 strikeouts and a 3.01 ERA (Illus.1).

In the Year of the Pitcher, in 2010, Halladay became the only one ever to throw a perfect game and no-hitter in the same season. A unanimous winner of the National League Cy Young Award, the Phillies right-hander threw a perfect game on May 29, then tossed a no-hitter in his playoff debut. Halladay's major league records are 203 wins and 105 losses, with a 3.38 ERA, 2,117 K's, 592 walks, and 2,749 total innings.

Max Scherzer was a 18 Game Winner for the Tigers in 2014

In 2013, Scherzer compiled an 18-5 record with a 3.15 ERA, and 252 strikeouts. He matched the club record of 18 straight starts without suffering a loss. He had not lost since September 23, 2012. The Tigers’ right-hander finished the season with an amazing 21-3 record, with a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts. His career totals are a 91-50 WL record, 3.58 ERA, and 1,301 strikeouts.

Matt Moore Set a Tampa Bay Rays' Record for Wins in 2013 before the All-Star Break

Moore won his 13th game by beating the Minnesota Twins 4-3 on July 11, 2013. The Rays All-Star southpaw had a superb 17-4 W-L record, with a 3.29 ERA and 143 strikeouts. His career totals in the major leagues are a 29-17 WL record, 3.53 ERA, with 339 strikeouts.

Pictured below are (left to right): Halladay, Scherzer, Moore, and Lackey (Illustrations 2-5).

Roy Halladay Max Scherzer Matt Moore John Lackey
The ever growing-number of pitchers who begin their deliveries with a traditional wind-up include John Lackey, the veteran Cardinals hurler who had a standout post-season record in 2013. Jim Johnson, the Athletics’ right-hand relief pitcher, was the major league’s top saves leader in 2013 with 50 and a 2.94 ERA. Doug Fister was among the top NL pitchers in 2014, with a 16-6 WL record, 3.34 ERA and 98 K's. During his seven year major league career, Gia Gonzalez has compiled a 80-58 WL record, 3.59 ERA, and 1,072 K's.

Among the other major league pitchers who begin their deliveries with a traditional pitching wind-up include Kevin Correia (Twins); Cole Hamels (Phillies); Ervin Santana (Royals); Derek Holland and Neftali Felix (Rangers); Jake Peavy (Giants); Brandon McCarthy (Yankees); Luke Hochevar (Royals); Ivan Nova (Yankees); Ian Kennedy (Padres)

Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, Hall of Fame Pitching Greats

During the early 1960s, Hall of Fame greats Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers were the most dominant pair of pitchers in the National League. The hard-throwing Drysdale had a 209-166 record, with a 2.95 ERA and 2,486 strikeouts. The hard-throwing right-hander hurled 49 shutouts, setting a record with 58 consecutive scoreless innings.

Don Drysdale Koufax was one of baseball's greatest pitchers, a strikeout artist with low ERA's and a .732 winning percentage. Forty of his 165 wins were shutouts, four were no-hitters, and one was a perfect game. Sandy set an all-time strikeout record in 1965 fanning 382 hitters. (Illus. 6 and 7).

Both Drysdale and Koufax were among the many major league pitchers using the big traditional pitching wind-up. Their first movement was a rocker step, a soft and short step backward at a 45-degree angle. They raised both hands high over their heads giving them free body movement, and shifted their weight forward in moving into the pitch.

Sandy Koufax


Tom Seaver, Mets' Hall of Fame Pitching Great

Tom Seaver Tom Seaver, who ranks as one of baseball's greatest pitchers of all-time, set many records for strikeouts. He was the only pitcher in major league history to strike out 200 batters for nine seasons in a row. The Hall of Fame right-hand pitcher also holds the major league record for the lowest ERA of 2.86 for pitchers who have worked over 2,000 innings. His impressive career won-loss record was 311-205. Holding the ball in his glove in front of the belt buckle, Seaver raises both hands above his head. He has the ball well up in his glove with the back of the glove facing the hitter.

Although many pitchers in the 1980s began using a no-windup delivery, Seaver preferred a limited wind-up. "A no-windup motion doesn't work for me," said Tom, "because, from a timing standpoint, I could not coordinate all the parts of my body in such a short time. I preferred bringing my hands back in a small pump before reaching into my glove for the ball." (Illus. 8).

Many Successful Major League Pitchers Are Using Traditional Wind-ups

A large number of baseball’s most successful pitchers now begin their deliveries with a traditional wind-up. Many major league pitchers have returned to the full wind-up, giving the hips and their shoulders more freedom of movement. They believe the full wind-up is more deceptive because they can hide the ball longer. That makes it more difficult for hitters to pick it up. They include, from left to right (Illustrations 9-12): Cole Hamels (Phillies); Doug Fister (Nationals); Mike Pelfrey (Mets); and Derek Holland (Rangers).

Cole Hamels Doug Fister Mike Pelfry Derek Holland

An ever growing number of big league pitchers have switched to the full wind-up. Those pictured below are, from left to right (Illustrations 13-16: Francisco Liriano (Pirates); Gia Gonzalez (Nationals); Kyle Kendrick (Phillies); and Kevin Correia (Twins).

Francisco Liviano Gia Gonzalez Kyle Kendrick Kevin Correia


Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox A fluid and deceptive pitching motion is shown below by Peavy (Illus. 17 and 18). Gripping the ball in his glove, Jake lifts his hands and arms above the head with a relaxed movement. He pushes hard off the rubber in putting maximum energy and deception into his pitches. The veteran right-hander makes it very difficult for hitters to follow his pitches.

Jeff Peavy Sequence of Jeff Peavy

Ross Ohlendorf Shines in Washington Pitching Debut

In his Washington Nationals debut, Ross Ohlendorf pitched six strong innings, allowing one run on two hits in his first start since August 17 against the San Francisco Giants while with the San Diego Padres. Ohlendorf was a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Pirates in 2009 and 2010, throwing 285 innings with a 3.98 Era, but he was injured and ineffective since then.
Ross Ohlendorf

Ohlendorf, with his fourth major league team, (Illus. 19), said his new windup delivery was originally the idea of pitching Coach Joe Kerrigan when both were with the Pirates. Kerrigan suggested that Ohlendorf employ the old school-looking windup while he played catch to help loosen up. Kerrigan advised him to begin his delivery with a pumping motion with back movement of both arms. Ohlendorf did it and tweaked it, adopting it full-time as his delivery this season.
Ross Ohlendorf

For his latest major league call-up, Ohlendorf unveiled a delivery used by mound greats in the 1920s through the 1970s. “Just that extra movement really helped,” he said. “This year I decided to try to do a full windup in the game. It gives me more rhythm and helps me stay loose. I’ve been feeling really good. It’s the best I’ve felt in a long time.”

Ohlendorf’s pitching delivery is similar to those used by past MLB greats Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, Walter Johnson and Satchel Paige. In the highly popular motion picture Bull Durham, Nuke La Loosh (Illus. 20) used the big, traditional pitching windup which has returned to major league baseball in growing numbers the past decade. Spahn, the winningest southpaw pitcher in major league history, had 20 or more victories in nine of the 12 seasons he pitched in Milwaukee.

The Associated Press wrote in the June 13 issue of USA TODAY that “Ohlendorf’s wind-up, reminiscent of the sport’s older pitching motions, is a confluence of moving parts. Ohlendorf stands with his back foot near the third base side of the rubber, rocks on his left foot, and swings both arms back behind his body.

Old Time Hall of Fame Pitchers Used Traditional Pitching Wind-ups

Traditional styles of winding up were used by all of the old-time pitchers, many of them who later were inducted into the Hall of Fame, including, Grover Cleveland Alexander (Cardinals/Cubs/Phillies); Christy Mathewson (New York Giants); Bob Feller (Cleveland Indians); and Warren Spahn (Milwaukee Braves).

Don Larsen Used the No-Wind-Up only for a short time.

In the 1956 World Series, the Yankees’ Don Larsen went to a no-windup and threw a perfect game. Following his mound gem, Larsen only used the no-windup for a short time and went back to the traditional wind-up, as pictured below (Illus. 21). By the mid-1960s, however, an increasing number of major league pitchers had gone to the no-wind-up delivery.


Don Larsen Sequence of Don Larsen


Without a smooth and rhythmic wind-up, pitchers are placing undue strain on their vulnerable elbows and shoulders, and they are not hiding the ball in their deliveries. As major league teams continue to lose their high-priced pitchers with elbow and shoulder injuries, the return of the traditional wind-up will save teams millions of dollars.

College Pitchers are also Using the Traditional Wind-up Style

The traditional pitching wind-up has also returned to collegiate baseball. An increasing number of college pitchers have been observed using the bigger wind-up, bringing their hands, glove and ball high above and behind the head. I am inclined to believe that college and high school pitchers, in growing numbers, will soon be emulating the bigger wind-up of mound standouts at the major league level.
Kendall Graveman

Among the college pitchers using the bigger wind-up include the Mississippi State University right-hander Kendall Graveman, pictured here, who was drafted by the Marlins last year. Returning to school for his senior year, he moved to the front of the MSU rotation and was very impressive.

“Kendall uses a sinker-changeup combination to produce plenty of groundouts,” wrote Tom Dakers. “His fastball is in the upper-80s with a heavy sinking action and he has a good changeup.“

Graveman is pictured here (Illus. 22) pitching against Oregon State in the first inning of the opening game of the NCAA College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, June 15.

Another SEC pitcher Kurt McCune, a Louisiana State University junior, has been one of the top pitchers in the Southeastern Conference. In his freshman season, the lanky right-hander compiled a 7-3 record and a 3.31 ERA in 89.2 innings pitched. This season, McCune continued to be a solid reliever and part-time starter as a sophomore.

BPA's Survey of The Two Wind-up Styles

During the 2006 spring training, questionnaires were sent to all major league pitching coaches. Almost half of the 30 coaches I contacted responded with many positive comments and opinions. The coaches were aware that an increasing number of pitchers, including many from other countries, are using various styles of the traditional windup. They saw many hurlers in the World Baseball Classic pitching with the old time wind-up.

The hands and glove come up over the head. Using the no-windup, however the pitcher holds his hands in a compact position in front of the body, and he starts his delivery.

Many of the major league pitching coaches I wrote to believe there will be many more pitchers switching to a bigger and more traditional technique. They said they will be encouraging more pitchers to make the change. Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, it took awhile for the no-windup to take hold, and the return of the traditional method, likewise, will require time as well.

The Need to Reassess the Pitching Wind-up

Serious concerns continue to be expressed by noted pitching authorities as to the shortcomings of the no-windup technique. Pitchers today are throwing too much with their arms and not enough with their entire body.
A. J. Burnett

The picture here of A.J. Burnett (Illus. 23) is typical of modern day pitchers in which the ball and glove remain close to the body. The initial wind-up is too restricted, lacking good rhythm, momentum and deceptive actions that characterized the style of pitchers in the 1950s and '60s.

They are not utilizing the rhythmic, rocking motions that can reduce the physical stress and strain on the elbow and shoulder joints.

The biggest change in pitching technique over the past three decades had been the switch from a full-wind-up with a pumping motion to a simplified and compact no-pump technique.

Although it has achieved a more balance position and perhaps better control, I firmly believe today's no-windup delivery has contributed to the epidemic of pitching injuries to the elbow and shoulder joints.

Purpose of the Pitching Wind-up

The purpose of the wind-up is to move the body weight back in order to place power into the pitch. In preparing for his delivery, the pitcher must gather his weight in order to get more power into his delivery.

Most of the pitchers who used the no-windup technique are not able to generate maximum power. In their effort to do so, they place undue exertion and physical stress on their pitching arm and shoulder.

How the Traditional Wind-up Is Executed

As he faces home plate, the pitcher has one heel touching the rubber. His pitching hand grips the ball in the glove in front of him. As the wind-up begins, he steps straight back a comfortable distance with the opposite leg of the throwing hand.

Jose Contreras

The pitching hand and the ball are still in the glove. Stepping back, he brings both hands over his head as if he reaching for the sky, as demonstrated here by Jose Contreras, former Chicago White Sox pitcher. (Illus. 24)

A right-hand pitcher will rotate on his right foot so that his body turns right facing third base. The pivot foot stays parallel in contact with the rubber. While rotating on his pivot foot, he lifts his front leg, bending the knee at a right angle, and swinging the leg with the momentum of his rotation.

The pitcher then brings his arms down. The pitching hand and ball are still in the glove. He is now in a corkscrew-like position, known as the top of the wind-up.

The pitcher releases the ball from the top of his wind-up while stepping toward home plate with his kicked leg. He drives forward with his back leg while rotating the hips. As his back leg swings forward, his feet should be close to parallel, and he is ready to field his position.

Pitching Deliveries of Mound Greats

Steve Carlton, Philadelphia Phillies (Series A)

Steve Carlton had a classic overhand pitching motion. In this series, he demonstrates excellent flexibility in his front leg, and he maintains it throughout the delivery and follow-through. He would occasionally drop down to three-quarters to side arm and throw his curve ball to left-hand hitters. Steve got excellent hip rotation that provided exceptional energy for his pitches. With more than 300 major league victories, he combined power with control.

As he lifts his right knee to a maximum position, Carlton shows a smooth, fluid and coordinated delivery. By rotating the hips with flawless execution, he is able to generate maximum power for his pitches. He keeps his right shoulder, hip, and knee closed until he starts the delivery to the plate.

Steve Carlton

Steve Carlton


Bob Gibson, St. Louis Cardinals (Series B)

As his hands come up and over his head, Gibson steps back with his left foot. He then shifts his weight forward as he rotates into the pitch. His first movement is a rocker step, a soft and short step backward at a 45-degree angle with the non-stride foot. This will shift his weight onto the back foot so that he can pivot his front foot and drop it in front and parallel to the rubber. As he steps back, Gibson raises both arms above the head.

Gibson was extra fast from his waist on up. He did not have a high leg kick, but he began immediately driving at the hitter. He kicks his leg into the stride as the pivot foot pushes off the rubber. His three-quarter delivery was exceptionally quick, and he got out in front on every pitch he made.

Gibson steps straight forward with his lead foot, rather than throwing across his body. Whipping the ball with a powerful wrist snap, his arm and shoulder continue on down in a smooth follow-through.

Sequence of Bob Gibson



Jack Morris, Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins (Series C)

A strong, well-coordinated, and rhythmic delivery provided Jack Morris with extra speed and power. Rather than throw just with his arm, every part of Jack’s body bore the brunt of his throwing effort. Using a low leg kick, his weight shifts onto his right leg, as the hips and right leg pivoted. Morris is ready to thrust toward home plate with maximum velocity.

Taking a long stride, Morris stays as compact as possible. His pitching delivery flowed in a smooth, full-arm swing, finishing with a powerful snap of the wrist. On the follow-through, the throwing arm snaps straight across his chest to his left knee, and his pivot foot swings around to a position parallel to his striding foot.



Billy Pierce, Chicago White Sox (Series D)

A stylish left-hand pitcher, Billy Pierce superbly demonstrates the traditional pitching wind-up. He brings his glove and ball to a position above his head, giving him free body movement. Pierce raises his hands and lead leg simultaneously, which helps keep his weight back and reduces the chances of rushing. He kicks his striding leg out toward the plate and uses a powerful thrust-off from the pitching rubber.

Pierce’s rear leg is bent, and he used the braced striding foot to provide the leverage needed to bring his body forward. He follows through with his shoulder and throwing arm, getting his whole body into the pitch. Although not a big man, Billy’s well-coordinated delivery generated a live fast ball.

Sequence of Billy Pierce

Sequence of Billy Pierce



Sonny Siebert, Clevelad Indians (Series E)

As he raises his arms on the wind-up, Sonny Siebert places the ball well up in his glove with the back of the glove facing the hitter. He pivots on the ball of his right foot, turning it parallel to the rubber. Hiding the ball, Sonny pivots around and exposes his rear to the hitter. His eyes continue to focus on the target.

By keeping the ball in his glove longer, Siebert delays the stride and holds up the thrust of his lower body. When the upper half is ready, he gets a powerful push-off from his pivot foot, getting the body momentum he needs.

By getting his throwing arm up on top before the striding foot hits the ground, Siebert now has the opportunity to whip the arm through. He steps almost straight ahead with his left foot, providing a free and easy motion and a proper follow-though.

Sequence of Sonny siebert

How the No-Wind-up Technique Began

The change that took place during the mid-1950s was the result of suggestions Yankee pitching coach Jim Turner made to Don Larsen and Bob Turley. Bob credits Turner with launching their no-wind-up of pitching. The no-wind-up was believed to help a pitcher’s control, in part because Larsen went to it and threw a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. (Illus. 25). “Jim did it with both of us, but for different reasons,” said Turley. “Teams were stealing Don’s pitches. To stop it, Turner suggested he hold the ball in his glove in front, and keep it there, with no-wind-up.”

Don Larson

Following his mound gem, Larsen used the no-wind-up for a short period of time and went back to the traditional wind-up. His won-lost record for the remaining 10 years of his career with five teams was 51-51. Turley had similar success after impressive seasons in 1957 (13-6) and 1958 (21-7), compiling a 25-29 won lost record in five seasons.

By the mid-1960s, an increasing number of major league pitchers were using the no-wind-up delivery. Billy Muffett, the Cardinals pitching coach who used a no-windup during his entire career, induced several St. Louis pitchers to employ the technique. Among the pitchers whose deliveries Billy altered were Dick Hughes, Nelson Briles, Ron Willis, and Steve Carlton. All had banner years until 1968 when a major change in the rules dictated that the pitching mound be lowered.

Nelson_briles

The dropping of the mound, from 15 inches to 10 inches, made it more difficult for Briles, and others, to throw “over the top” with his key out-pitch, the curveball. Because of the lower pitching mound, many of them, like Briles, found it more difficult to get a good push-off off the lower mound. Of even much greater significance to the game of baseball, the lower pitching mound has been responsible for countless arm and shoulder injuries, and of course, the overall effectiveness of pitchers. Briles said later, “It was my idea to go back to the full-wind-up. I think it gave me more momentum. I found it was easier on my arm and shoulder.” (Illus. 26)

While it has achieved better control, today’s no-wind-up delivery may have contributed to the current epidemic of elbow and shoulder injuries. Darren Dreifort is typical of the many pitchers who use a no-wind-up delivery and have had many arm and shoulder injuries. Darren’s hands and arms are so close to the body, a very tight, compact position. I firmly believe many of the injuries could have been prevented or sharply reduced if he and others had used the traditional pitching wind-up and given the hips and shoulders more freedom of movement.

The time is long overdue for pitchers at all levels of play to return to a fuller wind-up, as a growing number of major league pitchers are now doing.

Photographs by Michael Heape, Associated Press (Wainwright, Kendrick); Tom Mihalek, AP (Halladay); Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports (Scherzer); Rick Osentosk, USA TODAY Sports (Moore); Billy Hurst, AP (Lackey); Los Angeles Dodgers (Drysdale and Koufax); David Cooper, USA TODAY Sports (Seaver and Gonzales); USA TODAY Sports (Hamels); USA TODAY Sports (Fister); New York Daily News (Pelfrey); rangerblog,dallasnews.com (Holland); USATSI (Liriano); Jim Moore, AP (Correia; Robert Beck (Peavy); Brad Barr (Ohlendorf); Marvin Newman (Spahn); Nati Harnik, AP (Graverman); and Associated Press (Larsen).

Sequence series photographs by Don Weiskopf (Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson, Jack Morris, Billy Pierce, and Sonny Siebert).





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