In any sport, the main machine behind any motion is our body. The human body’s unique muscular system allow for different prototypes of players in all sports. From speed freaks like Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds to strikeout machines like Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, baseball’s prototypes come in a wide variety. One prototype that has piqued the interest of analysts is flame throwing pitcher prototype. Though it is seen more often in relief and closing pitchers, starting pitchers have started to pitcher with a higher velocity. Noah Syndergaard, better known as Thor for his strength and hair, is known for throwing his 4 seam fastball around 100 mph. The ability to throw at this velocity is quite rare, but also unique. Each pitcher has a distinct motion. Even though there is not much similarity in the motions of flame throwing pitchers, there is one similarity between all of them: body torque.
What is body torque? Before we begin discussing body torque, let’s first discuss torque. Torque is a rotational force. Think of it as the force you exert when you’re twisting a towel. Body torque, as it follows, is the force of your body rotating. In pitching, body torque is especially prevalent in the wind-up motion. Let’s take a look at Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher in the MLB right now.
First, Kershaw starts to turn and pivot on his left foot. While doing this, his hips follow his body and pivot 90 degrees to the left. His core muscles are tightening as he begins to torque his body. Then, with his right leg, he lifts his knee up to his chest while starting to bend his left knee. This motion is where his body torque is the greatest. As he lowers his right knee into his signature foot kick, he maintains the torque and builds some momentum. Then, he explodes off of the pitching rubber to throw a perfect pitch. In this explosive motion, he unravels his body towards the batter, releasing the energy stored in the beginning of his motion. Additionally, the momentum from this foot kick allows him to follow through with more velocity. The torque in his motion comes from the natural turning motion as well as his final “cock-back” motion. This complete motion allows him to average between 93 mph and 95 mph since 2008. His motion and torque usage has allowed him to use high velocity as a weapon.
Now that we’ve defined body torque, let’s take a look at some interesting examples of using torque. First, let’s look at Charlie Morton. Morton was initially drafted out of Joel Barlow HS in Redding, CT in the 3rd round of the 2002 entry draft by the Atlanta Braves. He broke into the majors in 2008 with the Braves, but was traded a year later to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After fruitless years in Pittsburgh where he flashed brilliance but couldn’t stay healthy, he was traded to Philadelphia. Finally, he signed with the eventual World Series winning Houston Astros in 2016, where he closed Game 7 in 2017. What makes Morton so interesting is his increase in velocity. From 2008 to 2015, Morton’s fastball velocity has been between 91 mph and 93 mph. His motion looked like this:
We can see that he has a Roy Halladay-esque shoulder tuck. Additionally, he compresses his body decreasing the amount of torque he gets. If he stood up straighter, he could gain more body torque, due to his size. Furthermore, the shoulder tuck pushes his glove hand, his left shoulder, and therefore his chest down. With this motion, he must put extra force into his right arm and shoulder. This can lead to serious injury to his throwing shoulder. So, standing up taller and using his size, could allow him to avoid injury and possibly increase his velocity. Let’s take a look at his pitching motion now:
Even in the stretch we can see that he does not tuck his shoulder. Additionally, he is standing significantly taller. His chest is up and open towards the third basemen. As he turns towards home plate, his motion is fluid and quick. His motion allows him to be quick to the plate as well as make use of the strong core torque he has due to his size. Even though he does not explode off of the rubber like Tim Lincecum, he is forceful and pitches off the rubber with meaning. This new and improved pitching motion has allowed him to increase his fastball velocity to between 96 mph and 100 mph – a whopping 5 mph increase. This increase is all due to him standing up straighter in order to utilize his core muscles more.
With this example, I believe that there is a proto-form to this style of pitching, and it belongs to Tim Lincecum. Lincecum was drafted 10th overall out of the University of Washington in 2006 by the San Francisco Giants. His nickname aptly describes his pitching motion and method: he is The Freak. The 3-time World Series champion may not be in his prime anymore, but when he was pitching with confidence, he was impossible to hit. His accolades include 2 Cy Young awards and 4 All-Star appearances.
When Lincecum broke into the league, his fastball velocity was at a whopping 95 mph on a daily basis. His motion allowed him to do that:
With an extreme turn so that his back is facing the batter, he wound his core muscles up to increase his body torque. Then, he released his stored torque in an explosive delivery off of the mound. However, as he continued on in his career, his velocity began to decrease. His pitching motion began to wear on him. In 2008, he averaged between 94 mph and 97 mph. The next year, his velocity fell to between 93 and 95 mph. In 2013, his velocity fell so much, he was barely hitting 93 mph. His motion was so violent and body tasking. With the amount of force he exerted, his ability to throw with force decreased. As many people pointed out in 2013 and 2014, Lincecum had lost his Cy Young touch. His athleticism was not up to snuff for him to continue pitching at such a high velocity. However, we can learn from Lincecum. He has the formula to pitching hard: high core torque, arm strength, and explosiveness off the rubber.
With Lincecum’s formula, I can point out two pitchers who use it best: Felipe Vàzquez and Aroldis Chapman. Both Vàzquez and Chapman are of a different breed than Lincecum. Lincecum was a starting pitcher, but Vàzquez and Chapman are closers. That means that Vàzquez and Chapman pitch more often for less daily innings. Additionally, their goal is to pitch through one inning, usually the ninth. Vàzquez and Chapman are very similar – both are left handed pitchers who have a fiery fastball that hits 100 mph consistently and both have a devastating slider to use in conjunction with their fastball.
Vàzquez has had an interesting ride to the major league. He was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays as an amateur free agent in 2008. Back then, he was known as Felipe Rivero. After a few years in rookie ball in the Tampa system, he was traded to the Washington Nationals in 2014. He made his way through the Nationals minor league system until he broke into the major leagues in 2016. He was then traded to the Pirates for long-time reliever and then closer Mark Melancon. Before the beginning of this season, he changed his surname from Rivero to Vàzquez, his sister’s surname. Beyond his transactions, Rivero has seen steady improvement in his velocity. In 2015, his fastball was clocked between 93 mph and 100 mph, a promising sign for a young reliever. Over the next two years, he honed in his skill while developing secondary pitches. His velocity grew to be between 97 mph and 103 mph. Let’s take a look at Vàzquez’s motion:
Vàzquez has a compact delivery. His motion is very simple: quick knee lift to help create core torque, reaching back with left arm to help build momentum, then a quick side-arm delivery while rotating his shoulders and hips towards home plate. The arm strength necessary to repeat this motion is insanely high. However, if we go back to the Lincecum formula, Vàzquez is missing a piece: explosiveness off of the mound. Even though Vàzquez is missing this part of his delivery, his ability to reach back behind his head makes up for the lack of explosiveness. Thus, Vàzquez is able to consistently throw an extremely hard fastball with relative ease.
Vàzquez’s counterpart in flame-throwing fastballs is Aroldis Chapman. Chapman, nicknamed the Cuban Missile, was signed as an amateur free agent by the Cincinnati Reds in 2010. He broke into the MLB that year, and stayed with the Reds until he was traded to the New York Yankees in 2015. The next year, he was moved to the eventual World Series winners, the Chicago Cubs. After winning a World Series in 2016, he was granted free agency and return to the Yankees to be their closer. Chapman has always had an extremely hard fastball. His fastball is so fast that he holds the current record for the fastest pitcher ever thrown in a major league game. Beyond his record, he has been able to throw an extremely effective fastball due to his motion. In 2010, his fastball was clocked between 99 mph and 103 mph. His velocity has stayed above 100 mph since then. Let’s take a look at his motion:
Using the Lincecum formula, we see that Chapman fills all of the requirements. First, he has high core torque. His high knee raise coupled with a slight turn towards second base allows him to create a body torque. This torque is slightly capped due to his shoulder tuck and him squeezing his body. This pitfall can be seen in clearly in Charlie Morton’s former motion. However, for Chapman, this is a plus since it allows him to control his motion. As a young pitcher, Chapman had minimal control of his fastball. With this “squeeze,” he can gain control of his motion to locate his fastball. The second part of the Lincecum formula is high arm strength. Chapman’s nickname of the Cuban Missile serves him well as his arm strength is unparalleled in comparison to other closing pitchers. Furthermore, he increases his velocity by reaching back behind his body in his motion. This “cock-back” motion helps increase the momentum in his motion. Combining this momentum with extremely high core torque, Chapman has two-thirds of the Lincecum formula to pitching with high velocity. The final component of the formula is an explosive step off of the rubber. Chapman’s motion has him hurling himself towards home plate and then off towards the third base bag. This stride may not be as explosive as Lincecum’s, but it has enough movement to allow him to unload all his torque and momentum in order to create a high velocity pitch. Chapman’s pitching motion has all three components of the Lincecum formula, and when executed properly, Aroldis Chapman is arguably the best closer currently in the major league.
High core torque in pitching is a must nowadays. Younger pitchers like Mike Foltynewicz and Tyler Glasnow are using high core torque to pitch with extremely high velocity. With an influx of high velocity pitchers in most major league rotations and bullpens, we could be witnessing an ideology shift in major league pitchers.