I’ve received more than one question about pitcher hand position—what direction a pitcher’s hand should be facing at various points around the arm circle. Today I’m going to break that down, and also point out the overall arm position at various points in the motion as it relates to timing.
An Important Note About Teaching Pitcher Hand Position
I don’t want to say hand position doesn’t matter, because that’s not true. Poor enough hand position can definitely cause problems. However, if you’re a beginner pitching coach or a parent trying to teach your daughter how to pitch, I would strongly advise that you not emphasize hand position too much. Getting proper forearm fire (arm whip) is much more important. When a pitcher has a feel for that, good hand position is likely to follow naturally. You can also get away with slight variations in hand position and still have excellent forearm fire.
Nonetheless, proper hand position is good to know. And, if a young learning pitcher just can’t seem to get a feel for forearm fire, hand position could be a contributing factor and breaking it down could be helpful. Additionally, arm position timing, which we will also discuss, is extremely important.
Diagramming Proper Pitcher Hand Position
Pitcher hand position is an area that is likely to present a lot of conflicting information. What I’m about to present is what we at Fastpitch Power feel is optimal. So you don’t just have to take my word for it, I thought the best thing to do would be to show examples from three pitchers who all throw over 70 miles per hour. Can’t argue with that speed!
Monica Abbot: Team USA pitcher (shown here pitching for Toyota in Japan). Abbott recently broke the speed record for a single pitch.
Yukiko Ueno: Japanese national team pitcher. Ueno regularly approaches 75mph and has been considered the fastest pitcher overall in women’s softball.
Jillian Schonberg: former Fastpitch Power student and current Fastpitch Power instructor in the Philadelphia area. Cruised around 70mph in her heyday.
As you can see, I’ve highlighted the same four points in the motion for each pitcher. These are the key points to hit with optimal hand/arm position for the greatest chance of success. Let’s break them down:
HAND POSITION: This is the reach stage of the pitch. Here, the ball is facing inward so that if the pitcher were to touch her hands together, the ball (and only the ball—no part of her hand) would be touching her glove. We call this “handshake position.” Simply, it’s the position your hand would be in if you were to reach out and shake hands with your catcher. Incidentally, the whole arm should also take on the relaxed manner of a handshake.
If you watch a lot of great pitchers, this is the position at which you will see the most variation. Technically, if you hit the remaining three positions correctly, position 1 doesn’t matter as much. HOWEVER, we strongly encourage learning pitchers to use the handshake position at the reach stage because it encourages the shoulder to relax and the elbow to point downward, preventing arm lock. Every elite pitcher has a good feel for arm whip, and can generate that whip no matter how her hand starts out—sometimes those pitchers will even intentionally manipulate their hands at the beginning for deception, or to throw different pitches. Most learning pitchers cannot boast that ability, and the handshake position will make things as simple as possible for them.
TIMING: As the pitching arm reaches forward and covers the target, the stride leg and glove move the same way. Yukiko Ueno is outstanding and I wouldn’t tell her what to do, but if you’re a young pitcher I’d recommend modeling this stage of your motion after Monica or Jillian: hands and stride leg all reaching for the target in sync.
This is the “K” position that so many pitching coaches talk about. As you can see, the body forms the letter K. The arm is relaxed with a slight bend in the elbow, ball facing out—toward the third base line for Jillian and Yukiko who are righties, first base line for Monica who’s a lefty. The arm is at 12 o’clock and the stride leg is still in the air, but on its way down.
I included this one mostly for timing; as you can see, ball/hand position does not change much between positions 2 and 3. When the stride foot touches down, the arm should be between 11 and 10 o’clock (the clock is backwards for Monica). This is key. If the arm is at 9 o’clock or lower when the foot touches, the pitch will have little power. Higher and the arm will be too slow. Notice how the elbow is leading the arm down the back of the circle. This is ESSENTIAL for good forearm fire.
HAND POSITION: As the elbow pulls down toward the hip (notice the slight increase in bend), the palm of the hand rotates upward so that the ball is beginning to face the sky. There is a bit of wiggle room here; if you’ve got great shoulder flexibility, you may be able to get your palm fully rotated toward the sky. If that causes ANY tension in your arm, rotating about 45 degrees (halfway) to the sky is perfectly fine. As these three pitchers whip their forearms from this position, their hands naturally snap downward and then flip over rapidly as the ball leaves the hand.
TIMING: Notice how their glove arms correspond with their pitching arms. The two arms drop together for timing and balance. The drive through finishes in sync with this action as well.
Please let me know if you have any questions!