Throwing Like a Tim Lincecum


Fifteen years ago, in an article called "Throwing Like a Girl," I described the "kinetic chain" involved in producing a "proper" baseball throw -- or a tennis stroke or serve, or a football pass, or even a swing with a golf club or a baseball bat. The idea of the "chain" is that energy passes progressively from the larger and heavier parts of the body to the smaller, lighter parts, and as it does the velocity eventually imparted to the ball (racket, bat) continues to increase. It's the same principle as playing crack-the-whip. As I've mentioned before, this article was more interesting and fun to do than any other I've written for the magazine -- so far.

Back then, 1000 frame-per-second cameras didn't exist.* Now they do, and if you would like the clearest possible visual illustration of how the kinetic chain works, you can check out this Red Bull-sponsored super slo-mo clip of the Giants' Tim Lincecum throwing the ball. If you watch the 30-second long, one-pitch sequence starting about 15 seconds in, you will see the momentum building up as Lincecum rotates first his legs toward the plate, then his hips and torso, then his shoulders, then his upper arm, each moving faster and faster as they transfer energy to his forearm, his wrist and hand, and finally the ball. The perfection of this chain is how someone as relatively short and slight as Lincecum can throw so hard.

For more from, see here. For a slo-mo (but not 1000 fps) shot of Randy Johnson's throwing motion, go here. If it weren't stormy, and nighttime at the moment, I would go out and play catch with someone. (Thanks to Mike Carlson, of the Atlantic's extended family, for the lead.)

After the jump: bonus summary, from the original article, of the three major cues that distinguish a "bad," "throwing like a girl" pitch from a proper one.

What are the three crucial elements of throwing "like a girl" -- or "like a poor male athlete," in the words of the female coach of a college softball team whom I quote in the story?

1) Body directed straight-on toward the target as the throw begins, rather than turned 90 degrees (or more) away;

2) Elbow lower than shoulder as your arm comes forward;

3) Wrist inside elbow (closer to your head) as you release the ball and/or palm facing up, giving a pushing rather than hurling motion. Now you know.

* It turns out that such cameras "existed." It would have been better to say, "were not in common use." Info here. Thanks to former guest blogger Tony Comstock.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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