Throwing Like a Tim Lincecum

By James Fallows

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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