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Pitching sidearm in baseball can be a very effective tool for pitchers who wish to utilize the technique. In essence, a pitcher is considered sidearm when he throws the ball along a low, and horizontal axis.
This technique is obviously different from overhand pitchers who usually throw at high, vertical axis.
Besides pitchers, infielders will often times use a sidearm motion when throwing the ball to first. They use a sidearm motion on difficult running plays when they are forced to stay low to the ground.
Also, it's common to see shortstops or second baseman who will use a sidearm motion when turning a double play. This throwing technique for fielders is common at all competitive levels of baseball. However, sidearm pitchers are seen much less frequently.
Sidearm pitchers, who are also referred to as "sidewinders", are not typically seen at most levels of baseball in America. Moreover, sidewinders are very popular in Japan.
There are several reasons why sidearm throwing is often times discouraged, and rarely taught to young developing pitchers.
Common beliefs about sidearm pitching
Many coaches and supposed pitching experts will rarely advocate for pitchers throwing sidearm. They discourage it because they believe that it's difficult to have efficient pitching mechanics when throwing from the side, and as a result, pitchers will not throw fast.
This belief has proven to be correct because it is common pitching knowledge that higher release points use gravity to accelerate the ball, even with air resistance working to slow it down.
Sidearm pitching velocity is slower because of three forces working against the ball.
When the ball is released from the horizontal plane it is affected by gravity as it ascends downward, increased distance because of a higher arc, and air resistance. There is no doubt that sidearm pitchers will see reduced velocity.
But as we all know, pitching velocity does not necessarily equate to success out on the mound.
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Natural movement from sidearm pitchers?
While it's established that the sidearm technique will result in less velocity, it's also well known that sidearm pitchers have much more natural movement on their pitches, and can be much extremely deceiving to the opposing batters.
Pitches thrown from a sidearm thrower will often times have exceptional natural movement.
Typically, a four-seam fastball has the least amount of movement for overhand throwers, but sidearm pitchers will see a considerate amount of tail or sink when throwing this pitch.
Right-handed sidearm pitchers fastballs will tail or run into the inner half of the plate on a right-handed batter.
Good sidearm pitchers are able to release the ball so that it starts behind the right-handed batter, appears to be moving towards the middle of the plate, but ends up inside.
This ability is what makes this arm slot so deceiving for batters. In addition, hitters are used to seeing pitchers throw over the top, so seeing a new arm slot is difficult to pick up.
This movement and deception can be achieved by sidearm pitchers with a four seam fastball alone, but when they incorporate other pitches such as two seam fastballs, sliders, and cutters, they can become almost unstoppable.
Two seam fastballs from a side arm slot will result in even more movement than the four seam.
Is pitching sidearm safe?
This question is very common among pitching experts. Some instructors will purposely oppose sidearm pitching because of the supposed stress that it puts on the throwing arm. Other instructors believe that by throwing sidearm, pitchers are actually reducing the stress on the throwing arm.
There is no consensus in the pitching community about its dangers. I believe that pitchers should throw from an arm slot that feels natural to them.
Many pitching instructors will force the over the top throwing motion because it is the most commonly used, and will produce the most potential velocity. However, some pitchers naturally throw from a lower arm slot.
In this instance, instructors should not force the higher arm slot, but should instead work on developing the mechanics of the sidearm pitcher. With efficient sidearm mechanics, there is no reason that there should be any stress on the arm.
And to be clear, throwing sidearm does not necessarily entail throwing submarine. Throwing submarine is a whole different category, but a 3/4 arm slot is still considered sidearm. Randy Johnson is a perfect example of a pitcher who throw from a low arm slot, but could still throw over 100 mph.
Famous sidearm pitchers
Sidearm pitchers are not frequently seen at the higher competitive levels of baseball in America, but there have been some very good sidewinders who have pitched in the MLB. Most of the pitchers are converted into relief pitchers, but there have been some very successful starting pitchers who have thrown from the side.
Old timers including Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige, Don Drysdale, and Dizzy Dean were very successful with low arm slots. Some other notable sidearm pitchers include Scott Feldman, Pat Neshek, Scott Sauerbeck, Dennis Eckersly, Mark Eichhorn, Javier Lopez, and Jake Peavy.
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