Pitchers tend to pitch their own way. Deliveries stay mainly the same throughout a player's career because it's such a hard thing to change. Altering the stance or the windup of a pitcher can throw the body completely out of motion. For that reason, you can see pitchers delivering the ball through whatever means necessary.
Some pitchers employ a sizable leg kick and others twist their hips so far it looks like they're about to break in half. Some, however, choose to release the ball at odd places. In this article, I'll highlight four pitchers who go the farthest out of their way to release the ball.
Nick Hagadone of the Indians commonly throws the ball from heights as far as seven feet above the ground. Louis Coleman of the Royals releases the ball so far right (left from catcher's perspective) that he often finds his feet planted a few feet away from the top of the mound. Ben Rowen of the Rangers throws the lowest submarine pitches since "Moneyball" Chad Bradford. Finally, Aaron Loup of the Blue Jays reaches as far as five feet left (right from catcher's perspective) when the ball flies out of his hand. All of them have found success at one point or another because of their unique release points.
Hagadone, a 6'5" lefty, has gone largely under the radar this season as a valuable reliever in Cleveland's bullpen. His arm action is the closest to what most pitchers in baseball do; the over-the-top release is generally favored because of its quick torque release. Because Hagadone stands taller than most pitchers in baseball, and because his arm stretches far above his head, he is often throwing down into the catcher's glove.
Through 19.1 innings in 2014, Hagadone has pitched to a 1.40 ERA and 79 FIP-, 21% better than the average pitcher. The three seasons prior, however, tell the story of someone who has been continually challenged. Once a top prospect in the Indians and Red Sox systems, Hagadone had fallen from grace after compiling -0.1 fWAR in his first three stints at the major league level.
As you can see from the chart above, Hagadone's release point centers just above seven feet. In fact, among all pitchers in 2014, Hagadone has thrown the most pitches from the height of 7'2" or taller with 86. Not only that, but 6.2% of all his pitches are thrown from over 7'4". All in all, Nick tops out at 7'7", a tremendous height to pitch down from. The photo on the right displays a 7'2" slider release against David Ortiz that results in a groundout (GIF). The massive downhill plane that Hagadone uses to freeze hitters has finally begun to work in his favor.
Coleman, the proprietor of a 7.48 ERA and consequent demotion to AAA, has imploded this season. He has lost all sense of control and command, bumping his walk rate up to 5.40 BB/9 and his strikeout rate down to 6.23 K/9. As a result, Coleman has struggled to stay afloat in the crowded Royals' bullpen. The answer to his problems may lie buried in his release point.
In 2013, just seven of Coleman's 420 pitches were released from over four feet to the right of the mound. In 2014 though, 76 of his 420 pitches (the exact same number of total pitches), or 18.1% have been released from over four feet right. Maintaining such a strange release point can only be detrimental as Coleman ventures further and further off balance. As you can see in the photo below, Coleman is nearly falling off-balance when he throws because his arm is dragging the rest of his body so far off the mound. 44.7% of pitches Coleman has thrown from over four feet off the mound have been balls.
Coleman's release points are literally off the charts. All four of his pitches are thrown from way past four feet and some have even reached past the five foot precipice. His 420 pitches this season have been thrown from an average of -3.712 feet to the right side of the mound. In the photo on the right, Coleman releases a -4.0' two-seamer (GIF) to David Freese, resulting in an amazing catch by Lorenzo Cain in the outfield.
Out of all four pitchers featured in this article, Rowen probably has the strangest arm action because he releases the ball only a mere two feet off the ground. In fact, upon watching his throwing motion for the first time, I thought he was about to throw a bowling ball because the two motions look so much alike. Fortunately, Rowen's low release point makes him a ground ball machine; he's amassed 65 ground outs to only 17 fly outs at AAA Round Rock. In limited work at the major league level (only 8.2 innings), he has compiled a 4.15 ERA and 2.90 FIP.
Regarded as possessing possibly the worst pitch repertoire in the minor leagues according to Baseball America, Ben Rowen makes up for it with his underhanded mechanics. He will often freeze batters at the plate because his arm action is so rare. While the popular consensus in baseball may be that Brad Ziegler has the more pronounced release, Rowen actually edges him by a sizable amount. Ziegler's average release point this year stands at 3.414 feet while Rowen's release point averages a minuscule 2.307 feet.
The diagram on the left graphs Rowen's release points this season, often measuring less than two feet off the ground. Of the 145 pitches he has thrown, 141 have been released from below 2'6", and he is the only player to have thrown from below 2'6" at all. In the photo on the right, Rowen utilizes his submarine arm action to induce a groundout (GIF).
Loup is basically the opposite of Louis Coleman. Whereas Coleman, a righty, pitches on the extreme right side of the mound, Loup, a lefty, pitches on the extreme left side. The difference is that the 5'11" pitcher has actually had sustained success in the MLB. For three years out of Toronto's bullpen, Loup has a 1.109 WHIP and 2.67 ERA over 158.2 innings. As we look closer at the data, we'll be able to see that the main thing Loup and Coleman have in common is that their control problems may stem from their release points.
In 2013, Loup had relatively superb control, walking only 1.7 batters every nine innings, but in 2014, he's jumped all the way to 4.3 BB/9. The problem may stem from the outlier pitches. By averaging all of Loup's pitches from 2013 and then from 2014, you wouldn't find a noticeable difference; however, the mean doesn't effectively take into account all of the extreme pitches. In 2013, Loup only threw 1.5% pitches from farther than 4'6" to the left of the mound. In 2014 though, Loup has thrown 9.1% of his pitches from farther than 4'6" to the left of the mound. As we seemed to see with Coleman, the farther away on the x-axis from the center of the mound a pitch is released, the less control the pitcher has over it. Of all 83 pitches from this year's selection, 57.8% have been balls.
The diagram on the left again shows that Loup's release points this year have been literally off the charts, often measuring more than five feet to the left of the mound (right from the catcher's perspective). In the photo on the right, Loup releases a fastball to Alex Gordon (GIF), which is then lined back into Loup's glove before Gordon is retired at first base.
Imagine a bullpen with access to all of these pitchers. Using them in quick succession in the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th innings would devastate batters as they try to get a handle on where the pitchers are coming from. All four have shown flashes of success in the MLB at one point or another. The trick is to get them to harness their unique release points and use it to their advantage. For Loup and Coleman in particular, practicing with the far-sided release more could help get their pitches under control. Just to capture the strange array of release points in MLB, I combined both Hagadone and Rowen, and Coleman and Loup's releases into two single pictures.
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