WHIP, Pitch and Stride Angle

It's sometimes a mystery why some pitchers succeed, while others struggle.

Take 30 year-old Barry Zito, for instance. A Cy Young winner in 2002, Barry is being paid $14 million this year (out of a $126 million seven-year contract) by the Giants, but is now struggling with a 1-9 win-loss record, an ERA of 5.87 and a WHIP of 1.84.

Meanwhile, his teammate, 23 year-old Tim Lincecum is being paid $405,000 and has a 7-1 record, with a 2.23 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP (Walks, Hits per Innings Pitched).

Is the difference purely mental, or did the Giants overlook something when they signed Zito?

Something was overlooked.

Stride Angle

As a pitcher strides toward the plate, he stretches the opening between his front and back legs, forming an angle we call the Stride Angle.

Here is Zito's Stride Angle when he played for the Oakland A's, and now as he pitches for the Giants.

Zito Oakland A's Zito SF Giants

There does not seem to be anything wrong—until you compare Zito to some of the great baseball pitchers from the past. Nolan Ryan, for instance, had a Stride Angle of 120° and the greatest number of career strikeouts: 5,714.

Nolan Ryan Barry Zito

Satchel Paige, another pitching great, had a Stride Angle of 125°.

Satchel Paige Barry Zito

Sandy Koufax, a southpaw like Zito, also had a Stride Angle of 125°. His 12-year career had a cumulative WHIP of just 1.106. His Win-Loss stats for his last four years are legendary: 25-5, 19-5, 26-8 and 27-9, all with a WHIP under .986. When pictured next to Koufax, you can see that Zito is very restricted in his hips and legs.

Sandy Koufax Barry Zito

Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver pitched for 20 years to age 42, thanks to a Stride Angle of 135°. Seaver won three Cy Young awards and once struck out ten opposing players in a row. Zito's Stride Angle pales in comparison.

Tom Seaver Barry Zito

Currently, Greg Maddux, who is 6-0 against the Giants, also has a Stride Angle of 135°. He won more games in the 1990's than any other pitcher, winning the Cy Young in four consecutive years with a combined ERA of only 1.98. His WHIP for his 23-year career so far is 1.141. You can see the enormous difference in the length of their stride toward the plate. It is easy to imagine how the restriction in his hips restricts Zito's ability to generate speed on his pitch.

Greg Maddux Barry Zito

Pictured next to Juan Marichal, with his Stride Angle of 164°, you begin to see just how difficult it must be for Zito to strike out opposing batters. Marichal, on the other hand, threw 2,303 strikes in his career, with only 709 walks. His 16-year career WHIP was only 1.10l

Juan Marichal Barry Zito

Finally, when you compare Zito to Warren Spahn, with his Stride Angle of 165°, you realize why Zito's performance has declined since he won the Cy Young in 2002. In his 21-year career, Spahn had a WHIP of 1.195, pitching a 23-7 year at age 42, and winning a total of 363 games, the most of any pitcher in the modern live ball era.

Warren Spahn Barry Zito

Why is Stride Angle Important?

The Stride Angle is important for two reasons.

First, you can make a longer stride toward the plate. This will allow your body to reach a higher speed at foot plant. As you plant your foot, your legs and hips suddenly stop moving forward, just as your car does when you slam on the brakes. When you slam on your brakes, you notice that your passengers are suddenly thrown forward. The same thing happens to the upper body of the pitcher. As his lower body stops, his upper body is accelerated forward. This forward acceleration of the upper body effortlessly generates force that is delivered to the ball by the arm.

With a short forward stride, the pitcher just does not have enough time to get up to speed. When he plants his foot, his lower body is moving slowly toward the plate, there is very little deceleration, and his upper body is not able to contribute much force to the pitch.

But the Stride Angle is important in pitching for another reason. It indicates the overall flexibility of the hips.

The legs and hips are the main source of power in pitching. Baseball players say that someone has a great arm, but in reality, great pitchers have great legs and hips. It's just that in baseball, as in all sports, players and coaches tend to focus on the part of the body closest to the ball, bat or club.

It takes a great deal of force to throw the ball 90+ mph. Force = Mass X Acceleration. The legs and hips have a much greater mass than a pitcher's arm. Accelerating these large masses creates the force a pitcher needs to throw heat.

If a pitcher's hips and legs are stiff, he cannot generate force with the large parts of his body because he cannot accelerate them.

Besides moving the lower body toward the plate and accelerating the upper body, the other role of the legs is to rotate the hips as fast as possible. The force generated by the rotation of the hips is added to kinetic force of the forward-moving body and the rotation of the trunk to power the pitch. If the legs and hips are stiff, the legs cannot rotate the hips very fast and the pitcher has to rely on the small muscles of his trunk and arm for power. This tires the arm muscles and makes it difficult to control the ball. It also makes the shoulder stiff over time, which is why Zito's performance has fallen off since winning the Cy Young in 2002.

This is why all great pitchers have Stride Angles well over 100°. The flexibility in their legs and hips allows them to easily and quickly rotate their hips, saving their arm and shoulder muscles for ball control. The power generated by their legs and hips enables them to pitch with speed, and by reducing the stress on their arm, allows them to throw accurately and have long, successful careers.

Zito's Teammates

You can see the relationship between Stride Angle and performance even among Zito's teammates. Here we rank five of the Giants' pitchers according to their WHIP (Walks, Hits per Innings Pitched), and also list their Stride Angle.

NameWHIPStride Angle
Barry Zito1.8478
Noah Lowry1.5590
Matt Cain1.38100 
Tim Lincecum1.27115
Keiichi Yabu1.09135

Notice that there is a direct relationship between WHIP and Stride Angle in this group of pitchers. The bigger their Stride Angle, the lower their WHIP.

Here are photos of the Giants' pitchers in this group.

Barry Zito Noah Lowry

Matt Cain Tim Lincecum


Keiichi Yabu

What Can Be Done?

It should be clear by now that there is a direct relationship between Stride Angle and pitching performance and longevity. The bigger the Stride Angle, the better the performance. The bigger the Stride Angle, the longer the career.

The next question is: does increasing the Stride Angle improve performance?

The answer is that it does.

Here are some before and after photos of Stanford pitcher David Verduzco.

Before After

As we increased Dave's Stride Angle from 104° to 112°, his fastball went from 88 to 92 mph. By contrast, Zito's fast ball is in the low to mid 80's as a result of his 78° Stride Angle.

Because his more flexible legs and hips contributed more power to his pitch, Dave was able to use his arm muscles more for control. As a result, his percentage of strikes thrown rose from 50% to 64%. He also reported that he tired less and was able to pitch longer into the game.

How do we increase Stride Angle?

Pitchers have small Stride Angles because microfibers (a mild form of scar tissue) have developed in the connective tissue between the muscles of the legs and hips, binding them together. Because they are scar tissue, microfibers cannot be released by stretching. Pitchers who have microfibers in the connective tissue surrounding the muscles of their legs and hips think that they are 'naturally' stiff, while pitchers who have not developed many microfibers think they are 'naturally' loose. The pitchers with few microfibers find that stretching helps improve their flexibility. Pitchers with microfibers find that it does not.

Normally, the connective tissue membranes (white) between the muscles (red) are smooth. They allow the muscles to slide past each other, which they have to do in order to stretch.

But when you have even a mild injury (falls on court), overuse (lifting weights, running) or stress , microfibers form as part of the healing process to immobilize the area. Microfibers are nature's internal cast.

Unfortunately, once the area has healed, the microfibers not only do not go away, they tend to accumulate over time, making athletes stiffer with age.

We release these microfibers with Microfiber Reduction, our proprietary form of connective tissue massage. As you can see here, Microfiber Reduction improves flexibility far beyond what stretching alone can do.


Before Microfiber Reduction

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After Microfiber Reduction

Conclusion

Baseball teams that want to improve the performance of their pitching staff should make sure that every pitcher in the rotation, on the bench and in their farm system has at least a 120° Stride Angle. This will insure that they can pitch with both speed and control for years to come.

Baseball teams should never sign pitchers with a Stride Angle less than 120°, regardless of their past performance, unless they have the means to increase their Stride Angle.