by Mark Sweeney
Founder, AimPoint Golf
I asked a former major-league baseball pitcher what his target was when he was throwing a pitch, the release point or the catcher’s glove. He said from his experience in both pitching and coaching that when throwing a curve ball for example, he tended to pick a target on the batter in order for the ball to end up over the strike zone. The difference between the release point and the intended target represents the movement of the ball during the throw. When I play a game of catch I know that I have to release, or start, the ball at a certain height above my partner’s head if I want to hit him in the chest. Why? Gravity of course, in exactly the same way that we manage break in putting.
When a baseball is thrown it falls vertically in response to gravity and traces a downward arc through the air towards the plate. Similarly as a putt rolls to the hole it falls also, just closer to a horizontal plane, and traces an arc sideways towards the hole. The amount of drop for a baseball is largely controlled by time, the same way as the break of a putt. The harder your throw a baseball the less drop you have to account for, and the harder you hit a putt the less break you have to account for.
In these series of videos you will see a little league pitcher trying to balance his release point with the speed of his pitch. In the first video he releases the ball too high and it crosses the plate above the strike zone.
The second pitch he overcompensates and releases the ball too low, about 5 feet lower than the previous one, and the ball hits the ground too early in front of the plate.
The third pitch he matches his release point to the speed of his pitch and throws a strike. Notice his release point is about 3 feet higher than the low pitch.
In all of these videos the pitcher could have changed the speed of his throw to match his release point and still throw strikes. In the first video with the high release, he could have thrown the ball softer and given it more time to fall the extra few feet into the strike zone. And in the second video he could have released it low but thrown it harder to take time out of the pitch. But instead, as an amateur pitcher, he tries to maintain constant speed and simply change his release point to isolate the pitch to fewer variables and make it more manageable.
While putting we have a little bit of flexibility to change speed, but unlike baseball, when we increase the speed of the putt we make the target smaller so we are penalized for doing so. In fact at a certain speed the hole completely disappears because the ball is moving too fast to fall in.
Throwing a baseball is a parallel with putting, because your initial target is different from the final target because the ball is being acted on by gravity along its journey. As pitchers start to throw more advanced pitches, aerodynamics will also effect the path of the ball. And depending on the time, or speed of the ball, there can be different initial targets, or release points, that hit the desired target. Throwing a ball to a specific target and putting across a slope into a 4″ wide hole are both exercises in balancing ball speed and the drop of gravity, and challenge the players ability to both predict the correct starting line and actually start the ball on this line. Knowing the correct target before hitting the putt will dramatically increase your accuracy, that’s where AimPoint starts.