Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services

November 1997 Coach and Athletic Director

The Marshall plan for pitching
Coach and Athletic Director
November 1997

As a Cy Young Award winner, Mike Marshall put the art into relief pitching.

As a Ph.D., he added science to the art.

COACH:  What kind of pitcher were you when you broke into major league baseball with Detroit in 1967?

MARSHALL:  I was a sinker-slider pitcher in only my second year as a pitcher.  I had been a minor-league shortstop before that.  With just a sinker and slider, I was just a relief pitcher who could come on and get righties out.

But, oddly, because I couldn't get left-handed hitters out, I started experimenting with my pitching.  I knew that if I was going to make a dent in this game I'd have to learn to get lefties out.  Since my slider, sinker, and fastball weren't good enough, I decided to develop a screwball.

I based the pitch on Daniel Bernouli's fluid-flow equation.  That is, to get the seams of the baseball to stay in the air about 70% of the time, instead of 12% as it does on a curveball.

Later on I borrowed a concept called the Magnus effect of Bernouli's fluid-flow equation - the principle that makes airplanes take off from the ground and turns them upside down.  When applied to the baseball, it makes the ball break toward the ground.

Conceptually, this was the beginning of my screwball.  I later used it to develop my airflow fastball and then my Magnus fastball.

COACH:  Where did all this science come from?

MARSHALL:  I started playing professional baseball mainly to finance my education.  I got a $20,000 signing bonus which I put aside for college.  When I arrived at Michigan State in 1964, I took a kinesiology class taught by Bill Heusner, a former college swimming coach.  He made Newton's Three Laws of Motion come to life for me.  It made so much sense!  As soon as I heard him talking about the law of inertia law of inertia, the law of acceleration, and the law of reaction, I knew I had found something I could use.

I'd love to tell you that all of this came quickly and easily to me because I'm a genius.  Not true.  It took me seven years (from 1964 to 1971) to figure it out, train myself to do it, and put it into play.

COACH:  Your career took a sharp upturn in 1972 when you became the outstanding relief pitcher in the National League, and culminated in 1974 .when you won the Cy Young Award for pitching 208 innings of relief in 106 games with a 2.42 ERA - winning 15 games and saving 21 others.  To what do you attribute that enormous development in your pitching?

MARSHALL:  I never said I was a fast learner.  It took me until 1971 to stick in the major leagues and stop getting bounced from the big club to the minors, because by then I had a pretty good bead on my screwball concept and could throw it with some command.

I did high-speed filming at the end of 1971 and figured out the final missing piece on throwing the screwball.  I filmed myself at 500 frames a second and found the serious flaw in my throwing motion that had prevented me from getting as much movement on the ball as I wanted to have.

I made the correction in the off-season, so by 1972 1 had it.  And boy, was major league baseball fun after that!  In 1971 I was 5-8 with a 4.30 ERA, then in 1972 I was 14-8 with a 1.78 ERA, and '73, and '74 were also terrific.

But I wasn't satisfied.  I wanted to do more, to win more. So I started working on a curveball after the 1974 season.

The big mistake I made was not thinking it through.  If I had, I would have followed Sir Isaac Newton's three laws of motion and Bernouli's fluid-flow equations.  Instead, I took the advice of various pitching coaches and tried to throw the curveball as they taught it.

During the off-season, I thought I was throwing a pretty good curveball.  I started the season and we were going great.  I pitched 15 innings against the Cincinnati Big Red Machine and just obliterated them!  I pitched 15 innings in five games and they didn't get much off of me.

Then it happened.  In a game against San Francisco, I decided to really snap the curveball off against the hitter and I snapped it off so well that I broke a rib on my left side, pulled it right off the sternum.

It was my technique.  My coaches had taught me the wrong technique, and that, combined with my gung-ho work-everyday, get-as-strong-as-you-can-get-attitude, produced the kind of stress my body couldn't tolerate.

Believe it or not, I didn't learn how to throw a curveball until 1988, when I was out of baseball for seven years.  Now, at 54 years old, I now have an outstanding curveball.  Maybe I don't have major league velocity, but I can really rip a curveball today because I know how to do it without injury!

COACH:  When did you earn your Ph.D.?

MARSHALL:  I went to Michigan State for my bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. I was so impressed with the faculty that I stayed and earned all my advanced degrees there.  My professors in anatomy, physiology, psychology, kinesiology, and exercise physiology were giants.  And they gave me incredible freedom to do research in high-speed filming.

They even bought equipment for me!  They did tremendous things to help me do the stuff that I wanted to do there as a graduate teaching assistant.

I was a graduate teaching assistant from 1965 to 1974.  They let me create courses and teach them myself!  I love being in the classroom.  I taught kinesiology courses, taught the structural analysis in human anatomy lab, was right in there with the cadavers.

I had a fabulous education, just fabulous, and I can't give enough thanks to the faculty and to the university for all that they did for me.

COACH:  As a pitcher, you had seven basic pitches, we believe.  What were they, and how many pitches do you believe the average college and high school pitchers should have in order to be effective?

MARSHALL:  My fastball was a tailing fastball - a third-base corner fastball.  I could not get a fastball to move to the first-base corner.

The screwball I could break to the right, straight down, or to the left.  And then I had a slider - a dinky little slider that wasn't real good, but that helped me get the ball in on the left-handers who were trying to punch me to left field.  I could bring that slider in under their hands and do a decent job of it.

My screwball was a bigger breaking-down pitch and proved very effective for me.

College and high school pitchers should be able to throw both the Magnus and the airflow fastballs so that they can throw to the pitching arm side of home plate, and have the ball move to that side.  They should also have a fastball to the nonpitching arm side of home plate, and have it move to that side.

What else?  I would say a curveball, and a sinker.

That's what I teach.  I'm working with 16, 17 year old kids down here at Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Service, and I teach them how to do all that, and it's remarkable how quickly they learn.

COACH:  Do you subscribe to the theory that college and high school pitchers are hurting their arms by trying to throw breaking balls?

MARSHALL:  Hey, I was a veteran major leaguer when I broke a rib trying to throw a curve!  But it's not the pitch that's the problem.  It's the technique.  If you don't know how to throw it, you can hurt yourself.

I am adamantly opposed to pre-teenage competitive pitching.  The elbow growth plates have not closed yet, they are still growing, and the stress put on them by pitching causes early closure of these plates and forever reduces the length and ability of the pitching arm.

I really believe that kids shouldn't pitch competitively until they are at least 15 years old and their medial epicondyle growth plate is completely matured.

When I take a young man on here at the school, I don't start working with him until he brings in his elbow X-ray and I make sure his medial epicondyle growth plate is completely matured.  If it's matured, I will work with him.  But I'm not going to take a chance on ruining a young arm.

COACH:  So it's safe to say that you have major reservations about the way pitchers are taught and handled these days?

MARSHALL:  I learned to throw according to according to the Newtonian principle that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  I reared back and I threw the ball straight toward home plate.

Most pitching coaches apparently never heard of Sir Isaac Newton.  They teach techniques that can only destroy the elbow and the shoulder.  They have the pitcher take the ball far behind the body, allow the arm to fly out, and come around in big circles.  The coaches have no understanding of the laws of physics and what is required to apply force to the ball.

Everybody thinks that I did what I did because I was some kind of physical freak.  I pitched 13 games in a row and pitched 208 innings of relief.  I could pitch every day without any pain or strain.

Everybody I teach now can do that.  I equip them with a broader base of pitches than I had because I now know so much more about them.

I've been coaching college pitchers since I stopped playing professional ball, and none of them has ever injured an arm.  They understand the laws of physics, they throw the ball straight, and they don't put unnecessary strain on their arms.

COACH:  Who do you think is the best manager of pitchers in the big leagues?

MARSHALL:  The best manager of pitchers I know, and he handles only one pitcher, is Greg Maddux.  Watch him.  He's no dummy.  He does not go out there that fourth time through the lineup.  Oh, he gets a slight charlie horse, his back tightens up, he gets a slight cramp, whatever.  Some little thing that won't bother him the next start.  So he just says, "That's it, I'm done."

Greg is at a point in his career when he can say that.  And he's also bright enough to say that.  I love to watch him pitch.  If he knows that he has something that can fool that batter the fourth day he'll go out there.  If he doesn't have it, he'll call it a day.

The secret of managing pitchers is taking them out before they have the bad inning, rather than after.

The thinking manager will say:  "I know what he can do, and I want to take him out before he has to do more than he can do."

Maddux understands all this.  Nobody else seems to.

COACH:  How much pitching do you still do, either working with your students or just on your own?

MARSHALL:  I train every day right along with my guys.  In fact, I've been pitching every year since I left major league ball, either in over-30 leagues or over-40 leagues, even in the over-50 league.  I pitched for the national championship in the over-50 league down in Fort Myers for the past three years.  I have a little arthritis, but I work out every day, jog every day, and still throw the ball as hard as I can every day.

I probably throw about 75, where I was throwing in the high 80's when I was playing.  But technique-wise, I have a better slider.  I don't throw the screwball much anymore, though.  It requires too much flexibility.

My curveball is probably my big out pitch, my slider is solid, my sinker is still pretty good.  So I can still go out there and go three times through the lineup and dazzle you with my footwork.

COACH:  From all your observations over the years, which pitchers have impressed you the most as craftsmen?

MARSHALL:  If you want to evaluate the quality of Greg Maddux's pitches, individually they're average.  But it's the way he uses them that's brilliant.

I don't get to see Mike Mussina as much, but he also uses his pitches brilliantly.  He understands how to pitch.  It's fun to watch him work.

As far as my contemporaries go, I enjoyed watching Andy Messersmith pitch, especially after he developed his change-up.  He had a great change-up, and he began using it on the first pitch.  A little story goes with that.

It goes back to when I was with the Expos and Gene Mauch was the manager.  Montreal had a pitcher named Ernie MacInally, who had a good change-up.  He was a decent pitcher but he didn't know how to pitch.  One day he asked me for advice and I told him to throw a first pitch change-up to a particular hitter.  Mauch, who had overheard this, came over to us and asked:  "What's that all about?  A first pitch change-up?  A change-up off of what?  You haven't thrown him the fastball yet."

I told him, "Gene, change-ups can live by themselves.  It's not a change-up off the fastball.  It's a change-up off the arm speed."

You can throw three change-ups in a row, you don't ever have to throw a fastball.  If the hitter sees the arm action and he thinks he's getting a fastball, he'll be looking fastball when he gets a change-up.

That was the lesson I taught Andy Messersmith.  He started throwing change-ups early in the count and still had plenty of fastball left if you slowed your bat down to get that change-up.

Check Andy Messersmith's record.  The year before I joined the Dodgers I think he was 14-14.  The year I joined the Dodgers I think he was 20-6.  And guess who finished second in the Cy Young balloting in 19747 Messersmith.  And he had a great year in 1975.

I can't stand watching Tom Glavine.  He doesn't even give in to the strike zone!  I can watch him for four or five pitches, then I have to turn it off, it's so boring.  It's ball, ball, ball, and he keeps throwing it until finally the umpire says the hell with this, we're gonna be here all night, I'll call it a strike.  Next thing you know you've got pitches six inches off the plate being called strikes.

I used to keep books on umpires just like I kept books on hitters.  You had to, because you had to know what a particular umpire was going to give you and what he wasn't.  It was ridiculous.  A pitch is either a strike or it's not, it shouldn't be left to the whim of the individual umpire.

COACH:  As you look at pitching in general, what kind of gut reaction do you have?  What do you particularly like and dislike?

MARSHALL:  Everybody is awed or intimidated by the radar gun, which is the biggest detriment to pitching there is.  If you can throw 90, you're signed.  If you can't, you're not.  That's a huge problem.

Pitchers should be signed on their ability to get hitters out.  Remember Randy Jones? He won the Cy Young in 1976.  I don't think he ever reached 80 mph.  Will there be another Randy Jones?  Another Tommy John?

I don't think so.  Because everybody goes by the radar gun.  If I owned an organization, the first thing I would do is get rid of the radar guns.

I have nothing against throwing the ball hard.  I train people to throw it as hard as they can.  But I spend equal time on all the pitches.  Too may guys think the only thing they have to do is throw hard.  They don't know how to pitch.  I'd throw the radar guns in the ocean and teach them how to pitch.

COACH:  So why haven't you been taken on as a pitching coach in the major leagues?

MARSHALL:  I believe I have a certain reputation in the big leagues.  Part of that comes from being "over-educated," part from doing things differently, and part from being right.

There's a "Peter Principle" among coaches and players, and they protect their own incompetence.  I'm a teacher.  That's what I studied to be.  And I'd love to coach pitching on the professional level.

But I have to be honest.  While I may have my differences with people in the majors, I'm not sad about anything.  Once I learned the right way to do it, pitching in major league baseball became a lot of fun.  I might even say a ball!

Happy Pitching Everybody

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