Steve Shifflett: Former MLB pitcher, Kansas City Royals

 

Why did I start side arm delivery?

When I was signed I threw over the top. About 84-86 MPH. I had a lot of movement and threw a sinker. I quickly found that there is a lot of great talent out there. I thought the only guys that threw harder probably didn’t have control or was wild. Not the case! My first year of professional ball I cracked the starting rotation at very end of year. I threw 5 different pitches over the top. FB-CB-SL-CH-FK

 

The next spring training I was told up front I would not be a starter. I knew I needed a gimmick to stay alive but didn’t know what it would be. During Spring Training the head of player development saw me pitch and said I had a good sinker and I said I ought to try throwing down low and see what it would do. That’s all he said. I knew then that would be my gimmick!

 

I do not feel I would have lasted another year if I had stayed over the top…..

 

How I started. I would wait till I had two strikes or ahead of the count then I would work in a sidearm fast ball. Later I would work a slider as well. In lower levels (single A) it worked very well by all-star break I was 50/50 sidearm.

 

The best mechanics, I found, was to use my overhand delivery and just tilt my back shoulder down(throwing arm). This worked well and lost NO speed. Easier on elbow and shoulder. I found that the two seam while trying to keep the ball spinning level. -------?

 

 

Would get the best consistent movement . “Down and in on right or Down or away on lefty’s)

The next off season I added a strait change(circle) and became exclusively sidearm by the next season. It gave right handed hitters a very late look at the ball plus the movement kept a lot of ground balls. The slider was sweeping and was tough on right handers. I would throw more change ups to lefties. To keep them from leaning out on the fastball away.

 

What I found.

For me mixing side arm and over the top worked well in lower levels but in the upper levels more often than not it tipped off a slider coming if ahead of the count or a fb if behind. Easier to hit, so I stayed full time sidearm.
Mechanics should feel natural, actually more natural than over the top. That’s because it is closer to arms natural rotation. That why in fast pitch softball one or two pitchers is all you will need for the whole season? Never hear of arm problems.

 

What do professional coaches think?

Most coaches will tell you “ you will have good success against same handed hitters and struggle against opposite ones……” Your fastball will ride in on righty’s and slider will be hard, down and away(sweeping). You will also hide the ball longer to same handed hitters. ….But….. opposite handed hitters(lefties for me)will see the ball longer, fast ball will float into hitting zone when trying to go inside and since slider is flat much easier for lefties to hit…..

 

You will always have to prove you can pitch to lefties; most professional teams can put 6 to 7 lefties at any one line up if they think there is a weakness…..

 

Coaches will also put you into the category of (easy to steal against)

 

Majority of side-armers swing arm back at start of delivery then go forward giving runners an early jump.

 

How did I combat the coach’s pre conceptions?

Kansas City had submarine pitcher Dan Quizenberry come and talk to me once. I asked him how did you pitch to left handers. He said (for him) lefties were always more difficult what he found was to stop trying to do things you’re not good at and stay true to yourself. He would use his movement and let the ball go down and away he said sure you get hit once in a while but when he tried to beat lefties inside is when he would give up the long hits he was fine with the sprayed singles lefties would hit having to go opposite field.

 

The higher levels you go the tougher lefties will be. In college /high school I seen side arm guys eat up lefties with sliders inside and freeze them on fb inside. The further you go the harder that will be. It still works but must be set up first.

 

I took what he said and put my spin on it. For me, the reason you have to throw inside is to keep people honest and stop them from leaning over the plate driving the ball to center and opposite field. I used my strait change to help accomplish that. If a hitter leans out over the plate on a change they will roll the ball over i.e.(ground ball) so I would mix in a lot of change ups to lefties, which I think kept them from leaning. I would watch their feet to see if they crept up on the plate. Then I would be able to throw a fastball inside or slider inside. You still need to do it but get them leaning first much safer.

 

(Secret) Hitters always step into the box the same way, the same spot. It is a force of habit. I was always aware of where hitter’s feet were while getting into the batter’s box. Because, then if they move their feet again after settling in, I know they are trying to guess the next pitch and I will pitch against it. Actually that was my goal to get them to move their feet. Ex. If you throw enough sliders away the hitter will generally start guessing and creep in on the plate to give him a better chance at the outside. Then I watch for that and usually I could jamb him inside and get a double play ball or ground ball.

 

Slow to the plate and easy to steal-----Coaches automatically assume you are slow to the plate when throwing side arm but that’s not true at least if you use your same mechanic just tip your shoulder down. Basically not changing from over the top time .

 

Lefties will always hit you!------In general , lefties are better hitters no matter what angle you throw.

 

But I can tell you without ever seeing a pitcher pitch if he is better against opposite handed hitters or same handed. …If a pitcher tells me his best pitch is a screw ball or change he will generally always do better against opposite handed. Those pitches work better for opposite hand not as well to same handed. If slider is what they are known for they probably struggle or not as good to opposite hand. If a good over the top curve is their out pitch they generally are as successful against both.

 

Would I recommend changing to side arm? Tricky question- For me I would not have had the success or longevity if I had not changed . But I have seen the other side as well….. I had become noticed for my success as a side arm pitcher in the Royal system . A roommate of mine in single A threw ¾ arms and was successful. I moved to double a level the next year, he went to high A. Through first half season I was in the top 3 of ALL minors league pitchers all levels in ERA. The Royals office seen that and decided to take my friend and make him lower his angle , he did. The difference was he never was a ground ball pitcher and the arm angle in itself does not create ground balls. I was getting ground balls over the top too. It’s more of life of pitch with location and movement. My friend resented the change since he was successful already his way. It did not work he had his worst year. Ended confused on what to do and out of pro ball in a year….

 

I think the difference was, I knew I needed to change ,to set myself apart. For me competing on the same playing field as other pitchers over the top I would lose every time. Switching to side arm made me different . The right handed advantage I received over shadowed the early difficulties facing left handers.

 

My friend threw 87-90 mph and had a great slider his way. Was not a ground ball pitcher but a fly ball strike out one. I don’t know how far he would had gotten if he would not have been messed with?

 

A person with a nasty curveball, its movement is not as much mechanical as it is a gift. Same as a fast ball. To a great extent you have it or you don’t. You can get better control, be more consistent but the “BITE” is a gift.

 

My advice would be to Change if you need to change, if over the top is not working. If side arm feels more comfortable. Side arm CAN give you an edge against righties even improve your breaking ball. But it will be tougher to get good lefties out. You WILL need an off-speed for lefties. With anything you must commit yourself to it and train. For anyone with control there is a need for side arm pitchers, speed will not be as much of a factor anymore.

 

Sincerely
Steve Shifflett
Ex Kansas City Royal’s pitcher