Stretch versus Windup

Should a youth player first learn to pitch from the stretch, windup, or both? Pitching coaches like Tom House (National Baseball) and Ron Wolforth (Texas Baseball Ranch) think young players should begin by focusing only on the stretch. But why?

Kids usually want to start out by pitching from the windup. They see MLB pitchers use it all the time and the windup just looks a lot cooler! There are, however, several good reasons for making kids learn the stretch and use it exclusively before they move on to the windup.

First, the stretch is more versatile than the windup. You can always pitch out of the stretch with or without a base runner. When a runner is on base, you will not use a windup. Learning and mastering the stretch as soon as you can will make you a more complete pitcher quicker than if you try to learn first from the windup or both at the same time.

Second, the most important pitches you throw are when runners are on base. There is a big difference between giving up a hit with a runner on base versus when bases are empty. You should be at your very best on the mound when you have a runner. Consequently, the stretch is more important than the windup and should be mastered first.

Third, the stretch is easier to learn and master because it is a much simpler throwing motion. Consequently, it is easier to learn proper pitching mechanics. Out of the stretch you are moving straight to the plate with the head locked in on the catcher’s mitt. If you use a side-step windup. for example, first you step sideways. As you transition back in the other direction, you turn your pivot foot and rotate your body 90 degrees. You move back to center on one foot while raising your other foot. Once you are centered, you have to regain your balance and then start moving toward the plate. Moreover, while your body is starting, stopping, and changing directions, your head is moving in different directions instead of locking on the target.

Fourth, if you master throwing from the stretch. there should be no differences in velocity or command versus the windup. As soon as the front hip begins moving towards the plate, both pitching motions should look the same. Biomechanical research comparing the stretch and windup finds “no significant difference between the 2 pitch variations for the kinetic, kinematic, or temporal variables” and difference in velocity was less than 0.5 mph. A case study of pitching velocity in MLB games shows that MLB pitchers throw fastballs just as hard from the stretch as they do the windup. Similarly, command should be as good or better from the stretch because the simpler motion makes it less likely for something to go wrong, particularly for young pitchers. If a player does throw harder or with better command from the windup, that’s because he did not spend enough time learning and practicing how to pitch from the stretch.

Here are a few articles discussing the stretch versus the windup:

Why Does Any Pitcher Use A Windup? A case for full-time use of the stretch based on biomechanics, data, and evidence.

Why Baseball’s Biggest Arms Are Ditching the Windup: Pitchers including Stephen Strasburg, Yu Darvish and Noah Syndergaard are starting from the stretch, in an effort to more easily replicate their mechanics.

The Death of the Wind-Up: Have you ever watched baseball, seen a pitcher go into a big wind-up and wondered, why do they do that?