Back in the 1980s, at the end of Nolan Ryan‘s MLB career, pitching coach Tom House convinced the no-hit artist to throw footballs as part of his training for pitching. Ever since, the question has been asked by baseball pitchers and coaches — should a pitcher throw a football for:
- Arm strength?
- Curve ball spin?
- And/or any other reason?
When I was a graduate student, one of the topics I visited early in my studies was the age-old question: “would throwing a football help improve throwing a baseball?” Even though it is easy for me to understand how someone might think the answer to that question is an automatic “yes”, here is some food for thought.
Throwing Mechanics: Football vs. Baseball
Prior to accelerating a baseball, the shoulder needs to be in as much external rotation as is possible. Because of the weight of a football (15 ounces — as opposed to a baseball’s 5.5 ounces), the shoulder does not go into external rotation during the execution of a football pass. Additionally, because the hand is not able to grasp the football in the same manner as a baseball, the external rotation position of the shoulder is difficult to do with a football.
Proper shoulder and elbow mechanics of a baseball pitch require simultaneous internal rotation of the shoulder and extension of the elbow. A football pass is executed with elbow extension first (halted before full extension) followed by pronation of the forearm and internal rotation of the shoulder to impart spin to the ball as the ball is rolling off the fingertips. In baseball pitching analysis language, if a pitcher uses this style to throw a baseball, he is leading with the elbow which can be problematic in terms of mechanical efficiency and injury.
Football Spiral vs. Baseball Spin
As far as learning or aiding with the spin on the ball issue: the rotation of the forearm, and any action of the wrist for that matter, is affected by the position of the fingers (how wide they are spread out, where they are positioned etc.) Because of the size of the football and the required position of the fingers, the range of motion of the rotation would be different between the football and baseball. The pitcher’s fingers/wrist/forearm complex would not be getting the specific practice it takes to perfect a curveball release.
Next time you watch a football game, put on your thinking cap and watch the quarterback throw a pass. Remember, it’s important to understand the “why” of what you’re doing before you do it. I hope this information helps you make the best decision.