Former Submarine Pitcher Kent
Tekulve Explains Mechanics
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
First Of A 2-Part Series
(From Oct. 1, 2011 Edition)
PITTSBURGH ó RHP Kent Tekulve was one of the greatest submarine pitchers of all time. A 1969 graduate of Marietta College, he was an extraordinary closer who caused batters nightmares. During 16 years in the Major Leagues from 1974-1989, he posted a 2.85 ERA and saved 184 games. And for 12 of those years, he pitched with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Tekulve led the Major Leagues in appearances four times. He pitched in 94 games (1979), 91 (1978), 90 (1987) and 85 (1982). Tekulve and Mike Marshall are the only pitchers in baseball history to appear in 90 or more games more than once. Among other records, he owns the career records for most appearances (1,050) and innings pitched (1,436 2/3) without making a single start. His best years as a closer were in 1978 and 1979 as he recorded 31 saves each season.
COLLEGIATE BASEBALL: Explain how you became a submarine pitcher. During your Big League career, you were 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds and had tremendous flexibility to fire pitches in this style.
KENT TEKULVE: For me, and I think in most cases, itís much easier to get a guy to throw submarine if he naturally is a sidearm thrower. I converted from a sidearm pitcher to a submariner. The reason for that is that if you have thrown your entire life conventionally three quarters, over the top ó anything above sidearm ó the body mechanics you have used will be nearly impossible to change if you try to convert to the submarine style. With the conventional pitching style, your right shoulder and right hip rotate up and over as you throw. That is the natural way to throw a baseball for 99 percent of people who pitch.
If you throw a ball naturally sidearm, your shoulder, hip and body mechanics naturally go down and under. Thatís the loop that you make when you throw the ball in that fashion. For that reason, itís much easier for natural sidearmers to convert to submarine because their body is used to working in that direction. Thatís the first hangup for most people. Itís incredibly difficult to convert over the top or three quarter pitchers into the submarine style because they have a difficult time of getting the feel of going down and under. All they have ever known is throwing conventionally with their shoulder and hip rotating up and over.
CB: Explain the mechanics of throwing in the submarine style.
TEKULVE: Throwing under-neath as a submariner is more of a leverage delivery than a strength pitch. It really doesnít matter how strong you are which determines how well you can throw this pitch.
It was perfect for me since I was 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds most of my career. The guys who have had great success as sidearmers and submariners had longer legs and longer arms. They were usually thinner than other pitchers. The reason for this is that taller, skinnier pitchers have longer levers. Your arms and legs are longer. Therefore, you can develop more torque rather than the conventional pitcher who may be smaller or larger who tries to throw it that way. Having this combination of being long and lanky and also being a natural sidearmer allows you to adjust your body mechanics with the hip and shoulder more effectively with the shoulder and hip going in a downward loop. Strength really doesnít help you a whole lot. Letís say you are a really tall, strong sidearm pitcher and compare him to a tall, weak sidearm pitcher. There wonít be much difference in the velocity of pitches. Itís all leverage and torque. Itís not really anything you do by you driving your arm forward with your shoulder. Itís important to understand not many people fit in the categories I have outlined. In my day when I was pitching submarine style, you also had Dan Quisenberry who mainly pitched for the Royals. But submariners in the Major Leaguers are pretty rare. I used my submarine delivery to develop overspin on the ball and get the ball to sink as did Quisenberry. You simply donít see a lot of coaches teaching the submarine style. The right kind of student doesnít come along every day. Roger Clemens would have been no good at this with him being a big, strong, burly guy. The second reason many coaches donít teach pitchers to be submariners is that most coaches donít understand the mechanics involved because they have not done it themselves or heard anybody discuss how to teach it. So they donít understand how that leverage is developed with the timing, how to make the ball move in different directions at that angle and also how to generate velocity. And if you have never experienced this style, it is extremely hard to understand what it feels like.
CB: What are the key teaching points for submarine pitching? Is feel a crucial ingredient in learning this style?
TEKULVE: I always try to teach pitching by feel. If you understand what it feels like when you are doing it right, then you have something to go back to when it gets out of whack. If you know the feel of a movement, then you know what adjustments must be made to get back on track. It takes the right person to learn and probably the right person to teach the techniques because very few people understand how the mechanics work. You can read numerous books on how to pitch with the traditional over the top or three quarters delivery. But to my knowledge, there are few, if any, that have been written on submarine pitching. As far as mechanics of the submarine pitcher, the first thing you must do is understand how it all works. How do you develop the leverage? How do you free yourself up to be able to use the leverage to your best advantage? I have always thought about submarine mechanics as working from the ground up. The first step is finding out how to utilize your legs. Those are your first levers that come into play. It has always been a key to me that when you stride toward home plate, you must put yourself in a position where your hips can open up. If your hips canít open or rotate underneath you while you are doing this, all the leverage that is developed from the ground up through your legs to your hips gets cut off. If the hips stop and you canít get through, you have lost all the leverage. Now you are strictly using the upper body. For me and most of the submariners I have seen, it is fairly simple to understand what is happening to the lower body. I discovered a great technique to free up the hips. Stand with both feet on the rubber standing comfortably with the feet shoulder width apart or slightly closerÖwhatever is comfortable. Mark where your right foot is (for a righthanded pitcher), because that is your pivot foot. Your right foot must stay in that location on the rubber. You donít want to be wandering on the rubber. Start in one location and keep it there. Later on, you will determine if you want to stay on the left or right side of the rubber with your pivot foot. But for the sake of learning submarine pitching, keep that location in one spot for now. Now make a straight line from your left foot toward home plate. Now you stand on the pitcherís mound again on the exact spot with your right foot that we began with and go through your pitching motion toward home. If your left foot stays on that line which we drew earlier with the toes pointing toward home when it hits the ground after striding, your hips will be clear in the submarine delivery, and you will be able to utilize leverage properly. Where you get in trouble is when you step across the line with your left foot a little toward third base. Your hips will be locked up, and they will not function properly, and you have cut your leverage off. This is a vital first stage.
CB: What is the next area of mechanics to learn?
TEKULVE: A lot of pitching coaches talk about how to utilize the upper body properly. For the traditional delivery, you shouldnít dip your elbow below the shoulder. Many coaches pound it into pitchers that you must maintain 90 degrees so that the shoulder functions properly. You lose precision below 90 degrees with the traditional delivery and all the spring you can develop in your shoulder. Even though this isnít as important in the submarine delivery as overhand, it still is important. You arenít standing straight up and lowering your arm down for a submarine pitch. Natural sidearm pitchers will take that arm which is out 90 degrees from your side. But you wonít lower your arm. You will tilt your upper body downward (see photo on right) to maintain 90 degrees with your arm. This way, you donít lose shoulder strength. Yet, you will still be able to get the arm down where you want it. You really arenít going submarine. You are throwing sidearm with a tilt downward in your upper body. From your waist to your shoulders, you tip this area of the body over as you start going forward in the delivery. But you still maintain 90 degrees with your arm to keep it in a position of great strength and leverage.
CB: What does this submarine delivery feel like to the pitcher?
TEKULVE: It is very similar, and should feel very similar, to a golf swing. You are in that bent over position. As you swing the golf club, you are a little below 90 degrees. But the way your hips rotate down and under is the movement you are after. You have made your turn and stride. Now you want to drive the ball toward home plate. You really generate most of your power with your hips and lower back. If you are doing it right, when you get tight, sore or stiff, it will be in the lower back area. This delivery should not cause arm issues. In essence, you are taking that golf club back. Once you start forward, you use your hip properly and follow all the way through because your stride is right. When I had my greatest velocity and movement, I would follow through with my right arm so that my right fingers touched my left shoulder. The mechanics with your arm involve it dragging behind everything else as a submariner. So there is not as much strain on your arm as it is with traditional pitching overhand. By using leverage with your long arms and long legs, you are actually kind of dragging your shoulder and arm through. When you get to the very end, then you finish it with your arm, and it is like cracking a whip. You get the most speed right at the end of your delivery. The arm speed increases the closer you are to the end of your delivery because you have had more time for your hips to work properly. Eventually once the arm catches up, you can use a little bit of your shoulder and wrist to develop the extra velocity as well as rotation and spin you put on the ball for movement. It is safe to say that 99 out of 100 pitchers who throw submarine are sinkerball pitchers.
CB: Explain the spin that you get out of being a submariner.
TEKULVE: The sinkerball is accomplished by downward spin. From the time the ball leaves your fingers until it gets to home plate, the more complete rotations a ball can make as it spins, the better your sinker will be. Again, its like the golf swing where your shoulders and hips are doing the majority of the motion. The hands and arms only come into play right at the point of ball release as you are cracking the whip and getting that extra velocity. The arm becomes heavily involved at the very end. You begin the sequence by turning away just like a golf swing. Then you stride and make the total turn all the way through on the way to throwing the ball to home plate. Thatís really the feel you should have. Your hips and your shoulders are working bing, bingÖone right after the other. The hips lead by a little bit as the shoulder follows right behind. They donít go together. Itís like a two piece movement where the hips go first. And then a fraction of a second later, the shoulders are moving. And when you are in that tilted over side arm position, you can develop a lot of velocity with the levers from your long arms and long legs. You also can develop a whole lot of spin revolutions by cracking the whip right at the end as the ball is released.
CB: Explain the differences in a traditional over the top pitcher throwing a sinker compared to a submariner.
TEKULVE: The three quarters or over the top pitcher must get on top of the ball to get overspin on a ball to make it go down. You canít throw the ball as hard overhand if your hand has to go over the top or inside the ball compared to throwing a 4-seam fastball. With a 4-seam fastball, your fingers stay directly behind the ball throughout the entire delivery. It should also spin more than any other pitch because you are directly behind it as you pull down on it and release it. When you drop down as a submariner, instead of having to have your fingers on top of the ball to turn it over, basically you can throw the ball with your fingers behind it just like you throw a 4-seam fastball. My sinker was essentially an upside down 4-seam fastball. When I released this pitch, my fingers were pointing toward the ground and my hand was directly behind the ball. The ball automatically gets overspin. I can put more overspin on it that way than anybody can by throwing over the top. If you can stay behind the pitch and crack the whip right at the bottom, then you have the combination you are looking for. You now have velocity, plus more revolutions with the great spin you are getting.
CB: What sort of sink did you get with your 4-seam fastball from underneath, and how late did it break from home plate?
TEKULVE: Each submariner had to determine how hard they could throw this pitch and how many revolutions they could get with the spin. In my case typically, the harder I could throw it, the later and sharper it would break because I was able to throw it with tremendous speed. Think of a 4-seam fastball that is thrown from over the top. It will usually have a little hop at the end of it. The submariner is doing the exact same thing but upside down. Frankly, it was much easier for me to throw a great sinker from below because my fingers were pointing downward and were directly behind the ball.
CB: How did you throw breaking pitches as a submariner?
TEKULVE: Thatís where it got a little difficult. Think of your arm as a golf club. You are winding the hips, winding the shoulders like a rubber band. Then you let it go with hips first as the shoulders follow. And thatís where you develop your speed just like you do with a golf club. You take the club back and wind everything up. Then you bring it back down and through as you unwind and accelerate through the ball. You also can make subtle changes on ball movement to home. If you point your fingers straight down at the ground, with a good wrist cock, you will get a straight, over the top spin. That ball will essentially go straight down. If you leave your hand out more at a 45 degree angle, you will still get the same amount of spin. But the ball path will be a little more sideways which will go down and away from a lefthander. If you lift your fingers up a little bit and point them toward the outside, now you will have a fastball that will run more than sink. You can actually take the one pitch and make it into three different pitches just by what you do with your fingers. To review, your fingers can be pointing directly down, at 45 degrees or at 90 degrees. That way, not every sinker will be the same. But to the batterís eye, every pitch will look the same. The double play sinker is the one that goes straight down. It gives you the best chance of hitters getting on top of balls. The 45 degree sinker is something you normally throw to a righthander inside or lefthander outside. It starts in the strike zone and then goes down and away or down and in depending on whether you are pitching to a right or left handed batter. It moves out of the strike zone. That is your chase sinker. If you want to see if the batter will chase a sinker out of the strike zone, thatís the pitch I used. I really liked the 45 degree angle sinker. The lefthanded hitters chased it. The righthanders would almost always hit it foul when they made good contact because of where the pitch was and where it was located. If they do hit the ball where they can hit it fair, then they will get jammed with it. And thatís what you want them to do. You want them to hit loud fouls. And then they will be jammed on pitches that are in play from the 45 degree sinker. Thatís how you adjust to hitters. The 90 degree sinker allows you to have a bunch of run. I used it almost exclusively on lefthanders to try and get them to chase it. At the release point of each pitch, flip your wrist at the bottom of the delivery or "crack the whip" as I call it. This puts a little extra velocity on these pitches. If you throw submarine with a stiff wrist, you canít throw it as hard. This late action with the wrist also puts more spin on the ball. So if you "crack the whip" at the bottom and then follow through properly, you will have a great set of pitches to work with.
MORE ON SUBMARINE PITCHING: Kent Tekulve discusses the follow through, how he learned to be a submariner, how he developed a changeup from underneath, why he was so mentally tough as a closer, and why the percentages were with him as a submariner to get hitters out. In addition, he explains what type of pitchers you should try and convert to the submarine style and whether young pitchers should try being a submariner or wait until they are older. All this and more is in part two of the Jan. 7, 2012 edition of Collegiate Baseball.

Call our subscription department at (520) 623-4530 weekdays from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mountain Time. A copy of this issue is available for $3 while a yearís subscription (14 issues) is $28.