During a baseball game, you may notice that the shortstop uses a different throwing motion than the rest of the fielders. Why do shortstops throw sidearm?
A shortstop will use a sidearm throw because it is a quicker release than a traditional throwing motion. Also, shortstops are expected to cover a lot of ground and at times they make off-balance sidearm throws depending on their angle to first base. Shortstops also may use a sidearm throw due to injury, habit, or because they prefer it.
Certain situations in baseball are more appropriate for a sidearm throw than other situations. Below, we discuss the reasons for a sidearm throw in detail and talk about what other positions use this sidearm throw.
Why Do Shortstops Throw Sidearm?
Quicker Throwing Motion
Shortstops play the deepest position in the infield. They also must throw across the infield to get runners at first base. This means that every second, or millisecond, is precious to a shortstop.
Often a shortstop does not have time to field a ball and complete a traditional over-the-shoulder throwing motion to first base. Instead, they use a quick, snappy, sidearm throw that begins almost at the same time the ball hits their glove.
A quick throwing motion is a must for any professional shortstop. Some Major League Baseball batters can run from home to first base in less than four seconds. That means fielders, especially shortstops, must be clean fielders, with fast and accurate throwing motions.
Although a traditional over-the-shoulder throwing motion is acknowledged by many experts to be a more reliable and accurate throwing motion, it simply takes too long for shortstops. The majority of professional shortstops are able to practice and perfect the sidearm delivery to the point that it is as reliable for them as an over-the-shoulder throwing motion.
Off-Balance Release Point
The shortstop position is a position that must range both left and right to field ground balls. As we discussed in the previous section, the shortstop position also has the challenge of making long throws across the diamond to first base.
Because the shortstop position at times must range left or right and make quick throws to first base, often they do not have time to set their feet and throw. When a ground ball is hit up the middle, the shortstop may range to their left to field the ball and to have any chance to get the runner at first base, they must make a quick throw on the run.
If the shortstop attempted a traditional over-the-shoulder throw while his feet were not set, and his body was moving to the left, the throw would not be accurate because the shortstop would have no balance whatsoever.
The sidearm throwing motion is a way to counter balance the weight of the body moving from right to left when a shortstop fields a ground ball up the middle. It is a throwing motion that is fast and can be delivered on the move with much more accuracy than an over-the-shoulder throwing motion.
Shortstops will also use a sidearm throwing motion when hard-charging a soft hit ball. When charging a slow hit grounder, the shortstops momentum will be going towards home plate when they field the baseball. A sidearm, almost submarine, throw allows them to balance as they throw.
These off-balance throws are difficult to make and must be practiced and perfected.
Sometimes a shoulder injury may keep a shortstop from using a traditional over-the-shoulder throwing motion. This would only be a minor type of injury a professional player is trying to “play through” and avoid missing time. A significant shoulder injury would result in missed time.
For youth coaches, it is important to make sure players aren’t using sidearm throwing motions to hide shoulder pain.
Habit and Preference
A sidearm throwing motion can become a habit and even a preference for many professional players. The issue with this is some players are not as accurate with a sidearm throwing motion versus a traditional throwing motion. And even though the sidearm throwing motion is needed, it can sometimes be relied on due to laziness because it takes less effort than moving your feet and throwing over the top.
Most professional players can perfect the sidearm throwing motion to a point that it is as accurate for them as an over-the-shoulder throwing motion. For youth baseball players, it will be difficult to perfect the sidearm delivery. It is something that takes time and repetition. Athletic, agile players are the best at adapting to a sidearm throwing motion.
What Other Baseball Positions Use a Sidearm Throw?
All infielders may at times need to use a sidearm delivery due to the momentum of their body while fielding a baseball. Shortstops rely on this throwing motion the most. Third and second baseman will also use it regularly.
Some pitchers use a sidearm pitching motion. This is rare at the youth and high school levels as it can be hard on a pitcher’s throwing arm. Throwing sidearm allows a pitcher to get a unique spin on the ball that an over-the-shoulder delivery cannot offer.
Outfielders rarely ever use sidearm throwing motions. A sidearm throwing motion cannot travel the distance that an over-the-shoulder throw can.
What Other Throwing Motions Do Shortstops Use?
Besides a sidearm throwing motion and a traditional throwing motion, a shortstop will also at times use a flip throw to toss the ball to the second baseman to start a double play or to get a force out at second base. A quick flip is useful when the shortstop is very near the second base bag. This means that although the ball doesn’t travel as fast, not having to set and throw saves time.
Also, short throwing distances can be awkward for traditional throwing motions. Some shortstops prefer to toss or flip underhand short distances if time allows.
What Throwing Motion Should Youth Baseball Players Use?
Without a doubt, youth players should use a traditional throwing motion if possible. There will always be times in a game (as we noted above) where momentum of the body does not allow a player to throw over-the-shoulder.
Sidearm pitching can injure the arm of a young baseball player and baseball experts advise against it.
What Makes a Good Shortstop?
Shortstops must be athletic. They cover the most ground out of any of the infield positions. They must have the quickness and foot speed to cover ground, but also the athleticism to make unorthodox off-balance throws.
Even though this can be practiced, often it takes God-given skill for a player to be truly great at these sorts of throws and plays.
A shortstop also needs to have very good hands. The transition of the baseball from glove to hand needs to be seamless. For accomplished professional shortstops, the baseball is leaving their hand a split second after it hits their glove.
The transition from glove to hand to throwing motion happens in a split second, and to pull that off while maintaining accuracy and balance takes skill, athleticism, and practice.
Downside of Throwing Sidearm
As we discussed earlier, one downside of throwing sidearm is it can put extra stress on a player’s elbow potentially leading to injury. In a young player, it can be very dangerous to use unorthodox throwing motions.
Another disadvantage of throwing sidearm is accuracy. Professional players have put in the time and effort to master the craft of throwing sidearm. For younger players, this can be difficult. Sidearm throws are difficult to control versus traditional throwing motions.
Throwing sidearm can also lead to lazy baseball habits. Players that learn to throw sidearm in spots that require it may begin to rely on it even in spots that do not.