One issue, three opinions, somewhat in sync.
This began as a question to WebBall. You might be wondering why we include it under "pitch selection" rather than mechanics. Good question.
Yes, the side arm or submariner's mechanics are certainly different. Surprisingly most of that difference is in the torso. It's more about the body bending over to get the shoulder closer to the ground. If it were simply a matter of dropping the arm angle, then we would put the focus on mechancis - because of possible risks to the arm.
No, the real reason to include it here is what side-armers themselves - and the batters they face - already know...
changing the release point, changes the pitch movement.
So when we got this question (and many similar), we turned to some experts for "reassurance" about the mechanical risks, but also to dispel some of the writer's concerns over the myths he has heard.
My son is 11 years old and a left handed side arm pitcher, and this is his first season pitching. My son has not had any problems with his coaches regarding his pitching style, but [someone] said coaches feel that a side-armer is a one dimensional player, unable to play the outfield because of his side arm. [Someone] also said that if he does not start throwing overhand soon, that by the time he is 15 his muscles will be set for side arm and he will not be able to learn to throw a curve. Are these concerns valid and should we be encouraging our son to throw overhand? We have had many comments from other local 'experts' that he will throw out his arm by the time he is 14.
- Dr. Tom House, physiologist, book author, pitching instructor
Try NEVER to alter (genetic) arm path. Match up glove side in the equal and opposite mirror image and let mother nature run its course. ANY pitch can be thrown side arm AND if the boy can hit, run, and catch the ball, he can find a position as a side armer somewhere on the field.
- Glenn Sherlock, BullPen Coach, Arizona Diamondbacks
I think that as long as the same solid throwing mechanics are used it shouldn't be a problem. That would include the elbow being at 90 degrees and the upper body providing the sidearm angle. The front shoulder would stay closed and not throw wide open risking stress on the shoulder. Throwing sidearm will make it difficult to play other positions, to throw accurately with velocity at different positions certainly would be a challenge and I wouldn't recommend it.
- Richard Todd, WebBall
I've had only a couple of true sidearm pitchers as a coach. One was a submariner (not quite a knuckle-duster but close) and the other was a shoulder-high slinger. Both were for one season only so I have no long-range perspective.
The submariner was a great young R.H.P. and as is usual in the early teens, he also played other positions (short, outfield) but he's remembered best for his pitching - very smooth, very natural, and very challenging to batters. When he took to his other roles on defense, he never used his sidearm throwing style (except perhaps occasionally after charging a low roller from the shortstop slot.) He seemed to adjust well to whatever the situation demanded (sidearm from the mound, 3/4 from the field). He could go a full game, or come in to close with equal effect, and suffered no apparent injury or soreness during the season.
The other sidearmer was in my mind more problematic. As a lefty he had an obvious advantage anyway as there are not as many lefties in youth baseball (but more of them seem to survive later with less raw velocity). He was good, with great movement and we taught him a very effective screwball (after trying him with it and assessing the safety issues). His long-term success is what may be more at issue because he used the same arm slot for fielding throws. I suspect, therefore, but never could confirm that something anatomical was restricting his arm angle and that could show up in later problems.
The point here, for any pitching coach, is to try an understand fully what it is you are dealing with in a sidearm pitcher - why he does it and how he does it.
So what about pitch selection
Every pitch is affected by release point and arm action. That's true of overhand and 3/4 arm-slot pitchers, and more so with side arms. So a fastball or cutter - which tails in when thrown conventionally - turns into a "rise ball" with a drop - or not - depending on the actual arm-slot and fingertips on release. A two-seamer could slice, a curve attempt could fade or hang, and a screwball might soar or slide.
It will all depend on the mechanics of each individual side-arm pitcher. And the only way to discover what a pitch might do in the hand of a submariner, is to give it a try and see what happens. It can;t be more scientific than that because there simply aren't enough of them to form a statistically accurate prediction.
But remember - if it's tough on the pitcher to know for sure where his pitch is going - it's even tougher on the batter.