(First appeared in The Vanderbilt Hustler)
Pitching at a high level is all about making adjustments. For Walker Buehler, that involved changing his delivery at the biggest stage of College Baseball.
Pitching for the first time in 18 days because Vanderbilt beat Illinois in Super Regionals in two games, Buehler debuted a new wrinkle to his delivery: starting it off by bringing his hands over his head.
This was an idea that originated with Buehler coming to pitching coach Scott Brown. Months ago, the two had talked about an article on how many Hall of Fame pitchers go over their head in their delivery, and Buehler finally started implementing it, instead of just holding his hands by his waist.
Buehler had been having issues recently with repeating his landing foot and directional line, which led to him being off-kilter at times. There are several problems associated with this complication to a delivery.
“You can lose command; the ball can flatten out,” Brown said. “You don’t get quite the same life on the ball. It may read the same on the radar gun, but the perception is not the same; the margin of error is less. The ability to stay on line causes a little more deception to the hitter.”
Not repeating the same landing spot on every delivery isn’t a death sentence to a pitcher, however. Buehler has been dominant down the stretch, including a five-inning shutout performance against Radford in the Nashville Regional in which he struck out seven batters and only allowed two hits.
But even with the results looking good, Brown wanted to make sure Buehler was pitching to his full potential.
“In that Radford start, I thought he pitched very well from a results standpoint and execution, but I didn’t think his stuff was quite the same that game,” Brown said. “Looking back at some film on it and just how he was at the time, I told him he needed to make a real conscious effort. I thought he was getting cross-bodied in that game, really struggling to get extended.”
Although the two didn’t know it at the time, having eighteen days off, away from live competition, proved to be good for Buehler. With mound sessions and flat grounds in practice, he had plenty of time to repeat this new delivery.
And the results showed immediately. Buehler started off Friday’s game against TCU showing some of his best velocity – 96 and 97 mph in the first inning – and better depth than usual on his breaking pitches. After the game, he said, “It’s been a while since I’ve felt like that.”
Most importantly, perhaps, he only allowed one run and four hits over 6 2/3 innings, striking out eight.
“I think he was more in rhythm,” said head coach Tim Corbin. “I think he was more at peace. I think being able to get over the rubber, stay over the rubber, and really deliver the ball over the hill, however it worked for him. He’s a tinkerer a little bit. I thought his delivery was under control, and he certainly had control of the baseball, and that’s all that matters.”
“The thing that I was most impressed with,” Brown said, “was that his foot strike was the same every time down the slope. And that was the big focus. When his hands were stationary, I thought he got drifty and got side-to-side at times. It was a concern of mine.”
In addition to giving him time to place both his drag and plant foot consistently in the right place, Buehler also found that the new delivery helped his pace on the mound and added a new layer of deception.
“I think it adds a little element of rhythm change,” Buehler said. “A few pitches you don’t go over the head or you pause a little bit longer on some. It’s nice. It’s gives you a little bit more flexibility.”
While there are certainly more adjustments to be made throughout his career, one thing is for certain: the new delivery going over-the-head will be around should the Commodores need Buehler in Game 3 of the College World Series Finals.