The Inverted W: “The Real Story”

baseballthinktank Featured Post, Pitching Mechanics

Part 1 of a 4 part series by Paul Nyman.


“Death to the Inverted W” decries one website.

“The Pitcher’s Cure to the Inverted W and L” extols another.

A third simply headlines “Inverted W”.

A web search using Google using the search words “inverted W” yields a wealth of pictures and articles, a significant portion of which are negative i.e. the perception on the part of the authors that the inverted W is a precursor to arm injury.

Stephen Strasburg’s elbow injury precipitated a new rash of inverted W doomsayers.  Strasburg joins Mark, as the new death to the inverted W, poster boy.  

For the “Record”:

There is no accredited research or study even hinting to the inverted W increasing probability of arm injury.

Explanations put forth, as to the evils of the inverted W, are at best conjecture and are a misinterpretation of what the inverted W actually is.






Figure 1: The death to the inverted W poster boys

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The “belief” in the inverted W creating a greater susceptibility to arm injury is perception based upon what the inverted W is thought to be; the perception of the elbow being lifted higher than the shoulder is caused by the inverted W.

There are at least three fallacies in their arguments and beliefs.

1. First, the inverted W was NEVER defined as lifting the elbow above the shoulder. It is simply a way of describing a throwing motion that starts as soon as the ball was taken out of the glove.

2. Secondly, what is perceived as the elbow above the shoulder, is based upon the perception that the height of the shoulder remains fixed. This perception is the same as defining hyper flexion of the shoulder based on the definition; elbow always remains in front of or even with the acromial line.

The acromial line is a straight line through BOTH shoulder joints and the spine.


Figure 2: Dr. Mike Marshall developed the concept of the acromial line with respect to throwing a baseball.


3.  Third,  and probably the most important, is the most stressful part of the delivery, as defined by the potential for arm injury, occurs long after what is perceived as elbow above the shoulder.

Figure 3: The elbows most stressful part of the delivery.

In the beginning

The original model for what became known as the inverted W is John Smoltz.

 Figure 4: John Smoltz the “poster boy” for the inverted W

And the inverted W was simply a way of trying to describe that Smoltz initiated his throwing action as soon as his hands started to separate. It was not a rigid, single-purpose description such as elevating the elbow above the shoulders.

Some inverted W history

I developed (circa 2000), the concept of inverted W to describe a point in the throwing sequence of pitchers who threw hard.

Back in the late 90s pitching mechanics instruction featured in arm action referred to as “going to the high cocked position”.

A very popular drill to achieve muscle memory of going to the high cocked position was called the goalpost drill.

Goalpost Drill – Teaches pitching with the lower body.

The pitcher stands in front of the mound, with his feet spread wider than his shoulders, and weight on the back foot. Before he throws, he raises both arms up, looking like a goalpost from the side. As he throws, he pushes off with the back leg. This teaches pitching with the lower body, and keeping the elbows up.

  • Video of pitchers who threw hard do not “go to the high cocked position”.
  • And smaller body pitchers without exception did the same thing; they throw “through” the high cocked position, a very subtle but hugely important difference.
  • The inverted W started actually started off as “inverted goalpost”.
  • Inverted goalpost was presented as the high velocity arm action alternative to the goal post position (forearms positioned vertically i.e. the “inverted M”).
  • The inverted goalpost was also an alternative to going to the high cocked position.

 Why the inverted goalpost alternative?

 The inverted goalpost was an attempt on my part to differentiate a free-flowing delivery from a very mechanical delivery.

  • Going to high cocked position incorrectly teaches/reinforces how high-level throwing is initiated.
  • Most hard throwing pitchers exhibit a very free and loose arm action very whip like.
  • Going to the high cocked position and drills such as the goalpost, do not promote this whipping arm action.

After more study and discussion, the inverted goalposts quickly became the inverted W which, from my observations of hard throwing pitchers, more accurately described the initiation of the throwing process.

Players (pitchers and fielders) who displayed above average to exceptional velocity exhibited a throwing process beginning much earlier than what most pitching mechanics instruction emphasizes.


Figure 5: Throwing a baseball is one continuous arm action sequence (Click image to view).

 Make sure to keep your eyes open for Part 2:  The Case for the Inverted W:  Billy Wagner 5’10” tall, velocity 98 mph, Randy Johnson 6’10” tall, velocity 98 mph, size isn’t everything……