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Each Phillies starter has a distinct delivery

CLEARWATER, Fla. - There aren't many films of the great Walter Johnson pitching off a mound. But there are quite a few of him warming up on the side, in that grainy, Mack Sennett speed we see in the archival baseball footage unvaulted by Ken Burns.

Roy Halladay's explosive delivery has made him one of baseball's best power pitchers. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Roy Halladay's explosive delivery has made him one of baseball's best power pitchers. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

CLEARWATER, Fla. - There aren't many films of the great Walter Johnson pitching off a mound. But there are quite a few of him warming up on the side, in that grainy, Mack Sennett speed we see in the archival baseball footage unvaulted by Ken Burns.

The Big Train flips the ball from a low sidearm angle with an almost insolent ease. Witnesses to his prolific Hall of Fame career said the ball was on the hitter in a blur, wickedly darting down-and-in on bailing righthanded batters.

Even earlier, we see jittery footage of Christy Mathewson throwing over the top with a delivery probably close to what would pass for "modern" once past the elaborate arm swings that were the vogue until a Yankees righthander named Bob Turley introduced the no-windup delivery in the late 1950s.

Move ahead four decades from the Deadball Era to a high-kicking righthander named Bob Feller and a higher-kicking lefthander named Warren Spahn. Then check a long-armed master of the low three-quarters delivery via third base named Jim Bunning.

Add another high kicker with a delivery so smooth and over-the-top, it was impossible to figure how he made a baseball come out of his left hand at close to 100 mph. Or how Sandy Koufax could follow it with a knee-buckling curve that broke from armpit at 12 o'clock to shoe top at 6 o'clock.

Steve Carlton . . . Juan Marichal . . . Bob Gibson . . . Tom Seaver . . . Robin Roberts . . . Denny McLain . . . Greg Maddux . . .

Different pitchers from different eras, no two with deliveries alike. Some sidearm or three-quarters, some torquey and rapid fire, others drop-and-drive, usually the compact, medium-height guys like Roberts and Seaver.

Others were stand tall-and-fall pitchers, the NBA-tall guys like Randy Johnson and J.R. Richard.

And there is a new delivery now, a growing trend, thanks to "The Freak," Munchkinesque Giants righthander Tim Lincecum, whose 76-inch stride and hold-the-ball-as-long-as-possible "momentum" delivery flies in the face of 100 years of pitching wisdom.

No matter the arm angle, the size of the athlete, the contortions of his windup or any number of variables, the Hall of Fame level pitchers of all eras share the same DNA. It is stranded through a marvelous amalgam of muscle, bone, sinew, tendon and nerves known as a Major League Arm. And it depends on a pair of sturdy legs.

You can't get to Cooperstown without them.

From Johnson's easy flick, to Koufax' balletic delivery, from the grunting, power style of Gibson, to a Carlton fastball Tim McCarver likened to "catching a feather," their exceptional arms carried them to legendary careers.

The Phillies unveiled five of those major league arms Monday in a baseball day unlike any other most of us have seen.

Yesterday, the Paul Owens Training Facility at the Carpenter Complex had returned to something resembling normal. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton were just three righthanders and two lefthanders going about their second days of organized spring-training work.

And it is interesting to see the diversity in the deliveries of the five pitchers, four of whom have been handed the baseball on an Opening Day.

You probably would not teach Halladay's explosive delivery to a high school kid. While Roy is not now nor ever has been a high 90s pitcher, every delivery produced by that aggressive turn and violent lower body explosion toward the hitter produces a power pitch with evil intent. In his earlier Blue Jays years, he was a little bit more over the top, but the lower arm slot he uses now generates tremendous sinking action on his fastball and anvil heavy run on his arsenal of breaking pitches. The guy can break your bat with a changeup. Add impeccable control and you have the stuff perfect games and postseason no-hitters are made of.

I think if you asked Lee to hit a squirrel in the eye with his fastball, he would say, "Which eye?"

Man pitched in Seattle and Texas last season, overcame some early-season injuries and the nonstop speculation as to his trade deadline destination and free-agent landing pad. That's a lot to process for a man obviously stung by the Phillies' unceremonious trade, even a competitor with Cliff's locked-in focus.

Nevertheless, he recorded one of the sickest stats of the modern era. Guy pitched 212 1/3 innings and walked 18. Eighteen . . . That's 0.8 walks per nine innings. Are you kidding me? His strikeout to walk ratio was 10.28 to 1.

Lee features a compact windup and delivery with few moving parts before his turn from a fairly sharp setup angle in relation to the hitter. Turn . . . gather . . . stride . . . release . . . finish . . . strike. All with a beautiful fluidity. Some scouts think Lee got hit around by the Giants in the World Series because they were sitting on the certainty of his control. Maybe he needs to loosen a hitter up once in a while.

Oswalt is a little bit country, a little bit rock-and-roll. And he contradicted the conventional scouting instructions applied by many organizations when it comes to drafting righthanded pitchers under 6-feet. Roy is a generous 5-10 and point guard lean. He was drafted by the Astros as a "yebbut."

"Yeah, but he throws 95," a scout will say. Oswalt generates that kind of power pitching from a classic Seaveresque drop-and-drive delivery.

Hamels has the most interesting delivery and, certainly, the busiest. Unlike the seamless Lee setup, Hamels starts his with a redundant double move, taking his hands over his head, dropping them to hip level, then raising them above his waist to begin his turn, stride and delivery. Pitching guru Dick Mills also is sharply critical of Cole's lack of leg drive and feels he is leaving 4 to 5 mph on the table while risking injury. However, Hamels seemed mechanically smoother last season and his fastball often sat in the 93-to-95 range, while his changeup remained a lethal weapon.

Blanton is another don't-try-this-at-home righthander, among the last of the straight up-and-downers. His delivery is over-the-top and stiff to the extreme. Scouts think he costs himself velocity by failing to drive the ball to the catcher with better use of his lower half.

But, hey, the Fifth Musketeer takes the ball, throws strikes and, after 7 years of hearing about his deficiencies, Blanton's average record projected over a 162-game season is 13-11.

Just about what you would expect from a solid No. 5.

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