When you ask most people what makes an elite pitcher, you’ll usually get responses like “velocity,” “stuff,” and “durability.” And, certainly, none of these answers are incorrect. However, they all focus on outcomes.
When you dig a bit deeper, though, you’ll realize that these successful outcomes were likely heavily driven by a collection of processes. If you rely solely on what the radar gun says or how many runs one gives up as success measures, you don’t really learn much about development. Conversely, if you dig deeper with respect to the characteristics of an aspiring pitcher’s approach to development, you can quickly recognize where some of the limiting factors may be. Here are six characteristics of any successful pitching development approach:
Very simply, the athlete has to be willing to try new approaches to further his development. What gets you from 80mph to 88mph will rarely be what takes you to 95mph. Openmindedness precedes buy-in, and you’ll never make progress if you aren’t fully bought in. Twins pitcher Brandon Kintzler had a significant velocity drop from 2014 to 2015 - and that loss in velocity contributed to him spending most of 2015 in AAA instead of the big leagues. Fortunately, those struggles led him to being openminded - even at age 31 - to trying out Cressey Sports Performance programming, and he regained his previous velocity and then some. And, before 2016 was over, he was their big league closer.
Good assessments identify the largest windows for improvement/adaptation, and excellent programs are structured to attack these growth areas. All too often, athletes simply want to do what they enjoy doing as opposed to what they really need to be doing. Of course, this relates back to the aforementioned “buy-in” described. Another MLB closer, Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson, saw an even bigger velocity jump after his first off-season (2013-14) with CSP.
A big chunk of that had to do with a greater focus on soft tissue work and mobility training to get that fresh, quick arm feeling back. Sam loves to lift and would tend to overdo it in that regard, so he actually improved by doing less volume. Effectively, he had to prioritize removing excessive fatigue - and implementing strategies to bounce back faster.
[bctt tweet="You can't take a fitness solution to a fatigue problem and expect positive results."]
3. Attention to Detail
Inattentive throwing, mindless stretching, and half hazard lifting techniques all come to mind here. It drives me bonkers to see athletes “give up” reps, and my experience has been that this is the most readily apparent thing you notice when you see high school athletes training alongside professional athletes. When it comes to throwing, athletes need to learn to throw with both intent and direction. Corey Kluber is among the best I've ever seen in this regard; whether it's in lifting or throwing, he never gives up a rep with wasted, distracted effort - and it's no surprise that he's become such a consistent high-level performer in the big leagues over the past four seasons.
A great program can be rendered relatively useless if it’s executed with mediocre efforts. The truth is that while many athletes Tweet about hard they work, the truth is that very few of them actually putting in the time, effort, and consistency needed to even come close to their potential. Another Cy Young award winner and CSP athlete, Max Scherzer, takes the cake on this one. Max is always looking for ways to make individual exercises and training sessions harder by adding competition. He'll have other athletes jump in to chase him during sprint and agility drills, and he'll regularly reflect back on previous week numbers to verify that progress is always headed in the right direction.
I think this is one of the biggest struggles with developing arms in the college environment. The nature of the academic and athletic calendars – in combination with NCAA regulations – makes it very challenging to have continuity in pitchers’ throwing programs. As a result, there is a lot of ramping up and shutting down throughout the year. Athletes don’t get the consistency needed to optimally develop, and they don’t get the rest needed to optimally recharge. When you chase two rabbits, both get away.
The right training environment makes a good athlete great, and an average athlete good. It’s why we’ve gone to such great lengths to foster a “family” environment at both Cressey Sports Performance facilities. We want athletes to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, thereby increasing accountability to something more than just a workout sheet.
Interestingly, as you look at these six factors, points 1-4 are intrinsic (specific to the athlete), whereas points 5-6 are extrinsic (specific to the environment/circumstances). Points 5-6 have a massive impact on points 1-4, though.
In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath note that while you will almost never effect quick change a person, you can always work to change the situation that governs how a person acts - and do so relatively transiently.
With that in mind, changing the situation by heavily emphasizing continuity and environment are outstanding avenues to enhancing the previous four factors. First, you’re more openminded if you see training partners getting great results with training approaches you haven’t tried before. Second, you also learn to prioritize when you look around and athletes are outperforming you in certain areas. Third, you pay more attention to detail when you’re surrounded by other athletes working toward the same goal. Fourth, your diligence is enhanced when there is a competitive environment that challenges you to be better each day. And, all these improvements are magnified further when continuity is in place; they happen consistently enough for positive habits to develop.
An appreciation for how these six factors are related is why we structured our upcoming Collegiate Elite Baseball Development program for the summer of 2017 the way we did. The program is 10 weeks in length (6/5/17 through 8/12/17) to ensure optimal continuity. It's for pitchers who are not playing summer baseball.
Each athlete will begin with a thorough initial movement assessment that will set the stage for individualized strength and conditioning programming - which corresponds to six days a week of training.
There will also be individualized throwing progressions designed following initial assessment, and ongoing throwing training - weighted ball work, long toss, and bullpens (including video analysis) as part of the group.
All the athletes will receive manual therapy with our licensed massage therapist twice a week, and nutritional guidance throughout the program.
Last, but not least, we'll incorporate a weekly educational component (a presentation from our staff) to educate the athletes on the "why" behind their training.
The best part is that it'll take place in a motivating environment where athletes can push each other to be the best they can be. By optimizing the situation, you can help change the person.
Interested in learning more? Email firstname.lastname@example.org - but don't delay, as spaces are limited and we'll be capping the group size.
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Happy Labor Day! I hope you all are enjoying the long weekend with friends and family. This is always a fun time of year at Cressey Sports Performance, as a lot of our minor league players are starting their off-seasons, and many of our high school athletes are getting back in the swing of their "true" off-season training. And, of course, we've got MLB playoff baseball coming up soon! I won't digress too much, though; here are the goods!
Will a High Protein Diet Harm Your Health? - Dr. John Berardi has been at the forefront of the "understanding protein needs vs. optimization" debate for a long time, and this article is a great summary of the current literature on the subject.
Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance Pitching Coordinator, Matt Blake. Matt is a key part of the Elite Baseball Mentorships team. Enjoy! -EC
In today’s video, we’re going to be discussing stride dynamics in the high-level throw. In order to do that, we’re going to use Zach Greinke as our pro model and then show a few other amateur variations, while going into some detail on how strength and mobility play into the equation for developing this powerful stride.
This is important to understand because a lot of the other qualities we look for in a high-level throw – such as achieving efficient “extension” at release, repeating the delivery, and executing our deceleration pattern consistently in an effort to reduce stress – all rely on having a stable stride pattern. In order to understand how this works, let’s take a look at some of the components that make up Greinke’s stride:
As you can see, one of the defining features of Greinke’s stride is the efficient action of his back leg and hip directing the pelvis down the target line early to set the direction and momentum for the stride. The way this is achieved is often overlooked and ultimately results in “offline” or unstable landings.
If you’ll notice the move that Greinke is making here is a posterior weight shift where he actually pushes his hips back in the delivery by hinging at the hip and not drifting his knee forward over his toes like most amateurs do. By engaging his posterior chain in this manner and not relying simply on his front leg to swing him into landing, he’s able to create a more balanced stride phase that unfolds in a more rhythmic manner, using the lead leg as a counter-balance to the delivery and not the primary power source.
For those familiar with the strength & conditioning world, I typically like to relate it to the initial movement of a one-legged squat to feel the glute and hamstring engagement and then a lateral lunge to stay engaged in the adductors for control of the pelvis. The lead leg action is ultimately just a relaxed extension to counter the posterior weight shift and then a swivel in the hip socket to align the foot for landing.
The effect of engaging the rear leg’s posterior chain allows us to create both extension and rotation out of the back-side, which is important for maintaining the direction of our force into the ground at landing. If we can’t control the force of our action into the ground, we won’t be able to stabilize our landing appropriately, which has ramifications up the chain into our pelvis positioning, core stability and ultimately into our hand positioning on the ball at release.
If we’re trying to create a level of “extension” at release and maintain our leverage on the ball to throw it with angle, we need to take ownership of our pelvis positioning. If we don’t actively control the pelvis movement into landing, we’re going to have a hard time centering the head of the lead leg in the hip socket, and in turn, accepting the ground reaction force that we’re trying to create. This happens when we lose the tension of our back hip too early, because we swung our lead leg out as the power source and “chased it” into landing. This means we won’t have control of the pelvis upon landing and we’ll be unable to properly pressurize the front leg to keep leverage in the delivery.
This pelvis leverage is essential in making sure we can keep our core stable and allow it to translate the thoracic region forward, instead of rely on it to create motion, which isn’t the primary role of the lumbar region. We want the “core” to simply transfer the energy we created from the lower half efficiently. If we can do that, we allow ourselves to accelerate on a longer line to release, because our path of deceleration is set up to be fully accepted on the front hip’s internal rotation and flexion. If the pelvis is too flat, and relies purely on rotation and not flexion, our line of deceleration becomes much shorter and forces us to handle more of the stress in our throwing arm, which isn’t ideal.
A good example of how both length in the adductors and strength in the posterior chain helped an athlete achieve a more athletic and powerful stride can be seen here. The first clip is a video of a 17 yr old LHP, who was 6’4” 180lbs, and 82-84 at the time of the video:
Notice how his stride pattern is very limited not only in his length toward home, but in its inefficient direction and its ability to allow for a full finish to protect the arm. As you can see, this athlete struggled to get a posterior weight shift out of his gather position, drifted into a closed stride position, and then had too flat of a pelvis position to achieve a proper flexed hip position. As a result, he runs out of lateral rotation in the lead hip and the finish buckles on him. This could be a result of many things, including limited adductor mobility, poor single leg stability, weakness of the anterior or rotary core, etc. Candidly, though, you usually see all these things in untrained pitchers!
Fortunately, this same athlete took it upon himself to devote some quality time to making himself a better athlete, getting stronger, and gaining awareness for the movements the high level delivery was asking of him – and he’s now turned himself into a legitimate prospect. In this more recent video, the athlete is 20yrs old now, 6’5” 215lbs, and 88-91mph, topping at 92mph:
By no means is this athlete a finished product, but you can see where the added strength, mobility, and movement awareness allows him to get into a deeper hip-hinge position, ride out of the stride longer, and certainly take the finish deeper to allow for a longer line of deceleration. The next step for this athlete will be continuing to work on his single-leg stability, as you can see a slight wobble in the landing and a touch of misdirection, but certainly leaps and bounds ahead of where he was three years prior.
To give you an example of where this stride pattern can go, here is an example of one of our more accomplished athletes, Tyler Beede, who was the 14th overall pick in this year's draft and had one of the best amateur stride patterns I’ve seen:
From time to time this athlete will struggle with slight misdirection and postural control, but his ability to pitch 92-96mph with above average off-speed offerings is a testament to the balance and power in the lower half of his delivery.
At the end of the day, everyone is going to present with different levels of mobility, stability and coordination, so you certainly have to leave room in your model to account for individual variance. However, these athletes are good examples of how properly maintained mobility and stability can tie into the high-level delivery to make you a more powerful and durable pitcher in the long run.
Looking for more video analysis and training insights like this? I'd encourage you to sign up for one of our upcoming Elite Baseball Mentorships. We have events in both October and November, and you won't find a more intensive baseball educational course.
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On Wednesday night, the Vanderbilt Baseball team won the first men's national championship in any sport in school history. I'm absolutely ecstatic, as we've trained several current Vanderbilt players as well as some of their former players who are now in professional baseball, and I have a great relationship with the coaching staff.
To make the moment even more special, a long time Cressey Performance athlete, Adam Ravenelle, came on to get a six-out save in the deciding game three:
While Vanderbilt baseball's 2014 season is a amazing story in itself, there's a sub-plot that warrants mention as well, and Adam serves as a perfect example. "Rav" was a 5-10, 125-pound 8th grader when he first timidly walked in to Cressey Performance back in the summer of 2007. At the time, he was a baseball player - but also a golfer, tennis player, and basketball player.
As a freshman and sophomore in high school, he played golf, basketball, and baseball. As a junior, he pared it down to basketball and baseball. Only when he was a high school senior did he trim things down to one sport - and even then, it was after he was already committed to play at Vanderbilt, and a serious MLB Draft prospect (he was drafted in the 44th round out of high school in 2011, and then again in the 4th round this year).
His teammate, Tyler Beede, is another one of our athletes. Ty played football, basketball, and baseball as a freshman. He went to football and baseball as a sophomore, then down to baseball only as a junior. He regretted leaving football, and went back to playing his senior year - and was still a 1st round draft pick in 2011 (and again this year).
I vividly remember a conversation I had with Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin in the winter of 2009-2010 when he talked about how he's always reluctant to recruit baseball-only guys. There are so many incredible benefits to playing multiple sports, from avoiding overuse, to developing general athleticism, to making friends in different social circles. If you look at the roster that just won a College World Series for Vanderbilt, you'll see that recruiting perspective is readily apparent. Look at their roster, and only 9 of the 34 guys come from states that could be perceived as "year-round baseball" states: Georgia, Florida, Texas, California, etc. There are a heck of a lot more guys from Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Kentucky and (of course) Tennessee - all states where it gets cold and snows in the winter, making year-round baseball a lot tougher. Most of the guys on the Vanderbilt roster were great athletes in other sports as well. In fact, of the 9 to which I alluded above, two - Carson Fullmer (FL) and Dansby Swanson (GA) - were praised by the ESPN announcers for their success in other sports (karate and basketball, respectively).
Early specialization might work out for a small percentage of young athletes, but it fails miserably for the majority. And, you can never go wrong with finding and developing general athleticism. Look at Vanderbilt's track record of success over the past decade (and their significantly lower injury rates), and it's impossible to argue. Let kids play, and not just baseball...they might just "surprise" you by winning a national championship.
Congratulations to the Commodores!
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This past week was the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft, and we watched the three days excitedly, as 18 Cressey Sports Performance athletes were selected - including six of the top 100 picks. Among these 18 picks, there were actually several kids who spent their entire high school careers training with us, and one even started with us in middle school. With these guys in mind, I got to thinking a lot about factors I believe helped them to be successful over the long haul. Here are a few that came to mind:
1. They were all multi-sport athletes for at least part of high school.
There's a common misconception that professional athletes have been destined to be professional athletes from the time that they were six years old, so that should be all they should do. It's simply not the case. Time and time again, when I ask our pro guys what sports they played growing up, they share that they did everything. In this group of draft picks, we had basketball captains, great golfers, a D1-caliber football quarterback, a potential NHL draft pick, a long snapper, and one that even started out as a better tennis player, then switched over to baseball. The point? You have to be a good athlete before you can be a good baseball player.
Where does strength and conditioning fit in? Well, to some degree, I see it as another sport that guys can play even after they specialize. Among other things, it affords them the variety they lose in their daily movement patterns.
2. They were "likable" guys and could roll with different social circles.
This might sound weird, but I think the ability to make friends easily is important for long-term athletic success. If you're someone who can't get along easily with others, you'll always be distracted in a team environment, and never able to put full focus on training. Unless they're unbelievably skilled, the guys who say and do the wrong things invariably wind up weeding themselves out.
As a funny example, check out this video of Adam Ravenelle and Tyler Beede. They first met and became friends in 2008 at Cressey Sports Performance. They were from different towns, but actually both wound up committing to Vanderbilt in 2010.
Both were drafted out of high school, but chose to honor their commitments to Vanderbilt - where they were roommates. And, look who was sitting next to Ty as his name was called in the first round of the draft last week:
Adam was drafted in the 4th round a day later, and I know Ty was his biggest fan. Both these guys made friends easily, and it allowed them to benefit more from the environments they were in. They could bounce ideas off of big leaguers who trained at the facility, find throwing and lifting partners to push them. Perhaps most importantly, their likable demeanors made it possible to treat CSP as an "escape" for a few hours when other parts of their lives were distracting or chaotic. When you're a self-centered ego-maniac jerk, you can never escape. With few exceptions, you have to be a good person before you can be a good baseball player.
3. They wanted to be part of something bigger.
One of our 18 players came from a troubled family life about which few people know, and it was a huge step for him to fill us in on the struggles with which he'd dealt. As a sophomore in high school, he did his initial evaluation with Brian St. Pierre (our first employee). About a year later, Brian moved to Maine to go back to school, and the athlete opened up to me about how bummed out he was about it because Brian was one of the few who "knew his story." In short, the coaches at CSP had become more of an extended family than just a bunch of coaches.
Since then, he's been one our biggest advocates, referring several teammates from high school, summer, and college ball to train at Cressey Sports Performance. Much like he's always been a great teammate on the baseball field, he's been a valued part of the CSP Family. You have to be a good teammate before you can be a good baseball player.
4. They never put the carriage in front of the horse.
Looking back on the initial evaluation day for each of these athletes, I can honestly say that not a single one of them ever told me that professional baseball was their goal. As an interesting story, I'll never forget the day I evaluated Forrest Wall, the 35th overall pick this year by the Rockies. It was literally weeks before I had any idea that Forrest was a very established prospect - and I only found out that was the case when someone else "in the know" encouraged me to look him up in more detail. Here was a family that had every reason to brag about how talented their son was, and they went out of their way to avoid it, staying incredible humble the entire time.
Had they told him and everyone around him how great he was all along, would have ended up with the same outstanding character and work ethic that he has today? And, would he have been drafted the other night? It's impossible to say, but what I can tell you that my experience has been that there is generally an inverse relationship between how much a parent brags about his kid, and how hard that kid works.
Looking at our 18 guys, I can honestly say that on their first day at CSP, some didn't even comment that they wanted to play college baseball (even though it was obvious they did). Rather, they all talked about wanting to be bigger, stronger, healthier, or something to that effect. They wanted to find the means to their ends - but not talk about the ends. You've got to be patient, humble, and process-driven before you can be a good baseball player.
5. They all were very consistent.
This is something I really noticed in hindsight. This collection of guys were always good about getting their training in not only during the off-season, but during the in-season period as well. It's always frustrating when guys put in great work in the off-season, only to put it on cruise control during the season, which inevitably leads to them coming back lighter and weaker at the end of the long season; it's just one step forward, and one step back. For these guys, they were at least maintaining - but more often than not, improving during the season. Slow and steady improvements with no hiccups is the name of the game. With such a long competitive season and challenging calendar, you've got to make taking care of your body an "all the time" job to be a good baseball player.
6. They came from strong developmental programs.
While there are a lot of tremendous coaches involved with these 18 players, I want to highlight the one with which I'm the most familiar: Sudbury, MA. In Adam Ravenelle (4th round), Carl Anderson (19th round), and Billy Bereszniewicz (30th round), Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School had three players drafted - all after successful Division 1 Baseball careers. While there may be a few other high schools schools in the country who can boast this, I doubt they're in northern states, where the talent may be thinned out from lacrosse or hockey.
It starts with good feeder programs at the youth levels; Sudbury Little League does a good job of emphasizing development over winning and showcasing talent, and kids don't show up to high school overused or injured. In high school, these three played for Kirk Fredericks, one of the best coaches I've seen at any level of baseball. He hammers home fundamentals, respects the game, and establishing a culture of winning (13 of the last 14 league titles, with three state championships worked in). Perhaps most importantly, the accountability he emphasizes prepares kids for college ball - or whatever the next step in their journey is. At the end of his freshman year of college, one of them actually said to me, "I never really appreciated how good Coach Fredericks was until I got to college and felt more prepared than everyone around me." That's what good coaches do; make it about the team by patiently cultivating habits in impressionable young minds over the long haul.
These three also played for the New England Ruffnecks, one of the premier baseball organizations in the country, and certainly the Northeast. Again, the emphasis is development and playing challenging teams to get kids out of their comfort zones. They aren't just trying to rack up an impressive win-loss record or accumulate trophies. And, the trains always run on time, so players know what is expected of them.
It all comes down to clear and consistent messages. Everyone these guys played for expected quality effort from them every time out, and these coaches all modeled positive behavior. You can't expect kids to develop when coaches show up late, smoke butts in the parking lot, cheat on their wives, and completely disrespect the game. It's about habits more than it is outcomes, so you have to make sure the right person is teaching those habits. You have to be around good people with good skill sets before you can be a good baseball player.
What you might have noticed is that all of these key qualities related to habits and not outcomes. It's not just about being able to deadlift 400 pounds or long toss 300 feet; it's about having the traits that allow for consistent, high-quality effort in the right environments to make the most of the coaching you have at your fingertips, and the natural abilities with which you've been blessed. If you take care of the habits, the outcomes tend to take care of themselves.
Congratulations to not only the 18 CSP draft picks, but also the many other players reading this post who've had this great experience as well. You've surely done a lot of these things right along the way, too.
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The words "baseball" and "summer" have traditionally been virtually synonymous. While the phrase "The Boys of Summer" initially referred to the Brooklyn Dodgers, it's now a term that is applied to all baseball players. If you play baseball, you do so in the summer; that's just how it's always been.
However, as you may have noticed, the game has changed dramatically since the Brooklyn Dodgers took the field. Arm injury rates are sky-high at all levels of baseball. Average fastball velocities are at all-time high, too. Pitchers don't just throw fastball/curveball/change-up anymore; we're also seeing cutters, sliders, and splitters now. And, perhaps most significantly, baseball players are specializing in this one sport alone earlier and earlier - meaning they're showing up to college with more accumulated wear and tear on their bodies, even if that wear and tear is only a blip on a MRI or x-ray, as opposed to actual symptoms.
These factors all build to the question: is it time for a paradigm shift with respect to the baseball calendar?
Both professional and high school baseball players align well with respect to high school ball, as neither of them play fall baseball. The minor league season runs March-September, with the big league season extended by a few weeks on both ends. The high school season generally begins in February/March (with warm weather high school teams starting in January) and wraps up in August. The college season, however, is an incredible challenge. Why? I think this email I received last year from a well respected college pitching coach sums it up their unique scheduling challenges extremely well.
College training schedules and NCAA limitations make it very hard to develop kids properly:
-We have roughly 6 weeks of fall practice – team building, evaluation, some scrimmage
-After that, we have roughly 6-7 more weeks of training time before Thanksgiving and Christmas. We are limited to 2 hours of skill instruction per week: hardly enough time to make good adjustments.
-A 4-week break for Christmas – usually training takes a back seat to holidays, travel, and general laziness.
-We have a 2-week period once school starts to get back into the flow, followed by a 4 week period of practice before 1st game. Biggest goal here is to build a pitch count/base.
-We play 4-5 games per week from February to hopefully June
-Summer ball, for those who need it: this is where it would be great to take time off, get back into the weight room, skill building. BUT, it costs money for summer school AND the NCAA does not allow us to work with our players (skill-wise) during summer school. Plus, we are usually out working hard on recruiting.
Essentially, I am saying that the rules and demands of HS, college, and pro ball are all quite different, yet coaches at each level strive to develop their players. It’s hard to know, based on the unique qualities of each level, what is right and wrong [in terms of time off from throwing].
If it is complete shutdown, then let’s use a hypothetical situation. If I have a pitcher for 4 years and give him 3 months off from throwing per year, I have lost 1 full year of developing his pitching. That seems like a lot of time off…
Here, we realize the challenges that college pitching coaches and their pitchers face:
When does a college pitcher get time off?
The fall is a crucial developmental period for all pitchers, but particularly for incoming freshmen. Most of these freshmen pitchers are coming off "career" highs in innings from their senior years (and subsequent summer ball, in many cases). This is one of many reasons that you see so many schools encouraging freshmen to arrive early; it's not just so that they can take summer courses, but also so that they can't get overused in summer leagues. With the premier prospects who are drafted, there used to be incentive to pitch in the summer to "raise their price tag," but with Major League Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement moving the signing deadline up to approximately July 15 (from August 15) and players signing much more quickly as a result, there really isn't much benefit to playing summer ball, if you're an incoming freshman stud.
This is a particularly important decision to make, as many freshmen struggle during fall ball. I've had lengthy conversations with two of the best college pitching coaches in the country about how they absolutely expect all their freshmen pitchers to see significant velocity drops during the fall. They're adjusting to the increased throwing workload, as well as life on a new campus and a more rigorous academic challenge. Effectively, they take a step back in order to take two steps forward when the winter/spring rolls around. It's important that freshmen show up to campus expecting this drop-off, so it helps to show up fresh rather than dragging before the challenges begin.
What about the summers between freshman/sophomore, sophomore/junior, and junior/senior years, though? I think it goes without saying that there are a number of factors that must be considered:
1. How many innings did a pitcher throw during the spring?
Tyler Beede has been a Cressey Sports Performance athlete since his early high school years, and one of the many reasons he was a first-round draft pick our of high school in 2011 was the fact that he'd never thrown more than 80 innings in a year. He didn't sign, but instead went to Vanderbilt. In his first season there, Tyler threw 71.2 innings - but he also put in a lot of work in the fall season to prepare for that season. He long tossed, threw bullpens, and worked on a curveball at a time of year when he would have normally been playing football or just training. This was "necessary volume" that helped him develop as a pitcher, but it also dictated that some innings probably ought to be subtracted off the tail end of his competitive year, so he opted not to play at the Cape.
Instead, he put in a great summer of training at CSP, gaining 18 pounds of good weight and lots of usable strength. He started his fall throwing program in mid-August and had a great velocity jump during fall ball. He went on to be a finalist for the prestigious Golden Spikes Award in 2013, dropping his ERA by over two runs as compared to the previous year. There are a ton of factors that contributed to these improvements - fantastic pitching coaches, unique throwing programs, an additional year of experience in the SEC, adjustments to living on campus, etc - but the work he put in during the summer of 2012 was definitely a big contributing factor.
Had Tyler sat on the bench for most of the spring season of 2012, though, he would have been a great fit for summer ball, as the spring season would have effectively constituted "time off." Everyone is different.
2. What is the development potential at the summer ball option?
This is the big white elephant in the room that no college coaches will ever talk about publicly. While there are some outstanding opportunities to improve at summer baseball options, there are also a lot of places that are just a field and a bunch of players and coaches. In other words, players sometimes don't exactly thrive. One prominent pitching coach told me last spring, "Summer ball is getting less and less developmental every year. We're sending guys out for it less and less."
Think about it: you have a combination of new coaches, new (host) families, new geographic regions, new teammates, and long bus rides. There are rarely athletic trainers on hand for games, and only a select few teams carry strength and conditioning coaches. Even still, players may want to execute their strength and conditioning programs, but have no gym access in a remote geographic region where they don't have their own transportation. Roughly half of their meals will be pre-game PB&J sandwiches and post-game pizza while on the bus. In short, I'd argue that it's a lot easier for things to go wrong than it is for them to go right.
What's actually somewhat comical is that most college coaches will tell recruits who are drafted that they'll develop better in a college program than they would in minor league baseball if they decide to sign. Yet, that previous paragraph essentially describes minor league baseball to a T, and players are sent in that direction all the time!
Long story short, if you're going to ship off to play in a league and location unfamiliar to you, you and your coach better do your homework. All that said, please don't take the preceding paragraphs as a gross stereotype; there are a lot of fantastic summer ball coaches and experiences out there. You just have to find them and make sure they're in the right system and matched up to the right kids if you're going to call it a great developmental option.
3. What is a player's risk tolerance?
Mark Appel was selected eighth overall in the 2012 draft, but opted to return to Stanford for his senior season. While he'd played summer ball after his freshman and sophomore seasons, Appel opted not to after his junior year. Why not? His risk tolerance changed. He only threw 69 innings as a freshman in 2010 and needed to pitch in the summer that followed to continue to improve. In 2011, he got more innings, but also needed to demonstrate he could be effective against the best college hitters in the country that summer to improve his draft stock. Once you've already been a top 10 overall pick and the NCBWA National Pitcher of the Year, though, there isn't much more to prove in the college game, so summer ball would pose an unnecessary risk. It worked out well, as Mark went on to be the first overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.
Obviously, this is a unique case, as very few throwers will reach this level of success. However, it is a great perspective from which we can appreciate it's not always appropriate to just "ride the horse that got you here." Baseball development is an exception. Summer ball might be a great option for a pitcher with a clean injury history, but not someone with a partial ulnar collateral ligament injury in his recent history. A lot of smart baseball people believe you only have a certain number of pitches in your arm, so you should use them wisely.
4. What are a player's long-term aspirations with baseball: experience or outcome?
Not everyone is going to be a Mark Appel or Tyler Beede. In other words, college baseball may be the end of organized, non-beer-league baseball for a lot of pitchers. In these cases, summer ball is about having fun and enjoying the game before you run out of time to do so. I'm all for it for these individuals. One has to decide whether it's about experience (having fun playing summer ball) or outcome (becoming a better player). These aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, though.
5. Does a player need to pitch or throw?
Some pitchers need in-game pitching experience to develop, while others simply need to build up arm speed. There is a big difference. The former dictates the summer ball is likely a necessity, while the latter can be accomplished via a number of different means. Building arm speed might be a function of long toss, weighted balls, or just taking time off from throwing to build up strength, power, and mobility.
6. Does a player have adequate size and strength?
Taking the summer off from baseball is becoming an increasingly population option for players who are undersized or weak, but more polished on the baseball skill side of things. If you're bigger and stronger, you can withstand a longer season. If you're not, you need to work to address your biggest window of adaptation. More and more coaches seem to be moving in this direction in recent years, as we have dozens of players who move for the summer just to train at one of our Cressey Sports Performance facilities, and the numbers grow considerably each year.
7. What's a player's mental state at the end of the college season?
It might surprise some of you to hear that regardless of talent level, most college and professional players are essentially sick of baseball by the time the last few weeks of the season roll around (assuming they aren't in a playoff scenario). You never want a player to burn out on baseball, so college players need to ask themselves whether they'd rather be on buses in the middle of nowhere in mid-July with their arms dragging, or at home with their families and friends, training and possibly even pursuing an internship. What seems like a great idea in May often winds up being a miserable reality two months later. It all depends on the player and his frame of reference.
Increasing Your Options
In their book, Decisive, authors Chip and Dan Heath discuss how we often make bad decisions because we try to turn each one we encounter into "this OR that." Instead, they argue, we should be trying to determine how to have "this AND that." I think this same logic can be applied to summer baseball.
Coaches and players can dramatically improve the likelihood of a summer ball experience being productive by making players are placed on teams where they can thrive. There needs to be good coaching and access to gyms to keep training during the summer season. And, they need to monitor innings and pitch counts, and educate players on staying out of trouble and on task. Showing up in the fall unprepared is not an option. And, just as importantly, it may mean these players need to start a bit more slowly with fall ball after taking the month of August off from throwing.
Players can also play a portion of the season, or opt to find a league where they might only pitch 3-4 innings once a week. The rest of the week can be planned around training to prepare for the fall season. This is a very popular option among those players who have moved to train at Cressey Sports Performance during the summer, as both our facilities are located near multiple summer baseball leagues in which pitchers can get innings. The days are free for training, and all the games are at night; it's a great developmental set-up.
Players might also opt to simply take the summer off altogether, giving themselves two months off from late May or early June (depending on post-season play) through the middle of August. They'd then start a throwing program to be ready for the start of fall ball, effectively making their "throwing year" September-May/June. The summer months would effectively be an off-season devoted to strength and conditioning that would prepare them for the 8-10 months of throwing that would follow. This option affords two significant, but often overlooked benefits:
a. The overwhelming majority of throwing would be done with the college pitching coach, so players wouldn't be as likely to learn bad habits in the summer while on their own.
b. The most intensive strength and conditioning work would take place when a pitcher isn't throwing. This would ensure that mobility, rotator cuff strength, and scapular control would improve as fast as possible. Improving in these three regards is generally always going to be at odds with throwing.
This final option seems to have some statistical backing, too. Of the college first round draft picks (including supplemental rounds) from 2010-2012, only 68% (50/73) played summer ball (typically Cape Cod League or Team USA) in the previous summer.* And, I suspect that we may have even had some players who would have been first rounders, but slipped in the draft after an injury that may have been exacerbated during summer ball. Conversely, I'm sure there are guys (particularly hitters) who helped their draft stocks by playing summer ball the year before they were draft eligible, as well as ones who benefited greatly from playing in previous years. There is no one right way to approach the decision, and deciding to play likely affords greater benefits to hitters than pitchers.
We really don't know the answers, but these numbers certainly lead us to wondering if we've been asking the right questions. The big one is clearly, "If you're already throwing from September through June, is there really much to gain from continuing to throw in July and August?" When I hear it phrased that way, the answer is a big fat "NO," but I also realize that not all throwing during that September-June window is created equal.
Managing the college pitcher is one of the more challenging responsibilities in the baseball world, as the competitive season is a series of hills and valleys in the life of a student athlete. Additionally, there are numerous NCAA regulations and traditions to keep in mind. As examples, Cape Cod League Baseball might be the single-best example of what baseball really should be like, and many players have always dreamed of playing for Team USA in the summertime. So, we have decisions that must be made on not just physiological factors, but also emotional ones as well.
The truth is that I've seen players make dramatic improvements via each of these three proposed avenues, and I've seen them select these courses of actions based on a number of factors, from burnout, to injuries, to family issues, to academic endeavors.
This article proposed some answers, but more importantly, I hope it introduced some questions that need to be asked to arrive at the right answers for each player.
*A big thanks to CSP intern Rob Sutton for helping to pull together these numbers for me
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Everyone wants to improve pitching velocity, but unfortunately, the answer to the question of "how" is different for everyone. To that end, I pulled together a quick list of 101 strategies you can use to improve pitching velocity. They aren't the same for everyone, but chances are that at least a few of these will help you. I'd encourage you to print this off and highlight the areas in which you think you can improve.
1. Optimize mechanics (this could be 100 more ways in itself; I will leave it alone for now).
2. Gain weight (if skinny).
3. Lose weight (if fat).
4. Get taller (shorter throwers can’t create as much separation, and are further away from homeplate)
5. Get shorter (taller throwers have more energy leaks).
38. Change footwear (guys usually throw harder in cleats).
39. Throw less.
40. Throw more.
41. Pitch less.
42. Pitch more.
43. Politely ask your mom to stop yelling, “Super job, kiddo!” after every pitch you throw.
44. Do strength exercises outside the sagittal plane.
45. Take all the money you were going to blow on fall/winter showcases and instead devote it to books, DVDs, training, food, and charitable donations. If there is anything left over, blow it on lottery tickets and sketchy real estate ventures, both of which have a higher return-on-investment than showcases in the fall and winter.
46. Switch from a turf mound indoors to a dirt/clay mound outdoors.
51. Improve glute activation so that you can fully extend your hip in your delivery.
52. Stop thinking that the exact workout a big league pitcher uses is exactly what you need to do.
53. Subcategory of #52: Remove the phrase "But Tim Lincecum does it" from your vocabulary. You aren't Tim Lincecum, and you probably never will be. Heck, Tim Lincecum isn't Tim Lincecum anymore, either. You can learn from his delivery, but 99.9999% of people who try to copy his delivery fail miserably.
54. Read more. This applies to personal development in a general sense, and baseball is certainly no exception. The guys who have the longest, most successful careers are usually the ones who dedicate themselves to learning about their craft.
55. Stay away from alcohol. It kills tissue quality, negatively affects protein synthesis, messes with sleep quality, and screws with hormonal status.
56. Incorporate more single-leg landings with your plyos; you land on one leg when you throw, don't you?
57. Be a good teammate. If you aren't a tool, they'll be more likely to help you when you get into a funk with your mechanics or need someone to light a fire under your butt.
58. Respect the game. Pitchers who don't respect the game invariably end up getting plunked the first time they wind up going up to bat. Getting hit by a lot of pitches isn't going to help your velocity.
59. Train the glutes in all three planes (read more HERE).
60. Remember your roots and always be loyal. You never know when you'll need to go back to ask your little league, middle school, high school, or AAU coach for advice to help you right the ship.
61. Get focal manual therapy like Active Release.
62. Get diffuse manual therapy like instrument-assisted modalities or general massage.
63. Make sweet love to a foam roller.
64. Throw a jacket on between innings to keep your body temperature up.
65. Pitch from the wind-up.
66. Drink magical velocity-increasing snake oil (just making sure you were still reading and paying attention).
67. Pick a better walkout song.
68. Get on a steeper mound (expect this to also increase arm stress).
69. Train hip mobility and core stability simultaneously.
70. Get around successful people in the pitching world and learn from them. Find a way to chat with someone who has accomplished something you want to accomplish. If you hang around schleps who complain about their genes and have never thrown above 75mph, though, expect to be a schlep who throws 75mph, too.
71. Pick the right parents (sorry, genes do play a role).
In continuing with our "Best of 2011" theme to wrap up the year, today, I've got the top EricCressey.com videos of the year.
The Cressey Performance Elite Baseball Development Video - This was something that we needed to do simply to outline how we approach off-season development for our baseball clients, but it ended up being a lot of fun to be a part of, as a lot of the staff and athletes took a genuine interest in how it'd turn out. A special thanks goes out to Matt and Jamie at Lasting Memories Videotaping for making it happen.
Tyler Beede Draft Reaction - This was a fun night not just because of the obvious excitement of having 120 people at your house (yes, this is my living room), but because it was awesome just to appreciate just how far Tyler had coming as a person and an athlete since he started training with us back in 2008.
How to Create a Real Strength and Conditioning Program - This is one of the webinars I created around the re-launch of Show and Go back in October.
How to Create an Imbalanced Strength and Conditioning Program that Works - I released this webinar just a few weeks after the first one, as I was feeling the "webinar mojo" and this had been a topic I'd want to cover for quite some time.
Those were my top five videos of the year, but there were definitely plenty more you may have missed. Luckily, you can check them out on my YouTube Channel.
I'll be back tomorrow with one last "Best of 2011" feature.
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When I woke up this morning, it seemed just like any other Wednesday morning.
I didn't even realize that it had been four years since July 13, 2007: the day we opened the doors at Cressey Performance. I would have blown right through today if my business partner, Pete, hadn't reminded me of July 13's significance when I came in to the office today.
On our first anniversary in 2008, I was absolutely swamped, as we'd just moved into a larger facility. I was 100% aware of the significance of the day, but literally didn't have time to enjoy it.
On the second anniversary, things had settled down a bit, and I wrote up a blog to celebrate the day: The Two Year Mark.
Last year, on the third anniversary, I went "all in" and wrote up this bad boy: Three Years of Cressey Performance: The Right Reasons and the Right Way.
This year, I celebrating by simply forgetting.
Is this my first "over 30" moment, or is there something to be said for the fact that I forgot?
This has been, unarguably, our best year on a variety of fronts. Some highlights:
Tim Collins - one of our first pro guys and longest tenured clients - went to the big leagues this year. The same goes for guys like Cory Gearrin, Steve Cishek, and Trystan Magnuson. We also saw more professional athletes (and clients overall) than any other year before.
Tyler Beede - also a long-time Cressey Performer - was drafted in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft...and we celebrated in my living room.
Tyler was one of 12 players with CP ties taken in this year's draft.
Over 30 CP athletes in the Class of 2011 signed letters of intent to play Division 1 baseball.
We expanded our staff to include some great people who complemented our existing skill sets and program offerings nicely.
We added about 1,000 square feet more office space and polished up our look with some new paint and more framed/autographed jerseys on the walls. I even got my own office - which is shared with our new mascot, Tank, of course:
Most importantly, though, we continued to have an absolute blast each and every day we came to "work" - and that, to me, is what it's all about. We made new friends and further developed already-existing friendships. The CP family grew, and we offered a service to people that helped them get to where they wanted to be.
You'll notice I didn't mention financial gain - and the reason is pretty simple; I view it as secondary. It's the destination, and I'm a lot more concerned about the process. Cultivate relationships, deliver a quality service, and genuinely care, and the money will take care of itself. Before the business gurus out there start crapping on me, I'll add that our business has grown by more than 30% over the past year in spite of the fact that I usually forget that I'm supposed to receive a paycheck at month's end. Pete just surprises me with it.
Don't get me wrong; you need effective business systems to make things work. If you're an organizational disaster and can't make your rent, it's going to be pretty hard to put on a happy face and make someone's day with your smile. However, the overwhelming majority of "savvy business decisions" are actually a combination of common sense, courtesy, and a genuine desire to help someone.
Most of the people that ask us business questions want to know how much we charge, how much our rent is, how we schedule, what our hours are, who painted Tony's t-shirt on him, what our start-up costs were, and why we don't use electronic funds transfer (EFT). What they should be asking us:
1. How do you remember so many people's names?
2. How can you possibly know everyone's health history who walks through your door?
3. How do you write individual strength and conditioning programs for everyone?
4. What do you do to build relationships?
5. How do you find time to get to so many baseball games?
6. How do you do to educate and retain staff?
7. How is it that all of your clients seem to be friends with each other? (As a little aside to this point, Tim Collins was at the facility the past two days while home for the all-star break, and he greeted every person who walked through the office door. He even answered the phone for us twice. That's big-league customer service.)
There are some brilliant business consultants out there. Pat Rigsby and Alwyn Cosgrove, for instance, are super bright guys and great friends who have helped loads of fitness professionals increase their incomes and improve their quality of life. They are also the first guys to tell you that if you don't know how to cultivate relationships and treat people right, then you're studying for the wrong test by looking for the perfect business plan.
Spend more time focusing on the process, and worry less about the destination. Four years from now, you'll probably enjoy your "job" a lot more - both psychologically and monetarily - and have a lot more friends and experiences that make you smile each time you think of them. You'll probably even forget it's your business' anniversary!
Thank you, as always, to everyone for all your support.
As a mini-celebration of this day, I'll do a little promo: if you purchase a CP hat HERE before Friday (July 15) at midnight, I'll send along a video of a 37-minute staff in-service I did on shoulder assessment that's uploaded to the 'web.
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This past weekend was really special for me, as I got to watch about two dozen Cressey Performance athletes go out and win the Massachusetts Division 1 State Championship for Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School.
While we work with kids from dozens of high schools in the area, L-S baseball was the first program that “took a chance” on me when I was the new guy in town, and from that initial group of guys grew the Cressey Performance “baseball empire” that now includes loads of professional and college players. I’ve become great friends with the entire coaching staff, and the players’ families have really adopted my wife and me as part of the L-S baseball community.
This year’s senior class included kids who actually started training with us in eighth grade, and therefore marked the first class of guys who spent their entire high school careers with us at Cressey Performance. In thinking back on the progress one athlete, Adam Ravenelle, made over those four years, I felt compelled to write this blog.
On Adam’s first day at CP, he looked pretty intimidated – just like any 14-year-old would when stepping into a weight room for the first time. However, when I went to do his shoulder assessment, I quickly realized that he’d fit in just fine. When I found that he had almost 140 degrees of external rotation in his throwing shoulder, I turned to my business partner and commented that he had “a big league shoulder” and that if he was willing to put in the work, he’d be a pretty good pitcher (even though he was a shortstop/third basemen at the time).
Four years later, with a fastball in the low 90s, Adam is a 44th round draft pick of the Yankees and a State Champion with a baseball scholarship to Vanderbilt. He’s pitched at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and at all the major competitions – Area Codes, East Coast Pro, USA Baseball Tournament of Stars – that an accomplished player could attend.
You know what, though? These accomplishments didn't magically happen; rather, there were thousands of small, but extremely significant moments along the way that took Adam from a "kid with a good shoulder" to the athlete he is today. There were all the days when he came in to get his arm stretched out the day after a start, and all the times that he came in to lift on a Sunday afternoon in-season when he could just have skipped lifting during the season, like many players ignorantly do. There were all the meals he ate along the way to gaining over 50 pounds – even though he wasn’t hungry, most of the time. In fact, sometimes we even made him attack loaves of bread in the office before he was allowed to leave.
Adam was really a microcosm of the entire state championship Lincoln-Sudbury team. LS has now won 11 straight league titles and three of the last seven state championships, yet their head coach, Kirk Fredericks, called this “the best practice team” he’s ever had. In other words, they did the little things well day-to-day in order to succeed. They never skipped steps.
They also didn’t have a single player miss a game due to injury over the course of the entire season. Their consistency not only afforded them the best possible outcome, but kept them healthy in the process.
It was a remarkably fresh breath of air for me. I’ve seen a change in young athletes over the past few years where they all want something badly – whether it’s a state championship, college scholarship, or a trip to the big leagues – but very few kids really seem willing to put in the work to get it. The fitness world isn’t much different; many folks want the fastest way to drop 30 pounds before a wedding or trip to the beach, but all the while ignore the valuable lessons to be learned and habits to be acquired along the way. They want the destination, but don't care for the process.
Tim Collins didn’t go to the big leagues because he was more gifted than anyone else. He went to the big leagues because he was the first guy back to train at the end of every minor league season, and he lived at the gym and did absolutely everything each of his coaches told him to do.
Tyler Beede wasn’t born a first round draft pick. He earned it by learning to command his fastball and develop his change-up when all the other kids thought it would be fun to screw around with curveballs when they were 11. He made himself into a first round pick, in part, by driving 40 minutes to CP, training, and driving 40 minutes home 3-4 days per week for the past three years - also gaining almost 50 pounds in the process.
Jordan Cote didn’t just get called in the 3rd round by the Yankees or win the New Hampshire Gatorade Player of the Year award this year because he was 6-6 and “projectable.” He worked to get it by driving two hours every Saturday morning for the past two years to throw and train at CP at 9AM when everyone else his age was sleeping in. And that’s why he went from 185 pounds to 218 pounds over the course of 18 months – almost half of which was during the in-season period. He also drove a long way to play for the New England Ruffnecks program, which is 2.5 hours away in Massachusetts - but consistently produces some of the best talent in New England.
In no way am I saying that Cressey Performance alone was responsible for these guys’ success, nor are these the only guys who did what it took to succeed in recent months. Rather, I’m showing you that in two aspects of their preparation – training and nutrition – they did the little things that it took to excel. They certainly did the same with on-field practice, school work, and community service to get to where they are. There were obviously end goals in mind, but they never interfered with accomplishing day-to-day, hour-to-hour, and moment-to-moment objectives.
To that end, the next time you find yourself fantasizing about your athletic dreams or fitness goals, take a step back and consider whether you’re doing what you need to do in the present to get to where you need to be.
Are you waking up ten minutes early so that you can have a good breakfast before you go to school, or are you the guy that simply complains that you “don’t have time” for a good breakfast?
Are you blocking off an hour in your day to go to the gym, or are you going to allow it to fill up with other obligations that can’t possibly be more important than your health?
Are you dropping hundreds of dollars on showcases when you should be spending time developing your abilities by taking ground balls and batting practice, long tossing, strength training, and working on your mobility?
There is no single way to get to where you want to be. Likewise, there is no magic pill. It takes time, consistency, attention to detail, and an appreciation of what must get done in the short term in order to attain long-term success.
Now, shouldn’t you be doing something right now to get closer to your long-term goals?
Congratulations, Lincoln-Sudbury baseball, and thank you – both for the lessons you’ve taught us and for having us along for the ride!
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