Home Posts tagged "improve pitching velocity" (Page 2)

College Baseball: Is Summer Ball Worth It?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Wrap-up

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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How Each Pitcher Creates (or Loses) Velocity Differently

If you've read my baseball content on this website for any length of time, you've surely noticed that I'm a firm believer that no two pitchers are built exactly the same.  Rather, they all develop velocity via different combinations of athletic qualities - or miss out on velocity gains because they don't possess some of these qualities.

To that end, a while back, I gave a presentation down in Texas to a group of a few hundred pitching coaches on this very topic, and it's now being released.  Check it out:

Pitching Whip: What it is and How to Get it

Both electronic versions and DVDs are available, but only for a short time - and at the current 75% off discount. So, don't delay; check it out here now.

Also, on a related note, for those who don't know that I publish a free baseball-specific newsletter, you can subscribe to it in the opt-in box below (you'll receive a free copy of the Cressey Performance Post-Throwing Stretches, too):

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I’m Having a Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sale (Just Like Everyone Else on the Planet)

I guess I'm joining in the discount madness this holiday season, even if I didn't have to do any planning!  Here are some options for your holiday shopping at EricCressey.com:

1. Whip: What it is and How You Get it - This was a presentation I did a while back at Ron Wolforth's Pitching Coaches Bootcamp, and it's now available for sale individually. In the presentation, I talk about factors the influence whether you increase throwing velocity and how strength and conditioning programs can have a dramatic impact - either positive or negative - on whether one develops the whip needed to throw harder.  You can either watch this online or get it as a DVD.

2. 20% off all Physical Products at MikeReinold.com - This sale includes Functional Stability Training and Optimal Shoulder Performance, along with many of Mike Reinold's other products.  Just enter the coupon code BLACKFRIDAY2012 at checkout to get the discount.

3. 15% of all Products at RobertsonTrainingSystems.com - This sale includes Assess and Correct, Building the Efficient Athlete, and Magnificent Mobility, along with many other products from Mike Robertson. The discount will automatically be applied at checkout.

We don't put products on sale very often, so be sure to take advantage of these offers before they expire at the end of the day on Monday!

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11 Random Thoughts on Baseball Strength and Conditioning

With the off-season at hand, I thought I'd type up some random thoughts that have come up in conversations with professional, college, and high school players over the past few weeks as they've wrapped up their seasons and transitioned to off-season mode.

1. Arm care drills don't really provide arm care when you do the exercises incorrectly. When you do eight exercises for three sets of 15 reps each every single day, but you do all the exercises incorrectly, you’re really just turning yourself into 360 reps worth of suck.

2. Piggybacking on #1, if you think you need 360 reps of arm care exercises per day, you really need to educate yourself on how the arm actually works. Also, when you eventually realize that you probably don’t even need ¼ of that volume to keep your arm healthy, you should definitely pick up a new hobby with all that newly discovered free time. Maybe you’ll even wind up kissing a girl for the first time.

3. In the battle to increase pitching velocity, all anyone seems to talk about is how to increase arm speed, which is a function of how much force can be produced and how quickly it can be applied.  So, we focus heavily on long toss, weighted ball programs, and mound work to try to produce more force.  The inherent problem with this strategy is that it ignores the importance of accepting force.  I'll give you an example.

Imagine two people side-by-side holding slingshots, each of which has the same thickness rubber band.  They both pull the band back with the right hand and hold the other end with the left. One guy has a limp left hand and his left forearm "gives" as he pulls the band back, and the other guy keeps the left side firm.  They both shoot the rock; which one goes farther?  Obviously, it's the one with the firm front side; that stiffness enables the arm to accept force.

This is a common problem with many young pitchers who haven't built a foundation of strength, as well as advanced pitchers whose velocity dips over the course of a season, usually when they lose body weight. If your lower-body strength and power diminishes, you'll collapse on that front side and leak energy.  And, you'll commonly miss up and arm side. 

Basically, you need to be strong eccentrically into hip flexion, adduction, and internal rotation - which is why the glutes are so important for pitching (check out this post from a while back for more information on the functional anatomy side of things).  Think of pitching with a weak landing leg as throwing like a guy with a slight hamstrings strain; in order to protect yourself, you flop instead of planting.

4. Has an accomplished marathoner every thrown 95mph? Actually, has an accomplished marathoner ever done anything athletic other than running?

5. We definitely need to get John Clayton to cover MLB instead of the NFL.

Baseball hasn’t seen this kind of talent in a non-player since this Fenway Park security guard put the Terry Tate on this deserving schmuck:

6. It amazes me how many baseball players don’t take care of their eyes. They are your livelihood, people! Yearly check-ups are a good start, but if you’ve heard some of the stories I’ve heard about how terrible guys are with taking care of their contact lenses, you’d be astounded. Example: I once had an athlete come in with terribly red eyes, so I sent him to see my wife, Anna, who is (conveniently) an optometrist. He informed her that he’d been putting his contacts in the same solution at night for two weeks. That’s like reusing the same bath water for 14 days – except the eyes are worse because they’re more prone to infection.

7. Why do professional teams spend anywhere from $484,000 to $30,000,000 per year on a single player, yet try to save money by letting clubbies feed all their minor leaguers pizza, fried chicken, PB&J, and salami sandwiches on white bread?

8. This kid has a full scholarship to train at Cressey Performance whenever he opts to pursue it.

See what I just did there? It wasn’t baseball-related at all, but I just tied it in.

9. Strength and conditioning has “changed the game” with respect to early sports specialization as it relates to baseball development. Kids can get away with specializing earlier if they’re involved in a well-rounded strength and conditioning program because these programs afford as much and, sometimes, more variety than playing a traditional sport. This approach to development does, however, depend heavily on the self-restraint of players, parents, and coaches to get kids 2-3 months per year without a ball in their hands. And, they need to seek out opportunities to play pick-up basketball, ultimate Frisbee, and other random games.

10. If you’re already taking 150 ground balls per day during the season, do you really need to do extra agility work? This is like a NASCAR champ hitting up the go-karts on the way home from the race track.

11. The other day, I read a review in the International Journal of Athletic Training that focused on the different biomechanics and pathology of various pitching styles.  The authors (Truedson et al) made a strong case for modifications to training programs - particularly with respect to core stability - based on trunk tilt angles at ball release.  Overhand and three-quarters guys tilt away from the throwing arm, sidearm guys stand upright, and submarine guys tilt toward the throwing arm. Folks have long discussed the concept of posture from a mechanics standpoint, but I haven't seen anyone who has utilized this information to modify an intended training outcome from a strength and conditioning standpoint.  Obviously, you could easily make the case that submarine pitchers need more rotary and lateral core stability than all other pitchers.

Lateral core stability exercises teach you how to resist lateral flexion; in other words, your goal is to avoid tipping over. These drills may start with basic side bridging drills and progress all the way up through more advanced TRX drills and 1-arm carrying variations. Rotary core stability exercises educate folks on how to resist excessive rotation through the lumbar spine. Examples include drills like landmines, lifts, and chops.

Sidearm pitchers are much more upright with the torso, so they likely need more anterior core than rotary/lateral core stability.  Of course, you're still going to train all three.

Anterior core stability exercises teach the body to resist excessive lumbar spine extension, and encompass a variety of drills, starting with dead bug, curl-up, and prone bridging activities. In prepared individuals, they progress all the way up through more advanced exercises like reverse crunches, stability ball rollouts, and TRX flutters and fallouts.

Finally, the overhand and 3/4 guys - which are obviously the largest segment - likely just need an equal dose of the three approaches.

For more thoughts on core stability training for health and performance, I'd encourage you to check out our Functional Stability Training DVD set.

That concludes this little glimpse into my mind as we enter the off-season.  I'll probably wind up doing this again every 4-6 weeks as I have discussions on various topics with our pro guys as they return.

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Body Weight, Throwing Velocity, and Pitching Injuries: Interesting Parallels

This morning, my good friend (and fellow baseball aficionado) Lou Schuler posted the link to an article that compared mortality rates in football players and baseball players. If you'd like to check it out, you can do so HERE.

One thing the article showed that I found very interesting was the rapid physical development of the average MLB player.  In 1960, the average player was 72.6 inches and 186 pounds, which is actually surprisingly comparable to what one might expect of the prototype male model for a magazine (I'd call this a weighted average of the skinny Abercrombie types and the more athletically-built Men's Health guys).  In 2010, however, those numbers had shifted to 73.7 inches and 208.9 pounds.  For those curious about what it looks like in a jersey, this was right about the height/weight of CP athlete and Orioles utility man Ryan Flaherty when he got to spring training this year:

Height had increased relatively linearly over the course of the 40 years, presumably as teams scouted and selected taller players and the game increased in popularity, drawing better athletes to the sport. Weight, on the other hand, made a rapid surge (+18.5 pounds) in the fifteen years between 1995 and 2010 (and +20.9 pounds between 1990 and 2010).  You'd expect a small increase alongside average height improvements, but this jump can only be explained by the increased emphasis on strength and conditioning (which was obviously aided by the steroid era for quite some time).

I don't think the results of this study are all that awe-inspiring - that is, until you look at them alongside some other numbers in baseball over the past decade.  As Jayson Stark discussed in his outstanding article, The Age of the Pitcher and How We Got Here, pitchers have dominated more and more over the past ten years. Check out these 2000 vs. 2011 changes Stark highlighted in his article:

Runs Scored: 24,971 vs. 20,808
Home runs: 5,693 vs. 4,552
 
Then, between 2006 and 2011:

Average ERA: 4.53 vs. 3.94
Strikeouts Per 9 Innings: 6.6 vs. 7.1

Perhaps most telling is the fact that between 2007 and 2011, the number of MLB pitchers with an average fastball velocity of 95mph or higher increased from 11 to 35.  When velocities are jumping like that, it's hard to say that the improved pitching performances are just due to the fact that guys are introducing better secondary pitches (most notably cutters), or that hitters are falling off because they're off the sauce.  Pitchers are getting more dominant.

I understand Stark's point that hitting has declined considerably in recent years as strikeout totals have piled up and batting averages have plummeted. However, I'm not really interested in debating whether offense is falling off because pitchers are getting better or because hitters are getting worse, because it's obviously a combination of the two.  However, what I think is a hugely valuable takeaway from this is that increased body weight is once again associated with increased pitching velocity.

Can you throw hard without being heavy?  Absolutely; many guys do it.  Would many of these already-elite slighter-framed MLB pitchers benefit from increases in body weight?  In many cases, yes - assuming the changes in body weight are gradual, accompanied by strength/power gains, and properly integrated with their existing mechanics.  While a gain of ten pounds seems like a huge deal to most pitchers, the truth is that it's actually a trivial amount of muscle mass over an entire body.  Have a look at this picture of 5lbs of muscle vs. 5lbs of fat that's floated around the internet for a while now:

Now, imagine spreading two of the red masses on the right over the course of an entire body; you would barely notice they're there, especially on the average MLB player, who is almost 6-2.  I guarantee you that if you hide one of those in each glute, you're going to see some big velocity gains, regardless of who you are.

Of course, every action has a reaction.  While you'll be more successful if you throw harder, you'll also be more predisposed to arm injuries. It should come as no surprise that the number of Tommy John surgeries has gone sky-high as more and more guys have blown up radar guns (and scales). Run fast and you're more likely to pull a hamstring.  Drive your car fast and you're more likely to crash.

Lots of people are quick to hop on board the "all injuries are due to bad mechanics" bandwagon, but the truth is that a lot of injuries are due in large part to the fact that a lot of guys are throwing really, really hard nowadays.  And, taking it a step further, they were usually throwing pretty hard at a young age - and on five different teams, in front of 150 radar guns at each game, with absurd pitch counts, while jumping from showcase to showcase, while playing year-round without a quality baseball strength and conditioning program and arm care routine in place. The truth is that all injuries are multi-factorial, and we have to control what we can control with an athlete, especially when we first interact with that player after years of mismanagement.

 

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Developing Baseball Power: What the Latest Research Says

Back in my What I Learned in 2010 feature, I made the following observation:

Babe Ruth hit a ton of homeruns in spite of being a seemingly out-of-shape fat guy. I've seen more than dozen pitchers throw well above 90 mph without even being able to vertical jump 23 inches.

What gives? Well, these athletes are just incredibly efficient – and powerful – in the transverse and frontal planes. Would being an elite sprinter make one a successful hitter or pitcher? Of course not, yet most strength and conditioning coaches train their rotational sport athletes as if they were trying to elevate them to elite status in a sagittal-plane dominant sport. They assume that general exercises like squats, deadlifts, and Olympic lifts will simply carry over once an athlete starts throwing or hitting.

And, to some degree, they do carry over because of the involved structures and systemic training effect, but I think that there's a way to tighten up the learning loop.

People think I'm crazy when I say that we don't Olympic lift our baseball players. We also don't do much vertical jumping. At the end of the day, jumping high doesn't really matter that much. Rotating fast and moving laterally quickly does, though, so we focus our power-oriented work on rotational medicine ball drills and lots of laterally-directed jumping/landing, and supplement it with lifting and sprinting.

I reiterated these thoughts a few weeks ago with my post, Why Baseball Players Shouldn't Olympic Lift.  This kicked off some heated debates, so I thought I'd contact Graeme Lehman for an interview on the topic.  As a brief background, back in 2010 - just a few months after I had the aforementioned article published - Graeme informed me that he was actually in the process of researching this very topic for his master's thesis.  Today, we're fortunate to have him here to discuss his findings and their practical applications.

EC: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Graeme. Can you start off by telling me a bit about both your baseball and educational backgrounds?

GL: First of all, thank you for asking me to do this interview; it is an honor to be a guest on your site, which I have used as an educational resource for years.

Baseball has always been my sport of choice despite growing up in Edmonton, Alberta during the 80s with the best hockey team ever assembled playing in my back yard (five Stanley Cups in seven years). I was fortunate enough to secure a scholarship to play baseball in North Dakota, but the school I attended didn’t have a kinesiology program, so I chose the major that I thought would afford me the best chance of getting a job, a degree in business administration. Ironically, and perhaps fatefully, my business degree got me a job as the manager of a small personal training studio. One day a trainer didn’t show up and I was thrown into the fire.

This first experience in a strength coach setting fueled a new found desire to educate myself about the world of exercise science. I read everything I could get my hands on including all of the articles that guys like you, Mike Robertson, Chad Waterbury, Mike Boyle wrote for T-Nation. I was hooked, and in 2006, I became a CSCS, and just one year later I was enrolled in a graduate school at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Dr. David Behm’s Kinesiology program.

Since my collegiate days in ND, I have been both a baseball coach and strength coach for various individuals and teams including two years as the S&C for the UBC Thunderbirds. I have also continued playing in various men’s leagues in order to test out my own theories and keep chasing the dream hoping to become the next Jim Morris.

In case you’re trying to follow along with the various places I lived, they were:

1- Edmonton, Alberta (cold)
2- Jamestown, North Dakota (cold & windy)
3- St. John’s, Newfoundland (cold, windy and wet)
4- Vancouver, British Columbia (wet)

Living in these less than ideal climates has really made me excited about the work you do and the results you get in snowy Hudson, Massachusetts.

EC: How did you wind up deciding to pursue this research study, and what was the hypothesis that you were testing?

GL: My initial reasoning was quite simple: I wanted to help baseball players throw harder. As a strength coach, I thought that improving lower body power would be one of the best ways to achieve this goal. This led me to question: “what kind of lower body power can be improved in order to have a better chance of carrying over from the weight room to the baseball diamond?”

In the past, scores from traditional tests like vertical jump, broad jump and 60-yard dash times have not had any significant correlation to throwing velocity (Spaniol 1997). This made some sense because I have known some guys that I wouldn’t call “athletic” but could still throw gas. Mechanics obviously play a huge roll, but there is some research that stress’ the importance of lower body power in creating throwing velocity.

MacWilllams et al. (1998) showed that higher levels of force production by the back leg in the direction towards the plate led to higher wrist/ball velocity. While Matsuo et al. (2001) showed that what happens to a pitchers front knee between the time the front foot hits the ground and the time the ball is released is the key differentiator between “low” and “high” velocity throwing groups. Those that had the ability to extend their knee rather than going into further flexion threw harder.

So, it’s pretty easy to see that each leg is performing independent actions in a number of planes which don’t carry over to traditional bi-lateral sagittal. Thus, the principal of specificity was not taken into account and I know from your research, Eric, that you hate it when this principal is ignored.

It became obvious that we should be including tests which look at independent leg action, different planes of motion along with different kinds of strength (concentric, isometric, isometric).

EC: What kind of subjects did you have participating in the study, and what challenges did you face in dealing with them?

GL: My subjects were all male college level baseball players from two different teams. In total, I had 42 subjects who were approximately 19.8 years old and 183.3 cm tall and weighed 83.1 kg.

The biggest challenge was to create a list of tests which covered a wide spectrum of lower body power qualities to complement traditional running and jumping tests, which I also included. Each test also had to be easily reproduced by any strength or baseball coach in order to make this information user-friendly.

EC: Please describe your methods and the results you attained.

GL: We split up the athletes into left and right handed subjects and we measured throwing velocity was in two ways:

(1) Stationary throwing - similar to a pitcher throwing from the stretch.
(2) Shuffle approach - similar to a third basemen making a strong throw across the diamond.

This gave us four different groups. The throwing velocities from each group were correlated against the results of each lower body power test along with height and weight, looking for any significance. While there were was some correlation to body weight and med ball throws in one or two of the groups, only one test batted 1.000: the lateral to medial jump. This was the only test that was performed in the frontal plane.

Here is what this test looks likes. Stand on one leg then jump towards your midline in the frontal plane. Land with both feet together at the same time and take the measurement from the closest body part (lateral edge of the inside foot) to the starting line.

Since the lateral to medial jump score of the same side leg to the throwing arm (right leg for righties) went 4 for 4 in showing a positive correlation in each group, we made the conclusion that power is plane specific.

This was one of these “duh” moments because it makes obvious sense. If I can have more energy going towards my target, I have a better chance to transferring more energy up the kinetic chain to my throwing arm. If the rules didn’t stop me I would crow hop every time I pitched (like a Trevor Bauer warm-up) pitch trying to get as much as energy as I can going towards my target.

The pitching coach in me wants to warn against the young pitcher reading this and going out and trying jump towards the plate in order to boost their fastball. While it is important to initiate energy towards your target you need to be strong enough to capture and transfer that energy towards. If you aren’t strong enough on the front side you will exhibit what we in the business call an energy leak, just like the “low throwing velocity group from Matsuo’s study.

[Note from EC: for more reading on this front, check out my series, Increasing Pitching Velocity: What Stride Length Means and How to Improve It - Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.]

EC: Okay, these are all well and good, but let’s talk practical applications. What can coaches take away from your research to immediately make their baseball strength and conditioning programs better?

GL: I think this helps us make smarter decisions in what we need to add/emphasize in our programs, and what we can subtract/deemphasize. Basically, we need to add more exercises that will improve frontal plane power and subtract some of the exercises that don’t. For example, hang cleans and drop jumps might help increase vertical jumping ability, but if goal is to throw 90mph these might not be the best use of our limited amount of time and energy.

The hard part about training the frontal plane is that your options are limited by traditional weight training. We need to think outside of the box like Bret Contreras did with his hip thrust in trying to improve running speed. Exercises that I would say to add or emphasis would be band resisted lateral jumps and lateral sled dragging since they are both performed in the frontal plane.

On the flip side, if we spend time working on creating more energy, we also have to think about how we can absorb it and ultimately transfer it to the baseball. This makes me think that single-leg training is very important, so we need to emphasize qualities like concentric strength for the back leg and eccentric strength for the lead leg.

EC: How about future research? What do we need to study next in order to build on these findings to continue to improve our understanding of long-term management of overhead throwing athletes, particularly pitchers?

GL: The next step would be to create a long-term study where a group of experienced baseball players train for 4-8 weeks. One group would include some frontal plane movements and the other wouldn’t. Test both pre and post throwing velocity and you’ve got another study. I wish I had the resources to do this, but I also don’t feel very ethical having some young baseball players not using these any frontal plane movements.

I think that these results also point to the fact that throwing a baseball is a full body movement. If we can get our pitchers throwing more like athletes and harness the power created by the lower body, we can eliminate some stress from the throwing arm keeping more baseball players in the game.

EC: Thank you very much for your great insights. Where can my readers find more from you?

GL: Thank you again for having me. I have a blog where I translate some of the geeky exercise science research related to baseball into Layman’s terms (cheesy use of my last name but it works). My goal there is to cover the gaps between the research lab, weight room and baseball field so that more players and coaches can benefit from all the information that is available.

You can also find me at Inside Performance, which is an awesome indoor baseball training facility in North Vancouver (possibly the rainiest place in the world) where I work as a S&C coach.

References

MacWilliams, B, Choi, T, Perezous, M, Chao, E, and McFarland, E. Characteristic ground reaction forces in baseball pitches. Am J Sports Med 26: 66-71, 1998.

Matsuo, T, Escamilla, R, Fleisig, G, Barrentine, S, and Andrews, J. Comparison of kinematic and temporal parameters between different pitch velocity groups. J Appl Biomech 17: 1-13, 2001.

Spaniol, FJ. Predicting throwing velocity in college baseball players. J Strength Cond Res 11: 286, 1997.

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Should Pitching Coaches Understand Research Methods and Functional Anatomy?

Quite some time ago, I met a pitching coach who made a bold statement to me:

"Most Major League pitchers have terrible mechanics."

I don't know if he meant that they were mechanics that could lead to injuries, or simply mechanics that would interfere with control and velocity development, but either way, I shrugged it off.  Why?

Their mechanics are so terrible that they're in the top 0.0001% of people on the planet who play their sport.  And, they're paid extremely well to be terrible, I suppose.

Kidding aside, this comment got me to thinking about something that's been "festering" for years now, and I wanted to run it by all of you today to get your impressions on it.  In other words, this post won't be about me ranting and raving about how things should be, but rather me starting a dialogue on one potential way to get the baseball development industry to where it needs to be, as it clearly isn't there yet (as evidenced by the fact that more pitchers are getting hurt nowadays than ever before).

The way I see it, mechanics are typically labeled as "terrible" when a pitcher has:

1. Trouble throwing strikes

2. Pitching velocity considerably below what one would expect, given that pitcher's athleticism

3. Pain when throwing

4. Mechanical issues that theoretically will predispose him to injury 

In the first three cases, anyone can really make these observations.  You don't need to be trained in anything to watch the walk totals pile up, read a radar gun, or listen when a pitcher says, "It hurts."  Moreover, these issues are easier to coach because they are very measurable; pitchers cut down on their walks, throw harder, and stop having pain.

Issue #4 is the conundrum that has lead to thousands of pissing matches among pitching coaches.  When a pitcher gets hurt, everyone becomes an armchair quarterback.  The two biggest examples that come to mind are Mark Prior and Stephen Strasburg.

Prior was supposed to be one of the best of all-time before shoulder surgeries derailed his career.  After the fact, everyone was quick to pin all the issues on his mechanics.  What nobody has ever brought to light is that over the course of nine years, his injuries looked like the following (via Wikipedia):

1. Hamstrings strain (out for 2002 season)
2. Shoulder injury (on-field collision - missed three starts in 2003)
3. Achilles injury (missed two months in 2004)
4. Elbow strain (missed 15 days in 2004)
5. Elbow injury (missed one month in 2005 after being hit by line drive)
6. Rotator cuff strain (missed three months in 2006)
7. Oblique strain (missed two starts in 2006)
8. Rotator cuff strain (ended 2006 season on disabled list)
9. Shoulder surgery (missed entire 2007 season, and first half of 2008)
10. Shoulder capsule tear (out for season after May 2008)
11. Groin injury (missed last two months of 2011 season)

By my count, that is eleven injuries - but four of them were non-arm-related.  And, two of them (both early in his career) were contact injuries.  Who is to say that he isn't just a guy with a tendency toward degenerative changes on a systemic level?  How do we know one of the previous injuries didn't contribute to his arm issues later on?  How do we know what he did for preventative arm care, rehabilitation, throwing, and strength and conditioning programs? We don't have his medical records from earlier years to know if there were predisposing factors in place, either.  I could go on and on.

The issue is that our sample size is one (Mark Prior) because you'll never see this exact collection of issues in any other player again.  It's impossible to separate out all these factors because all issues are unique.  And, it's one reason why you'll never see me sitting in the peanut gallery criticizing some teams for having injured players; we don't have sufficient information to know exactly why a player got hurt - and chances are, the medical staff on those teams don't even have all the information they'd like to have, either.

Strasburg has been labeled the best prospect of all-time by many, and rightfully so; his stuff is filthy and he's had the success to back it up.  Of course, the second he had Tommy John surgery, all the mechanics nazis came out of their caves and started berating the entire Washington Nationals organization for not fixing the issue (an Inverted W) proactively to try to prevent the injury.  Everybody is Johnny Brassballs on the internet.

To that end, I'll just propose the following questions:

1. Did Strasburg not do just fine with respect to issues 1-3 in my list above?

2. Would you want to be the one to screw with the best prospect of all-time and potentially ruin exactly what makes him effective?

3. Do we really know what the health of his elbow was when the Nationals drafted him?

4. Do we know what his arm care, throwing, and strength and conditioning programs were like before and after being drafted?

There are simply too many questions one can ask with any injury, and simply calling mechanics the only contributing factor does a complex issue a disservice - especially since young athletes are growing up with more and more physical dysfunction even before they have mastered their "mature" mechanics.

The Inverted W theory is incredibly sound; Chris O'Leary did a tremendous job of making his case - and we certainly work to coach throwers out of this flaw - but two undeniable facts remain.  First, a lot of guys still throw with the Inverted W and don't have significant arm issues (or any whatsoever).  They may have adequate mobility and stability in the right places (more on this below) to get by, or perhaps they have just managed their pitch counts and innings appropriately to avoid reaching threshold.  I suspect that you might also find that many of these throwers can make up for this "presumed fault" with a quick arm combined with a little extra congenital ligamentous laxity, or subtle tinkering with some other component of their timing.

Second, a lot of guys who don't have an Inverted W still wind up with elbow or shoulder injuries. Good research studies bring issues like these to light, and nobody has really gotten a crew of inverted W guys and non-inverted W guys together to follow injury rates over an extended period of time while accounting for variables such as training programs, pitch counts, and pitch selection (e.g., sliders vs. curveballs). We don't know if some of these other factors are actually more problematic than the mechanics themselves, as it's impossible to control all these factors simultaneously in a research format.

As such, here we have my first set of questions:

Don't you think that pitching coaches need to make a dedicated effort to understand research methods so that they can truly appreciate the multifactorial nature of injuries?  And, more importantly, wouldn't learning to read research help them to understand which mechanical issues are the true problem?  

The Inverted W is certainly an issue, but there are many more to keep in mind. Just my opinion: I think the baseball industry would be much better off if pitching coaches read a lot more research.

Now, let's move on to my second question.  First, though, I want to return to the Inverted W example again. I have not met more than a few pitching coaches who can explain exactly what structures are affected by this mechanical flaw because they don't understand what functionally is taking place at the shoulder and elbow.  They don't understand that excessive glenohumeral (shoulder) horizontal abduction, extension, and external rotation can all lead to anterior glide of the humerus, creating more anterior instability and leading to injuries to the anterior glenohumeral ligaments and labrum.  Meanwhile, the biceps tendon picks up the slack as a crucial anterior stabilizer.  They also don't appreciate how these issues are exacerbated by poor rotator cuff function and faulty scapular stabilization patterns.  And, they don't appreciate that these issues are commonly present even in throwers who don't demonstrate an Inverted W pattern.

At the elbow, they also can't explain why, specifically, the Inverted W can lead to problems. They don't understand that the timing issue created by the "deep" set-up leads to greater valgus stress at lay-back because the arm lags.  They can't explain why some players have medial issues (UCL injuries, ulnar nerve irritation, flexor/pronator strains, and medial epicondyle stress fractures) while other players have lateral issues (little league elbow, osteochondritis dissecans of radial capitellum) from the same mechanical flaws.  They can't explain why a slider thrown from an Inverted W position would be more harmful than a curveball.

I can explain it to you - and I can explain it to my athletes so that they understand, too. I've also met a lot of medical professionals who can clearly outline how and why these structures are injured, but we aren't the ones coaching the pitchers on the mounds.  The pitching coaches are the ones in those trenches.

To that end, I propose my second set of questions:

Don't you think pitching coaches ought to make an effort to learn functional anatomy in order to understand not just what gets injured, but how those injuries occur?  Wouldn't it give them a more thorough understanding of how to manage their pitchers, from mechanical tinkering, to pitch selection, to throwing volume?  And, wouldn't it give them a more valid perspective from which to contribute to pitchers' arm care programs in conjunction with rehabilitation professionals and strength and conditioning coaches? 

The problem with just saying "his mechanics suck" is that it amounts to applying a theory to a sample size of one.  That's not good research.  Additionally, this assertion is almost always taking place without a fundamental understanding of that pitcher's functional anatomy.  It amounts to coaching blind.

To reiterate, this was not a post intended to belittle anyone, but rather to bring to light two areas in which motivated pitching coaches could study extensively in order to really separate themselves from the pack.  Additionally, I believe wholeheartedly in what Chris O'Leary put forth with his Inverted W writings; I just used it as one example of a mechanical flaw that must be considered as part of a comprehensive approach to managing pitchers.

With that said, I'd love to hear your opinions on these two sets of questions in the comments section below. Thanks in advance for your contributions.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/20/12

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

Increasing Dorsiflexion: Cuboid Mobilization - With yesterday's post on ankle mobility, I thought I'd highlight another great "complementary" perspective on the topic from Bill Hartman.

Managing Structural and Functional Asymmetries in Ice Hockey: Part 1 and Part 2 - I've talked a lot about how much becoming familiar with the Postural Restoration Institute philosophy has helped me in the way I manage baseball players.  In these two blog posts, Kevin Neeld talks about how they've helped him with hockey - from assessment to corrective exercise.

The Age of the Pitcher and How We Got Here - This might be the single-best article I've ever read at ESPN.com.  Jayson Stark did an awesome job of reviewing all the factors that may have contributed to why pitchers are thriving and hitters are struggling compared to previous years - and it's a trend that has lasted 12 years.  I'll definitely echo the sentiment about pitchers being better than ever, particularly with respect to the number of power arms coming out of the high school ranks.  Years ago, throwing 92mph out of high school made you an extremely noteworthy prospect; now, it just makes you another guy that *might* get drafted - even as a lefty!

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14 Reasons Pitching Velocity Decreases Over the Course of a Season

In the first half of this two-part installment on why pitching velocity changes during the course of a season, I outlined 9 Reasons Pitching Velocity Increases Over the Course of a Season.  As you'll appreciate after reading today's post, there are actually a lot more ways by which pitching velocity can decrease over the course of a season. Let's examine them individually:

1. Body weight reductions 

This is far and away the most prominent reason pitchers lose velocity as a season goes on.  In fact, it's so big a problem that I devoted an entire blog to it: The #1 Cause of Inconsistent Pitching Velocity.

2. Strength loss

As I discussed in my first book, The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual, strength is an important foundation for power.  And, taking it a step further, power is certainly an important part of pitching.  As the season goes on, many guys just don't get in the quality weight room work they need to maintain strength, and power on the mound tails off.

3. Injury

It goes without saying that if you're hurt, you won't throw as hard. This isn't just a shoulder or elbow thing, either; sprained ankles, sore hips, tight lower backs, oblique strains, and stiff necks can all wreak havoc on velocity. If something is bothering you, get it fixed before it causes you to develop bad habits.

4. Loss of mobility

When people hear the word "mobility," they typically just of tissue length.  However, mobility is simply one's ability to get into a desired position or posture.  In other words, it's a complex interaction of not just actual tissue length, but also strength/stability, tissue quality, and kinesthetic awareness.  If you don't continue working on mobility drills, static stretching (when appropriate), foam rolling, and your strength training program, one of the components of this equation can suffer.  

Obviously, as I wrote previously What Stride Length Means and How to Improve It: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, stride length is the best example of this phenomenon.  However, what happens at the shoulder is another great example, too.  One who loses thoracic mobility or scapular stability may stiffen up at the glenohumeral (ball-and-socket) joint; it's possible to gain range of motion without even stretching at the "stiff" joint!

600px-Corey_Kluber_on_June_27,_2013

5. Excessive workload

This is the time of year when a lot of guys start hitting all-time highs for innings in a season.  And, with the games getting more important at the end of the high school and college seasons, pitch counts often rise when the innings really matter.  It's very simple:

Fatigue masks fitness.

If you're dragging and the velocity is down, a short-term reduction in throwing volume is often the quickest path to getting velocity back - particularly in pitchers who are throwing more innings than ever before.  Throwing an easy flat-ground instead of a bullpen between starts is one way to stay fresh, or you may opt to alternating higher pitch counts with shorter outings.  If I hear about one of our high school pitchers who has an exceptionally high pitch count (105+), I usually tell him to make sure the next one is in the ballpark of 80 pitches.  At that age, arms always seem to be dragging if kids go over 100 pitches in back-to-back outings.

6. Cumulative effect of bad throwing programs

This is best illustrated by a "hypothetical" example that actually happens far too often.

a. Pitcher makes great velocity gains in an off-season with comprehensive throwing program that includes long toss.

b. Pitcher goes in-season and encounters pitching coach that doesn't believe in long toss as part of a throwing program.

c. Pitcher has a velocity loss.

This scenario doesn't just happen because a specific modality (long toss) is removed, but also because of the effect it has on a pitching routine.  This, for me, is why it's so important to have conversations with pitchers on what throwing programs they've done in the past.  What's worked?  What hasn't? It's all about tinkering, and rarely about overhauling.

7. Cumulative effect of distance running

This 2008 study might be the greatest research that has ever been performed on baseball players - mostly because it reaffirmed my awesomeness by proving me right: Noncompatibility of power and endurance training among college baseball players.

These researchers divided a collegiate pitching staff into two groups of eight pitchers over the course of a season, and each group did everything identically – except the running portion of their strength and conditioning programs. Three days per week, the “sprint” group did 10-30 sprints of 15-60m with 10-60s rest between bouts. The endurance group performed moderate-to-high intensity jogging or cycling 3-4 days per week for anywhere from 20-60 minutes.

Over the course of the season, the endurance group’s peak power output dropped by an average of 39.5 watts while the sprinting group increased by an average of 210.6 watts.  You still want to distance run?

Of course, there are still the tired old arguments of "it flushes out my arm" (much better ways to do that), it clears my head (go see a psychologist), "it keeps my weight down" (eat less crap, and do more lifting and sprinting), and "it helps me bounce back better between starts" (then why are so many players in MLB living on anti-inflammatories?).  The system is broke, but instead of fixing it based on logic, many coaches continue to change the oil on a car with no wheels.

Epic-Fail-Guy-300x250

8. Insufficient warm-ups

While there are definitely some outstanding opportunities out there to develop in the summer, the truth is that summer baseball is notorious for sloppy organization.  Guys are allowed to show up ten minutes before game time, do a few arm circles, and then go right to it.  If you're walking directly from your car to the mound, don't expect your velocity to be too good in the first few innings.

9. Cumulative effect of altered sleep patterns

Early in my training career, I realized that missing sleep the night before a training session really didn't have any effect on my next training session.  However, if I had consecutive nights of little to no sleep, it crushed me.  I know of a lot of people who are the same way.

Now, imagine an entire season of red-eye flights, 3AM bus departures, and going to bed at 1am every night.  Beyond just the sleep deprivation component, you have the dramatic change in circadian rhythms that takes place.  Just head over to Pubmed and look at the hundreds of studies examining the health impact of working night shifts (shift work disorder); you'll see preliminary research linking it to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and a host of other issues. I firmly believe it's one of many reasons injuries in baseball are on the rise - and certainly one potential culprit when velocity declines as a season progress. 

10. Pitching off a crappy mound

Many players wind up pitching off terrible mounds during summer ball, and when the mound isn't groomed nicely, you get into "oh crap, I don't want to get hurt" mode with your landing leg. If you aren't comfortable landing, you shorten your stride, or reach for a "safe" part of the mound, messing with your mechanics in the process. Additionally, velocity is going to be lower when the mound height isn't as elevated; it's just how gravity works.

11. Mechanical tinkering for the bad

In part 1, I noted that mechanics changes in the summertime can be a source of velocity improvements.  They can also, however, be a reason for guys losing velocity.  Not all changes are new changes, and it's important to be careful about overhauling things on the advice of each new coach you encounter. Repetition is important, and it's hard to get it if you're always tinkering with something.

12. Dehydration

Dehydration can have a dramatically negative effect on strength and power.  Most athletes are chronically dehydrated at rest, and certainly during pitching outings in the summer heat.  Hydration status is an important thing to monitor if you want to throw gas.

13. Throwing to a new catcher

Being comfortable with the guy who is catching your pitches is a big part of success on the mound.  When the catcher is constantly changing, there is more hesitation - especially if his pitch-calling tendencies are different from those of your previous catcher.  If you're constantly shaking him off, it'll mess with your pace on the mound and slow you down.

14. More erratic throwing schedule

One of the biggest adjustments a pitcher will ever have to make is switching from starting to relieving or vice versa.  While going to the bullpen can often lead to an increase in velocity, it can make other guys erratic with their delivery, as they've learned to rely on the pre-game period to get everything "synced up."

Meanwhile, thanks to an increased pitch count, guys who go from the bullpen to the starting rotation sometimes see a drop in velocity.  As examples, just compare John Smoltz or Daniel Bard out of the bullpen to what they have done in the starting rotation.

The only thing tougher than making that switch is to constantly bounce back and forth between the two, as it really hurts your between-outings preparation.  How you prepare to throw seven innings is considerably different than what you do if you're just going to go out and throw 10-15 pitches.

These are only 14 reasons velocity may dip, and their are surely many more.  Maybe your girlfriend cheated on you with the bat boy and you got distracted, or you decided to just throw knuckleballs.  The point is that - as if the case with many things in life - it's a lot easier to screw up (lose velocity) than it is to thrive (gain velocity). Plan accordingly!


 

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Rocket Science Alert: Strength Training for Pitchers STILL Improves Throwing Velocity

With an old post, Strength Training for Pitchers, I *thought* I had put to rest the silly idea that strength training doesn't help with improving throwing velocity.  Unfortunately, some pitching gurus are still insisting that weight training is the devil when it comes to pitching velocity.

To that end, I thought I'd use today's brief post to highlight some newly published research from (among others) the bright folks at the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI).  This research showed that strength training doesn't just improve throwing velocity, but also that ANY type of strength training does!

Researchers looked at the effects of three different six-week strength training programs on velocity in 14-17 year-old baseball players, and found that all three programs led to significant improvements (1.2-2.0%) in throwing velocity over controls.  

And, as is usually the case in the research, the programs were less than comprehensive.  Just imagine if you borrowed the best bits and pieces from several programs and put them together in a comprehensive program that lasted an entire career, rather than just six weeks! 

So, the next time you hear a pitching coach say that strength training for pitchers doesn't work, please rock a "face palm" and then inform him that even crappy strength training works in most scenarios (especially high school athletes). 

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