Home Posts tagged "Long Toss"

CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Building a Better Throwing Program with Alan Jaeger

We're excited to welcome highly regarded pitching consultant Alan Jaeger to this week's podcast to discuss long toss and both performance and rehabilitation throwing programs. A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Athletic Greens. Head to http://www.athleticgreens.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 20-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Show Outline

  • How Alan became known as “the long toss guy”
  • How experience as a young junior college arm led him to developing his throwing strategies
  • How Alan defines long toss and what the specific priorities of a quality long toss session are
  • How long toss facilitates self-organization of the body and intuitive feel for how to throw the ball efficiently
  • How stretching it out and working back to your partner with conviction gives pitchers the variance they need to remain athletic and free on the mound rather than repeatable and robotic
  • What big mistakes Alan sees in athletes’ daily catch play as well as the programming of their throwing sessions
  • How Alan liked to structure throwing for pitchers on 5- and 7-day rotations
  • Where Alan sees room for improvements in rehabilitation throwing programs
  • How the conversation about long toss has evolved over the last 20 years, specifically in professional baseball
  • How some MLB organizations still resist long toss, but why young front office phenoms are playing an influential role in transforming baseball into a more progressive era
  • How understanding a player’s background gives great insight into how they’ll function at a high level
  • How players can learn to respectfully say no to complete overhauls in their abilities and be prepared to stand their ground to preserve the longevity of their career
  • You can follow Alan on Twitter at @JaegerSports  and on Instagram at @JaegerSports.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. It’s an all-in-one superfood supplement with 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s nutrition needs across 5 critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. Head to www.AthleticGreens.com/cressey and claim my special offer today - 20 FREE travel packs (valued at $79) - with your first purchase. I use this product daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I'd encourage you to give it a shot, too - especially with this great offer.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 10/9/17

I hope you all had a great weekend. I forgot how awesome the playoff baseball time of year was - in spite of the sleep deprivation! Here are a few good reads from around the 'net to kick off your week:

Unplugged - I'm currently working my way through this book from Dr. Andy Galpin, Brian Mackenzie, and Phil White. It's a fascinating, expansive look at technology in our lives, particularly with respect to how we monitor and train for fitness.

Market Toward One Audience and You'll Enjoy the Perks of Many - My business partner, Pete Dupuis, made some awesome points in this recent blog. Effectively, on the road to becoming an accomplished specialist, you have to first be a good generalist.

Thoughts on MLB Player Development - This was a Facebook post I put up later in the day yesterday that could have been a separate blog post.

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Common Arm Care Mistakes: Installment 4

It's time for another installment of "Common Arm Care" mistakes, and in this go-round, I'm going to be talking about volume management.  This mistake can be summed up in one sentence:

If you keep adding things without taking something else away, you'll eventually wind up with overuse problems.

Effective, there is a "give and take" that is involved with the training of any throwing athlete.  The more throwing these athletes do, the less supplemental training they can incorporate. This can occur in a number of different contexts.

First, on the throwing side, you'll often see pitchers who are always seeking out the latest, greatist throwing programs.  However, they don't "program hop;" they just keep adding.  Before you know it, they're making 300 throws in every session - and throwing seven days a week - because they have to get in their long toss, weighted balls, underweight balls, mound work, and towel drills.  If you told them that practicing their nunchuck skills would help, they'd add that in, too.

Second, you have to be cognizant of the rest of your strength and power training volume.  When your pitch count goes up, you need to pare back on your upper body lifting volume; banging out a bunch of chin-ups isn't going to feel so hot after a 60-pitch outing.  Additionally, your medicine ball work volume needs to go down as the throwing volume goes up.

To give you some frame of reference for this, here's a little excerpt from Marlins closer Steve Cishek's off-season medicine ball programs.  Keep in mind that the total throws equals left-handed throws, plus right-handed throws, plus overhead throws.

October: break from rotation, no aggressive medicine ball or overhead work
November: 156 total throws
December (started throwing mid-December): 138 total throws
January (ramped up throwing): 66 total throws

Once spring training rolls around and he's throwing even more, he'll have even less.  A minor leaguer whose season wraps up a month earlier would actually be able to get an additional month of aggressive medicine ball work in.

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Third, pitchers often forget that throwing itself is a huge challenge to the rotator cuff.  So, if your throwing volume goes up as the season approaches, you should be doing less arm care work than you would have done in the off-season.  You can get away with this reduction in arm care work because you've already put in a great off-season to build things up.  Of course, if you throw year-round, then you're already behind the 8-ball when the season starts.

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Training Athletes with Funky Elbows: What a Valgus Carrying Angle Means

I talk a lot about how there's a difference between simply "training baseball players" and actually training baseball players with a genuine appreciation of the unique demands they encounter - as well as their bodies' responses to those demands.  Today's post will be a great example of how you can't just throw every throwing arm into a generic program.

One of the adaptations you'll commonly see in throwers is an acquired valgus carrying angle at the elbow.  For the laymen in the crowd, take note of how the throwing arm (in this case, the right arm, which is to the left side of the picture) has a "sharper" angle: 

 

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This is an adaptation to the incredible valgus stress during the lay-back portion of throwing.

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While the research on the subject isn't really out there, it's widely believed that a sharper valgus carrying angle predisposes throwers to elbow injuries, particularly ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tears.  My good friend Mike Reinold actually has a lot of very good unpublished data on the topic, too. In my eyes, this verifies that we need need to treat throwers like this with extra care in light of this increased susceptibility to injury. 

From my perspective, I think it means more time off from throwing each off-season in order to regain passive stability, as the UCL is already stretched out more than in the normal pitcher.  Additionally, it may take longer for these athletes to regain good soft tissue quality, as the musculature at the medial elbow is likely working harder to make up for this loss of passive stability and the increased range-of-motion demands.  Another key point is that this valgus carrying angle may increase the likelihood of ulnar nerve hypermobility (snapping back and forth over the medial epicondyle during flexion/extension) or ulnar neuritis (irritation of the nerve from excessive stretch). If this nerve only has a limited number of flexion/extension cycles before it really gets irritated, then we need to use each throw wisely to put off the possibility of needing an ulnar nerve transposition surgery to set it where it needs to be.

Additionally, I think it means less aggressive throwing programs, particularly with respect to extreme long toss.  I think long toss has a ton of merit for a lot of throwers, but one concern with it is that it does increase valgus stress slightly as compared to throwing on a line at shorter distances.  With that in mind, these folks might respond better to other throwing initiatives, or simply less long toss than they otherwise might do.

From a training standpoint, we need to work to gain more active external rotation to ensure that more of the range-of-motion is occuring is at the shoulder than the elbow.  This should not be confused with simply stretching the shoulder into external rotation, which does much more harm than good in 99% of cases.  Rather, we need to educate athletes on how to get to lay-back without compensation. I like supine external rotation - an exercise I learned from physical therapist Eric Schoenberg - as a starting point.

Once we've been successful working with gravity, we'll progress this drills to prone to work against gravity, and then add in various holds at end-ranges of motion to strengthen athletes in external rotation closer to end-range.  Here's an example you can try at home:

In terms of contraindications, I can't say that it changes much as compared to what we avoid - back squats, Olympic lifts, etc. - with the rest of our throwers.  However, I think the fallout could be even more dramatic; just imagine these elbows catching a snatch overhead in the off-season after 200+ innings of wear and tear.

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This picture also teaches us that one can simply be born with a more significant valgus carrying angle, but throwing during the adolescent and teenage years would make it more extreme.

Beyond training implications, for the reasons I noted above, it's also extremely important to take care of tissue quality at the common flexor tendon and pronator teres. I like a combination of instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization and hands-on work like Active Release.

I hope this post brings to light an additional assessment and follow-up training principles you can use to give your throwers the quality training and (p)rehabilitation they need. If you're looking for more insights on training throwers, I'd highly recommend you check out our Elite Baseball Mentorships; the next course takes place on December 8-10.

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Baseball Development: What’s with All the Power Arms?

Back in the summer of 2013, a good friend of mine attended the a well-known national showcase with one of his athletes.  It was an invitation-only event for the best rising senior baseball players in the country.  At the end of the event, he texted me to comment on just how crazy it was that it seemed like dozens of kids were hitting 95mph on the radar gun at this event.  And, sure enough, in the post-event write-up, they commented on how over 100 kids topped the 90mph mark. 

That is a huge deal.

You see, if you backtracked just 10 years, 90mph was a huge feather in your cap - and it essentially meant that you'd be getting drafted out of high school.  Now, on a regular basis, we have dozens of kids nationwide consistently throwing 95mph+ even when there were only 35 major league pitchers in 2011 whose average fastball velocity was higher than 95mph!  As I've mentioned before, average fastball velocity is higher in Low-A than it is in the big leagues. 

The question, then, becomes, "Where are all these power arms coming from - particularly at the younger levels?"  That's a question I'll answer today.

1. More specialization.

It goes without saying that early sports specialization across all sports is, unfortunately, at an all-time high. 

However, baseball is particularly interesting because there is an extremely high likelihood of arm injury along the way.  In fact, according to a 2008 study from Oullette et al., 57% of pitchers suffer some form of shoulder injury over the course of a season.  And, that doesn't even take into account elbow, neck, core, and lower extremity injuries/conditions.  It goes without saying that just about every player will have an issue or two (or 30) pop up over his four years of high school - and it's one reason why we don't see any more "clean" MRIs during post-draft physicals for high round picks. They're all damaged; it's just that some are worse than others, and we need to figure out which of the chips in the paint and rust on the hubcabs are clinically significant.

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When kids specialize in one sport at an early age and try to play it year-round, it's like betting your life savings on the roulette wheel - except your chances of winning are even smaller.  And, even if it works out and the kid manages to be the next star, you dodged a bullet - and he very well may just be waiting for problems down the road, as a lot of the early specialization kids actually have very "old arms" even if they aren't symptomatic. 

Not surprisingly, the rise in specialization (as evidenced by the growth in popularity of fall ball teams, showcases, and opportunities to play for multiple teams during the "normal" baseball season) has paralleled the rise in velocity and injuries.  Can long-term baseball development be successful without specialization?  In my opinion, absolutely - but you have to tie up all the loose ends, and that's what my next few points will all be about.

2. Video analysis

If you want your velocity to increase immediately, there is no quicker avenue to doing so than reviewing pitching mechanics on video.  Our pitching coordinator, Matt Blake, uses the RightView Pro set-up extensively at Cressey Sports Performance for this very reason.  Many pitchers are visual learners, so this approach to coaching helps them to learn what needs to be corrected much more efficiently - and it's also of benefit to the pitching coach, as many movements in the pitching delivery occur so quickly that they really can't be spotted by the naked eye.

Surprisingly, there are still a ton of college and minor league teams who don't have video available to their players.  Access to video can be a huge game-changer, and it's one reason that a lot of high school kids are throwing harder and harder.

3. Competition

Ask any coach what one of the best ways to motivate male athletes is, and he'll tell you competition.  Most teenage guys thrive on trying to beat their buddies, opponents, or records that are in place.  Nowadays, there are more opportunities to compete (and less preparation), and any player in the country can hop online and see how his velocity compared to other guys' at the last showcase.  Although commonly overlooked, these competitive opportunities are big motivating factors to players.

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4. Strength Training

I often tell athletes that "If you don't run fast, you won't pull your hamstrings." In other words, strength training can be a player's biggest asset, but also his greatest downfall if he doesn't approach it correctly.  You see, if strength training isn't approached correctly, it can do a world of harm - both acutely and chronically.  Obviously, the likelihood of getting hurt increases if you move with poor technique under external loading.  However, taking it a step further, strength training "solidifies" movement patterns.  This can be great in a rehabilitation context if you free up some new mobility and then want to create stability within that range of motion (or just maintain what you've got).  However, if you lift like a moron, you'll mostly just teach yourself to be better at moving like crap - and that's when chronic injuries kick in.

Unfortunately, casual observers to exercise physiology don't get that there is a huge difference between appropriate and inappropriate strength training for baseball players. And, this is why there are quite a few "old school" folks in the baseball world who attribute some of the high injury rates these days to lifting.  What they should be attributing the injury to (in part) is inappropriate strength training exercise selection, volume, and technique.  After all, there are just as many guys get hurt late in the season because they cut out lifting and lose strength!

Simply stated, strength training is helping guys throw harder; there's no doubt about it.  It's how that strength training is programmed and what's done to complement it that determines if the increased velocity will lead to an injury. Nothing happens in isolation.

5. More aggressive throwing programs

A decade ago, throwing programs were far from what they are today.  Nowadays, up-and-coming throwers are using weighted baseballs and long toss more than ever before.  No two pitchers are alike in how they respond to these modalities, but having them as tools at our disposal has certainly helped us to increase pitching velocity with countless throwers.

6. Less distance running

One of our minor league pitchers stopped in to check in with me over his all-star break a few weeks ago, and he came bearing great news.  He'd hit 98mph on the radar gun four times in a single inning a few nights earlier - after never having been above 94mph before this season.

Sure, we did a lot of things differently with his programming this off-season, from strength training, to throwing programs, to mobility and soft tissue work.  However, the single biggest change he made (in my eyes, at least) was that he started sprinting between outings instead of distance running.  I have seen this time and time again, and I'm happy to report that more and more coaches at all levels are starting to pick up on it, too. 

Everybody ran long distances back in previous decades.  Yet, we throw harder nowadays.  And, everybody seems to run long distances in baseball in east Asia.  Pitchers throw harder in the U.S.  Sure, there are a lot more factors that contribute to pitching success than velocity alone, but these observations are impossible to ignore.

7. More objective ways to quantify velocity

Have you ever wondered if pitching velocity has increased simply because technology has improved, and we therefore have more accessible means of measuring it?  The price of radar guns isn't as high.  Every stadium has a radar gun.  They make pocket radar guns, and there are even iPad apps to measure velocity. 

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Basic accessibility to this technology has likely contributed to kids pushing the envelope of what they would otherwise think they were able to do.

8. More peaks, fewer valleys

Remember when Justin Verlander hit 101mph on the radar gun in the 9th inning of his no-hitter in 2011?  You could call that a "peak" velocity moment.  In short, it's a lot easier when the stakes are higher, people are watching you, and the adrenaline is pumping.  Major League pitchers don't have as many of these because their professional seasons are a long grind: possibly 200 games in 230 days, if you include spring training and playoffs.

Younger pitchers, however, are more "excitable."  With shorter seasons, there are more "big games."  With showcases and tournaments each weekend, the stakes are higher. Heck, they get excited if a girlfriend comes to watch them pitch. In the lifting world, we call it the difference between a training max and a competition max.  A competition max may be as much as 10% higher because a lifter is deloaded from training stress and put into a higher pressure competitive situation. In young pitchers, everything seems to be a competition max.  It's great for demonstrating big velocity numbers, but may interfere with long-term health and development.

Wrap-up

Clearly, there are a ton of factors that have contributed to guys throwing harder at younger ages in today's baseball world.  They don't all apply to each thrower, as different athletes will generate velocity in different ways.  While this increase in average velocity has definitely made pitchers more dominant, it has, unfortunately, been accompanied by a greater frequency of injuries.  Understanding the factors that contribute to these velocity increases is the first step in determining how to keep kids performing at a high level while minimizing their risk of injury. 

For more information, I'd encourage you to check out 7 Reasons Pitchers Shouldn't Do Year-Round Throwing Programs Part 1 and Part 2.  Additionally, you can explore these topics in much greater detail with us at our Elite Baseball Mentorships.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/29/12

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

Thrive on Throwing - This is an outstanding DVD set from Alan Jaeger that thoroughly teaches the science and practice of long tossing.  Alan has generously offered to provide my readers with a 25% off discount (which applies to his other products as well).  I highly recommend this throwing resource, as long toss sometimes gets a bad rap in large part due to the fact that many players and coaches implement it incorrectly.

Making the Case for Long Toss in a Throwing Program - While we're on the topic of long toss, I thought I'd bring this old article back from the archives, especially since a lot of our professional baseball clients started throwing this week.

5 Holiday Diet Tips that Don't Suck - This is a quick read from Nate Miyaki over at T-Nation, but it packs some good information and strategies for you to employ this holiday season.

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8 Ways to Make Practice More Productive for College Baseball Pitchers

Today's guest blog comes from current Cressey Performance intern, Landon Wahl.

By its very nature, the life of a pitcher avails itself to many hours of pondering the game. Fresh out of my senior year of pitching at the collegiate level and having time to reflect upon my experience, overall I can say it was the best time of my life. However, there were many times during practice where I felt like I should have stayed home because nothing was accomplished. I would often stand in the outfield gaps behind the position players wondering: “how is this making me a better pitcher?”

After 2-3 hours of batting practice, our coach would have us bring it in and that was the end of practice. Summary: a 3-hour practice that consisted of a 10-minute warm-up, 5-10 minutes of throwing, and 2 hours and 40 minutes of standing around listening to my teammate tell me how sure he was that all of his teachers were trying to fail him (go to class, buddy). Some practices involved the pitchers more than others, but for the most part, practice time could have been used much more efficiently. Below are some ways practice time can be used to make pitchers more involved at practice as well as some things to avoid!

1. Set aside time in practice to have a proper warm up.

Too often, players come to practice and will disregard the warm-up or perhaps not warm up at all! Players grab a ball and start throwing with no physical or mental preparation. Every program is different in regard to warm ups. As a coach, make sure that regardless of what style warm-up you prefer, that you stick to it! At Cressey Performance, all athletes go through a foam rolling series as well as a dynamic warm-up before even touching a baseball, medicine ball, or weight. If you are a coach looking for inspiration, watch the video below and have your guys do it for a warm up. It almost goes without saying that it will help your guys feel and move better as well as prevent future injuries.

2. Make sure throwing - especially the long toss component - isn’t rushed.

Some programs are pretty good about this, but others aren’t. It is understandable that as a coach you have a lot to cram into a 2-3 hour practice and you want your guys to get as many swings in as possible, too. Think of long toss as a pitcher’s BP. It is important to let your pitchers get their arm speed up to help improve performance and stay healthy throughout the season. Try not to rush through the throwing to get to batting practice; it will help everyone be more prepared for your big weekend conference series.

3. Stop making pitchers stand around during batting practice.

First of all, I understand that sometimes pitchers are needed to help shag fly balls and make sure that the hitters get their work in, but this doesn’t have to be ALL the time! Sure, it’s nice to talk with fellow teammates and occasionally track down a fly ball, but overall there is little to no value to preparing your pitchers. Instead of having the pitchers stand around during the early parts of the week at batting practice, send them to the weight room for resistance training, athletic training room for manual therapy or stretching, or elsewhere on the field to do movement training or plyos.

4. Set aside time in practice to work on pick-offs, 1st/3rd defensive plays, PFP, live situations, and bunt defenses.

Too often, basic pitching defense gets brushed aside on the daily practice schedule. All of these essential parts of the game could take a full week just to cover, not master. For incoming freshman, these situations may not have been covered very thoroughly or even at all in high school! Have the coaching staff split up and cover these situations often; they may arise at any time during your important conference series! For your players to have confidence in the plays and skills that they will develop in practice is crucial, and will directly relate to confidence on the mound during in-game situations. This is also a good time to break away from the monotony of an extended batting practice session and get the pitchers involved.

5. Don’t enforce “punishment” running.

As a coach, it is understandable that players can upset you in many ways: poor play, off-field offenses, or on-field offenses. Nothing as a player is worse than hearing, “on the line,” not just because the punishment is usually miserable to complete, but also because nothing productive is being accomplished!

Consuming alcohol at the collegiate level is what unfortunately gets lots of guys into trouble. Having to participate in “punishment runs” was an absolute nightmare, usually because I was always running for someone else's screw-up. And, it didn’t matter how many times we were punished; guys would still go out to the bars later that night, not having learned a thing. It brings team moral down and creates problems between teammates. Believe me, there were some guys with whom I was not happy.

Some of the most successful teams win games because they're close-knit groups, not because they have the most talent! A prime example was my high school baseball team during my senior year of 2008. One could debate whether we were the most talented team in comparison to teams in the past, but we made it all the way to the state championship game. This was due to the fact that we did absolutely everything together as a team, and never had situations that compromised our positive team dynamic.

Punishment runs not only wreck your players physically, but also destroy them mentally. Sometimes discipline is in order, but try and find another way to do it! There is only one thing you need. Bench the player until behavior improves. Negative reinforcement such as running only deals with issues temporarily. Benching a player might cause some player-coach tension, but that’s part of being a coach. Make the best decision for the whole team and ensure that every player represents your college or university in a proper manner.

6. Don’t make pitchers catch bullpens.

This is just my personal opinion. I understand that some programs do this and others don’t. Hopefully, I can provide insight for just one coach, at any level. Coming from a previous program who endorsed this, I saw firsthand how it can really end up injuring a pitcher. I’ll relate a personal account...

One afternoon during freshman year at practice, I walked up to the field and my coach informed me that I would be catching every single pitcher, and then I would get to throw my bullpen. Unfortunately, I had never caught an inning in my entire life. Still, I suited up. The first few fastballs went well. The first curveball, however, didn't.  It bounce in front of me by about two feet and you can probably guess what happened next.

The whole team thought it was funny (and in hindsight, it was), but at the time, it was not. In the months after that experience, I was afraid of the ball, shying away whenever it got close to the mitt. This not only was physically taxing on me, but the pitchers couldn’t get in a rhythm and their bullpens suffered as a result. There is something to be said for having a catcher who sticks your pitches, moves back and forth across the plate, gives feedback on your pitches, and encourages you because they are confident; this was not happening with me. After I caught all of the bullpens, I began to throw mine. You can also be sure that another fellow freshman caught me; the practice was a total waste, for everyone.

7. Talk to each player one-on-one.

Every coach could do this more often. I know that after a game in which I performed well (or not so well), it was nice to have my coach tell me things I could improve upon while highlighted things I executed correctly. This is also important for players who are not regular starters, or kids who have never played an inning. It is essential to provide hope for these players; at any time they can be a cornerstone in the lineup! Too often, good baseball players don’t receive the proper mental reinforcement. It sounds cliché and simple, but even telling a player “good job” can carry them a long way. It is also important to have meetings with players outside of practice and listen to their thoughts and concerns, both academically and athletically.

8. Have fun.

Having fun is what the game is all about. Winning is fun. Having fun at practice is fun, too! Create competitions between the players. Let pitchers take batting practice. Create incentive for your players to be excited and ready to go when practice time rolls around! Most of all, be supportive of every player. Playing college ball and going to class is quite a workload. There is nothing better in the world that blowing off some steam and forgetting about school responsibilities by playing some baseball.


 Questions or comments?  Please post them below.  Also, Landon Wahl can be reached at landonwahl@yahoo.com.

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25 Questions to Ask During the College Baseball Recruiting Process

When I got into the strength and conditioning field, I always assumed my job would just be about getting athletes bigger, stronger, faster, leaner, and healthier.  And, I was right that those would be constituents of my job, but I failed to realize that there was actually a lot more to consider if I wanted to be successful in the private sector and working with up-and-coming baseball players.

Those unexpected responsibilities included learning about the Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement, interacting with advisors/agents, helping kids plan out their competitive year, creating a solid physician and physical therapist network, and even jumping in to catch some bullpens.

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However, none of these tasks could possibly be more important than the interactions I have with a lot of high school baseball players as they work to select the right college/university for them.  While there are a lot of college advisory services out there, very few of them truly understand the athletic side of things; they're more heavily focused on the academic and social components, as there is no way they could ever possibly keep track of what each college baseball (or football, hockey, basketball, or whatever) program is doing. Coaching staffs change, universities move to different conferences, new facilities/fields are added, and new training methods are established.  With that in mind, here are 25 questions I ask of all our kids who approach me about the college recruiting process:

1. Will you have an opportunity to play right away?  If not, are you comfortable waiting?

It's very easy to fall in love with a campus and the thought of playing in front of thousands of fans, but "s**t gets real" when you've been riding the pine for your first two years of college.  Find out who is on the team who'll be playing ahead of you, as well as who else they are recruiting in your class at your position.

This, for me, is also a roundabout way of asking a kid if he is really good enough to play at a school.  If you didn't even pitch for your high school team, chances are that you aren't going to be able to pitch for a College World Series team.  In this instance, you'd be better off going to a team that will provide the innings you need to develop.

2. Do you have aspirations of playing baseball after college?

Will this program facilitate that objective? If it's going to do so, you need to see a history of players drafted.

3. Have you spoken to alumni who have played at these colleges (or for these coaches at different schools)?

Do they speak highly of their experiences, or do they rip on the coaches?  Do they go back to their college town to visit often?

4. How would the coaching staff describe their approach to coaching to you?

Some guys do well with the "in your face" coaching style, and others struggle with the regular confrontation.

5. What is the program's track record of success with developing players like you?

What do they do that will make you a better left-handed pitcher, second baseman, or catcher?  Do they have examples?

6. What (if any) scholarship or financial aid amount are you being offered?

College isn't cheap.  While full rides are rare in college baseball, the difference between a 25% scholarship and 50% scholarship can work out to $60,000 over the course of four years.  Don't forget transportation costs to and from campus several times per year, too.

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7. How tenured are the coaches, and do they see themselves leaving the school in the next few years?

At the Division 1 level, while you have some wiggle room (usually) in leaving a school if the head coach that recruited you leaves, you don't get that luxury with pitching and hitting coaches.

8. How tenured is the team athletic trainer, and what is his/her approach to treatment?  

Does he/she just fill Gatorade buckets and stay out of the way, or get involved with manual therapy and individualized rehab programs?

9. How tenured is the team strength and conditioning coach, and what is his/her approach to training both in-season and off-season?

Do guys get bigger and stronger over their four years, or do they just run poles and waste away?  Observe a lift: is he/she a respected figure in the players' lives? Also, is he/she considered a true part of the coaching staff to allow for maximum synergy, or does the head coach never interact with him/her?  Are players on unique programs based on their positions and injury history, or does everyone do the same?

Hint: if the answer to every question is "clean, squat, bench," run away.  Quickly.

10. How successful are the coaches in placing players with competitive, well-managed summer teams?

Sadly, summer baseball becomes less and less developmental every year.  Fortunately, there are still some good summer coaches out there; is your coach placing you with those coaches?

11. How are the facilities, and will there be any construction going on during your college experience?

If they're building a new field, you might be playing elsewhere for your home games.  New weight room?  You might be pushing cars in the parking lot in the middle of winter (although that may be a good thing for some of you).

12. What is a program's track record in terms of injury rates?

Are they blowing arms out left and right?  Or, are guys avoiding surgery while pitching more effectively than ever?

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13. What were starting pitchers' pitch counts over the past year?

Are they consistently sending guys out there for over 120 pitches? While it's not exhaustive, this is a cool pitch count page that looked at D1 programs across the country back in 2014, but it hasn't been updated in recent years.

14. How tough of an adjustment socially will it be for you?

If you're a New Englander headed to the Deep South, expect it to be an adjustment.  The adjustment is similarly challenging if you're a Southerner headed North. Are you prepared for that? A new social scene at the same time as a new coaching staff can overwhelm some guys.

15. Do they have the academic programs you want?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but only 2% of guys drafted actually make it to the big leagues.  That essentially works out to one guy per team pear year.  And, among the guys who make it to the big leagues, very few play there long enough to be financially set for life.  In other words, there is a 99.99% chance you'll be employed in some capacity after baseball, so you need to prepare for it.  Regardless of what our guys opt to study, I encourage them to take some finance courses, as everyone needs to understand money management.

16. Do they have a solid academic support staff in place if you need it?

Do you have a learning disability that warrants special assistance? Do you need organized study halls to help with getting your work done?  Or, do you just want people to stay out of your way?

17. What is the alumni network like?  

Will it help you to get internships or employment after graduation? Or, will you have to head to the local prison to interview them?

18. Does the coaching staff get out and attend different conferences to improve at their craft?

Are they teaching the same things they taught in 1978, or are you being introduced to more forward-thinking concepts?  "New" isn't always better, though, so that's why you ask the questions: it gives them a chance to provide rationale for their methods.

19. Are the hitting/pitching coaches more hands-off, or do they want to start tinkering with mechanics to solve problems they already see with your swing/delivery?

College coaches always see more things that need to be addressed than high school coaches ever can.  They get more hours with you, and they see you against better competition that may expose your weaknesses.  These weaknesses obviously need to be addressed.  However, how much will you be abandoning the horse that got you there in the first place?  Is it going to be tinkering or overhauling, and which are you willing to commit to?

20. How is the food on campus?

The food always tastes good...for the first month.  Then, most people get sick of it.  Don't become one of those people.

21. Who is the team doctor, and what is his background and accessibility?

If you're there four years, chances are that you'll roll an ankle or get hit by a pitch at some point.  Is the team doctor readily accessible, or do you have to book an appointment and then wait three weeks to see him?  Also, does he have a solid understanding of the management of overhead throwing athletes? Many doctors don't.

22. How competitive is the conference in which you play?

If you can go out and hit .500 or have a 0.00 ERA as a freshman, you probably aren't being challenged.

23. Have you watched this team play a game and practice?

Does the team go through a thorough warm-up, or do they just roll in, do ten seconds of arm circles, and then get to it?

Do players look coaches in the eye when they're being coached?

Do players cheer in the dugout, or is it completely silent?

I had one college kid tell me that his head coach didn't show up for a single fall practice; the assistant coach ran the entire thing.  Unbelievable!

24. What kind of throwing programs and pitch selection does a team use?

If you're a long toss guy, go somewhere that does long toss.  If you've thrived with weighted baseballs, go somewhere that integrates them in the throwing programs.  If you like to chuck ninja stars, go somewhere that you can fight crime.

If you're a guy with a history of elbow pain, don't go to a school where all pitchers learn sliders and are forced to throw them 60% of the time.

25. What is the team's graduation rate?

Graduation rate can definitely be impacted by a number of factors, including how many guys are drafted, but don't return right away to complete their degrees. As an interesting (and scary) fact, only 4.3% of those who have played in the big leagues this year have a college degree.  Still, graduation rates are something about which you should ask because it's a question that gives a coach a chance to show you what emphasis he places on academics.

In typing this up, I rattled all these questions off in under five minutes, and the truth is that there are a lot more.  The set of questions one asks will always be unique to one's situation.  The only commonality is that kids should ask questions - and lots of them, as this is going to be 3-4 years of your life.

As an important addendum, it's important to realize that there isn't a single program in the country that is going to give you the exact perfect answer you want on all these questions.  Your goal is to find the best fit, not the perfect fit.  With that said, though, you are committing to the program as a whole, not just the parts of which you approve.  To that end, you'll need to prioritize certain things depending on your circumstances:

If money is tight in your family, the scholarship/financial aid question might be most important.

If you have a history of injuries, the athletic trainer/strength and conditioning coach/team doctor questions might be the most pertinent.

If you want to play baseball in college, but not beyond, the questions about graduation rates and alumni networks will be significant.

If you have a very funky delivery that's worked well for you and are afraid a pitching coach will change it, you need to ask those pitching coaches if they are open to that arrangement.  This scenario was made famous when Tim Lincecum headed to the University of Washington with his unique delivery.

There really are no right or wrong answers - but there are definitely a lot of questions that should be asked along the way. One friendly suggestion I make to players is to make sure that these questions come from you and not just your parents. Parents will have questions of their own, but they should never dominate the conversation; young athletes need to take a proactive role in learning about what could be their lives for four years.  It not only shows maturity to the recruiting coaches, but also makes sure that you get the answers to the questions that are most important to you.

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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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5 Things that Might Surprise You about our Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs

We have quite a few baseball coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and strength and conditioning coaches who stop by Cressey Sports Performance to observe our training.  While they are the ones visiting to learn, I actually learn quite a bit about the "norms" in the baseball strength and conditioning field by listening to them tell me about what surprises them about what they observe at CSP.  Here are some of the areas that seem to surprise quite a few people:

1. They're surprised we don't do more sprint work and change-of-direction training.

The competitive baseball season essentially runs from mid-February all the way through early September, and during that time, guys are sprinting, diving, and changing directions constantly during fielding practice.  They're also on their feet in cleats for an absurd number of hours each day.  To that end, when the off-season rolls around, most guys want a few weeks away from aggressive sprinting and change-of-direction work.  Once they get their rest, we typically go to 2-3 movement training sessions for October through December, usually on off-days from strength training.  I prefer to break them up so that we can get more quality work in with our strength training program, and also so that the sessions don't run too long.  Once January 1 rolls around, the volume and intensity of sprinting increases, while the strength training program volume is reduced.  

Summarily, because we often separate our sprint/agility work from our resistance training, many folks get the impression that we don't do much movement training - but that couldn't be further from the truth.  It's a big part of our comprehensive approach to baseball development; we just fit it in a bit differently than most coaches, and emphasize or de-emphasize it at different point in the year.

2. They're surprised how much medicine ball work we do.

One of the reasons there is a bit less movement training than you might see in other strength and conditioning programs is that we do a ton of medicine ball work, particularly during the months of October through January (for our pro guys).  

Medicine ball drills are great for not only training power outside the sagittal plane, but also because it helps to iron out excessive asymmetries while maintaining pitching- and hitting-specific mobility.  Our guys may do 240-360 medicine ball throws per week during their highest volume phases.

You can learn more about the medicine ball exercises we incorporate in our program by checking out Functional Stability Training of the Core.

3. They're surprised that we don't Olympic lift our baseball guys.

On multiple occasions, I've written at length about why I don't like overhead pressing and Olympic lifts in light of the unique demands of throwing and the crazy adaptations we see in throwers.

While the Olympic lifts might have great power development carryover to the sprinting one encounters on a baseball field, the carryover to power in the frontal and transverse planes just isn't as pronounced.  In other words, power development is extremely plane-specific.  I'll take medicine ball work and non-sagittal plane jumping exercises over O-lifts for baseball players in a heartbeat.

4. They're surprised we don't do more band work.

It's not that I think bands are useless; I just think most guys use them incorrectly, and even when used correctly, they just don't really offer that much advantage other than convenience.

The fundamental issue with bands is that the resistance is generally so light that guys can quickly develop bad habits - poor humeral head control, lumbar hyperextension, etc. - while doing them.  They'd be much more effective if guys would just slow down and use them correctly.  I am also not a fan at all of using the bands to get the arms into all sorts of extreme positions; you're just using a passive implement to create more laxity in an already unstable shoulder.  If you want (and need) to stretch a shoulder, do so with the scapula stabilized.  

Additionally, I'll take cables over bands whenever possible simply because the resistance is heavier and it matches the strength curve for external rotations better.  Throwers are generally weakest at full external rotation, yet the band has the highest tension in this position; meanwhile, the cable's resistance remains constant.  Obviously, manual resistance is ideal, but bands are a distance third.

5. They're surprised how "aggressive" our throwing programs are.

The overwhelming majority of our guys long toss, and most of them throw weighted baseballs at certain points of the year as well.  They pitch less and throw more.  They all still get their 2-3 months off from throwing each year, but when they are throwing, they work hard.

This is in stark contrast to some of the throwing models I've seen in professional baseball, where many organizations limit players to 90-120 feet with their long tossing, and the only time a baseball is "weighted" is when it gets wet on a rainy day.  Guys take so much time off that they never have any time in the off-season to actually develop.  I firmly believe that while you have to have strict limits on how you manage pitchers, you also have to stop short of completely coddling them.

These are surely just five areas in which we deviate from the norm with respect to baseball development, but important ones nonetheless.

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