Home Posts tagged "Pitching Injuries"

“Designer” Pitches, Horizontal Movement, and the Pitching Injury Epidemic

Just a few weeks ago, Texas Rangers team doctor and renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Keith Meister gave a fantastic interview about the current state of arm injuries in baseball. He made a lot of good points, but one that particularly intrigued me was his commentary on how "designer pitches" were to blame for some of the challenges we're facing in today's game. In case you missed the interview, tune in starting around the 2:00 mark to get his take.

Sure enough, if you examine Major League Baseball injured lists right now, you'll see a lot of players who recently added a lot of horizontal movement on injured lists. In particular, the sweeper (a newer designation for a slider with considerable horizontal movement) seems to at least have a loose association with increased injured risk to the naked eye. In Dr. Meister's words, "to create horizontal ball movement, you've got to grip the crap out of the baseball, and then you have to cut it. Either pronate it hard, or supinate it hard with a very, very firm grip. And it's causing this eccentric load on the muscles on the inner side of the elbow and then everywhere up the kinetic chain."

To reframe this, new movement patterns are stressors. Go do five sets of ten reps on stiff-leg deadlifts, and let me know how your hamstrings feel 36 hours later. Try to do it again - or sprint at full velocity - in the days that follow, and it's probably not going to work out well for you. Eccentric stress involves a lot of muscle damage, and that stress is magnified when you layer novelty and the stress of competition in the single fastest motion in all of sports (pitching) on top of it.

In a real-world example that might resonate a bit more, check out this NY Times article about Lance Armstrong's first marathon in 2006: In Under Three Hours, Armstrong Learns Anew About Pain and Racing. Here's a key excerpt:

Exhausted and nearly walking, Armstrong crossed the finish line in 2 hours 59 minutes 36 seconds. He was 869th, with a pace of 6:51 a mile.

“I can tell you, 20 years of pro sports, endurance sports, from triathlons to cycling, all of the Tours — even the worst days on the Tours — nothing was as hard as that, and nothing left me feeling the way I feel now, in terms of just sheer fatigue and soreness,” he said, looking spent, at a news conference.

The marathon was Armstrong’s first major athletic endeavor since retiring from cycling in 2005, and he said he had not prepared for the race as he should have.

In less than a year, arguably the most accomplished cyclist of all time had become an absolute injury risk in a different athletic endeavor: running. He was able to gut his way through it with mental fortitude and (likely) the fact that his aerobic base stuck around really well. However, localized muscular endurance and tissue resilience was what faltered first.

Do you think an 18-year-old college freshman learning a sweeper on Twitter and then throwing it in a competitive game at a 40% usage clip the next day is any different? I do - because it's actually far worse.

High velocity pitching with dozens of safeguards - pitch counts, meticulous arm care programs, manual therapy, close technological scrutinization of mechanics - is still very high risk. But the risk profile becomes astronomically higher when you can learn a new pitch/approach quickly and roll it out in games at the highest levels of competition before you've had a chance to build up sufficient tissue strength and extensibility - and skill-specific work capacity.

I've had a number of conversations with Max Scherzer over the years about how he developed his curveball. It was a year of conversations with teammates about their grips; experimenting with grips; and playing catch with it before it appeared in bullpens and, in turn, games. He adjusted his training to incorporate a bit more direct eccentric biceps work to account for the slightly different movement pattern. His usage over the years:

2012: 3%
2013: 6%
2014: 10%
2015: 8%
2016: 8%
2017: 8%
2018: 8%
2019: 9%
2020: 9%
2021: 10%
2022: 9%
2023: 13%

It was a gradual, calculated process to determine not only how his body responded, but how its inclusion impacted the rest of his pitching arsenal. To this day, he's never thrown more than 23 curveballs in a game. The process had to be gradual, in part, because there wasn't technology available to accelerated the learning curve.

In contrast, thanks to advanced modern technology (namely ball tracking devices like Trackman and Rapsodo; high-speed cameras; and increased access to biomechanical analysis), pitchers can now pick up new pitches extremely quickly.

And, teams can better evaluate just how nasty these pitches are in their pitch grading models. As a result, when a team identifies an outlier pitch, they're going to want players to roll them out much more frequently. This creates a perfect storm: pitchers throwing brand new pitches at high usage rates at the highest level of competition.

Sometimes, however, these are not big adjustments. If the mentality of the pitch is the same context as an existing pitch, but with a subtle seam adjustment, I have less concern:

"Just think of getting to the front of the baseball exactly like you have with your long-time curveball."

"Just offset the grip here and throw it exactly like your fastball."

However, if you're giving someone a brand new grip and encouraging them to "grip it and rip it" in a way that's foreign to them, that's a recipe for injury. These dramatic changes require longer timelines and more calculated approaches to preparing the affected tissues. Additionally, players may need a gradual onboarding from a usage standpoint, and increased recovery between "pitch design" bouts.

I don't think "designer pitches" involving increased horizontal movement are the devil - but I do think the way that pitch design is taking place industry-wide is flawed. As I've written before, 

[bctt tweet="You can't truly evaluate a method or device without considering its application."]

The problem is exacerbated by a number of issues (and this is not an exhaustive list, by any means):

1. Early sports specialization and high velocity pitching in adolescents is leading to a generation of broken arms entering pro ball

2. Higher velocity (which is, to me, the single biggest contributing factor)

3. An increasingly specialized game (shorter outings with higher velocity and outlier pitches taking place at high usages)

4. Grip concerns ("tack" on a slippery baseball)

5. Reduced recovery time (pitch clock concerns)

6. Shorter, more specialized offseasons (more pitchers continuing to throw when the season ends - and initiating bullpens/live BPs earlier)

It goes without saying that the modern era of pitching injuries is out of control, and we can't overlook Dr. Meister's observations that this is a serious component of the challenges we face. If you're looking to dig in a little deeper on the topic, here's a podcast - How Pitching Injuries Occur - that I recorded on the topic:

 

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The Best of 2023: Podcasts

2023 marked year 5 of the Elite Baseball Development Podcast. In all, we released 36 episodes in 2023 - and I learned a ton from some great guests. That said, here are our top five episodes from the year:

1. Creating a Culture for Sustainable Success with Tim CorbinVanderbilt University head baseball coach Tim Corbin discussed transforming cultures in a team environment, and what key standards must be present to provide for sustainable success. Tim also spoke to college recruiting, long-term player development strategies, and the evolution of the student athlete.

2. Optimizing Athlete Physiology with Dr. Andy Galpin - California State University – Fullerton Professor and Human Performance scientist Dr. Andy Galpin shared many great insights on the physiological assessment of athletes. Andy has worked with athletes from across many high levels of sport to develop a comprehensive set of research-backed solutions for those seeking peak performance. We touched on the benefits and drawbacks of technology, and where he sees the health and human performance industry going in the decades ahead.

3. The Broken Business of Baseball Showcases with Dr. Peter Kriz - Sports medicine orthopedist and researcher Dr. Peter Kriz took an in-depth look at how showcase participation relates to injury rates in pitchers. This conversation drew heavily on Dr. Kriz’s two landmark studies on the topic, and yielded some crucial insights to help players, parents, and coaches plan for safe long-term development of pitchers. We also chatted about the diagnosis and treatment spondylolysis (stress fractures) of the lower back in extension/rotation sport athletes.

4. Using Archetypes to Individualize Baseball Training with Rick Franzblau - Clemson University Director of Olympic Sports Strength and Conditioning Rick Franzblau covered innovative ways to assess, program, and coach in a baseball population. Rick’s insights related to infrasternal angle, mechanical vs. fascially driven athletes, and the development of college athletes are all outstanding. This conversation will help you to see individualized development through a new lens, and also appreciate how you might have gotten “accidental” positive results in the past.

5. How Pitching Injuries Occur - In this podcast, I discussed some of the causative factors for modern pitching injuries. Everyone wants to heavily scrutinize mechanics, but there are a lot of other considerations we have to take into account.

Finally, while I've got your attention, be sure to check out our foremost sponsor from the past year, AG1 (formely 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 https://www.drinkag1.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – 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.

We're back to the regular EricCressey.com content this upcoming week. Thanks for all your support in 2023! We've got some great stuff planned for 2024.

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Tommy Doyle on Tall Athletes, Shoulder Surgery, and Bullpen Success

We welcome Colorado Rockies pitcher Tommy Doyle to the latest podcast. We cover a number of different topics related to his development, including his college recruiting process; strategies for training as a taller pitcher; bullpen success, and rehabilitation from shoulder surgery.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, AG1. Head to https://www.DrinkAG1.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by AG1. AG1 is your daily foundational nutrition; it has 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s foundational nutrition needs across five critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. It is the new and future way of getting a multivitamin, and a whole lot more. Head to www.DrinkAG1.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – with your first purchase. I use AG1 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.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

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What Are “Perfect” Pitching Mechanics?

There's no such thing as "perfect pitching mechanics" for EVERYONE, but there are some key strategies for engineering a delivery that works best for YOU. Check out today's video to learn more:

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Digging in on Diagnostic Imaging

After a little podcast hiatus, I'm back with a solo episode. In this podcast, I discuss some common incidental findings on diagnostic imaging - MRI, x-ray, CT scans - in baseball players. These are very important considerations both for player advocacy purposes, and also for us appreciating how to keep the next generation of players healthy.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, AG1. Head to https://www.DrinkAG1.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

 

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by AG1. AG1 is your daily foundational nutrition; it has 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s foundational nutrition needs across five critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. It is the new and future way of getting a multivitamin, and a whole lot more. Head to www.DrinkAG1.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – with your first purchase. I use AG1 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.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: The Far-Reaching Effects of Pitching Velocity

I’m flying solo for this week’s podcast, as I discuss some of the downstream injury impacts - both direct and indirect - of the large increase in pitching velocity we've observed over the past few decades. Huge velocity is here to stay, so it's imperative that the health and human performance industries identify how it impacts player health.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Marc Pro. Head to www.MarcPro.com and enter the coupon code CRESSEY at checkout to receive an exclusive discount on your order.

 

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Marc Pro, a cutting-edge EMS device that uses patented technology to create non-fatiguing muscle activation. Muscle activation with Marc Pro facilitates each stage of the body’s natural recovery process- similar to active recovery, but without the extra effort and muscle fatigue. Athletes can use it for as long as they need to ensure a more full and quick recovery in between training or games. With its portability and ease of use, players can use Marc Pro while traveling between games or while relaxing at home. Players and trainers from every MLB team - including over 200 pro pitchers - use Marc Pro. Put Marc Pro to the test for yourself and use promo code CRESSEY at checkout at www.MarcPro.com for an exclusive discount on your order.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: How Pitching Injuries Occur

I'm flying solo for this week's podcast, as I discuss some of the causative factors for modern pitching injuries. Everyone wants to heavily scrutinize mechanics, but there are a lot of other considerations we have to take into account. Before we get to it, though, a special thanks to this show's sponsor, AG1. Head to http://www.drinkAG1.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

 

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by AG1. 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.DrinkAG1.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – 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.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

Name
Email
Read more

CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: The Broken Business of Baseball Showcases with Dr. Peter Kriz

We welcome sports medicine orthopedist and researcher Dr. Peter Kriz to the latest podcast for an in-depth look at how showcase participation relates to injury rates in pitchers. This conversation draws heavily from Dr. Kriz's two landmark studies on the topic, and yields some crucial insights to help players, parents, and coaches plan for safe long-term development of pitchers. We also chat about the diagnosis and treatment spondylolysis (stress fractures) of the lower back in extension/rotation sport athletes.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Marc Pro. Head to www.MarcPro.com and enter the coupon code CRESSEY at checkout to receive an exclusive discount on your order.

 

You can follow Dr. Kriz on Twitter at @DrPKrizBrownU.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by Marc Pro, a cutting-edge EMS device that uses patented technology to create non-fatiguing muscle activation. Muscle activation with Marc Pro facilitates each stage of the body’s natural recovery process- similar to active recovery, but without the extra effort and muscle fatigue. Athletes can use it for as long as they need to ensure a more full and quick recovery in between training or games. With its portability and ease of use, players can use Marc Pro while traveling between games or while relaxing at home. Players and trainers from every MLB team - including over 200 pro pitchers - use Marc Pro. Put Marc Pro to the test for yourself and use promo code CRESSEY at checkout at www.MarcPro.com for an exclusive discount on your order.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

Name
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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast – January 2023 Q&A: Assessment Principles, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Warm-ups, and 91mph 13-year-olds

It's time for another listener Q&A, so I cover four questions from our audience in this week's podcast on the following topics:

  1. "Big Rock" Assessment Principles
  2. Why Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is a Diagnosis of Exclusion
  3. The Key Components of a Good Warm-up
  4. Injury Concerns in Young Pitchers with Elite Velocity

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, Proteus Motion. They're changing the way we assess and train athletes with their 3D Resistance. Head to www.ProteusMotion.com/elite to learn more about this cutting-edge technology. 

Sponsor Reminder

Proteus Motion has a patented technology that allows us to measure power for the overwhelming majority of human movements. Proteus software guides users through 4-minute physical assessments to arm trainers with unprecedented performance data and insights, creating an entirely new standard for personalized fitness and physical rehabilitation. All of this is enabled by a total reinvention of resistance training called 3D Resistance. Training power and acceleration with Proteus’ patented 3D Resistance can be safer, more efficient, and more effective than traditional resistance training tools in many cases. I’ve been a big fan of Proteus for the past few years. We have a unit in both Cressey Sports Performance facilities, and actually helped to develop the Cressey Power test for rotational athletes. The information we’ve gathered from this testing has been an absolute game-changer in helping us to more optimally program for our athletes. Additionally, as a training initiative, work on the Proteus has allowed us to train different points on the force-velocity curve in rotational patterns in ways that medicine ball work never could.

You can learn more about them by listening to Episode 106 of the Elite Baseball Development Podcast, or by heading to www.ProteusMotion.com/elite.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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5 Key Traits of Successful Pitchers

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts pitching coordinator, Jordan Kraus.

As we prepare for the 6th annual summer program here at CSP-MA, I find myself reflecting on the principles and traits we prioritize with respect to pitching development. Narrowing the focus on the essential qualities provides clarity for planning and simplifies the process for enhancing these characteristics that successful pitchers possess at the higher levels. Individuality is incredibly important, but the commonalities that exist among elite pitchers deserve the greatest investment of time and resources. The five components of high level pitchers highlighted in this discussion are:

1. Movement Efficiency
2. Outlier Characteristics
3. A Process-Driven Approach
4. Strong Mental Preparation
5. Authenticity

1. Movement Efficiency

The barrier to entry at each level of the game continues to climb as player development progresses and the talent level rises. The result is a requirement for even higher outputs and consistency in order to compete, which places a greater demand on movement efficiency. Movement efficiency is a popular term discussed in the baseball realm, but what does it really mean? Our ability to quantify movement continues to improve and helps to shape the definition, but essentially it comes down to movement that produces high outputs with high levels of consistency. We all have our perceptions on what we think efficient movement is, but the reality is perfect does not exist. There are trends that are widely agreed upon among high performers; however, our current ability to quantify movement does not provide a complete picture. Plenty of outliers exist that do not fall into the bandwidth of “efficiency,” yet they are succeeding at the highest levels. These outliers typically possess other unique or outlier characteristics and often offset a lack of efficiency in one area by being efficient everywhere else.

[bctt tweet="Since perfect does not exist, optimal movement is what we strive to create. Finding optimal requires a thorough understanding of anatomy and preferred movement strategies, and this will vary for every athlete."]

Appreciating how each body is designed to move and how it prefers to move through key positions is a much more effective strategy than isolating certain positions themselves. When an intervention is needed, there are countless ways to refine and enhance these movement strategies and a variety of tools to do so. This process typically starts by establishing movement competency as a prerequisite before picking up a baseball. After the baseline movement is sufficient, there are countless ways it can be progressed and challenged. The movement can be progressed by adding a dynamic component, challenging with perturbations, manipulating the environment and task, changing time pressure, and many more. Additionally, the movement can be challenged with medicine balls, waterballs, different types and weights of balls and implements, and an infinite number of other tools. Creativity can be useful, but there has to be transfer into catch play and ultimately to the mound where the carryover to performance matters.

There are many variables at play and movement changes need to consider the implications for health, velocity, execution, sequencing, pitch characteristics, deception and more. An alteration to one piece may lead to improvement on a biomechanical report, but if there are negative consequences elsewhere, the potential trade off needs to be carefully evaluated. Finding the optimal movement solution for each athlete is critical for performance, and a holistic view and consideration to all variables at play needs to be appreciated.

2. Outlier Characteristics

The ability to make hitters uncomfortable is a distinct quality among successful pitchers. There are a number of ways to accomplish this and being unique with outlier characteristics is a significant advantage. Essentially, pitchers want to develop outlier traits that lead to swings and misses. There’s a reason the phrase “dead zone fastball” (a fastball with equal vertical and horizontal movement) has some merit, and it’s because hitters love seeing what they see often, and they hate facing "different."

The term, however, can be a bit overhyped, as there are plenty of pitchers having success with a fastball with a similar spin-axis and movement profile. However, the profile is typically paired with some other outlier characteristics, which can include a combination of velocity, spin, movement, release angles, approach angles, deception, execution, and elite secondary pitches. These are the critical desired traits that should be considered when evaluating a pitch and overall arsenal. Execution is included in this mix because there are pitchers having success at the big league level that may appear to have relatively average stuff, but their ability to execute is exceptional and becomes an outlier trait in itself. A reliance on sequencing and execution with relatively average stuff can work, but the margins for error are much smaller and highlights the distinct advantage that comes with outlier characteristics.

 

It’s important to note that considerations to health, previous performance, movement efficiency and all other variables need to be accounted for prior to the discussion of pitch characteristics. These variables, especially movement efficiency, have a strong influence on pitch characteristics and the resulting pitch shapes. In the previous example with an unremarkable fastball, if other unique traits with the pitch or complementary off-speed pitches aren’t present, there are a few avenues to consider.

As an obvious first, enhancing velocity will almost always improve the quality of the pitch. Velocity is a nuanced and lengthy discussion for another day, but it involves a combination of a number of variables, including adjustments to the throwing program, strength and conditioning program, recovery modalities, movement efficiency in the delivery, intent, and more.

A second potential solution to consider is adjusting the delivery to alter the release and spin-axis, but prior to considering this solution...

[bctt tweet="It’s important to appreciate that trunk tilt dictates arm slot, and any attempt to change spin-axis via arm slot needs to maintain integrity with respect to the trunk and plane of rotation of the shoulders."]

Another example, spin efficiency, is a common point of emphasis for players looking to improve the grade on their fastball, often chasing more induced vertical break. It could be as simple as grip and pressure change or cueing additional pronation, but it is often much more complex.

[bctt tweet="Timing within the delivery will have a significant impact on how the hand works through the ball at release, and as a result influence the spin efficiency, axis, and movement of the pitch."]

If timing within the delivery causes the arm and hand to carry in a linear fashion - rather than unwinding in a curvilinear nature that allows for proper timing of extension, internal rotation, and pronation - the result can be an increase in gyro degree.

Another example could be a pitcher with limited front hip internal rotation and a stride direction that carries them across their body. For some pitchers this could work, but with limited lead hip internal rotation there may be insufficient space to continue rotation around the front hip, which often results in a ball that is cut with lower spin efficiency.

To add further complexity, not all spin efficiency is created equal, and higher efficiency does not always result in a more effective pitch. Sometimes leaning into the gyro degree can create an outlier pitch potentially as a sinker using “seam shifted wake” or a fastball that has unique cut and ride. There are many causes to gyroscopic spin and many factors that influence all different pitch characteristics. These examples provide only a glimpse into the complexity that can be involved with designing an individual pitch and arsenal, and highlights the importance of maintaining a holistic approach that considers all variables.

3. A Process-Driven Approach

Time and energy are limited resources and appropriate allocation is important for long- term success. High-performers choose to invest them into the process, rather than wasting energy focusing on outcomes. Results matter, but they are inherently uncontrollable. The outcomes that we wish to control are the direct consequence of the processes and systems in place. A favorite quote of mine is, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.” Essentially, the level of preparation and the level of success will eventually meet. This especially holds truth in a game like baseball: a long season with plenty of time for things even out. This process will have some individual variance, but quality preparation requires attention to a few fundamental areas.

Continuity and alignment of these fundamental areas within the process are critical components that need to be appreciated. The end goal is to improve performance on the mound in a game environment, not to become a weight room or bullpen hero. To this end, we've always taken great pride at CSP in the synergy among the throwing program, strength and conditioning program, physical therapy, manual therapy, recovery modalities, and mental performance training.

Each of these elements should be used as tools to support performance and should be prioritized based on a thorough assessment. The assessment process is a key driver behind decisions made and typically includes a discussion on training history, routines, injury history, movement screens, video breakdown, and an assessment of pitch characteristic data and sequencing. Each component needs to consider the individual needs and goals obtained from the assessment from an integrated viewpoint, as well as the time of year. There are similarities, but an in-season program might look vastly different than during the off-season or our 10-week college development program. It’s important to also remember that even the best program can be derailed by outside variables such as sleep, nutrition, hydration, and other outside stressors. These variables have an enormous impact on the efficacy of a program and need to be considered as part of the overall process.

Each component of the process could be an entirely separate post, but it’s important to appreciate what a quality throwing session within a throwing program looks like. Whether it’s a physical movement adaptation or a change geared more toward approach, execution, or a pitch characteristic, there needs to be a goal for each session. Going through the motions of a throwing session with no real intention is a recipe for mediocrity. For example, if a certain movement adjustment is the goal, the warm-up and pre-throwing choices should help facilitate that specific adjustment. Again, the objective is to transfer the movement or feeling into catchplay with a baseball in hand, and then to the mound. The same adaptation can be layered through the other areas of development, which ties in the importance of collaboration between departments during the training process. These decisions need to also consider principles of skill-acquisition and individual learning styles in order to maximize the efficiency of each session.

The training environment is an often overlooked component of this process. It may seem obsolete, but it can have a considerable impact on the development process by enhancing intensity, motivation, accountability and consistency. Learning from peers can be just as impactful as a coach, maybe even more if you surround yourself with the right people. Plus, there's something different about training alongside other people on the same mission with similar goals, so being selective with the environment can be an added bonus to a training program.

4. Strong Mental Preparation

At each increasing level of the game, the gap in talent continues to narrow. The result is often a shift in priority and value from physical tools to intangibles. The mind becomes a key differentiator and it plays a pivotal role in success or failure on the field. Preparation - both physical and mental - is the foundation to building a strong mindset. This means adhering to the previous process driven approach and developing a physical and mental routine for pregame, pre-pitch, and mid-game adjustments. As with physical preparation, there is considerable variance and individuality when it comes to different mental strategies, routines, and characteristics. There isn’t a single solution; rather, the goal is to develop effective strategies that prepare you for each competition, each pitch, and a strategy for righting the ship when things go south. While appreciating individuality and variance within mental strategies is important, there are similar qualities among elite level pitchers.

[bctt tweet="Watching a MLB veteran and a high schooler play catch are very different things. The focus and attention to detail must improve with each increasing level of the game, and a pitcher’s mentality must progress to support these key habits."]

A few additional critical attributes for high performing pitchers are confidence, conviction and resiliency. The three of these are grouped together because there is a distinct relationship between them. Accountability to your own process and true belief in your preparation prior to stepping on the field is where confidence starts. It stems from an innate belief in yourself and a combination of previous success and preparation. If there is trust in the process and preparation, then stepping onto the field with confidence becomes automatic.

That same confidence in knowing that you are prepared leads to an increased belief in your stuff and your ability to execute. If there’s confidence in your stuff and ability to execute, then throwing a pitch with conviction becomes unconscious. Conviction is one of those things that’s essentially impossible to quantify, yet it plays a pivotal role to the success of a pitch. If you don’t believe you can compete, or believe the pitch you are throwing will succeed, more times than not, it won’t. The level of preparation and confidence lay the foundation for handling adversity. If you’ve overcome adversity and have proven to yourself and trust your ability to do so, toughness and resilience become second nature. Knowing and believing that you can and will overcome adversity feeds back into a further level of confidence and conviction, and it becomes a cycle. An unwavering mentality can be built through an effective process, and these intangibles are key to success at the highest level where the gap in talent is miniscule.

5. Authenticity

Every pitcher has an individual skill-set that comes with certain strengths and weaknesses. An understanding of what makes you successful and relentlessly adhering to those strengths is an overriding principle among high-performers. Being openminded and willing to try new things to improve is absolutely important to the process; however, it should be used as a complementary piece to enhance the core of what already makes you successful. A continuous cycle of too many new variables without a foundation to build around inhibits the establishment of a true identity. This principle of authenticity ties in the previous four components into one fundamental trait: be yourself.

To start, an understanding of your own delivery and physical limitations can help to understand how you move, where your delivery breaks down, and what your body needs to perform optimally. This knowledge accelerates readiness as well as your ability to make adjustments, both in game and between outings.

Next, a comprehensive understanding of your pitch arsenal and its strengths and weaknesses can simplify your approach and lead to higher execution. Simply put, use your unique traits and best pitches to create swings and misses and get outs, while avoiding getting beat with your worst pitches or by trying to get cute.

[bctt tweet="It’s easy to get caught up in scouting reports and relying only on attacking weaknesses. Finding holes in your opponent is a part of the process, but it’s equally or more important to double-down on your strengths and what you do well."]

Understanding your own process and what your body and mind need to prepare lead to confidence and conviction on the mound. Consistency in the routine facilitates a feeling of preparedness and allows for a shift into the appropriate mindset required for high performance. Taking ownership for this process and combining these components can help you find the best authentic version of yourself. A good coach will help guide players down a path of self-exploration, but the best pitchers are accountable for their own process, preparation and performance.

A couple of Cy Young Award winners and CSP athletes, Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber, both provide great examples of authenticity. Each has a unique delivery, different set of elite pitch characteristics, different processes to prepare, and are renowned for essentially opposite mentalities on the mound. Both are incredible talents, but if one tried to be like the other, the results would likely be different. At the end of the day, the pitchers who understand who they are and don’t try to be anybody but the best version of themselves have significantly more success.

While there are a number of important qualities to consider when it comes to successful pitchers, the previous five consistently emerge among the game’s top performers. The process of development requires a comprehensive approach that understands quality movement, effective pitch characteristics, efficient and synergistic processes and routines, and the mental capacity to support them. An integration of these qualities with a pitcher that remains authentic and true to himself is a dynamic recipe for success. The development process truly requires a holistic approach with clearly defined end goals to enhance the processes that facilitate improved performance on the mound.

If you're looking to experience how we work to develop all these traits, be sure to check out the CSP Elite Collegiate Summer Development Program. This will be our sixth summer of running the program, and the average velocity increase over the course of the ten-week program is >4mph. Previous participants have not only been draft picks, but are now pitching in the big leagues. You can learn more HERE.

About the Author

Jordan Kraus serves as a Pitching Coordinator at Cressey Sports Performance-MA. You can follow him on Twitter at @_JordanKraus_ or Instagram at @CSPPitching, or email him at JordanRKraus@gmail.com.

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