Home Baseball Content The #1 Cause of Inconsistent Pitching Velocity

The #1 Cause of Inconsistent Pitching Velocity

Written on July 30, 2010 at 5:05 am, by Eric Cressey

As anyone who reads my posts regularly surely knows, I've devoted a significant portion of my life to figuring out how to make guys throw baseballs faster.  Sure, having a great change-up and a filthy curveball is nice, but let's be honest: throwing gas is what gets scouts' attention and earns you fame, fortune, chicks, scholarships, and, of course, intimidation on the mound.

However, my interest in velocity isn't just limited to how to get to "X" miles per hour; it also extends to understanding how to stay (or improve upon) "X" miles per hour over the course of a single appearance, season, or career while staying healthy and developing the rest of one's pitching arsenal.  Erratic radar gun readings are as much a problem as "insufficient" radar gun readings.

My foremost observation on this front has been that velocity is much more erratic in high level teenagers than any other population. At Cressey Sports Performance, we've had loads of high school guys top the 90mph mark over the years, so we've built up a good sample size to consider.  While some of these guys are quite consistent, I find that they tend to have more 4-6mph drop-offs here and there than any other population with which I've worked.  A guy that is 90-94 on one day might come back at 85-87 five days later - seemingly out of the blue.

However, I don't think it's just a random occurrence.  Rather, in my experience, EVERY single time it happens, it's because he has let his body weight drop - usually due to being on the road for games and not packing enough food.  We see it all the time in kids who throw great up in New England, but then head down South for tournaments.  All of a sudden, they are living out of hotels and eating out of restaurants multiple times per day - which certainly isn't going to be as conducive to maintaining body weight as "grazing" around the house and chowing down on Mom's home-cooking multiple times per day.  To make matters worse, a lot of kids lose their appetites when they get out in the heat - and not many people from across the country are prepared for the weather in Georgia or South Carolina in July.  So, insufficient caloric intake becomes completely inadequate caloric intake - and that's not exactly a recipe for throwing the baseball faster.

tiny-breakfast

Beyond just the body weight factor, though, you also have to look at the fact that the advanced teenage pitchers are generally also the best athletes - so their coaches almost always have them out in the outfield or at SS/3B when they aren't pitching.  Playing a position interferes with a solid throwing program and just doesn't give a kid a chance to rest. There are more calories burned, too!

What's interesting, though, is that kids who don't throw as hard - say, 70-82 - never have variability in their velocity readings; they are super consistent.  Why? Well, for one, they usually aren't quite good enough to get on travel teams and in competitive scenarios that would require them to have to consciously consider how to maintain their weight.  Rather, it's Mom's home-cooking all the time - so it's easier to maintain their weight.  And, they may not be talented enough to be able to play other positions when they aren't pitching.

This difference is really interesting because both populations - independent of strength and conditioning - are at ages where their bodies are changing and (presumably) getting heavier naturally as they go through puberty and gain muscle mass.  As this picture shows, however, their strength coaches are apparently getting shorter and balder at the same time!

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This rarely applies to anyone who has pitched in the professional ranks for more than a year or two.  You never see a professional pitcher go out and throw 5-7mph slower than normal unless he is hurt or coming back on very short rest.  These guys have found their "set points," and have learned over the years how to get in enough calories when on the road (out on their own means cooking for themselves, plus eating whatever their clubhouse dues gets them at the park).  Plus, they aren't playing the field.

All that said, regardless of your age, experience level, and current velocity, don't skimp on calories.  If you look at every bit of research on the pitching motion, body weight predicts pitching velocity. If you're on the road, make sure you pack some shakes, trail mix, bars, fruit, nuts, jerky, or whatever other convenience food helps you to get in the calories you need to light up the radar gun.  I love Precision Nutrition as a resource on this front.  It doesn't just help you to eat healthy foods; it helps you with strategies to make getting in enough qualities calories conveniently when you may be pinched for time or kitchen access.

precision_nutrition

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  • Ryan

    Eric, you and Tony often mention beef jerky. Are there any certain kinds you recommend? I believe I’ve heard over the years that stuff like Jack Link’s (the most available kind) is full of a bunch of junk. Anyway, what kinds of jerky are Cressey Performance approved? Thanks.

  • Ryan,

    Gotta love this: http://www.plbsports.com/youks.html

    🙂

    I usually just search for the lowest carb stuff, as it’s a sign that they aren’t loaded with sugar.

  • Kevin Brower

    Eric,
    Great read. It’s something collegiate and even minor league players overlook far too often. I remember being on road trips in college, getting daily food money, and spend it playing cards or trying to save it for the upcoming week. After I read Precision Nutrition, I noticed a big change in not only my ability to perform consistently but also to recover for the next appearance. Playing in Atlantic City my last year in pro ball was a big home “field” advantage, since the opposing team would usually spend their meal money at the Taj Mahal instead of on food. I think another point to make is the effect of pitchers running excessive distances after and between starts. I used to hear it from pitching coaches for doing my training in the mornings after I pitch so my pre-game running was a dynamic warm-up and some sprints (maybe 8 60 yd sprints). Any thoughts on that? I know you don’t like distance running for pitchers either, but I just didn’t like sweating dehydrating and overheating myself, followed by waiting 2 hours to get the call in.

  • john

    I would have to say a huge factor in the inconsistencies in velocity is the ability to repeat their deliveries. I would say this is the main aspect for seeing drop offs or increases in velocity.
    Since the pitcher is the best player on the field, they often don’t have time to spend on their mechanics and repeating their delivery. Many times when kids try to throw the ball as hard as they can, this can lead to a decrease in velocity also.
    Love reading your articles

  • Do you ever just say, “Eat, anything everything on the road just to keep weight up and then get back to normal when back home”?

  • Its funny you mention the topic of not getting in enough calories. I find that a lot of people who are playing sports even at a recreational level, do not get enough calories to perform at their best. If you are not prepared, it can be a lot of work to get your food organized for the day. Precision nutrition is a really good resource for those struggling with putting together healthy meals. Thanks for the great post Eric.

  • Evan Wise

    Do you recommend eating during Active Warm Up Phase or Right before start? Example: 9am Eat Breakfast, Arrive at ball park at 10am sit through both team batting practices, 11:00am Active Warm Up-Stretching-Etc Play Catch, Bullpen 12pm game– you haven’t eaten for 3 hours and you have properly prepared yourself for activity is it possible you have burned all of your calories for a game?

  • Evan,

    That should be fine. You’d just want to try to get some calories in during the game. Also, make sure breakfast is big enough.

  • I grew up with the son of the head trainer at SMU. Coach Birdwell told me if the football team played at noon they had pancakes and waffles for breakfast at 8am. If they played later in the day, the team ate spaghetti four hours before game time. That was over twenty years ago so things may have changed since then, but I think in addition to how much and what we get our athletes to eat, we need to consider when they are eating. I realize this is a moot point if they aren’t eating at all/enough (the point of this blog) but if we can get them to eat, we should also try to incorporate getting them to eat at an appropriate time. 

    Recently I was asked to keep an account of everything consumed by my 14 year old because “he’s probably not eating enough”. On my own, I am requiring him to write the time he is eating, which I believe will prove to be beneficial to the nutritionist we will soon be consulting. 

  • JOHN

    Eric, my 16yr. old son will be in Geogia, and Ft. Meyers back to back this July. Your article could not be more timely. My question, could a drop in hitting power also be attributed to this body weight drop ? I believe it can, your thoughts.

    Thank you

  • John – absolutely! Hitting – like pitching – is mostly about absolute power. You don’t see many skinny shot-putters for this reason!

  • Vincent Licursi

    If you maintain/improve your strength numbers is it ok to lose weight during training in regards to velocity?

  • Vincent,

    It definitely makes it more tolerable. Guess it really depends on whether you carried a lot of body fat at the beginning of the season. If the answer is yes, no problem. If it’s no, then you could be in a tough spot. The radar gun will tell the story.

  • Dan

    Eric,
    I had this problem all throughout high school and college, it wasn’t until I go to indy ball that I realized what the issue was. Have you ever though of pitchers sleeping on their pitching shoulder? I always sleep on my side, and it wasn’t until late in my career that I realized when i slept on my pitching shoulder, i almost ALWAYS suffered from a decrease in velocity the next day.

  • Mike

    Eric,
    Just found this article and great information as always, recently subscribed but found this on google. Son will be 15 in a couple of months. Slim kid; 5’9 135 lbs & getting him to eat is a chore. Good velocity, check regular with radar gun at pitching lessons. Topped out at 77 recently & regularly cruised between 74-76. Since travel started he’s dropped off to topping some sessions at only 74 & some up to 76. Cruising speed has also dropped off 2-3 mph depending on a given day. Do you believe this poses any long term issues? A typical weekend consists of 4-6 games & he is in the field all the time when not pitching; normally 3B, SS, or 2B. His hitting has not suffered at all and pitching is still effective just not as much zip. Prior to travel this year he played 2-3 games per week. He’s done travel since 10 yrs old.
    Thanks again,
    Mike

  • Mike,

    Put the radar gun away for another few years.  Keep things fun, and just make sure he eats like a horse and gets strong.  135 pounds is pretty darn skinny! That number should be a focus point much more than a velocity reading.

  • DC

    Eric,

    How do you explain pitchers like Joe Kelly who are over 6ft tall and less than 180 pounds who regularly and consistently throw in the high 90’s.

  • DC,

    Everyone gets velocity from slightly difference avenues.  For many, it’s the right mix of congenital laxity (loose joints) and reactive ability (spring). You can’t have spring without some strength, though. Follow these guys; they usually fall off quickly at ages 28-30.

  • Luke

    Eric
    My son is going to be a sophomore next year. With summer ball having started I was wondering how many innings he should be limited to from the start of fall ball freshman year to the end of this summer. He is at about 86 right now.
    Thanks

  • Luke,

    I like to see kids under 100 at that age.

  • luke

    Ok. Kind of what I thought. Thanks

  • Scott

    Bringing this up at our meeting with the parents this Spring. A guy might need to slim down or bulk up in the off season and that can be difficult for a variety of reasons, but eating right and staying hydrated the day of and before a game needs to be (and is quite simple) a very basic responsibility that a player has as a member of the team. Can’t afford to lose 10% effort due to such a simple fix.

  • Phil

    Shared this with a baseball coach and his response below, would love to hear your take:

    I don’t know how this can make any sense to you. Pitchers tire on the road because they are at tournaments where schedules tend to be much more condensed. They are getting tired because they are over-used, not because of what they eat or do not eat.

  • Graham Tebbit

    Hi Eric,
    Have you considered the possibility of psychological factors effecting pitching velocity. I definitely think that diet plays a huge role on the road (not to mention sleep) but I think when kids see scouts and radar guns they become tense (trying to throw harder, oppose to doing what they normally do in a controlled setting). 5-7mph is A LOT to lose from just diet alone. Fear, frustration are linked to poor performance; fear of rejection (velo not good enough or getting hit around) and would set it if they can’t hit the strike zone and/or they get hit).

    It seems simple to you and I that if you know you throw hard you throw there should be nothing to worry about but we are talking about teenagers; by and large, they are not the wisest. Professionals, however, are more mature, have made it to into the system and know that outs (for the most part) help them stay there. High school kids know that they need velocity AND results. It would be good to look at the consistency of college/university level baseball players as well, I personally know that many D1 programs won’t eat much healthier.

    I just think there is more to consider that diet and weight maintenance, I think the environment and the psychology of young adults may play a larger role.

  • Eric Cressey

    Absolutely a huge factor that must be considered, Graham. Great addition.


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