Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

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It was great to see Garrett Richards opted to rehab his partial torn UCL Ligament instead of opting for Tommy John Surgery.

Garrett Richards 2

This choice seems misguided to the general public. Why not just go ahead and get the surgery out of the way? Don’t you come back throwing harder after Tommy John? Isn’t it just part of the job description now?

Unfortunately, the success of the surgery almost now seems to be somewhat of a detriment to the sport. We hear of all the success stories at the Major League level while the high school, college, and minor league pitchers who don’t make it back, or return as a shell of their former selves, are swept under the rug.

The accepted success rate for TJ surgery is somewhere around 80-85 percent. This percentage needs a huge asterisk beside it. Success rate is defined, in this case, as returned to pitch in one game at the level the pitcher was at before the injury occurred. So if a Low A pitcher has Tommy John and comes back to pitch one inning in Low A, it’s a tally for the successful TJ surgery count. If he is throwing 4 MPH slower, in pain, barely makes it through the inning only to get released the next day and quits, it’s a tally for the successful TJ surgery count.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at New York Mets

Jeremy Hefner is part of the 15-20% that hasn’t made it back after two Tommy John surgeries. Mandatory Credit: John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

 

The scary thing is no one really seems to know the cut off for what percentage of a tear is a definite for surgery. There seems to be such a casual attitude towards the surgery now, it’s blindly prescribed for any chronic elbow issue.

For instance:

 

If that doesn’t make you leery, I don’t know what will.

Also remember the big league pitchers have big league resources. They get the best surgeons, one-on-one attention from an Athletic Trainer or Physical Therapist, and other rehab methods like soft tissue work. Very few high school and college players are going to have the resources professional baseball players have, lowering the percentage even more.

Hopefully more guys will be successful choosing the Masahio Tanaka and Garrett Richards’ route and pitchers will realize there is more than one option when dealing with damage to the UCL.

And maybe even one day we figure this whole ulnar collateral ligament thing out and prevent some injuries.

If you would like more information on UCL injuries and prevention, I highly recommend Jeff Passan’s new book, The Arm.

Other great resources are:

What We’ve Missed About Tommy John Surgery

PitchSmart

Spring is one of the best times of the year for sports fans. College basketball has the NCAA tournament, the Masters is here, and most importantly baseball season has started.

The weather starts to warm up and nothing brings back the memories of the ballpark quite like the smell of freshly cut grass, hot dogs, and torn UCLs.

When pitchers start throwing again there always seem to be arm soreness or stiffness one would expect after the layoff. That’s just the nature of the beast.

This year, UCL injuries seem to be occurring at an alarming rate. Maybe it’s because some big names have gone down this spring, or that social media informs us of the hang nail that keeps a player out of a spring training game. But it seems that every day a pitcher is getting checked for structural damage to his elbow.

Both Medlen and Parker underwent their second Tommy John surgery

Both Medlen and Parker underwent their second Tommy John surgery

Jarrod+Parker+New+York+Yankees+v+Oakland+Athletics+vOSSgnHCbQUl

So the billion dollar question is, can you do anything to prevent ripping your Tommy John?

I believe the answer is YES…sort of.

Throwing a baseball is a very unnatural movement for your body. It is also the fastest movement for any joint in sports, with a pitcher’s arm rotating at up to 8,500° per second. No, that is not a misprint. Combine these two factors and something has to give, and it’s either the elbow or shoulder.

"Lay back" phase (maximum external rotation)

“Lay back” phase (maximum external rotation)

 

Can torn UCLs be completely eliminated from baseball? No.

Is there something that can be done to reduce the rate or likelihood of it happening? Absolutely.

Here are 3 ways to lower the chance of a UCL tear, or any arm injury for that matter:

1. Proper Mechanics

No matter how strong or mobile or “functional” the athlete is, he/she will not be able to overcome poor mechanics for any repetitive movement. Baseball is a very repetitive sport and requires movements at high speeds, like 8,500° per second high speeds. Improper technique multiple times at high speeds is a recipe for injury. While some pitchers may be able to have a long, healthy career with “poor” mechanics, I would certainly not advise tempting fate.

brandon_beachy_medium

I am restraining myself from going on a rant about how there is no such thing as perfect mechanics and how it depends on the individual, but for now I will leave it as that. There are certain indicators that have been found to increase the likelihood for injury. I do not believe the idea of significantly altering a professional pitcher’s mechanics is realistic. This is the kind of information that needs to be applied at an early age in place of coaching clichés like “throw strikes” and “get on top of the ball “.  Coaches should be taking advantage of technology, like frame-by-frame video apps on your cell phone, to identify possible red flags like the inverted W or angle of shoulder abduction at release.

2. Physical Restrictions/Compensations

The first two points actually coincide a lot more than one may think. A strong argument can be made that proper mechanics cannot be achieved without out proper strength, mobility, and stability. For instance, factors like internal hip rotation of the lead leg and internal rotation of the throwing shoulder can lead to increased chance of injury. Lack of strength in the legs and core means the arm will have to make up the power and speed in order to produce adequate velocity.

While better training is definitely a contributor in the increase in velocity over the past 20 years, baseball still has a long way to go before old school myths, like long distance running, are out of the game. Not that I have all the answers, but proper training will decrease the chance of injury for any sport, baseball included.

Soft tissue work has also become popular in the last few years. The attitude has changed from getting a massage for relaxation to getting specific soft tissue work, like Active Release Technique. Soft tissue evaluation and treatment is certainly another tool that can keep athletes healthy.

 

3. Pitch Selection

Jeff Zimmerman of FansGraphs did a really cool article on breaking ball usage and it’s affect on a pitcher’s health.

Granted the numbers are not drastic, but it gives validity to the notion that throwing a high percentage of breaking balls increases the chance of injury.

The fastball is and always will be the best pitch in baseball. That’s why it’s thrown about 70% of the time. Learn how to pitch off your fastball growing up. Locate your fastball, learn a change up, and then a decent breaking ball will just make it unfair for the hitter.

After his rookie year, Greg Maddux started 33 games every year until retirement (except '94 strike)

Greg Maddux pitched 5008 1/3 innings and spent 15 days on the Disabled List

At the end of the day, the ulnar collateral ligament can only withstand so much stress. With the increased demand for velocity, Tommy John surgery will continue to be commonplace in baseball.

However, that does not provide an adequate excuse for elbow injuries to occur at the current rate. A strong effort should be made to increase our knowledge of why this may happen and to apply the knowledge to prevent future injuries.

Dylan Bundy warming up with long toss

Dylan Bundy, long toss enthusiast

Baseball is a funny sport. Years ago, kids played baseball every day. No pitch count, no innings limit, just trying to throw the ball past the other boys in the neighborhood. Arm injuries were fairly uncommon, especially when compared to today’s standards. Tommy John comes along and returns to pitch in the big leagues after having a major arm surgery. The surgery becomes more common, and so a rehab protocol is put together. In this protocol, it is suggested that the player progresses back to 120 feet to conclude his rehab. The protocol does not state that the player should stop there or never throw a ball over 120 ft again, it’s just simply the end of the rehab.

And this is how the “120 ft rule” was born.

Someone thought it made sense that if an injured pitcher coming off a major surgery shouldn’t throw over 120 ft within 8 months of surgery, then by golly no one should.

The other major thought behind this rule is your mechanics start to change to put arc on the ball after 120 ft. I agree with this. Mechanics are slightly altered and the release point changes as a player begins to extend the distance. If you want to keep the same mechanics and release point that you have when you pitch, you should only throw off a mound to a squatting catcher. Throwing on flat ground at any distance will alter your mechanics when compared to the mechanics of pitching off a mound. But throwing from a mound increases the torque on your shoulder. Quite the conundrum.

Angles of flat ground vs mound

Angles of flat ground vs mound

Theoretically, I don’t mind the 120 ft rule. If a player could properly warm up his arm and throw each throw as hard as he could, properly using his entire body and not just his arm, I would be in favor of it. In fact, I wouldn’t see the need to go back to even 120 ft.

Realistically, that can’t/won’t happen. That distance isn’t sufficient to warm up an advanced high school or college arm, so chance of injury will increase if you really try to let a few go at 100%. Also, it’s human nature to do as little as possible to accomplish any goal. If the goal is to throw the ball 120 ft, it is difficult to use the entire body as much as you should, leaving the shoulder to make up the difference.

Finally, it is much easier to get feedback as the distance increases. If you ease up on a throw, the ball falls 10 ft short. If you get beside the ball, it moves more and doesn’t carry as well. It teaches the player, especially younger athletes, how to sync their entire body during a max effort throw and get the most out of their legs, hips, back, etc.

Two other reasons I am a huge fan of long toss:

1. It provides a longer arc for the arm to decelerate. If you have read any of my other articles on pitching, you know I am a huge proponent of training the body to decelerate. Long toss provides a longer arc for the thrower to slow down his arm, and encourages the rest of the body to help with it as well so it’s not just the shoulder and elbow bearing all of the distraction force. Fleisig and colleagues (1996) state, “The kinetic chain helps to reduce stress placed on the throwing arm by transferring most of the weight and momentum of the body to the lead leg.”

2. It encourages the rest of the body to help the shoulder and elbow bear the distraction forces (the force put on the arm after you let go of the ball, the arm pulling away from the body). Most shoulder injuries occur as the “rotator cuff muscles try to resist distraction, horizontal adduction and internal rotation at the shoulder during arm deceleration” and later recommends “exercises emphasizing eccentric contractions should therefore be performed with appropriate range of motions and speeds of movement. The best exercise for throwing is some form of throwing” (Fleisig, et. al. 1996).

Trevor Bauer warming up

Trevor Bauer warming up

I would never say that one training protocol is perfect for everyone. I’m sure you can find many successful major league pitchers, such as John Smoltz, that never long tossed and still does not believe in it.

However, I do believe that for the reasons listed above long toss can be a very important tool to utilize for the majority of baseball players, both pitchers and position players, when trying to improve arm speed.

Just like everything else, long toss is just a piece of the puzzle. It is important to continue to work on pitching mechanics on a mound and have a baseball specific strength and conditioning program in place. There should be a throwing program, much like a weight lifting program, that is designed to prime YOUR body for the season.

Like weighted balls, or throwing in general, there is both risk and reward with long toss. Consult a knowledgeable professional before you begin any throwing program to make sure it is right for you.

Reference

Fleisig, G. S., Barrentine, S. W., Escamilla, R.F., Andrews, J.R. (1996): Biomechanics of overhand                      throwing with implications for injuries. Sports Medicine, 21(6), 421-437.

Baseball season is finally in full swing at all levels. While games should be the focal point of a baseball player’s routine, it is critical to maintain a training schedule. These concepts can be applied to any sport, but baseball has the most games and longest season making in season workouts more imperative.

This is mainly geared towards high school athletes as most college programs (hopefully) allow for time in the weight room during the season. Professional baseball players have a game every day for 6 or 7 months. Do you really think they don’t touch a weight for over half a year?

Also, a younger athlete is more likely to undergo detraining more quickly. For an athlete that is completely physically developed (20 yr +), noticeable detraining effects occur after 4 weeks of not working out. High school athletes are more likely to notice detraining effects around 2 weeks of no training. Also, the high school athletes will lose more of the gains made during the off season.

A maintenance program can go a long way to ensure the athlete stays at peak performance through the season and won’t have to start over once the season is over.

Most of the hesitation to lifting or doing any kind of workout during the season is due to the fear of soreness. Luckily, soreness can be avoided by remembering a few simple tips:

1. Avoid heavy eccentric movements- The eccentric (lengthening of the muscle) phase of the lift is where the trauma to the muscle occurs that allows for it to grow back stronger, which is why soreness occurs (NOT from lactic acid).

2. Don’t change the exercises- Choose exercises that you have used in the off season and stick with those throughout the entire season. This way, your body won’t have to constantly adjust to new stresses.

3. Keep the workouts short- Make sure to include the multi-joint lifts that hit the major muscle groups. Auxiliary work isn’t necessary in season, and for baseball players this usually just includes curls. Sorry, but huge biceps don’t help you hit the ball any further, Dan Uggla being the exception. Forearm work is acceptable.

4. Include movement work- As many reps as you take in baseball on one side of your body, it’s easy to get jacked up very quickly. Implementing a dynamic warm up appropriate to dealing with these asymmetries can help “reset” your body. Scap/Thoracic spine, hip, and ankle mobility should be the general focal points here, but each person will be different.

A maintenance program is just that- doing enough to help you maintain throughout the season. Basic  periodization should still be applied, including getting up to 85% or greater of your 1RM. Just make sure to keep the volume low and build up to it and no soreness will occur.

Something as little as 3 multi-joint exercises twice a week can go a long way in helping you keep strength and power throughout the season. That will allow you to include your movement work and still keep the workouts around 30-45 minutes.

A traditional thought process in baseball that has been taught for years is the necessity to be able to balance on the push leg during the leg kick. A drill has been utilized where the pitcher is instructed to go through his motion until his leg lift and pause with the knee in the air, like the position in the picture below.

Dan Haren (pictured above) is the one pitcher that comes to mind when you think about a pause at the top of his leg kick. I do not know for certain why he does that, but I’m sure he has a good reason.
I won’t beat around the bush, I am not a fan of the drill and actually believe it to be counterproductive. Here is the logical and biomechanical argument against the balance drill.
Let’s start with the fact that this is very similar to the field sobriety test used for a DUI, so unless you’ve been drinking, it should not be challenging.
For me, the dislike for the drill comes from the thought process behind it which seems to be “I’m going to use this with the kids I coach because this is what I did when I was growing up.” This is a huge problem in the coaching and strength and conditioning field. We should know the reason behind everything we implement instead of just doing it because that’s the way it has previously been done.
I also do not see how it transfers over to the actual pitching motion. When you study the pitching motion, you will see that very few pitchers that ever come to that position. Most pitchers have their hips moving down the slope when their leg kick reaches the peak. If you look at this slow motion video of Trevor Bauer, you will see as his lead leg lifts, his body slowly begins to generate motion down the slope. If you were to draw a vertical line from his push foot, it would not go through the back hip (1:18-1:21 of the video).
The argument against creating momentum in this manner is the pitcher’s body would get ahead of his arm, resulting in poor accuracy (usually missing high and arm side) and increasing the chance of injury. I would politely disagree with this argument. If you were to take a large sample size of professional pitchers, you would see a majority of them do not line up in the vertical position the balance drill teaches. Rather, they tend to be more similar to Bauer.
aroldis_chapman_windup
It is easy to see in this picture of Arnoldis Chapman. He is at the peak of his leg kick, and his body has already started to work its way down the slope. And Chapman throws really hard.
An easy way to check to see if the body is getting too far ahead of the arm is to check the position the pitcher is in when his front foot makes contact with the ground. The wrist and ball should be above the throwing shoulder, while the elbow is slightly below. If the ball is below the shoulder at this point in the deliver, then the arm will be late. This could also be a result of breaking the hands late so make sure you are looking at the entire picture.
Notice the elbow and wrist position as his lead foot makes contact

Notice the elbow and wrist position as his lead foot makes contact

Instead of focusing on balancing on the push leg, concentrate on what the foot does during the leg kick. A common problem is for the foot to supinate (rotate towards the rubber) which results in an energy leak. For the glute to be properly loaded, the pitcher must push off of the ball of his foot. This allows energy to be efficiently transferred from the ground up the kinetic chain, through the hip and thoracic spine, into the shoulder and throwing arm. If the foot supinates, the glute does not properly load and there will be more stress placed on another part of the kinetic chain, most likely the arm, to make up for the lost energy.
Foot is flat, but pressure is on the ball of the foot

Correct: Foot is flat, pushing through the ball of the foot

Foot supinated, weight on outside of the foot, glute not loaded

Incorrect: Foot supinated, weight on outside of the foot, glute not loaded

The balance drill is usually used with younger pitchers up to the high school level. This is the time in development where there should be an emphasis on using the lower body since kids of this age usually struggle with full body movements. If you are able to improve athleticism at this time, the pitching mechanics will smooth out on their own and the athlete will become much more efficient in all of his movements, not just pitching. From my experience with working with high schoolers, very few of them use their lower body and hips as much as they should. Some kind of lateral plyometric would be much more beneficial.
A movement such as the Lateral Lunge Shuffle teaches lateral explosion by pushing off the inside of the foot. By adding a weight and a reach, you also work on deceleration through the posterior x factor (opposite hip connected to opposite shoulder) into the landing leg with internal rotation of the hip. This is the same movement used to decelerate the body after a pitch.
The point of this was not to bash a single drill or the people that use the drill, but to show the merit of examining each drill or exercise we use. As demonstrated here, a simple modification to a traditional drill can be very beneficial.

While resting your arm is an important part of the offseason, it is just one of the many pieces to the puzzle. Professional and amateur players alike should have a progression they go through so they are ready at the beginning of their respective season. Wondering aimlessly through the gym for 4 months doing random exercises, reps, and sets is basically lying to yourself that you worked hard this off season. And while work ethic might not have been the issue, there is someone out there who is working just as hard…and smarter.

Since this topic is rather broad and I could write a book on it, let’s break it down and start with the moneymaker: The arm.

I recently decided (within the last 15 minutes) that I hate the term “arm care”. Care is a word that is associated with physical weakness. I’m not going to use a word that goes completely against the goal and mindset I am trying to accomplish. For that reason, I will now refer to it as arm training or strengthening. Creative, right? Go ahead and jump on the bandwagon now. You heard it here first.

In all seriousness, you will never hear me say “arm” and “care” in succession again. Here is a very basic overview of what a pitcher’s offseason should look like for arm strengthening specific work ONLY. I will get to the other parts of the body in the near future.

Professional Pitchers 

Weeks 1-2: Completely off.

Weeks 3-4: General adaptation aka get back into the routine of lifting. Normal upper body exercises

Weeks 5-6: Light manual/weighted/band rotator cuff work, scapular mobility work

Weeks 7-8: Shoulder stabilization (overhead carries, lateral core extensions w/ med ball, o’head oblique extensions, turkish get-ups), wall dribbles

Week 9-10: Overhead med ball throws, arm motion w/ weight 

Somewhere around this time throwing will start back. Schedule the arm strengthening around your throwing. Throwing should be done before the workout or on off days.

Week 11-14: Overhead med ball throws decrease in frequency and weight as throwing increases. Shoulder stability, scapular mobility, arm motion with weight, and rotator cuff continue

Week 15-16: Throwing distance should be increasing, flat grounds start, weighted ball throws from 90/90 position to release,

Week 17-18: Bullpens begin, long toss intensity increases, Overhead med ball throws cut down to once a week, weighted ball throws from power position

Week 19-20: Bullpen intensity increases, weighted ball volume decreases

Week 21-22: Ready for spring training. Bullpens and long toss at 100%. Normal in-season arm maintenance

Final Thoughts

For weighted ball throws, I would stay in the 6-11 oz range. My rule of thumb on weighted throws is decrease weight as range of motion increases. Weighted balls should be thrown into a net, not to another person. I would also not recommend using weighted balls without the instruction and supervision of someone in the strength and conditioning field that knows what they are doing. They could possibly cause injury if misused, or if you are not physically developed enough to use them. It is important to have a solid base of strength before using weighted balls.

This article was meant to serve as an overview of an offseason arm strengthening program. Obviously, there is a lot of detail left out. Hopefully it can serve as a general guide as you shape your offseason program.