Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

The beginning of November is synonymous with the end of baseball season. The World Series has just ended, all of the big travel ball tournaments have ended, and the high school fall season (in Florida, at least) is coming to an end.

So hopefully the next thought that crosses your mind is:

“What’s the best way to prepare my arm over the offseason”

This used to be a very black and white matter for me. You ABSOLUTELY HAVE to take time off. Like as close to 2 months as possible. Definitely 1 month.

The sign I used to put over the baseballs during the “No Throwing” period

 

But with experience, and hopefully some wisdom, I have learned there are endless scenarios for athletes that require a grey area to answer the question above.

So here are the guidelines we suggest to our athletes, and a few examples of situations that require us to work in the grey area:
  • We recommend that all baseball players take 4-8 weeks off from picking up a baseball.
  • For the way the yearly schedule works out for most of our guys, we are recommending that they take 4 weeks off (all of November) from throwing.
  • As I mentioned, most of the high schools just finished fall ball and travel ball teams have their tryouts around the weekend of January 12. So taking 4 weeks off allow the athletes adequate time (6 weeks) to get ready to throw 100% at a tryout.
When we it comes to customizing a program, some of the factors that play in to the length of time off throwing are:
  1. Injury History– Ideally more rest time and longer on ramping before spring season for athletes coming off an injury or less than a full year back from an injury.
  2. Velocity– The higher the velocity, longer the down time. This rule becomes less of a factor the older an athlete is. For example, a high schooler that throws 96 needs more time off relative to his peer compared to a 27 yr old in Triple A that throws 96.
  3. Previous Calendar Year Innings Pitched– Obviously the more innings pitched, the longer we would like to have the pitcher rest, up to 2 months.
  4. Upcoming Calendar Year Innings Projections- If a pitcher is going to be the ace for the high school team and play travel ball in the summer, we are going to project 80 innings (50-60 IP for school and 20-30 IP for summer team). If the athlete is also pitching in the fall, that total number for the year is closer to 100 innings. If the pitcher is a reliever, his projection is probably closer to 20 innings in spring and 20 innings during the summer. Clearly, 2 pitchers that may have a 40-60 inning difference over the course of a year should also have different off season programs.
  5. Role on the Team– This one does coincide with Innings Projection, but I think of this more in the sense of “When does the pitcher need to be ready to compete at 100%?” For instance, a junior in college that is the returning ace and a projected draft pick needs to be ready to compete at 100% on opening day. A junior who threw 5 innings last year and is trying to prove himself need to be ready to compete at 100% on opening day of INTRASQUADS. It doesn’t do him much good if he well rested to sit the bench.
  6. Stage of Development- Player A could go 3 months without throwing off a mound and first time back on the bump they have command of 3 pitches. Player B has zero feel for his mechanics and can barely throw a fastball in the strike zone. Having Player B go 4-6 weeks without touching a baseball could significantly stunt his development, where it’s probably necessary for Player A to have the time off. Instead, take the 4-6 weeks with Player B and implement sub maximal mechanical and throwing drills. If done properly, the athlete is still getting a break from high intensity stress on his arm while working on his weaknesses.

 

Long toss is a great way to increase arm strength, but is that what YOU need this offseason? 

So this year, we have made an adjustment and put guys into a few different categories. We have some pitchers that are going to not touch a ball for 4-8 weeks, others that will throw 2-3 times a week at a very low intensity, and still others that will continue normal throwing through the winter.

We all have that kid that would completely forget everything if he stops throwing for any amount of time. Is it really in his best interest to take time off and have everything he’s worked on for the past 10 months completely disappear?

The biggest thing to remember as sports performance or skill coaches is our number 1 job is to help the athlete improve at their sport. Having the same off season throwing plan for every single baseball player is not going to help each person. We are trying to be more and more creative in the way we handle our throwers in the off season so we can maximize results and minimize stress on the arm.

Having said that, we wanted to provide an Off Season Throwing Calendar. This will give you a day-by-day guide to prepare your arm for the season. REMEMBER, IT IS JUST A GUIDE. Listen to your body and modify the program as needed. Please feel free to email me at barrett@revolutionsp.com or contact me on any social media platform if you have any questions.

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I had an awesome weekend in Franklin, Tennessee at Pitch-a-Palooza. Needless to say I learned a lot, but as I was thinking about the weekend on the flight home, I had 3 big picture thoughts that stuck out to me.

The baseball world is changing, and it’s starting to change (relative to the history of baseball).

With 22 MLB organizations in attendance, it is clear that baseball is finally starting to change for the best. Clubs are thirsty for knowledge and are willing to look outside the box to get an edge. I met a few pitching instructors from various organizations that are baseball lifers (played pro ball now coach pro ball) that said if they aren’t willing to learn about sabermetrics and explore different teaching methods they would be pushed out. I almost teared up hearing this!

The number of college coaches there was simply amazing as well. One thing that Kyle Boddy has said quite a few times is that change in baseball will start from the bottom, so seeing so many college coaches there is even more encouraging for the future of baseball.

The best example of this is the weighted ball training. College programs adopted weighted ball training much earlier than the professional organizations. As players from the college programs that used weighted balls got drafted, they wanted to continue the program so the organizations could no longer squash it once the population was big enough.

Coaching is getting less and less mechanical, and much more movement driven.

Listening to Rick Strickland and Eugene Bleecker talk about the process they go through their evaluation and teaching process set this light bulb off for me.

It just makes too much sense how they explained teaching movement first and mechanics second. That is an extreme simplification of what they do, and I certainly don’t want to undermine how good they are at their job. But this is the way baseball instructing is going, and it’s beautiful! Seeing the before videos of a tight, mechanical swing transform into a free, athletic swing pumps me up.

Professional development can come outside of your immediate field.

The two main reasons I went to Pitch-a-Palooza were to make connections and be exposed to different coaching philosophies.

The baseball world is very small, so going to an event like this is worth its weight in gold for networking alone. Everyone that I spoke to was extremely friendly and willing to share their knowledge. I heard some great stories and learned a lot from conversations in between presentations and at the Saturday night hot stove.

Only 3 presentations were directly related to the strength and conditioning field, but many dealt with movement, communication, and/or teaching methods. Where I used to dismiss information that didn’t pertain to my niche, I now appreciate any outside the box thinking from any profession. For instance, Tony Robichaux (Head Coach of Louisiana Lafayette), presented entirely on how their team throws bullpens.

While this has zero effect on my job, I appreciated the different methods he used and it made me question if there are ways I could improve my program but haven’t simply because it would go against the status quo.

All in all it was an amazing weekend. I can’t wait to go back next year and if your career has anything to do with baseball I would highly recommend going.

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.