Why Are There So Many Strikeouts?

Strikeouts are on the rise in the MLB. Why? The prevailing thought is that hitters have embraced the launch angle revolution and it is causing holes in many hitter’s swings. There may be some truth to that as the ability to get the low pitch in the air has definitely taken a priority for many hitters. Many hitters are employing a vertical bat angle swing which makes getting to the up fastball a little tougher. Couple that with a generally higher strike zone we are seeing and hitters now have to protect against the up fastball like never before. But there’s another factor and it’s a big one.

Pitchers today just plain throw harder and have sharper breaking stuff. The number of pitchers who throw over 95 mph have grown 5x from 2008. That’s a huge increase. With the implementation of weighted ball, long toss and strength training programs, pitchers are reaching velocity ranges never before seen. Can you imagine having 5-6 Nolan Ryans or Bob Gibsons on your staff? From a Velo/Stuff perspective, that is the baseball environment today. It seems as though everyone is throwing 95-98 mph today with some reaching 100+ mph. This has definitely had an effect on the hitter’s ability to catch up to fastballs up in the zone. But this would have happened regardless of swing mechanics.

The underrated factor is that breaking balls are better now too. With increased velocity comes increased spin rates. In general, a pitcher’s Bauer Units (Spin/Velocity) will increase on an upward sloped line as velocity increases. This leads to harder and sharper breaking balls in general. So now hitters have to worry about breaking balls going further down the line (tunneling) before breaking. This is a huge benefit for a pitcher and must be taken into account when discussing strikeout rates.

So what’s the main contributor toward the increase in strikeouts? It’s a combination of both new hitting mechanics and better velocity. What percentage is debatable but, in my opinion, the increased velocity is 80% of the problem for hitters. Reaction time is reduced, pitch recognition is tougher and the human body can only adjust so much before you have to start guessing based on count, situation, etc. Once a hitter’s reaction time goes below .395 seconds, he is put into a pick or choose mode unless he can effectively create time by getting a running start into his swing or committing to a single pitch.  

Adjusting To Off-Speed Pitches

Adjusting to off-speed pitches is one of the most difficult things to do in sports. The ability to be adjustable with your swing is crucial if you ever want to hit for average. Let's look at some ways to create some time with your swing.

The first method you can use a bat load that gets a running start into a neutral position. Many hitters will have the sensation of actually starting their swing by either getting a bat tip or preset position and rowing the back elbow back on the stride. This allows for recognition of the pitch while not committing to the pitch. The big positive factor of this move is the hitter gets a running start into his swing and still allows him to adjust timing on an early read of the pitch.

A second method you can use is a delay in the stride to time off-speed pitches. Many hitters will delay their strides as they move out into front foot plant, especially hitters who use a leg kick.  Josh Donaldson is the poster boy for this move as he varies his stride sometimes up to 100 milliseconds to time up off-speed pitches. To put this in perspective, 100 milliseconds equates to roughly 12-14 feet in recognition alone. This is a huge asset for any hitter.

A third method is sinking into the legs at front foot plant. By sinking into the legs, a hitter can delay his kinetic chain without losing a great deal of potential energy. This is a late timing adjustment for pitches you may not recognize right away i.e. pitches that tunnel longer toward the plate.

Adjusting to off-speed pitches take time. You can have the best mechanics in the world but if you can’t adjust, you will get exploited at some point. Being able to adjust is the main contributor to high average hitting.  

Foot Down Early Is A Non Teach

Since the beginning of baseball, I'm sure some coach has been saying, "Get your foot down early." But what does that really mean? Does that mean your front toe or front heel should be on the ground early? And what is the definition of early? Is early before you launch your bat? When the ball is 2/3 the way to home? Half way to home? At release?  I heard a coach say the other day for a hitting to get his front foot down before the pitcher releases the ball. Huh???

Does this make any sense? I've been involved in baseball for 50 years and I have yet to see a hitter swing with his front foot off the ground so is this even a problem? Well I investigated and here is what I came up with. THE FOOT DOWN EARLY APPROACH IS A NON-TEACH!

I looked at video from both pro and college hitters and low and behold every hitter, no matter how they get there, puts their front heel down roughly four frames from contact (assuming a 30 frame/second video). You can look at hitters from all time periods like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Rod Carew, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, it doesn't matter. They all set the front hell down at about the same time with little adjustments depending on swing time. That's it! Different styles, different mechanics, different loads, different strides, it doesn't matter! They all put the front heel down at roughly the same time. Why?

It's simple really. Because you can't stop the kinetic chain otherwise you lose everything you have built up to that point. A hitter instinctively knows this! You can't start, stop and start again. It doesn't work. Can you imagine if you told your pitchers to kick up, stride, get to landing, stop then start again? What kind of pitch do you think he would throw?Kinda ridiculous right. But that is exactly what we tell hitters to do. Amazing. No wonder they end up late on fastballs and can't adjust to off-speed. 

Coaches, Stop doing this! The foot will come down when it's ready to come down depending on the hitter's mechanics. Keep you hitter athletic and if he is having trouble timing up a fastball, get him in an overclocking situation hitting against a machine with above average FBs coming at him. Let him figure it out. He will, I promise you.

Coaches, "foot down early" cues will absolutely kill your hitter's adjustability. Don't take away your hitter's athletic ability. Just Stop It!

Are We Forgetting Something?

Arm Conditioning

Are We Forgetting Something?

Throwing is like running. If you are pitching you are essentially sprinting. If you are throwing at low intensity for long periods, you are essentially running long distance. The difference is extremely important because we may be missing something in the conditioning of our arms.

Let’s look at a runner who runs the 100 yard dash. If he continually runs 100 yard dashes, he will eventually slow down as he gets tired. He is not used to the conditioning aspect of running so many consecutive 100 yard dashes and will ultimately either increase his times or not complete the 100 yard dash.

By contrast, a cross country runner can run a long time if allowed to go at a slow speed. He is conditioned for endurance. However, if the cross country runner is asked to run multiple sprints, he will also break down as he is not conditioned for the high speed task.

In this day and age, our pitchers are throwing at 100% capacity (sprinting) every pitch much like a sprinter running 100 yard dashes. In fact, many starting pitchers are asked to throw 100% (sprinting) for 100 pitches or more a game (endurance). Do you see where I am going with this? Today’s pitchers have to be both sprinters and cross country runners. But, how we train our pitchers is one sided. Our training for pitchers centers mainly only on velocity development (sprinting).  It’s my opinion that we are missing a vital link in the development of the pitcher today. We have to develop endurance within our pitcher’s training programs.

Listen, I get it. Velo is king and I totally agree. You can’t get your foot in the door unless you can show some velo. I’m a big believer of weighted ball training, strength training, plyometrics and mobility training. But, I think we need to look at the endurance side of the equation.

Arm fatigue is real and it needs to be accounted for. The conditioning of the arm is absolutely vital to a pitcher’s long term health. When you look at most arm injuries, there are a plethora of injuries that happen at the beginning of the season with the second most happening toward the end. Why is this? It’s my contention that early in the season the arm is not conditioned for the workload we ask of it. Later int eh season fatigue is the major culprit for late season injuries. So, if our arms aren’t ready for the stress we are asking of it, don’t we have to condition it more to handle the stress? Doesn’t it make sense to work the endurance side of the equation when preparing our pitchers for the season? The lack of arm conditioning, more than anything else, is responsible for the UCL tears and torn labrums our pitchers are suffering. We have to do more than just throw pens and increase innings if we want to put a dent into the pitcher injury rate.

So what’s the solution? Well, just like a cross country runner has to train at low intensities for long distances, our pitchers need to incorporate throwing at low intensities for a high amount of volume. I’m not saying we scrap high intensity throws from our programming. All I’m saying is we need to use low-intensity throwing at high volumes to help our pitchers condition their arms to handle the endurance side of the equation. Multiple throws at 50-75% should be worked into our throwing programs.

I strongly believe that if we throw live game situations and a bullpen every week, we need to make sure we are building in a high volume, low-intensity day for endurance purposes. Maybe even twice a week or a combination with long toss days. Ultimately, we need to make sure our pitcher’s arms are conditioned to handle the stress of throwing 100% capacity but also 100% volume. Otherwise, we will continue to see our pitchers breaking down. Whether it’s because of strength issues, fatigue issues or mechanics issues, being able to handle the stress load on our pitchers' arms is ultimately the main goal. We can’t throw harder until our arms are ready to throw harder and we can’t throw longer until our arms are ready to throw longer. Throwing longer bullpens and extending game innings help, but maybe the answer lies in our ability to train our arms with simple low intensity throws for multiple minutes/throws.

So, let’s make sure our rotator cuffs and forearm muscles are strong via resistance training. Let’s make sure our arms are trained to can handle the increased velocity demands we need via weighted ball training. And let’s make sure our arms can handle the endurance side of the equation with low intensity/high volume throws coupled with long toss. Let’s train our arms to handle stress levels above our current needs not at our current needs. Because once we become fatigued, our needs change. The stress levels change and our ability to handle those stress levels change. Whether you throw 80 mph, 85 mph, 90 mph or 95 mph, it doesn’t matter. 100% capacity is 100% capacity. That’s why pitchers of all velocities tear UCLs and get labrum tears. Raw velocity doesn’t matter. High velocity pitchers don’t have a monopoly on UCL tears. Because if you are throwing at 100% and you can’t handle 100%, you break down. Be committed to train above capacity (both from a velocity side and an endurance side) so that we don’t hurt ourselves throwing at capacity!

Loading Sequence

Loading Sequence

Once the correct tempo is achieved, the body has a chance to load energy in the proper order. When the lower body begins gaining ground, in whatever stride style the player chooses, whether that’s a knee lift or a no stride approach, at some point the pelvis is going to advance. The body needs to provide consistent and constant resistance against the body’s forward momentum.

When this happens, we are increasing the stretch from the rear hip, now through the rear core to my lower back and into the upper back. We call this upper body load a scapular load. Basically, it’s the loading of the rear muscles around the shoulder blade. It’s purpose is to tighten the spring or the rear coil of the body and make the core active in the loading process.

When we create the stretch between lower body and upper body, the core tightens and activates. This produces a much faster rotation of the torso and thus a faster swing. What is important is the constant resistance created. Without this constant resistance against the lower body, the body’s forward momentum will shift too early to the front leg. The hands will begin to slot too early and now the swing sequence will fire from the top. This is no good as the hands will get ahead of the core and the hitter will lose the kinetic chain. In essence, we will lose our energy transfer started from the legs that should run into the core, out the upper body and into the barrel.

When you have a hitter with a bad loading sequence the most common error will be that they will load their scap, or upper body, the same time they load their legs. Their hands come forward with their lower body move into heel plant. This is no good. When that happens, the hitter doesn’t activate the core.  He never creates opposite forces from lower body and upper body to create that good stretch across the midsection. So the timing of this needs to be precise. It has to be a constant against the lower body’s move into heel plant with my upper body pulling back.

Tempo In the Swing


For the body to effectively load energy, it has to do so at a slow pace.  One of the most common reasons that players get out of a proper swing sequence is that they simply go too fast in the load/stride process.

What we have to do to start a slow tempo in the load/stride process is to get into the back hip with good pressure through the whole back foot. When I get into my lower body load, that back foot pressure create ground reaction force off my back side. I want to maintain a good connection to the ground so when I lift my stride stride leg and begin to advance, the pressure is maintained. This should be a controlled movement. If that pressure is released, I will dump my energy into the front leg to soon, get forward of center, and immediately speed my body up. A key thought might be to think of it as cranking up the motor. By cranking up the motor, other body parts can begin to go.

I want to go slow and smooth all the way out into my front foot plant position. From that point the body can fire as I have already “cranked up the motor.” That’s when the fun stuff happens!

So everything that happens up to the foot foot plant is slow, smooth and under control. During this move forward, my goal is to increase the stretch through the lower back and eventually into the upper back using a scap load. This takes time and you can see why tempo is so important. So as the body is moving forward, I have a scap pullback resisting my lower body move that increases the stretch into the upper body.

Now, so that the lower and upper body are not loading at the same time, we increase our stretch and load as the body goes into its forward movement. A slow, controlled, forward advance allows the upper body time to create, or stretch, into a more efficient load which will make our swing sequence correct.

Players that have poor tempo often have one piece load and stride processes. This is like throwing a rubber band without stretching it first. You don’t get the maximum amount available to you. At that point all you are doing is spinning and most likely your wrists or arms get ahead of your core and become out of sequence. An effective tempo sets up the whole swing. It allows you to be in control and make pitch adjustment more easily.