My Thoughts-Outside The Box
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 training above capacity (both from a velocity side and an endurance side) so that we don’t hurt ourselves throwing at capacity!
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.
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.
How To Create Time In Your Swing
The hitter has approximately .417 seconds to hit a baseball thrown at 90 mph. Of those .417 seconds, the first .150 seconds is the hitter seeing the pitch and sending a decision signal. This time period represents approximately 20’ in ball travel from the pitcher’s release.
The last part of the pitch takes approximately .175 seconds, or approximately 24 feet in travel time, for the hitter to execute the swing from launch to contact. In other words, if a hitter hasn’t made a decision to swing before the last .175 seconds or last 24 feet of ball flight, the hitter will not have enough time to make contact.
If a hitter tries to swing in a sequential way this leaves only .92 seconds or 11 feet of ball flight to identify the pitch, location and react. That’s less than a tenth of a second which is virtually impossible. Unbelievably many hitters try to hit this way.
Now let’s see how this might look:
90 MPH Pitcher: Release Point to Plate = 55.0’
Hitter: Identify 20’, decision/react 11’, execute swing 24’ = 55’
To complicate things more, a 100 mph fastball only leaves the hitter with .050 seconds or 7 feet of ball flight to identify and make decision to swing. The human brain cannot compute this data at this rate. Some studies suggest that it takes at least .085 seconds minimum. To put this in perspective, it takes a human .300-.400 seconds just to blink.
Distance to Mound: 60.5'
Distance To Release Point: 55'
Time to plate 90 mph: 0.417 sec
Time to plate 100 mph: 0.375 sec
A 100 mph pitch changes the data pretty drastically. Now the hitter loses 22 feet on identification, and 26 feet for execution. Leaving only 7 feet of ball flight for decision/reaction time.
100 MPH Pitcher: Release Point to Plate = 55.0’
Hitter: Identify 22’, decision/react 7’, execute swing 26’ = 55’
So what is the break-even point on reaction time? It turns out that 92 mph for an average to above average hitter is the break-even point between a hitter being able to make a decision to swing and having to “cheat” to get his bat in the zone on time. It looks like this:
92 MPH Pitcher: Release Point to Plate = 55.0’
Hitter: Identify 20’, decision/react 10’, execute swing 25’ = 55’
Anything more than 92 mph the hitter has to compensate (cheat) to get his bat to the contact point on time. At this point, the hitter cannot effectively start from a static position, identify the pitch, react and be on time to contact. So if hitters can’t do it from a static position, how do hitters hit anything above 92 mph? The answer is multitasking!
By combining the parts of the hitting process to overlap each other, the hitter can create time. If the hitter is static (not moving) he just doesn’t have enough time to accomplish the task. So what do we do? Well, we can try to reduce our identification, reaction and execution times. Reducing our identification and reaction times are very hard to do. Our central nervous system is pretty set in its ways. Some vision training might be a viable option and could possibly help a hitter to reduce these times. However, vision training takes a long time and without exception vision to start with, the results could be limited.
How about execution time? We can reduce our execution time by swinging more efficiently. This depends on many factors including strength, quickness, and mechanics. Again, this is not a quick fix and it can lead to a long development time.
The answer is process multi-tasking. It is the best and fastest way to create time in a baseball swing. In essence, the goal is to overlap the identification, reaction and execution tasks to create a reduced overall swing time. The brain is a wonderful thing and it is capable of doing many tasks within a set time period. The brain doesn’t care “how” the tasks get done, it only cares “if” the tasks get done. By overlapping the identification, reaction and execution tasks, specifically starting the execution phase of the swing while identifying and reacting to the pitch data, a hitter can “create time” to hit extreme velocity above 92 mph. So by overlapping swing tasks a hitter can get a running start into his swing.
For example, if a sprinter could get a running start up to the line, would he get a better start than the other sprinters who were perfectly still? Of course he would. The only variable would be timing the starting gun. Now what if he could see the starter’s fingers as he began to squeeze the trigger? Would that help him to “time” his running start? Again, the answer is YES! This sprinter would have a better reaction time (momentum helps initiation of movement) and he would be going faster at the gun shot (creates early speed). A hitter can do the same thing!
Getting a running start is exactly the same thing a hitter can do with his swing. By making a “counter move” (bat tip) as the brain is “processing data” (identifying the pitch location, speed, movement) he can get a “running start” (momentum) into the start of his swing. This reduces “reaction time” (quicker start) and creates “early bat speed” (faster overall swing potential).
The analogy is as follows:
Sprinter (Hitter)-Running Start (Counter Move)-Starting Gun (Baseball)-Starter’s Fingers (Incoming Pitch)-Timing Start (Processing Data)-Reaction (Reaction)-Launch (Launch)-Fast Start (Early Bat Speed)
The best part is the hitter now has a vehicle for adjustability in his swing also. Coming out of the bat tip and allowing the bat to get “deep” (barrel going back behind head as the stride moves forward) during the identification process allows the body to automatically adjust to the data “before” swing commitment. This is huge as it allows your body to stay in rhythm and hit with maximum power while also having the ability to adjust to different pitches.
By multi-tasking the hitting process and overlapping the execution phase on top of the identification phase, a hitter can essentially create time to contact and improve adjustability in his swing. He can now hit a 95 mph fastball and adjust to an 87 mph slider. The running start allows him to create time to hit above average velocity and the bat tip/barrel getting deep allows for the adjustability to square up off-speed pitches. When you couple this with an efficient barrel path thru the zone, you now have a dangerous swing.