Chapter 1 of my E-Book!!!
This is the first of three chapters that will provide you with a sneak peek into the e-book that I’ve written. The e-book is just a compilation of the articles that fall under my “customized mechanics and training series” that I wrote from 2014-2019. It is a free e-book since 90% of it has already been published on this site. I will be selling a testing spreadsheet that allows you to assess your athletes in the areas that I discuss in the book.
For now, I wanted to share Chapter 1. So without further ado, here you go!!
Chapter 1 – Recipe for Velocity
Pitching is complicated. It truly is a form of rocket science!!
There are two main factors that make it so complex. The first is that throwing it is one of the fastest actions the human body can produce. The speed at which the arm rotates inside of the shoulder joint is mind-boggling. When things get this fast, they tend to get fuzzy since it’s impossible to see what’s going on with the naked eye. The second aspect of pitching that makes it so complicated and hard to teach is that there are a bunch of different ways that a pitcher can produce velocity. Just look at the wide range of body types standing on MLB mounds as evidence.
This second point, in essence, is the focus of this entire book. The goal is to scratch the surface by exploring the multiple physical factors that have been shown to contribute to throwing velocity.
This graph below shows you a quick example of how spread-out MLB pitchers are on this simple chart with height on the Y-axis and weight on the X-axis.
Can you think of another position in any other sport where two athletes could have a difference in weight of over 100 lbs or a disparity in height of over a foot? I can’t.
So, to me, this means that there have to be several different ways to accomplish the same goal of throwing really, really hard. This makes the coaching of pitchers complex. What really makes this a form of rocket science is when you start to layer in some of the other physical factors that have been shown to contribute to throwing velocity. Factors like flexibility, absolute strength, agility, and tendon elasticity to mention a few.
By now you should realize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to pitching. Sure, there are a lot of things that any high-level thrower will have in common with their flame-throwing peers but the devil is in the details.
What separates great coaches is that they can help a higher percentage of pitchers because they understand the universal principles but they also grasp the intricacies that allow athletes to take different paths towards the same goal.
In this case, the great coach adapts their program to the athlete. Too often, coaches force athletes to adapt to their program.
To adapt your coaching to suit the needs of the pitcher, a deep understanding of the various physical components that allow the human body to throw a baseball is necessary. These physical factors are the ingredients that each athlete uses to maximize their recipe for velocity.
The quantity of each ingredient and how they interact with each other is how we can have two very different athletes produce the same amount of velocity.
One pitcher might use a heavy dose of flexibility and long limbs to make up for their lack of muscular power in order to crack 95 mph. While a pitcher who is 5’10” might need to lean on more “Weight Room” strength to make up for any shortcomings if he wishes to also join the 95-mph club.
This e-book is about looking at these ingredients that any pitcher can use to contribute to their velocity. Before we get really deep into each ingredient, let’s first look at the basic recipe that every pitcher uses to produce velocity.
Recipe for Velocity
The recipe that I will be using throughout this book is a relatively simple one that I found while researching an article about track and field throwers. Here it is:
Force x Time = Work
The author, Max Jones, explains why this formula/recipe works for throwers:
“A World Class Thrower will exert his Strength and Speed (Force) over as great a Range (Time) as possible in order to make a good Throw (Work). “
To me, this makes sense. We have all known pitchers that can throw hard but are less than impressive in the weight room. Without producing much FORCE this type of pitcher needs to create a large range to apply that force over a longer TIME.
I really like this formula, but for me, it’s a little too simple and doesn’t help us differentiate between different types of athletic abilities and physical traits.
So, I expanded it a little bit by adding in a couple of different qualities that make up both Force & Time.
Force (Strength x Speed) x Time (Limb Length x Mobility) = Work
(Strength x Speed) x (Limb Length x Mobility) = Work
Speed and strength are the components of force. You can have a really strong guy, as measured in the weight room, produce the same amount of force as a guy who is very fast yet isn’t very strong. This is why I wanted to expand on this formula a bit to help separate between different types of athletes. The same goes for time, you can add extra time to your delivery by being more mobile or by having longer limbs.
These are the four basic ingredients (speed, strength, mobility, and limb length/anthropometry) that every pitcher has at their disposal to create a unique recipe for optimal velocity.
There are subcomponents within each one as you will see in the following chapters but this is about as simple as I want to make it without it being too simple.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”
– Albert Einstein.
Video Game System
The recipe analogy is usually lost on young athletes whose idea of cooking involves either yelling at their parents that they are hungry or hitting some buttons on a microwave. Because of that, I think that it’s smart to communicate with a display like this and try to gamify it for the athlete:
My aim is to make it look like the profile you’d see in a race-car video game where it shows just how much of each attribute the different cars have at their disposal.
If we were to look at these two different race cars we can gain a lot of information at a glance about their abilities and shortcomings.
I don’t have to be an expert mechanic to understand a simple graphic like this, plus it provides me with some useful information. Knowing that a car has a lot of top-end speed but poor handling should make me adjust my tactics to try and win the race.
The goal with this Pitcher’s Physical Profile is the same; to provide simple yet useful information at a glance. Here’s an example of four different-looking profiles of big-league pitchers.
These are just estimations since I haven’t had the privilege of assessing any of these athletes. But it’s obvious to the naked eye that these four pitchers are different from one another.
Chris Sale (top left) isn’t going to be the guy on the weight room leader board. He relies on his obvious length and mobility to reach elite levels of throwing velocity. Other pitchers might depend more on strength (Tanner Rainey – top right), speed (Jordan Hicks – bottom left), or mass (Kenley Jansen -bottom right) to create world-class velocity.
The purpose of putting together a profile like this is to show just how different they are in each of these main categories. This should provide you with the same type of information that we received from the car racing analogy.
If a pitcher doesn’t have a lot of physical strength but does have loads of length and mobility, shouldn’t we should change our strategy when providing them training and mechanical advice?
If we can use the information that we get from these profiles then we are really moving in the right direction and this tool goes from being a thermometer to a thermostat. Allow me to explain.
Thermostat vs Thermometer
Most of the time when we perform some type of testing, we only get information about exactly how fast an athlete can run or how high they can jump. I would compare this to the information you get from a thermometer; the exact temperature. That’s great but what’s better is a thermostat which not only tells me the temperature but it also makes the necessary adjustment if it is either too hot or too cold.
The aim here is to have these profiles act more like a thermostat where it not only tells you the temperature but it can help you make the appropriate adjustments. It does this by looking at several athletic qualities and comparing them to one another on the same scale.
From here, it’s easy to understand how a shortcoming in any one category should be seen as a window of opportunity. Coaches can then easily tailor workouts and practices to suit the unique demands of each athlete or sub-group of athletes.
In order to truly use this tool successfully, you have to go one layer deeper to see where these numbers are coming from. Each category (strength, speed, mobility, anthro) in the profile is represented by a bar. These bars are the product of the sum score of several different assessments that all fall under the same category. This is where we get into radar graphs.
Going clockwise starting in the upper left corner we have radar graphs for Speed, Mobility, Anthropometrics, and Strength. Looking at these Radar graphs is where coaches can dig into the details.
It’s only when we get to this level that can we start making educated decisions on how we should coach these athletes on the mound and how we should train them in the weight room. In this example, there are quite a few tests within each category but it doesn’t have to be this complex. In the subsequent chapters, I’ll be providing a lot of tests and assessments for each of these categories that you can choose from to make your own radar graphs.
Just for reference, the black line is the score of the athlete while the red dotted line is the team average. The colored rings represent the low (red), average (yellow), and high (green) ranges for each particular test.
Hopefully, I’ve done a good enough job of painting the picture of what these profiles look like and how they are put together. But before we dig into each of the ingredients, we should start by answering the Why:
My next articles will go deep into the Why.
Until then stay well.
Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS