Chapter 2: Why and What of Physical Assessments

Chapter 2:

Performing a bunch of assessments and tests takes time and effort.  Analyzing the results and communicating them with players and coaches takes time and effort too.  So, we have to ask ourselves why would we want to spend time and effort to perform these assessments (or similar ones) and make these types of profiles. 

The goal of this chapter is to equip you with some information about what this profiling system is and why you should use it.  Maybe you’re convinced since you’re reading this book but you might have to persuade other coaches or players.

Let’s Start with “Why

The why is simple: if this tool can help you as a coach help increase the percentage of players that you positively impact then it’s worth it.  By gaining more insight into the various physical factors that go into throwing a baseball, you can do a better job of personalizing your approach to more athletes thus increasing their odds of success.

Some other “why’s” include:

Improved communication: The profile graph of the four ingredients and how they go together in that recipe is a simple visual and concept.  This then creates a common language that can be understood by the player, parents, and other coaches.

High Player-to-Coach Ratio – baseball coaches have a lot on their plate and as much as they would like to personalize more for their players it is just not logistical.  If you don’t have a small army of strength coaches, ATCs, and sports scientists at your disposal it gets hard to gather any information let alone do something with it.  This simple profiling system can help streamline things and really pay off with some extra work upfront.

Goal setting: the results from each assessment are very objective and quantifiable.  These are terms that the new age of baseball analytics love.  In this case, it tells an athlete exactly how much of each athletic quality they possess and we can compare that against players from different levels of baseball.  This helps set standards for each team and goals for individual players working towards making the jump to the next level.

Now that we covered the “why” we have to answer the question of “what”.  What is this profiling system?

This is a question that I’ve been asked several times over the years and here’s my description

This profile allows you to categorize players based on a comprehensive set of assessments using quantitative data.

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? 

Let’s unpack that definition since there are a couple of key points that I want to get across.  Let’s work our way backward through this definition.

Quantitative data – the baseball world has made the full transition from qualitative and subjective opinion to the hard numbers that come with qualitative and objective data.  Look no further than Rapsodo or Trackman units that give us exact data about a pitch rather than relying on a coach or scout saying that a pitcher has a lot of sink on their fastball. 

We now need to know exactly how much since one guy might have a different idea of what a lot of “sink” is compared to another.  By getting real numbers we can all get on the same page and speak the same language. 

The same is true when assessing an athlete’s physical traits and attributes.  Just to say that a particular athlete has a “good frame” or that he is “strong” doesn’t give a lot to go on.  How big exactly is that “frame” and where is the length coming from?  Or, how strong is this athlete when they move a lighter weight compared to a heavy load? Is he strong everywhere or just in some movements more than others?

If we want to try to make positive change with an athlete, we need to have good data coming in so this means having quantitative data.

Comprehensive – this just means that we are covering all the areas that make up this athlete from a physical standpoint.  If all we did was use a series of traditional field tests like the 60-yard dash or the pro-agility we would be missing out on gaining information about their mobility, strength, and anthropometrics.  This profile is designed to paint a holistic picture of each individual athlete and provide a lot of information at a glance.

Categorize – When I found this quote about categorization, I knew that I had to use this term in the description of the profile:

“Provide Maximum Information with the Least Cognitive Effort”

-Elanor Rosch, 1978, Principals of Categorization.

Getting more info about a player with less thinking and researching sounds like a win-win.  This same author goes on to explain why categorization works so effectively.

 “Categorization is the process in which ideas and objects are recognized, differentiated, and understood.”

The main thing I really like about this second quote is the term “differentiate”. It’s sometimes easy to differentiate between certain pitchers.  The four pitchers I used in Chapter 1 (Sale, Hicks, Rainey, and Jansen) are obviously different from each other. 

But it’s not always this apparent and that’s when gathering some objective data covering a comprehensive set of physical attributes and abilities can really aid in differentiating pitchers. 

To really illustrate this point let’s look at two of the pitchers in the Blue Jays system (during the 2019 season) that from the outside look the same.

Two Birds One Stone?

Here are the physical stats for two of the 2019 Blue Jays pitching prospects:

Nate Pearson: 6’6” – 245lbs

Curtis Taylor: 6’6”- 230 lbs

What these two pitchers share in common is that they are both 6’6” and weigh more than 230 lbs.  They also both throw really hard. Nate, who everyone has heard of, has hit more than 102 mph.  While Curtis has touched a very, very, very respectful 98 mph.  I’ve had the chance to work with both of these players.  Curtis, I trained in person while Nate was a part of the College of Central Florida team that I worked with remotely.  Luckily, I was able to gather some comprehensive and objective data from both of them.  From this information, I was able to produce these profiles.

The first thing that you will notice is that there are more than 4 categories.  At the time I put this together this is what my profiles looked like.  As you go through this book you will see some different versions.  Sorry about the confusion.

Looking at them this way it is obvious to see their differences.  So, while these two pitchers fall into the same “big & tall” category their formulas for creating velocity are different.

Nate scores very well in each category.  That’s what you would expect from one of the hardest-throwing athletes on the planet.  He’s long, he’s mobile, he’s strong and he’s pretty fast too.  When you combine this with efficient mechanics you get some serious velocity.

Curtis on the other hand didn’t score as well in the force category. I can remember seeing him almost fold in half doing reverse lunges with 10 lbs dumbbells when he was 15 years old.  His length and mobility meant that he was never going to be the guy that was going to impress all of his teammates in the weight room. He has worked very hard to increase his strength to the point where it is “good enough” to take advantage of these physical gifts which play against him in the weight room but allow him to be an elite-level thrower. 

Based on this information we can see that his formula places more emphasis on the “time” side of the equation that’s made up of mobility and anthropometrics.

Without this type of knowledge, these two would for sure be given the same type of training and cues.  This would result in sub-optimal outcomes for one or both of them.  The ability to accurately put pitchers into different categories or buckets based on a comprehensive set of assessments can give you the ability to tailor training plans and mechanical cues/drills that work for them compared to the one-size-fits-all approach.  This is a game-changer.

Thanks for reading

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

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