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Baseball Training

  • Command (Self Evaluation) Throwing Drill

    This blog builds on some of the same themes that I discussed in my last post regarding self evaluation. Principally, that if you can’t accurately evaluate yourself and your performance then it is nearly impossible to truly improve your weaknesses. Put another way, if you don’t know where you are now, how do you know where you need to go. One of my favorite examples of this (stolen, like many of my examples, from Coach Ron Wolforth) is a map that you find in a
    mall or shopping center. What is the first thing you search for when looking at such a map? Most likely it is the big red dot that says “You are here.” You can have all the information regarding what store is here and there but if you don’t know where that is in relation to where you are standing it isn’t a very big help.

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  • Accepting Force and Creating Force

    I was recently on Eric Cressey’s blog and while reading a post of his entitled “11 Random Thoughts on Baseball Strength and Conditioning,” I really liked one of his “thoughts” and wanted to elaborate on it and adopt it as one of my blog posts. Eric discusses the concept of “accepting force” in the effort to increase pitching/throwing velocity. What does this mean? Eric is talking about the ability to harness the applied force that your body is already capable of producing and thereby channeling it through the ball. For example, many pitchers are weak functionally, such as through the core, hips, and lower half (such as in the glutes).

    Due to this weakness, the pitcher loses the energy/force that he has created during his delivery and is thereby losing velocity.  The most common example that I have seen (and Eric discusses as well) is the pitcher that collapses on his landing leg because he lacks the strength to stay firm on it. This collapsing, often called leaking, is seen when the pitcher’s knee continues to move forward (toward the plate) while the pitcher is delivering the ball. This is not, of course, done intentionally, but instead occurs because the pitcher lacks the glute, quad, and/or hamstring strength to support the weight and momentum of the body and therefore has to give as opposed to remain firm. This doesn’t provide for a firm anchor in order to rotate the body over and therefore energy is being lost through the lower half that could have traveled up the body and through the arm to the ball.

    Here are two slow motion videos of hard throwers Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez. Verlander’s landing leg actually goes from slightly bent to straight, the opposite of leaking (which increases the force he is able to produce coming over it from his upper body), while Hernandez’s leg remains firm.

    Eric makes a great point about “accepting force” in that a pitcher who has “leakage” issues already has more velocity inside his body that he is not realizing. Despite not utilizing all the force the pitcher is already capable of creating, coaches and players alike are all too often worried about creating more force by means of weighted balls, long toss, and the like. Of course, generating more force is always desirable, but it can be in vein if a player works so hard to create more force only for it to leak out through a collapsing landing leg. I think the point Eric is trying to make is that what such a player needs to do is focus not solely on creating new/more force, but also in harnessing the force that is already within him more effectively.

    Coach Ron Wolforth at the Texas Baseball Ranch often talks about the concept of “massive, simultaneous action.” Not too long ago I read a newsletter by Jill Wolforth discussing this concept and how they embrace it at the Texas Baseball Ranch. This philosophy can be summarized succinctly:

    The power to rapid growth is in (1) doing a massive number of things and (2) doing them simultaneously.

    The point of this approach is to get away from doing things in a sequential, step by step process – which is how we are generally taught to do things from a very early age. Applying this concept to this blog topic, an athlete should not JUST try to increase the force he is able to generate during his motion, nor should an athlete JUST try to harness the force already within him by improving the strength and stability of his lower half/glutes/core. Instead, the most effective way to increase velocity in the quickest amount of time is to target BOTH. Improve your functional weaknesses in order to better harness or accept the force your body is already capable of generating, while at the same time work on increasing your ability to generate more force. The combination of the two will lead to exponential gains and improvement.

    This approach is how a player can make large gains in a short amount of time. Wondering how you can improve the strength of you lower half? Check out this previous blog. Want to know some ways to increase your arm speed/generate more force? Check out this previous blog.

    Until next time,

    Brian Oates

  • Stephen Strasburg Arm Inefficiencies

    This is a continuation of my last blog regarding the Washington Nationals and their decision to shut down their ace, Stephen Strasburg, despite the pennant race and the upcoming MLB playoffs. This decision shows that the Nationals organization, as is the case with many (perhaps most) organizations, doesn’t understand why pitchers get injured. In my opinion, the Nationals have decided to take the approach that pitchers only have a certain number of “bullets” in their arm and therefore they better limit the number that Strasburg throws the season after his Tommy John surgery.

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  • Deliberate Practice

    I apologize for such a long time lapse between my last blog and this one but the last few weeks have been quite busy. The Oates took a trip to Hawaii to learn more about the Tennis and Golf Speed Chains, which Oates Specialties will begin to carry soon. We are excited about this opportunity to begin working with athletes in new sports and I will have more information about these products in upcoming blogs.

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  • Teaching a "Good" Arm Action

    One of the most commonly discussed topics in pitching is a pitcher's arm action. Is a long or short arm action better? Isn't a smooth arm action best? Does a pitcher with a fluid arm action have a better chance to stay healthy? Doesn't that guy’s arm action seem jerky? Should you break from the glove with the ball or the elbow? How much "scap load" should a pitcher have and how does he get into that position? Should the ball be facing 2nd base during the "cocked" phase of the arm action? How do you keep pitchers from having an inverted "W" during delivery? Etc, etc., etc.

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  • The “3 Pitches On or Out” Pitching Philosophy

    Today, I want to discuss a mentality that seems to be a growing fad among coaches and even some parents. It is the philosophy that some coaches – specifically some high profile and well respected coaches – have adopted as the motto for their staff. It is the thought that within 3 pitches, a pitcher should either have gotten the batter out or the batter should be on base. It is known as the “3 pitches on or out” philosophy.

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  • Three Postures for a Pitcher's Mechanics

    A couple of weeks ago I wrote about proper posture when pitching and how detrimental it can be for a coach to try and force all of his pitchers into one “ideal” posture through delivery and release. Coach Wolforth at the Texas Baseball Ranch recognized the importance of allowing each individual athlete to be unique and to have the freedom to incorporate his innate movements into the pitching delivery and consequently decided to quit trying to steer his athletes into what used to be considered the “perfect” mechanics (shoulder level and head over landing foot at release). Instead, Coach Wolforth decided to group pitchers into 3 different categories, thereby allowing diversity among postures. He called these 3 posture groups A, B, and C. The benefit of grouping pitchers into three categories is so that they know from the time they get to the Ranch what type of posture/movements they generally have and can immediately identify with other pitchers that have the same movements throughout delivery. Before I elaborate on this, let me first explain the 3 postures Coach Wolforth has identified that encompass all pitchers.

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  • Proper Posture when Pitching

    Posture positions while throwing a baseball is a commonly discussed topic among those in the baseball world. Poor posture can result in a decrease in velocity and command while increasing a pitcher’s chance of injury. But what is proper posture for a pitcher? Should the shoulders be level and the head centered over the landing foot/knee at release? Is it okay for a pitcher to have his shoulders slightly tilted and the head to be slightly outside of his landing foot at release? What about a pitcher who is so tilted over that his shoulders are almost vertical with the ground and his head is nearly sideways at release?

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  • Correct Arm Positions when Throwing

    There are several phrases that most of us who have been around the game of baseball have heard over the years:

    “Get your elbow up.”
    “Reach back to get more velocity.”
    “Pull/tuck your glove side to help speed up and get your arm through the zone.”
    I know I have heard some variety of these common sayings too many times to count during my playing days, yet, unfortunately, they are all incorrect instructions. In fact, if a pitcher were to follow these instructions he would be increasing the chance of injury while decreasing his velocity.

    As for the first saying regarding getting your elbow up, this might be one of the most common phrases I heard throughout little league, because it was thought that if your elbow was below your shoulder you were vulnerable to injury. The opposite actually turns out to be true. In reality, your elbow SHOULD be slightly below your shoulder at foot strike. For those of you doubting this proposition, I encourage you to put your arm up beside your body in a 90 degree angle and move it up and down until you find the spot that feels most comfortable for your shoulder. As you move your arm up with the elbow rising above the shoulder you can feel the tightness and uncomfortableness as the shoulder muscles are impinged into that range of motion. Similarly, as your elbow is moved too far below the shoulder the same type of uncomfortableness is felt. For most people, if they were told to stop at the position that felt the best on the shoulder their elbow would be just slightly below the shoulder (or perhaps parallel). This is due to the fact that this position is the most natural on your arm and causes the least amount of stress – which is what we are looking for.

    The reason the elbow is below the shoulder at foot strike is because this is the moment that you are in your maximum scap load or energy building phase. The stress on your arm can be enormous when pinned back into an unnatural position. As you unwind around your plant leg during torque to release and your chest turns from 3rd base (for right handers) to the catcher the elbow will begin to rise naturally as it lays back into external rotation. The key, therefore, is for your elbow to be slightly below the shoulder at foot strike to minimize the stress of the throwing motion.

    Next, the adage that reaching the arm back can generate more power or velocity is completely false as well. In fact, the forearm should be inside a 90 degree angle of the arm. This means that the ball should never be extended out past the elbow. The more extended your arm gets outside of the 90 degree window, the more movement that is required in order for the arm to get into external rotation, and this additional movement along with the force that is generated in getting into the movement can cause a banging effect on the arm. This repeated banging is what can cause a rotator cuff injury as the rotator cuff muscles are the ones taking the brunt of this stress.

    However, when the forearm is inside the 90 degree angle there is little to no movement required in order to reach external rotation. As the athlete rotates the arm is already in position and is able to lay back naturally and smoothly.

    Last, I want to discuss the saying that the glove side should be pulled through in order to speed up the arm. This theory has been dispelled for years, in part thanks to Tom House, who recognized early on the importance of having a firm front side to rotate into. The more stable the front side (glove side) is during rotation the more power and energy can be exerted through and out of the arm that is being rotated. An example of this is to look at a boxer. As he throws a punch his left hand doesn’t move backward, instead it firms up so that his right hand can be more explosive.  The picture below is of Mike Tyson - he looks pretty similar to a pitcher who has just released a pitch.  Notice how firm his glove side is.

    Now, some of you might not agree with the propositions I have stated and that is understandable as they have been the common teach in baseball for many years. I therefore included numerous pictures of durable major league pitchers to give you examples of what I am talking about.














    Even Roy Halladay, who is known for his longer arm action when he breaks from his glove is right at a 90 degree angle with his forearm.   And notice that his elbow is slightly below the shoulder as well.

    I do want to mention that there are good major league pitchers who don’t have their elbows slightly below the shoulder, or their forearm inside of 90 degrees, and they still have great stuff. All that this means is that they do not have the most efficient movement patterns and are more susceptible to stress and injuries. Tommy Hanson of the Braves and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals are good examples of pitchers with their elbows above the shoulder.

    Jake Peavy is a guy who has a tendency to get long with his arm at foot strike, as it is outside of 90 degrees - this puts a lot of stress on the shoulder as he rotates and his arm is still far out behind his body.

    My next post will address a phenomenal drill created by Ron Wolforth of the Texas Baseball Ranch to teach athletes to get more connected and travel through these efficient positions.

    Until next time,

    Brian Oates

  • Blend Speed Chains into Hitting Drills

    The Speed Chains have many benefits for athletes of all ages and levels. They can train the right energy system, develop more efficient neuromuscular pathways, increase sport specific functional strength, as well as improve an athlete's speed and power. However, most baseball Speed Chain users are doing the chains before or after practice as purely a conditioning tool, which is great, but is not the only way it can be used. The Torso Burner and Bat Speed Chains can both be utilized to specifically improve a baseball players' swing, especially when incorporated into a practice for hitters.

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