I can't tell you how many times parents have told me, "My son gets lessons from X, he used to pitch for the [insert MLB team] organization." My first thought when I hear this is: Who cares, what is he teaching your son? Too often parents, players, and coaches allow themselves to be so wrapped up in an instructor's credentials or former glory on the diamond and don't critically analyze what that instructor's philosophies and training consist of.
For example, I heard Roger Clemens give a talk to a group full of kids where he told them that he pulls his glove toward his body as he rotates toward the catcher and nears his release point in order to help his arm speed up. Yet video and pictures of Clemens pitching demonstrates he actually has a firm glove side that he rotates into. This errant instruction is from a guy who won 7 Cy Young Awards. He knows HOW to pitch but not necessarily how to TEACH it. This is not a knock on Clemens, it's just that he doesn't fully understand mechanically what made him so great. I have also heard gifted hitters, like Chipper Jones, state that they don't have deep analytical thoughts about their swing, but instead that they just "see the ball and hit the ball." As great as these guys were at playing, they aren't going to be the best at teaching.
Perhaps the most recent example of a professional pitcher and Major League Organization that clearly do not get it is Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals. Strasburg made some waves during spring training because he announced he would be pitching exclusively out of the stretch.
Last year Strasburg hit the disabled list three times, yet he chalks it up to injuries being a "part of the game." So in order to combat his struggle to stay healthy, Strasburg decided that pitching out of the stretch is the solution. He stated:
"I think guys who are healthy, they're very good at repeating their mechanics. There's no compensation, no variation in where they're landing, how their arm's working through their delivery, whether they're changing their arm slot or falling off too much or flying open. I think if I can continue to work on getting as consistent and efficient as possible with my deliver, I think it puts my arm in the best position to put less strain on it. That's my best chance of being durable."
Strasburg went on to say, "I'm a believer that it doesn't really matter what your mechanics look like. Everybody's going to nitpick, especially guys who do get the injury bug. It's like, oh, there's a mechanical flaw. But you watch guys out there who you can't teach the way they throw, and they manage to stay healthy. They're very unorthodox, but they're good at doing the same thing every time."
Poor guy. Clueless organization. I guess it should be no surprise, given that their solution to protecting Strasburg’s arm after Tommy John surgery was to adopt an inning limit and ultimately sat him out of the playoffs. But you would have hoped that they would have learned SOMETHING during the last several years.
Strasburg has failed to recognize that there are actual solutions out there to solve his mechanical issues. There is no such thing as an "injury bug", it is not like the flu that people inexplicably catch. No, Strasburg has endured numerous injuries because of major flaws in his delivery; notably, his main issue is the inverted "W" of his arm at foot strike, which places tremendous stress on the arm. Ironically, this issue can be corrected through the use of a product that costs under $10 (the Connection Ball). There are also other products and tools, such as the Baseball Training Sock, Extreme Duty Weighted Balls, Bell Clubs, and Wrist Weights that are phenomenal in teaching a more efficient arm pattern while also working to strengthen the arm (this picture demonstrates use of the Connection Ball, Baseball Training Sock, and Extreme Duty Weighted Balls, along with TAP Kneeling Blocks).
But Strasburg clearly lacks intellectual curiosity, as he insists on taking the position of "aw shucks there's nothing I can do to help staying healthy." Such a way of thinking is outdated and unsupported by the incredible programs and equipment available to pitchers for the exact purpose of keeping them healthy and injury free.
Now back to my point about playing credentials. I have heard people try to knock Coach Ron Wolforth at the Texas Baseball Ranch because he never played professional baseball. I find this hilarious. Coach Wolforth has been on the cutting edge of creating throwing programs designed specifically to keep guys healthy and to clean up mechanical inefficiencies. Similarly, Randy Sullivan at the Florida Baseball Ranch didn't play professional baseball, but he too is a thought leader in training baseball athletes to throw harder while staying healthier.
In sum, people who look at playing credentials to determine teaching ability are fooling themselves. It's like trying to judge a person's wealth by the clothes they are wearing--it may be tempting to do, and we may think that suit looks dapper, but perhaps it's rented, or the person is under water in debt, or, well you get the point. It is a very superficial and inaccurate way to make such a judgment.
Instead, players and parents should focus on the future and not the past. Specifically, the concern should be how that instructor proposes to make them (or their son) a better pitcher, what the instructor will do to keep them healthy, and the tools that the instructor has to effectuate this plan. If a player or parent is undertaking this critical inquiry prior to training with an instructor, you are on the right path to improving your game.
Until next time,