So you want to throw gas?

This past World Series (and the entire MLB season for that matter) was an exciting display of power arms.  It’s every young pitchers dream to fire off a 90mph fastball.  For many, that dream is a lot closer then they might think, if they can put all the pieces together.

At the 2013 Perfect Game Showcase held in Minneapolis, the top high school players in the nation were featured.  Over100 pitchers cracked 90mph and many hit the 95mph mark.

Throwing velocities have made a dramatic increase in the last 10 years. If you were throwing 90mph in the early 2000’s, you had a good chance of being drafted right out of high school or having a big D1 scholarship locked up. If you look back as recently as 2011, there were only 35 major league pitchers who’s average fastball was 95mph or higher.  Now, by comparison,  if you look at the top pitching prospects across the nation in 2013, all are throwing in the mid 90’s.

So what’s contributing to this increase in “Power Arms?”  The goal of this article is to provide some answers as to how this phenomenon is developing and how it is going to catapult the game into new dimensions.

Reason #1 – Specialization & More Opportunity To Play

Kids just have more opportunity to play, throw and receive specialized coaching then ever before. Specialization has spun into Fall Ball, multiple Showcases, multi-team playing opportunities, and “yes”, an increase in throwing velocity. But beware, more opportunity to play can often lead to a downward spiral of mismanagement in a young player’s career.

The risk is that with this “new specialization” focus the likelihood of a shoulder and elbow injury have dramatically increased over the last decade.  In 2008 Outlett et al, reported that over the course of a season 57% of the pitchers will experience some sort of shoulder injury.

And this doesn’t take into account elbow, back, core and hip issues that are prevalent as well.

When considering increasing the volume and opportunity to play we need to ask ourselves a few things.  What are the long term risks to the athlete? When problems arise how are they managed?  What and/or who’s expectations are these players trying to reach?

One of my favorite quotes from legendary strength coach Mike Boyle is this “For Every Tiger Woods there are 100,000 kids who hate their father.”

# 2 Video Analysis:

When the time is right and you want to increase your throwing velocity (and bat speed for that matter) there’s no quicker nor more comprehensive approach then to use video to analyze your mechanics. Luckily we have the best resources at our fingertips with CSF’s collaboration with Pete Fatse and the guys at AP Player Development.

Here’s the best advice I can offer…   An exceptional video analysis should include a complete understanding on how your body biomechanically creates and transfers energy.  Understanding pitching, throwing and hitting “technique” is important, but your anatomy determines the quality and consistency of the movement patterns.

Video + expert skill analysis + expert strength & conditioning analysis = a huge game changer for any player.

#3 Strength Training (Application) 

The short version of a long story when speaking about strength training and baseball in the same breath is that, if strength training is done correctly,  guys throw harder; there’s no doubt about it!

How that strength training is programmed and what’s done to complement the program  determines if the increased velocity will lead to an injury or not.

Many parents and coaches are passive observers in the world of strength and conditioning and don’t understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate training for baseball players.  Unfortunately, I believe this is one of the reasons why the “old school” mindset that connects weight lifting to increased injury rates still exists.

What is often misunderstood is that the injuries (in part) can be associated with   improper program design, excessive volume, incorrect tempo and poor technique.  When you take a closer look at the guys who break down at the end of a long season, many of their injuries can be attributed to neglecting a strength program’s purpose.

We’re not just talking about the pro-guys here.  The biggest asset or downfall for an aspiring middle or high school player is his approach.  If a strength training program isn’t approached correctly, it can do a world of harm both short and long term.   If you have poor movement patterns to begin with (rounded shoulders, poor sitting and standing posture etc.) the likelihood of getting hurt increases exponentially.

There’s one more very important thing that can go under the topic of strength and conditioning, that has lead to an increase power and velocity in throwers.  It is the transition from jogging to sprinting.  We can cover an entire article on this sub topic alone.

The take home message here is that if you are jogging to build your leg strength and conditioning you need to STOP! and evaluate your program. To learn more about why jogging will kill your velocity please visit our blog.

In the big picture of today’s baseball world, there are many factors that have contributed to players throwing harder at younger ages.   Some are positive (video analysis, proper strength training) and some have potentially detrimental effects if incorporated too early (specialization and playing opportunity).  We only touched on 3 but there are many other variables that go beyond the scope of this article.

Each variable is unique to each thrower, as different athletes will generate velocity in different ways.  Understanding your own body and how to apply certain factors that will help set the stage for further development is a critical decision.   It should be dealt with as a “team” approach involving skill coaches, strength coaches and sports medicine professionals.

Understanding the factors that contribute to increased velocity is the first step in determining how to keep kids performing at a high level while minimizing their risk of injury. To learn more about the approach we use with our pitchers, from our middle school players to our pro-pitchers, contact Steve Conca at Conca Sport And Fitness.  Email:  Info@ConcaSportAndFitness.com

–By Stephen Conca, Conca Sports

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