Here are set of questions and answers on baseball pitching designed to reduce the confusion and misinformation…based on research…not beliefs.
Q: How can a parent help their son become a better pitcher?
Coach Mills: The first thing is to get an expert evaluation of their son’s mechanics…whether he is 9 or 17. This must be done using video by an instructor who has that kind of experience. The video analysis should be done prior to any lesson or instruction so the parent and the pitcher fully understands what needs improvement. The instructor should then devise a plan on how he will systematically help the pitcher make the adjustments in his mechanics.
Every pitcher, no matter what level, should constantly be videotaped. If parents are doing the instruction then they need to learn how to do this. Videotaping is the only way to thoroughly evaluate mechanics since the motion of pitching is complex and contains the fastest human motion is sports – the acceleration of the arm. No one has the capability no matter how much experience to evaluate a pitcher’s mechanics using just the naked eye. That goes for experienced coaches as well. Coaches and instructors who do not videotape are really just guessing and thus parents end up wasting time and money and usually will see much improvement over time.
Q: What does a pitcher have to do to increase his velocity?
Coach Mills: Velocity is the result of good pitching mechanics rather than arm strength or more general strength from weight training. To increase velocity a pitcher’mechanics must be evaluated to see which mechanical faults are holding them back. Pitching velocity is the combination of good timing as well as how explosive the pitcher is moving from his back leg to his front leg. Research has proven that velocity is the result of stored elastic energy. After the pitcher lands the arm is actually whipped through by the efficient build up of momentum from the hips and trunk.
Arm speed is actually the result of how fast the pitcher’s trunk can deliver the arm from landing to ball release. No amount of added strength can influence arm speed. Only improving mechanics can improve arm speed.
Pitchers with smooth and yet explosive mechanics will create the most potential velocity with the least amount of stress.
Q: What do you tell pitchers whose goal is to add 5-10 mph to their fastballs?
Coach Mills: Pitchers shouldn’t make increasing velocity a goal in and of itself until they perfect their mechanics under the watchful eye of a good instructor or parent who use videotaping. Instead, goals should be made only for those things which they have control over, like developing smooth and explosive mechanics while practicing pitching from the mound as much as possible.
If pitchers will set goals and work hard on all three areas—mechanical skill work, practicing from the mound (if possible), getting themselves fit to pitch, and mentally focusing, the velocity will come as a result of their hard work. And yet, many instructors tell pitchers that velocity will just come in time. That is just wishful thinking. There must be a plan to improve velocity.
Q: Should pitchers “push off the rubber”?
Coach Mills: The back leg is a very important component for maximizing velocity. The pitcher must first learn how to shift his weight by leaning his front hip toward the plate. That is what helps build early momentum. After he starts to lead with his front hip, his hands will break and it is at that point that his back leg will begin to extend by pushing down and back against the rubber.
The movement away from the rubber, from the back leg to the front, may have more to do with velocity than any single aspect.
The pushing action or extension of the back leg is the driving force for developing powerful lower body mechanics. Many refer to this action as “using the legs”…when in fact there is much more to it.
Q: Shouldn’t pitchers rest during the off-season so their arms are stronger for the Spring?
Coach Mills: Unless a pitcher is recovering from an injury and must rest and rehabilitate his arm, from he should develop an off-season plan in order to build his level of mechanical skills as well as perfect his current pitches or adding additional pitches. So taking time off after a long season is a good idea. Sometimes the mental break from not playing is just as important as a physical break.
However, high school and college pitchers should get back to building their level of fitness so they are explosive. Once they are fit, usually after six weeks of training, then they should begin pitching off a mound a couple of times a week improving mechanics while they continue to build their level of fitness.
To make improvements in mechanics can sometimes take 3-4 months. Pitchers should figure out when their practice season begins and allow 90 days to get fit to pitch for the upcoming season.
Q: You are not a proponent of long toss to build arm strength? Why not?
Coach Mills: Arm strength is really a misnomer in pitching. Pitching does not require arm strength despite what you will hear from coaches or TV commentators. Studies have shown that there is little difference between the strength of the throwing and non-throwing arm. Studies show that arm speed or pitching velocity is the result of an explosive body which develops elastic energy as the pitcher moves from his back leg to his front leg. Once the front leg is on the ground the pitcher cannot develop any more elastic energy. What happens next is that the elastic energy is transferred from the large muscles—the legs, the hips and trunk finally to whip the arm through. The arm is basically along for the ride and is a source of ball control, not velocity.
In Jan. 2011, the American Sports Medicine Institute released a year long study on long toss. The results proved that long toss does not improve velocity but does increase stress to the elbow on throws above 120 ft. The study also proved that long toss can interfere with mechanics.
Long toss is actually a completely different movement than pitching from the mound. Because pitching is a skill activity, pitchers can only get better at pitching by doing what they do in games and that is throwing a high volume of game intensity pitches from the mound. Long toss requires a crow-hop which a pitcher is not allowed to do from the mound. The crow-hop allows a pitcher to build more momentum which he cannot do pitching from the mound. Long toss is done on flat ground where the ball is thrown a long distance in an upward trajectory to no fine target with completely different mechanics. Ask yourself how can long toss possibly help a pitcher get better?
Long toss does not even work for helping outfielders develop a stronger arm. If it did then all outfielders would have equally strong arms. Right-fielders normally have the highest release velocities of the outfield positions. So if long toss does not work for outfielders or infielders or catchers, why would it work for pitchers.
Pitching from the mound requires one long stride without a crow-hop. How can constantly practicing crow-hopping possibly help that movement? It can’t and won’t. Long toss is largely a waste of time for pitchers during the season. It has one benefit and that is as part of a full body conditioning program to build in full body fitness during the off-season. However, it cannot help a pitcher improve his pitching.
The most important element for building maximum velocity is a smooth delivery which indicates proper timing of the body with an explosive lunge from the back leg to the front leg. This movement must be practiced while pitching from the mound while always trying to improve a maximum effort pitch.
Videotaping is a must if pitchers want to improve velocity.
Q: What about weighted balls for improving velocity?
Coach Mills: Weighted balls have been around for over 30 years at one time or another with little to no success. Once the internet was launched those with little knowledge of mechanics or how the body works to produce velocity, started selling them as a magic bullet for velocity.
Weighted balls are all based on the erroneous belief of trying to build arm strength. However, velocity is all about elastic energy production of the muscles of the entire body. Even if pitching velocity had something to do with arm strength, weighted balls of 6-14 oz. or even 1 lb would not provide enough of a load that would provide any strength benefit.
The studies that have been done on weighted balls providing proof of velocity are all based on poor science. In our book, The Science And Art Of Baseball Pitching- A Coach’s Handbook For Scientific Pitching, now out of print, my co-author, Dr. Brent Rushall, provides evidence as to why all the studies that were done are based on erroneous conclusions. We devote 16 pages in that book on why weighted balls do not work and why the studies are flawed.
If weighted balls worked they would work for everyone. Professional baseball would have more to gain than anyone and yet they are virtually nonexistent because pro pitchers understand that anything other than a 5 ounce baseball would disrupt the feeling that is required for pitching.
Q: What is the main cause of poor control?
Coach Mills: Having good control is not just a matter of practicing or pitching a bunch of bullpens. Good control begins with having good mechanics. It is very difficult to control the ball if you can’t control your body in order to get the throwing arm into a good position at landing and ball release with consistency.
Remember the arm and the fingers are the fine control device of the ball.
We have found that control is also the result of the pitcher’s grip which can effect how the ball comes off the fingers at ball release. The fingers provide spin and if the fingers are not coming through the center of ball then energy is not efficiently transferred to the ball. This can make a difference of as much as 3-5 mph. This is rarely looked at by most coaches.
Pitchers should make sure that when pitching a fastball, that the ball is spinning more on a vertical and not a horizontal plane. If the ball is cutting or spinning on a horizontal plane it usually indicates an incorrect grip where the fingers are getting on the side of the ball. Always check a pitcher’s grip and check it regularly…especially youth pitchers.
Practice Bullpen: Ball control can be attained by using what I refer to as an “over-practice/blocked” bullpen. This forces the pitcher to focus on pitching a large volume of each selected pitch to a specific location in sets of five pitches. Five pitches would be considered one block. The pitcher might pitch five blocks of four-seam fastballs (25 pitches or more) down and away while focusing on making needed adjustments after each pitch and after each block of pitches.
This type of focused bullpen forces the pitcher to pitch only one pitch every 30-40 seconds so that he is constantly focused on what he needs to do by using imaging or his mental camera. A bullpen of 75 pitches would take nearly an hour. The 30 seconds of recovery between each pitch and taking a two minutes break between blocks of pitcher allows the pitcher to minimize fatigue…which occurs with radip fire bullpens. This bullpen provide quick recovery even though a large volume of pitches are thrown.
Q: What causes pitching injuries?
Coach Mills: Arm injuries can be the result of a number of things.
- Overuse throwing – throwing too many pitches during a single outing and not getting enough recovery time between games.
- Poor mechanics – adds more stress to the arm
- Poor overall body conditioning – not being aerobically fit or training the body to be explosivie.
- Not doing a full body warm-up each time before pitching
- Not using an arm warm-up program prior to pitching as well as a post -game recovery program…which allows the arm to recover faster.
- Not being fit to pitch – not pitching enough volume of game intensity pitches from the mound in practice.
- Pitching too hard too soon in preseason.
- Too much weight lifting and practicing irrelevant activities such as long toss, flat ground pitching, stretching before pitching, drills or throwing weighted baseballs.
Q: You don’t believe in pitching drills. Why?
Coach Mills: Pitching is a two-phase motor skill with no natural breaks. There is a wind-up and release phase similar to golf. Because there are no natural breaks, anytime you have a pitcher stop by using a static drill such as stopping in the balance position, you interfere with the developing a fluid delivery. This has been known in sports science for decades and yet baseball doesn’t pay attention to these studies.
Drills are responsible for making pitchers too mechanical, robotic and slow moving. They interfere with development of velocity and control. Plus they cause many pitchers to “over-think” about their mechanics.
Drills kill velocity production. The pitcher may end up learning how to do the drill perfectly but that drill will not insert back into the explosive and fluid movement required in pitching. The pitcher gets good at the drill but his delivery gets worse.
Q: What about the popular “towel drill” or the “kneeling drill” that we see being used so often by coaches? Don’t those work?
Coach Mills: The towel drill is designed to help the pitcher with adding extension so he is closer to the plate at ball release. Others also use it to direct the body at the plate. Even if a drill has good intention it does not mean it will provide the promised benefits. There are several problems with the towel drill. One is that a towel is used not a baseball. A towel not only does not “feel” anything like a baseball but it is held onto after the arm gets to a normal release point. That can only build in a faulty release point feeling. If you do not hold onto the ball after the release point you should never practice that.
Secondly, the only possible way to gain added extension in order to get closer to the plate is by focusing on a longer stride from explosive mechanics which is the only way to get the ball closer to the plate…along with maximizing the use of the trunk which delivers the arm.
What is most disturbing about the towel drill is that it will promote trunk flexion before trunk rotation because the pitcher is focusing only on extending his body out toward landing. This is a velocity killer. Trunk rotation must happen before trunk flexion which this drill does not promote. I know of one of our clients, a top college D1 left-handed pitcher, who thought the towel drill would aid in improving his velocity because Mark Prior used it. His fastball went from 89-91 mph as sophomore to 82-84 mph as a college junior. He was expected to be drafted in the late first or second round. Because of his drop in velocity, he was drafted in the 23rd round. That cost him at least $500,000 to a $1,000,000 dollars in bonus money. He never got his velocity back and was out of baseball in two years.
The kneeling drill is nearly as bad as the towel drill. First of all the lower body is the impulse factor for developing energy that drives arm speed. The lower body moves first to provide the needed energy to drive hip and trunk rotation and then trunk flexion which drives arm speed.
The kneeling drill is designed to work on upper body mechanics focusing on trunk rotation and trunk flexion. However, when you remove the lower body from the delivery you lose the energy that drives both trunk rotation and trunk flexion. This makes no sense since the lower body timing is a huge factor in overall velocity. When you remove the lower body from the delivery you are practicing something that never happens in pitching. Therefor it cannot help improvement no matter what the good intention is of the coach.
Q: What should I look for if I want to hire a private instructor?
Coach Mills: Any private instructor should have a deep knowledge of not only mechanics but also how to teach. The first thing that an instructor should offer is a complete video analysis where he shows you exactly what are the mechanical faults that need to be improved. Without this analysis he is guessing at best and you will waste both time and money. And the pitcher can actually get worse. Instructors who do not videotape, in most cases never fully identify the big problems that cause loss of velocity or poor control. Even former professional pitchers normally do not have good teaching skills. If they cannot tell you exactly how to improve velocity you are wasting your money.
Remember drills should only be used when a pitcher is first learning how to pitch and then only minimally. As soon as a pitcher has learned a delivery from start to finish then he should cease doing any drills. If an instructor is having your son do drills of any sort on a regular basis he is not teaching. If an instructor is catching your son during a lesson he cannot possibly be teaching.
Finally, pitchers need to be videotaped during every practice session. Otherwise how can you recognize whether the pitcher is really making progress or not. Coaches who instruct by using their experience or the naked eye should be a red flag that you will not get your money’s worth. This type of instruction is predominantly what you will find out there today at even top baseball schools. And this is why pitchers are not seeing noticeable improvement in velocity or control.
Q: What about weight lifting to get stronger and improve velocity?
Coach Mills: I believe a pitcher should begin with a good level of fitness by sprints and then doing mostly full body explosive movements such as plyometrics and medicine ball. The only value from weight training is to prepare the body to do those explosive movements. Therefor after a pitcher has worked with weights (not too heavy) building some general overall strength for five to six weeks, he should then switch over to full body explosive training.
Excessive weight lifting can not only lead to injury but has no benefit in pitching because pitching is not a strength activity. Actually, weight training being a slow movement, will actually teach the pitcher’s body to be slow. You do not need strength to throw a 5 oz. baseball. You do need strength to move a 300 lbs lineman. There is a big difference.
Pitching is mainly a speed of movement activity to build elastic energy. Weight lifting does not train pitchers to improve those capacities.
If weight lifting was a factor in improving velocity then proponents of weight lifting should be able to explain how skinny pitchers throw with above average velocity.
Q: What about conditioning for pitchers 9-12 years old?
Coach Mills: Little League age should be used to build better levels of skill such as mechanics and ball control. Their conditioning should be mainly body weight exercises designed to improve full body strength and motor skills.
Q: You say that stretching actually leads to injury and reduces velocity. Can you explain?
Coach Mills: In early 2005, a study came out that proved that stretching actually increases joint mobility which for pitchers can lead to joint injury. There is a fine line between too much flexibility and not enough stability. The pitcher’s shoulder is already the most loose joint in the body. Stretching causes laxity or looseness which is a leading cause of pitching arm injuries. A pitcher or baseball player will normally reach his full range of motion by doing the specific activity such as pitching.
Also stretching reduces the muscles’ and connective tissues’ ability to store elastic energy which is a leading cause of ball velocity. If stretching is done, it should never be done prior to a game, despite what major league players do. Lower body stretching should also not be done because it can lead to more groin, hip or hamstring injuries.
Q: You say that pitchers should not ice after pitching…yet many MLB and college pitchers ice.
Coach Mills: Do not ice for reducing inflammation. Why? Because inflammation is one of the ways that the body starts the healing process. We could also say that anti-inflammatory drugs are not a good idea since they stop the natural process of healing. The body knows how to do it much better. Remember – active recovery.
Gary Reinl, author of the book “Iced” says this:
“Since the “icepack” actually makes things worse (it delays healing, increases swelling, causes additional damage, shuts of the signals that alert you to harmful movement and provides false hope … you believe that you are doing something good when in fact you are doing the opposite) … doing nothing is actually better than icing.
Lightly activate the muscles that are tired and or sore. (First Pitch Strike Warm-up and Recovery program…I added that which is what we recommend pitchers do after pitching to reduce recovery time) Muscle activation or “active recovery” is not only the best way to facilitate the healing process …it is, in essence, the key to tissue regeneration. And, absolute stillness is the proverbial enemy.”
This article goes in depth about why icing not only has no benefit but is detrimental to a pitcher.
Q: What do you mean when you say “pitchers are made in the off season?”
Coach Mills: Pitching is a skill activity. In order to perfect those skills pitchers need to work on improving their mechanics away from competition. That is why I do not like fall baseball or year round baseball because in order to improve pitchers need lots of quality practice time away from competition in order to make needed mechanical adjustments. Games do not make pitchers better. Games instead provide the feedback of what needs improving. Pitching can only improve by lots of quality repetitions during practice. Whether a pitcher is in Little League or high school or college the off season is the perfect time to work on improvement. If pitchers wait until just before the season starts in the spring they do not have enough time to improve the movement skills required to develop better mechanics.
For high school and college pitchers, the off season is also a time to improve their overall fitness level so they are fully prepared for next season and fully fit to pitch.
Q: What is different about your program compared to what is being offered in current pitching books or other video/DVD programs?
Coach Mills: In 2004, my pitching philosophy completely changed from a traditional “belief based” approach to a completely “evidence based and researched approach” after I hired two sports science consultants who aided me in looking at the current research in biomechanics and sports science training principles. This forced me to completely change the content of our program because the scientific research does not support traditional baseball pitching instruction such as the irrelevant activities such as drills, long toss, weight lifting, flat ground pitching, weighted balls, stretching, training aids or instruction without videotaping.
Most current pitching instruction programs are not based on any “evidence based” research but only on the “belief” of coaches, even former professional pitchers are mostly wrong in their approach because they are only using what they were taught by other “belief based” coaches who use mostly what “sounds good.” There is little difference in most current pitching program content. They are all based on the same faulty beliefs that have been around now for nearly twenty years. Most of these coaches have a scant knowledge of pitching mechanics and few understand how velocity is produced. Just ask them for the “evidence based” research that supports their views of how to produce velocity, why drills, long toss or weight lifting work. Ask for references not opinion.
Most pitchers have tried all of these irrelevant activities with little success for improving velocity. There are more pitchers today than ever who are getting injured. We believe that these injuries and lack of pitching improvement is because pitchers are doing less actual pitching from the mound while spending more and more time on these popular activities that coaches are endorsing. Those endorsements should be a red flag that you have found a coach who uses only his belief about what works with little if any evidence.
Q: Will your instructional DVD program work for all age groups?
Coach Mills: The program is based on age groups. We have two programs. A Youth Pitching instructional program for ages up to 12 and a High School program for pitchers 13 and older.
For college pitchers, youth and high school as well, we recommend they have a Video Analysis of their mechanics done so they fully understand what is holding back their velocity and possibly adding stress to their arm.
These programs has been successfully used by fathers, coaches, and for pitchers from youth, High School, College since 1996 and even pro ball with equally great results at each level. The sooner a pitcher learns how to pitch correctly the less mechanical problems he will have later on. And the more confidence he will have while pitching. Long Toss, Pitching Drills, Pitching Mechanics, Pitching Velocity, Weight Baseballs Did You Like What You Read?
Article Source: Pitching.com