10-15 years ago, throwing a baseball 90 mph was huge and basically meant that you’d likely be getting drafted out of high school. Now, it’s the norm. According to FanGraphs, the number of MLB pitchers throwing fastball above 95 mph is rising rapidly. Here is the summary since 2012:
Now, in 2018, we have an endless volume of youth pitchers nationwide consistently throwing gas even when there were only 44 total MLB pitchers in 2012 whose average fastball velocity was higher than 95mph!
The question, then, becomes, “Where are all these power arms coming from, particularly at the younger levels?” Today we’ll look at what I believe to be three of the main reasons pitchers are lighting up the gun, harder and earlier and in some cases some of the precautions that need to be taken.
1. Early Specialization / Year-Round Play
Athletes get really good at what they practice. In his book “The Talent Code”, Daniel Coyle talks about “deliberate practice”. The concept is about performing a particular movement or action over and over in order to produce myelin, a substance that insulates transmitters to the brain helping to perfect a specific skillset. Then there’s Davis’s Law (click here). Davis’s Law is used in anatomy and physiology to describe how soft tissue models itself along imposed demands. An example of this can be seen in the South and West (as in young athletes in warmer climates) who have a tendency to play baseball year-round and as a result generally throw harder.
Unfortunately, many of these younger athletes who specialize early by playing only one sport actually develop “old arms” even if they aren’t symptomatic. Though I’m personally not a fan of early specialization, if you are going to play one sport all year, make sure you manage the volume and get into a great training program that not only takes throwing volume into consideration but includes year-round arm care as well. The diagram below from the article “A Case of Early Sports Specialization in an Adolescent Athlete” (click here) puts it in perspective, a bit.
2. Strength Training
If anything remotely positive could be extracted from the steroid era, it’s that strength matters. Getting it the right way through strength training helps “solidify” movement patterns and increases power in baseball players. However, if it isn’t approached correctly, it can do a world of harm, both acutely and chronically. Inappropriate strength training (poor exercise selection, volume, and technique) all need to be synchronized together based on the time of year. Remember, a great program done incorrectly or at the wrong time is a terrible program. This includes maintaining strength DURING the season as well. There are tons of guys that get hurt late in the season as a result of losing strength and mobility because they cut out in-season lifts and arm care.
3. No More “Running Poles”
Running is the gift of slowness. Here’s why. Running at 60-75% of maximum heart rate (MHR) for longer than a minute puts the athlete in the general zone (aerobic) used for weight loss and as we all know “mass equals gas” (click here). This also interferes with strength and conditioning gains due to decreased testosterone levels and elevated cortisol levels. However, short sprints (10-40 yds at max effort) keeps the athlete at 85-95% of MHR which elevates testosterone levels. This not only transfers to the energy system required for the sport, but it also enhances the power output needed in a pitcher’s delivery as well. In a study that compared sprint training and longer, slower distance running in-season, Rhea et al. (2008) found a significant increase in lower body power for the sprint group, and a significant decrease in power for the distance group. So, if you’re going to run… sprint!!
More and more coaches at all levels are starting to pick up on it, too. Our guys never run… but they sprint frequently. Here at RPP, we have handouts during the in-season that address what we believe to be baseball specific sprint/speed work just in case the players are still “running poles” at practice.
See ya’ in the gym…
By Nunzio Signore (BA, CSCS, CPT, NASM, FMS)