Athlete Highlight: 6’3″ RHP Connor Darling Velo is Up 9 mph

Connor Darling

Right-Handed Pitcher Connor Darling (Class 2024) recently completed an outstanding spring season at Northern Highlands High School in New Jersey. Connor has been training at RPP since November 2019. At the time of his assessment last summer, he was 6’3” and 185 lbs., topping out at 82 mph. Fast forward to this spring, Connor is now over 200 lbs., and has improved his peak velo by nearly 9 mph, touching 91 mph. This past spring he finished with a 2.07 ERA, 1.7 K / IP and 40.2 IP under his belt.

How did he do it?

Although his training with RPP began in 2019, in this summary, we are going to review some of the topics we discovered during his evaluation last fall and how we approached addressing them during this recent off-season. The assessment covered a variety of topics, including:

    • Pitching Mechanics
    • Movement Screen
    • Strength Testing
    • Power Production
    • Decel Patterns

Pitching Mechanics Analysis

When we analyze a specific pitcher, depending on whether it’s video and / or motion capture analysis we may review over 60 different potential disconnects, from arm action to trunk movement to lower half movement patterns. With Connor, the following is a summary of what we felt were the big focal points as we headed into the off-season to get him to move more efficiently down the mound.

Pelvic Glute Engagement – Proper weight distribution on the back leg while hinging at the hips. It’s also key for maintaining posture into foot plant as well as avoiding a push or “vault” off the rubber allowing for later force laterally.

Vaulting – This is generally a direct result of a lack of glute engagement (see above). This also directs force more vertically, taking force away from the linear move.

Continued Rotation Around Front Hip – Rotating around the front hip allows the pitcher to buy more time to both decelerate the arm as well as create later ball speed through better leverage on the ball.

Movement Screen

The movement screen is a physical blueprint of what the body can and can’t perform during the delivery. In addition to strength, many disconnects often come back to topics identified in the initial movement screen. In Connor’s case, we made small changes to his movement patterns to help address some mobility restrictions, including the following three topics:

    • Single Leg Stability
    • Hip Internal Rotation – Lead Leg (IR)
    • Active St. Leg Raise (hamstring length)

Getting his body right and more mobile would enable him to get into more successful positions on the mound and ultimately move more efficiently with a higher velocity ceiling. Improving these movement strategies would help Connor not only load the back leg but give him the ability to better rotate into his front hip. The table below provides a summary of Connor’s progress from July 2022 and more recently in June 2023.

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Strength Testing

With strength testing, we begin with a simple height to weight ratio to assess overall physicality. We generally like to see our athletes at a 2.5 – 3.0x ratio. When Connor began his training last summer, he weighed in at 185. Although he was generally within the desired range, we felt that given his frame there was room for him to add more lean muscle mass, which could help him produce more power down the mound. Recently, Connor weighed in at just over 200 lbs.

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The benefits become even more apparent as we look at his gains in size combined with a 9% Lean Body Mass Percentage compared to his overall gains in both strength and power. The following table provides a summary of the three basic lifts we test for strength. These are significant improvements year over year, especially his Bench Press metrics which have improved by over 25%.

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Power Testing

The next area of focus is power production. An athlete may be strong, but the question is whether he is producing that strength quickly. In an explosive sport like baseball power production is paramount.

In order to improve power production, we generally begin with adding muscle mass early in the off-season (if we deem the athlete not to be strong enough). Later on as we approach the spring, we include training in accelerative strength to help increase overall power production. This involves loads in the 60-80% of his 1RM or .50-.75 m/s in regard to training with bar/body speeds (VBT). The following table provides a summary of Connor’s power production improvements during the past year, which have increased 20-25%.

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Deceleration

At the time of his assessment, Connor’s ability to decelerate scored a 75 in our internal scoring system (keep in mind that we consider 80 an acceptable score). We knew that training that single leg stability with some plyometric work as well as addressing the lead hip mobility issues we uncovered in his assessment would help him create a more stable base, to not only throw from but to continue to rotate into at foot plant.

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Motion Capture Analysis

Connor came in recently for an updated assessment, including a motion capture analysis. The mocap among other disconnects, revealed a couple areas of low hanging fruit that that can be addressed to further raise Connor’s overall velo ceiling:

Max ER – The ability to efficiently “lay back” allows the athlete to carry ext. rotation longer through the acceleration phase, helping to create less torque and stress on the UCL.

Scap Load – An efficient scap load helps load the shoulder while helping to resist early trunk rotation and hip/shoulder separation.

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Recent Update

During the past few years, Connor has demonstrated a high degree of dedication to his development. His metrics have consistently improved across the board. Combined with his ability to throw hard, Connor’s success on the mound during the past year is no surprise. His hard work and commitment has only begun to pay off as he keeps elevating his velo ceiling and overall potential. As mentioned before, his velocity, touching 91 mph this spring, is up approximately 9 mph since the prior year. This spring Connor had a 2.07 ERA, 1.7 K / IP and 40.2 IP under his belt.

Congrats Connor, keep up the hard work!

Vid Creds: PBR NJ

By Nunzio Signore and Bahram Shirazi

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