Athlete Highlight: Pascack Hills Junior Anthony Blackford UP 11 mph, T89 mph

RHP Anthony Blackford joined us last September. This is about 8 weeks earlier than most athlete begin their off-season training, but as you will see, Anthony’s gains far exceeded the average gains we generally see. The 6’0” righty topped out at 78 mph when he first came in this past fall. At the finale of the of the off-season he was now touching 88 mph, and recently he touched 89+.

How did he do it?

Anthony’s off-season training began with a complete assessment, including a movement strategy screen, strength and power testing, and a mechanical breakdown of his delivery, combining both motion capture and video analysis.

It is a common goal for a pitcher to throw harder and getting them to do so is based on targeting each athlete’s lowest hanging fruit. In Anthony’s case, multiple areas stood out in the baseline assessment.

Let’s review…

Movement Screen / Mobility 

The mobility portion of the assessment is vital in evaluating movements that may help or hinder a pitcher getting into more efficient positions both on the mound and in the weight room. In many cases, the issues that are presented in this part of the assessment will be evident when we are evaluating the pitcher’s mechanics in the latter part of the assessment.

Let’s look at two issues that we felt were contributing to disconnects in Anthony’s arm and back leg movement patterns on the mound.

Shoulder ER – This is also known as Layback where the arm is in the pre-stretch/cocking position that occurs from foot plant into release. What you will typically see with a lack of layback is a tense arm action throughout the throw where tension is applied early, limiting how much range of motion the pitcher is able to utilize delivering the ball.

Insufficient Ankle Mobility – This will typically lead to an unstable base as the pitcher transitions into different phases of the throw. If a pitcher is not grounded their back foot issues all the way up the kinetic chain, from compromised balanced points and spinning off at release.

Strength and Power

Strength and power testing gives us more information about the type of athlete we have in front of us strength-wise. Some athletes are already strong and need better plyometric ability where others need to focus on pure strength in order to be more explosive. Also, just like the movement screening, there are instances where the findings in this part of the assessment sometimes will become evident in the mechanical delivery as well.

In Anthony’s case, we were able to retest his strength and power metrics from beginning to end of the offseason to compare his baseline numbers from the fall versus his recently tested numbers at the end of the winter pitching lab. These were the findings.

Lower Half Power 

    • 18% increase in his CMJ Jump
    • 16% increase in his Squat Jump

Lead Leg RSI: Anthony’s ability to handle ground reaction force and decelerate his lead leg went from a .401 to a .760 which is a 90% increase; nearly doubling his baseline assessment. This was huge as the ability to decelerate the lead leg quickly is one of the big players in creating and transferring force more explosively up the kinetic chain and ultimately into the ball.


As you can see, getting an early start on his off-season training more than likely was the catalyst for such higher than normal strength gains.

    • 28% increase on his deadlift (12% above our average for our offseason athletes)
    • 40% increase on his bench press (14% above our average for our offseason athletes)

Mechanical Delivery

The final part of Anthony’s assessment was his mechanical breakdown and video analysis. This is where we are able to identify disconnects his delivery and effectively create a gameplan.

Things he did well…

    • Glove-Side Position/Timing: This sufficient timing of the glove-side delays the front side and trunk from rotating early, putting the pitcher in a position to sequence properly as his upper half is closed and lower half opens at foot plant.
    • Shoulders Level at Foot Plant: Anthony does a great job landing in a powerful position with his trunk stacked and shoulders level. Neutral shoulders indicate he is not “hanging back” with his upper half *(throwing uphill), which can negatively impact sequencing the upper and lower half at the right time going from foot plant to release.

Things that needed work…

    • Pelvic / Glute Engagement: Due to his lack of right ankle dorsiflexion, he was unable to distribute his weight on his back leg and effectively hinge at the hips while moving down the mound. Basically poor ankle mobility was preventing him from properly putting force into ground in the loading phase of his delivery.
    • Push with the elbow/Max Shoulder ER at foot plant: Limited external rotation that was found in his mobility assessment came into play into his pitching mechanics. A lack of layback caused a pushy arm action where the arm was not able to accelerate properly transitioning from foot plant to release.

How we addressed his movement deficiencies?

Following the completion of the mechanical assessment, we generally prescribe throwing correctives in addition to his strength and mobility work in–gym to help improve overall movement patterns on the mound.

Below is a summary of Anthony’s movement drills to help address his deficiencies:

Walking Torques: Used in conjunction with the hook’em drill to help with a linear component to all upper body mechanics and front foot position @ FP.

Rocker Drill: Used to help keep and feel a better front foot position in order to fire the ball in a more stable position.

Step Back Drill: Used to improve shifting COM (Drifting) and front foot position @ FP.

Hook’em w/Lead Leg Counterbalance: Used to help glute engagement in the loading phase of the delivery.

Summary Results

Anthony entered this fall and winter on a mission to improve his strength and velocity on the mound.  Simply said – Mission accomplished!

Needless to say, he’s made some big gains this off-season. Topping out at 78 mph in the fall, he is now T89+ mph.

These gains are 100% a result of his work ethic and perseverance. Improved ankle mobility and strength allowed him to engage his glute hold tension longer while increased power output allowed him to move more explosively down the mound. By gaining more external rotation he is now able to eliminate the pushy arm action by accelerating his arm with less tension earlier in the throw.

As he heads into his junior spring season with added strength and velocity, we are very excited to see what the future holds for him. Best of luck this spring and summer Anthony!

By Niko Leontarakis (Director of Pitching)


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