How We Use Data to Develop the Complete Pitcher

By Nunzio Signore (Owner/Operator RPP)

Here at RPP, the value and importance of our assessments cannot be stressed enough. When it comes down to creating an athlete’s programming from both a strength and throwing aspect, it’s pretty simple.  If you program without a thorough assessment, you’re basically flying blind.

Now, with the addition of our new motion capture system from Qualisys, our assessment has just received a major shot of adrenaline. Today, we’re going to look at an athlete that came to us from Seton Hall University during our Summer Throwing Program and how with the addition of Mocap to our assessment, we attacked specific inefficiencies to help create positive changes.

Seton Hall pitching coach Pat Pinkman explained to me that this athlete has great potential but has been experiencing fluctuations in both velocity and stuff. That, coupled with some shoulder soreness and movement deficiencies, led me to believe that getting him a complete assessment including a bio-mechanical analysis would be the best thing.

With the shortened summer program due to COVID-19, we had to work faster than we would have liked, but the results speak for themselves. Here is a brief overview, from the initial assessment to the final testing day:

    • Initial Assessment (7-7-20)
    • Programming
    • Final Testing Day (8-12-20)

Initial Assessment (7-7-20)

    • Day One – Movement Screen/Power Testing
    • Day One – 3D Motion Capture Analysis (Mocap)
    • Day Two – 2D Video Analysis
    • Day Two – Pitch Movement / Rapsodo Bullpen

Let’s break the initial assessment down piece by piece:

Movement Screen/Power Testing Results – All of our assessments begin with the movement screen.  All great athletes move well and when they don’t then performance suffers. I use this phrase from Frans Bosch all the time…

“The body cares very little about what the coach has to say.”

Generally, when a pitcher can’t perform a specific movement pattern on the mound, we immediately go back to the table and see if it’s a movement issue.  Below are a few key findings from this athlete’s initial movement screen.

A quick review quickly points to several topics that could impact his ability to adequately get his arm into a more efficient position:

Week Lower Trap / Serratus – Poor scapular retraction in protraction will negatively affect upward rotation making it hard to get the arm up in time as well as efficiently get into layback.

Insufficient Posterior Cuff Strength – This will not only affect the athlete’s ability to externally rotate the shoulder, but deceleration will become a problem, possibly contributing to this athletes shoulder and elbow pain.

Lead Hip IR – Limitations of internal rotation of the lead leg can negatively affect the ability to finish out front and many times creating an early release point limiting the ability to stay on the ball longer and create more leverage.

3D Mocap Results – Being the newest piece to our puzzle, our Mocap report gives us invaluable information on timing-related issues, as well as angular velocities and joint kinetics.  We then combine this information with our video analysis, and the athlete’s movement screen, to help create a more effective and efficient strength training and throwing program.

The beauty of having these systems “in-house” is that we can always go back and re-assess to evaluate the progress or any new adjustments that need to be made. Below are some of this athlete’s inefficiencies from his initial Mocap report (degrees):

Shoulder ER – A late arm or low shoulder forces the athlete to have to lead with the elbow creating a push and increasing the risk of injury to the shoulder and/or UCL.

Elbow Flexion @FP – The late arm described above contributes to Inadequate elbow flexion, inhibiting the shoulder to efficiently lay back and many times causing unnecessary stress on the UCL and anterior shoulder as well as efficient force application into the arm and eventually the ball.

Max ER – The combination of A and B above will severely hamper the amount of ER we can get at layback. Better lever arm will also help get into Max ER early and carry external rotation longer instead of a rapid transition between Max ER at the beginning of the acceleration phase. This lengthening of time creates less torque and stress on the UCL.

Trunk Forward Tilt @ Release – Poor trunk flexion at release can cause the arm to “slam shut” due to an early finish/release, creating stress on the arm and posterior elbow as well as negatively affect the ability for the athlete to apply more leverage to the ball.

2D Video Analysis Results – While Mocap can be an invaluable tool, its combination with video creates the perfect storm.  For me, the ability to watch video and actually “see” the delivery in its entirety to better understand what needs to be done always will be an integral part of the assessment and learning process.  In addition, nothing will ever equate to live visuals when trying to help athletes better understand the process.


(2D Video 7-07-20)

The above video confirms what the Mocap data told us in regard to this athlete’s late arm / elbow. We also see a few other things such as:

Lack of Linear Momentum – A pause at the top indicates that the pitcher has stopped moving through the balance point and energy is lost. This can cause the pitcher to play “catch up” with his center-of-mass (COM) throughout the rest of the delivery, creating command issues as well as robbing him of momentum into foot plant and velocity.

Lack of Pelvic/Glute Engagement – This is defined by proper weight distribution on the back leg/foot and slightly hinging at the hips. Timing of this hinge is key for maintaining posture into foot plant and avoiding a “push” or “vaulting” off the rubber. This move should happen as the athlete begins to move the COM towards the target and NOT while still balancing on the back leg.

Lead Leg Foot Position @ FP – Finding the optimum position for the front foot will help create a more stable front knee / leg, helping to better decelerate the athlete’s linear momentum towards the target. This goes a long way in helping to maximize hip rotation as well.

Rapsodo Bullpen Results – Pitch design is about incorporating data analytics to help pitchers further develop their pitching delivery and movement patterns. Technologies like Rapsodo are also demonstrating that the point of release is just as relevant in being successful as a pitcher as anything else, and should be an integral part of any thorough assessment.  Our movement pattern analysis includes a pitch-by-pitch review, spin rate and spin axis analysis, movement pattern review, among other topics.

When it comes to pitch design, four to six weeks isn’t a whole lot time, but it is enough time to identify topics you’d like to address and begin to make improvements.  Here is a summary of the initial results:

    • Spin Efficiency – FB: 96.5%, CB: 56.6% (low), CH: 95.5%

Programming

This athlete’s program was built around the initial assessment with the motion capture data steering the way, IN A BIG WAY!

We know we had to address his arm action in order to improve his “stuff” as well as keep his shoulder/elbow out of further trouble.  We also decided to increase his stride a bit while strengthening the posterior cuff/external rotators to give his arm more time to get up and into a more efficient position. Strengthening the posterior chain while trying to get a bit more hip mobility on the lead leg was also on the menu to help the athlete acquire better hinge and a better finish position at release.

Programming – Mobility/Strength – When looking at his Mocap data and video analysis, it’s easy to see the correlation between the inefficiencies of his movement screen and those we found in the data reports. It’s also easy to see why this athlete may have been having difficulty with consistency, as well as experiencing arm pain.

A weak lower trap/serratus as well as insufficient posterior cuff strength will definitely contribute to the late arm we see in both his Mocap and his video analysis.  So, hammering home his mobility and strength work on a daily basis is the foundation to beginning to “fix” many of these issues.

(Incline T-Row)

(Ecc. Band IR)

(Rotary 6-Cone Drill)

Programming – Throwing Program – With an extended time off due to COVID- 19, the athlete had already built up a good level of throwing fitness levels.  And with only six weeks before returning back to college, we knew that trying to improve velocity was really not the safest way to go. Thus, we decided on fixing mechanics and working on some pitch design to get him up and running for the fall.

Based off of his Mocap and video analysis, we prescribed the following drills into his throwing program blended in with Rapsodo bullpens, long toss and recovery days.

Marshalls – We used Marshalls to work on initiating his glove side pull a little earlier in hopes to get the arm up into position as well as working on getting his hand up and elbow in from hand break to foot plant to help with the late arm/forearm flyout.

Rocker Drill – the rocker was used to get his lower half into the game and trying keep him a little more stacked by foot plant in order to create a better lead leg position to block from as well as work on rotating into that front leg.

Step Back Throw – The step back throw was prescribed to help better transition his COM as well as “feel” the rear hip load to help with his glute load. The core velocity belt is a great addition to this drill from both a resistance stand point as well as over-speed training.

(Step Back Throw with CVB)

Step Behind Drill – This drill was implemented after a few weeks and really helped him to put it all together timing wise as well as allow him to work on creating hip/shoulder separation a bit later in his delivery.

Programming – Pitch Design – Rapsodo bullpen sessions can become overwhelming if you attempt to work on two many topics at once.  Most pitchers have spent their entire careers focusing on velo and mechanics, so release point is often a whole new arena for them.

Working with RPP pitching coach Mike Lembo, bullpens were conducted 2x / week focusing on pitch design.  The three topics we worked on were as follows:

Curveball Spin Efficiency – The SE on curveball was initially in the mid-50s, which generally implies a lower than desired depth on the pitch.  We targeted a minimum of 65% by working on thumb placement.

Lateral Movement on the Change-up – The lateral break on the change-up averaged around 14.5″.  We focused on adding more tilt on the ball at release to create additional horizontal break and sink.

2-seam Fastball – By successfully adding more sink on the CH, we could look to create a new 2-seam pitch with lateral movement somewhere in between FB and the CH.  The 2-seam would allow for a pitch with higher velo than the CH, that could run in on the inside on righty batters.

Final Testing Day 8-12-20

While we would’ve loved to have had more time with this athlete, in the six weeks that he was here, he made considerable improvements.

Let’s take a look:

Mocap Data – The improvements made in shoulder external rotation at foot plant not only considerably helped us with the late arm / fly out issue, but as we can see- that, combined with the improvement in elbow flexion more than likely contributed to getting him 10 more degrees of Max ER and putting his arm in a much safer position to throw from.

Also, getting 10 more degrees of trunk tilt at release is allowing him to stay on the ball longer which will be a bit more apparent when looking at his Rapsodo data.

Video Analysis – We can talk about what got better all we want , but here’s what his final day bullpen.


(2D Video 8-12-20)

Rapsodo/Pitch Design – Although the time period was somewhat short, we managed to accomplish a great deal:

    • Curveball (orange) Spin Efficiency improved to 60-65% creating a couple more inches of depth
    • Change-up now has an additional 2-3″ of lateral movement and sink, as demonstrated in the chart below (green)
    • 2-seam (yellow) has excellent lateral movement and its movement is very complementary to the 4S and CH

In addition, often when you’re attempting to get more lateral movement on a CH, the 4-seam begins to drift along as well.  In this case, the 4-seam pretty much maintained its prior movement pattern.

(Before and After Movement Chart)

Just as important is making sure that the athlete doesn’t alter his release points (arm slot) as he works towards refining and / or developing new pitches.

(Release Points)

Summary

None of these changes would be possible without a comprehensive assessment on day one. Being able to test performance from many different angles within our facility allows us the ability to retest whenever we feel necessary to ensure that our training is moving in the right direction and positive changes are being made.

But remember, just having these tools and doing an assessment means nothing if you don’t know how to properly create programming to address any deficiencies. The greatest assessment in the world means nothing if you don’t know what to do with the information.

See ya’ in the gym…

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