Increasing Velocity Through More Efficient Landing Positions

September 22, 2015

In today’s article, we’re going to look at a high school prospect, who was demonstrating some classic inefficiencies in his throwing motion. This will allow us to discuss some changes he made to his landing position, which helped him improve both his command and velocity in a relatively short amount of time.

For starters, I think people commonly make the mistake of thinking that you can’t improve both velocity and command at the same time. This is because they associate velocity with increasing intent or effort in the delivery, which if applied recklessly, can certainly lessen the ability to command the ball. In reality, there are a lot of ways to improve velocity, but sometimes it simply comes down to increasing the efficiency of an athlete’s throwing motion, so that their body works more in sync.

In a second, I’m going to show you some clips of an athlete, who was able to do this by changing his “Angle of Attack”, which in turn put his delivery in some more advantageous positions to apply force from landing to release. Now when I discuss, “Angle of Attack”, I’m kind of encompassing a lot of different components in the delivery. It essentially boils down to an athlete’s stride direction and how their delivery maintains leverage from landing to release. This allows them to create a more efficient and consistent path of acceleration through their target line. If it’s a little nebulous, I apologize, but you’ll get a feel for it by watching the videos below. Before we get there though, I should probably give you a little context for what you’re looking at in this athlete’s delivery.

In the older videos, which I’ll show first, you’ll see an athlete in the fall of 2014, who was 16 years old, and about 6’4” 160lbs, throwing an inconsistent 82-84. When you see this athlete’s frame and motion, its not hard to project more velocity, so I certainly don’t consider myself a rocket scientist for seeing it, but the rate at which he developed and refined himself, was a little surprising.

After we walk through the older clips, I’ll show some more updated videos. One of them being from the tail end of the winter of 2015, before he went to Florida for his first HS start, and the other being from this past August, where he’s throwing 86-89 touching 91 at times. In the winter clip, he was weighing around 175 and then in the late summer clip closer to 185. So, that is certainly a variable to take into consideration as you watch these clips, but lets take a look and see what’s been adjusted.

Here is the 2014 Front and Side shot first:

As you can see, there were a lot of positive qualities to like in this athlete’s delivery with a general sense of looseness, some present athleticism and quality movement patterns that were just raw in their application. With that said, any time I look at deliveries of high school athletes, I’m always trying to consider what level of mobility and stability an athlete is working with, as well as their general level of awareness for quality movement as a whole. With this age group in particular, you’ll get a wide range of presentations depending on their level of maturation and the training environment they’ve been exposed to up to that point, so its important to establish a baseline to work off.

In this case, it was apparent that this athlete had plenty of mobility to achieve the desired positions and presented a little on the unstable side. More importantly though, he probably lacked a general awareness for where he should be in space to create advantageous positions for himself to move through. This is important because these athletes can get tangled up in their excessive range of motion and will get diminishing returns from trying to do too much in their delivery. These types of athletes can do a lot for themselves just by learning a quality dynamic warm-up that teaches them proper ranges of motion and low-level bracing strategies before you even need to layer on a strength program.

After a few fall throwing sessions, some general discussions about quality movement and proper sequencing in the delivery, this athlete made some pretty significant strides in optimizing the efficiency of his actions on his own. In most cases, I like to give the athlete just enough information to work with, and then get out of the way, and allow them to organize their actions with some basic external cueing to help reinforce the feeling they’re getting on their own.

Without me belaboring the point any further, lets take a look at the adjustments this athlete made in the videos below. I broke out these clips so you can see the side comparison in the first video and the front comparison in the 2nd video below.

As you can see in this side shot, more isn’t always better. This is true from both a coaching standpoint and a movement standpoint. You can see we didn’t really change the “feel” of this delivery and a lot of his “signature moves” are still evident in this motion. Simply discussing positions of strength will go along way towards getting an athlete to organize his body into more centered positions that allow him to deliver force more effectively.

Image 2015-09-21 at 10.35.25 PM

By shortening up this stride a touch, this athlete was able to control his leverage on the ball much more consistently and create a more consistent “Driveline” to his target. By not fighting himself left and right, he avoided “blocking” himself out of throws and had less wasted effort in the delivery.

One of the things I didn’t touch upon in the video that does deserve discussion here though is the bracing pattern you see in the lead leg. A lot of the research suggests you need to see a level of knee extension in a “high-level throw”, which I don’t disagree with, but the quality of knee extension and where its being driven from is also crucial in the discussion.

As you’ll see in the previous delivery, there’s a more aggressive “knee extension” from landing to release. This is partly due to game speed vs. bullpen, but also in my opinion, this is more of a product of the aggressive heel landing and getting “hung up” on his front hip than it is an active bracing pattern using muscular restraints to create pressure into the ground. We’ll save that thought for a bit lengthier discussion down the road.

That being said, there’s a good chance this athlete already had upper 80’s hand speed, it was just being misdirected, and at times locked up in poor stabilization patterns using bony blocks & passive restraints, which is why you initially saw lower 80’s and inconsistent command.

With that said, let’s continue looking at this progression by looking at his front shot here:

As you can see, there’s still some work to be done in that Winter delivery, but it had made some decent progress from the Fall.

As this athlete continues to gain ground in improving the efficiency of his actions, a large window of adaptation now lies in getting him stronger. This will allow him to create and sustain more force in his lower half, and use his back leg more effectively during the initial portion of the stride phase. Its scary to think what this athlete might look like at 6’4 200lbs with an increased level of stability to transfer forces more efficiently.

To give you a sense of what this delivery looked like at full speed, here are a few pitches from that February bullpen:

At the end of the day, this is a pretty common theme that I run into with our amateur pitchers. Most of them lack efficiency in their sequencing, and can start by simply suring up their footwork into landing. To reiterate, some of the easiest ways to improve your throwing motion are by simply paying attention to the quality of your landings on the mound, and probably more importantly your footwork while you’re playing catch on a daily basis.

I know we didn’t really get into a lot of the drill work we used with this athlete, but I think that’s less important than conceptually understanding the focus on being strong in your landing and centered over your base. Just simply thinking about these few things on a daily basis will go a long way in spinning the baseball at a consistently high level.


Matt Blake: The Man Behind the Y-D Arms

September 17, 2015

(Written by Y-D Red Sox Beat Writer, WESLEY SYKES (@Wesley_Sykes), and originally run on the YD Red Sox Home Page)

 

The arms of the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox rest on the mind of Matt Blake.

No, this is not a lesson in physiology — I would not be the person you’d want to consult on that topic. Instead, it’s a testament to the influence of pitching coach Matt Blake’s impact on the Y-D staff with his ability to use the philosophy of functional anatomy in aiding the stars of tomorrow today.

Since 2009 Blake has run Elite Pitching Development — in association with Cressey Performance’s Elite Baseball Development Program — aiming to aid players’ understanding how to create high levels of velocity, alleviate stress in an overhead throw and repeat deliveries.

“We’ve found a nice niche where we keep guys healthy as well as develop their velocity. That’s something we’ve made our name for in the nationwide market. We got a lot of professional athletes who come to see us,” Blake said.

Ranging from Cy Young winners like Corey Kluber to collegiate stars to high-profile high schoolers, Blake casts a wide net to share his philosophies of the art of pitching — with the trickle-down effect proving to be a powerful teaching tool.

“I think it’s interesting to see the developmental chain — you see some traits from 15-16 year-olds that can translate at the next level. It’s so beneficial to be working with these professionals to see what it takes. They don’t look any different than anyone else and they come in all shapes and sizes — whether their 6-foot-5, 245-pounds or 5-foot-8, 170 pounds. As long as you have some certain intangibles and work everyday it gives you the tools to be successful.”

It is that background, coupled with helping the New York Yankees as a regional scout and serving as the pitching coach for the acclaimed Massachusetts high-school baseball program at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, that made manager Scott Pickler bring Blake to Yarmouth-Dennis this season.

“I can get anybody to just stand out there, but Blake’s a guy who understands the game, knows what it takes at all levels and how to protect their arms in the process,” Pickler said.

Corralling a staff of 13-plus pitchers on separate but equal regimens is no small task, especially when the manager hands the reigns of the pitching staff over to a coach who’s never handled this big of a staff before. While Pickler leans on Jenzen Torres, Roberto Mercado and James Cordes to help with the positional players, Blake is, for all intents and purposes, the only coach to manage the pitching staff.

“I’ll dabble on the pitching, but I wanted someone to really take charge of the staff,” Pickler said. “I have three guys to help me with the positional players, but I have only one guy to handle the pitchers.”

Sometimes handling the staff means more than just charting bullpen sessions and relaying to Pickler who’s stronger glove-side and who’s better arm side. With a staff that’s comprised mostly of starters and closers in college, often times it’s managing expectations and egos while getting players to buy into smaller roles.

“You have to be a psychologist too,” Pickler added.

As a psychology major and philosophy minor from Holy Cross, Blake has balanced the roles of teacher and peer as the Red Sox are a game within capturing the Cape Cod Baseball League crown for the second time in as many years. He can often be spotted down the right field foul line at Red Wilson field cracking jokes with the staff while they get work in the bullpen or stretched out with foam rollers. I’d watch out for Ben [Bowden]. He’s from Lynn, man. I wouldn’t mess with him, he once stated as the staff jokingly debated who was the toughest pitcher.

 

Beauty of being a starter is that @TylerThomas_7 can fulfill his role as 90s childhood hero, Steve Urkel, on off days pic.twitter.com/USQzqgCE7E

— Matt Blake (@Blake_Matt) July 26, 2015

 

Alec Eisenberg, a starter for the Hofstra Pride relegated to relief duties in South Yarmouth, echoed that sentiment.

“He’s loose — always cracking jokes on us, [but] he knows what he’s talking about and he has a great way of showing it. He focuses on everyone individually. He’s helped the whole staff a lot.”

While he’s focused on Eisenberg staying back in his delivery and shortening his stride to create more power and balance, he’s helped Y-D’s top two starters, Ricky Thomas and Brandon Bailey, add to an already loaded arsenal.

Bailey is equipped with a mid-90’s fastball, a good change and a slider that’s his strikeout pitch, but has been working with Blake on developing a two-seam fastball to run in on the hands of righties.

“I’m always picking Blake’s mind on mechanical things,” Bailey said.

Thomas’ pinpoint control of his high-80’s fastball, a dominating change and an off-the-table curve may have made him one of the darlings of the Cape League — sporting an unblemished record of 9-0 with an ERA right around one — but that hasn’t stopped Blake from working in a slider to Thomas’ repertoire.

“If he had something a little bit firmer to get in on the right-handed hitters — like a slider or cutter — he’d have a real nice four-piece mix. The slider should be ready by the end of the season, it’s that close,” Blake said back on July 17.

There’s little doubt Blake’s impact has been felt by the staff, but there’s no doubt it’s been felt in the box score. For the season the Red Sox posted a 3.32 team ERA, struck out 354 batters while holding them to a .235 batting average — all good for third on the Cape in 2015. The most-intriguing statistic that could, perhaps, be attributed to Blake is the team’s league-leading eight shutouts, especially when you consider the team has seven shutouts in the three previous seasons combined.

And although the team has been led by a steady, potent lineup, it’s the pitching that has brought the Red Sox to within a game of earning yet another Cape League championship ring. As the team completed a 2-1 series win against top-seeded Orleans, Blake tweeted out the winning formula for Y-D’s success:

Another unbelievable effort out of @YD_RedSox advancing to @Official_CCBL Finals w/ 2-1 win tonight! Staff’s now 4-1 54k 9bb 1.88ERA in 48ip

— Matt Blake (@Blake_Matt) August 9, 2015

As the Red Sox enter their final game of the season, Pickler’s team is in good hands with Blake pulling the pitcher’s strings.

© 2014 Matt Blake Elite Pitching Development | 577 Main St Suite #310 Hudson, MA 01749 | mablak07 [@] gmail.com

site: Peter Batchelder | peterb1017@gmail.com