Pitch-A-Palooza Brain Dump
Wednesday, December 9th, 2015
For those of you who are unaware, this past weekend was the 3rd edition of Lantz Wheeler’s Baseball ThinkTank seminar called “Pitch-A-Palooza”. This annual event is held in Nashville and has included some of the world’s best baseball coaches/instructors/theorists, etc. and this year was certainly no different.
I might even go as far as to say that this was the best collection of baseball development minds over a 3-day span that I’ve been a part of in my short career. As much as “Pitch-A-Palooza” was the title, this was a master’s class in player development that really was the physical embodiment of “The Baseball ThinkTank”.
The range of backgrounds and the depth of knowledge in the room, whether they were presenting or simply in attendance, was really impressive. This group ranged the entire spectrum of professions that are now coming together to help develop the next generation of baseball player. To give you an idea of who was there to present:
Eric Cressey – Owner of Cressey Sports Performance – World-renowned human performance coach, who specializes in working with baseball players from the Big Leagues to the Little Leagues.
Paul Nyman – Owner of SetPro – One of original Godfather’s of modern-day pitching mechanics, whose work has greatly influenced most of the well-known pitching coaches in the industry in one way or another, and happens to be an engineer by trade.
Alan Jaeger – Owner of Jaeger Sports – Mental Performance coach and Arm-Care Specialist, who has been one of the biggest proponents of long-toss and the mental game even before it was cool to talk about that stuff.
Kyle Boddy – Owner of Driveline Baseball – Modern-day renaissance throwing cyborg, who should probably be building rocket ships, but chooses human ballistics instead.
Wes Johnson – Mississippi State Pitching Coach, formerly of Dallas Baptist – An incredibly detailed and forward thinking technician, using Biomechanics, Trackman, and every gadget available to him to build power arms.
Derek Johnson – Milwaukee Brewers Pitching Coach – former Chicago Cubs Pitching Coordinator, and not to long ago was mentoring David Price and Sonny Gray among many others as the Vanderbilt Pitching Coach.
Dr. Allen Sills – Vanderbilt Neurosurgeon – He’s a neurosurgeon, enough said…But, seriously, if you’re not actively questioning how you’re aiding your athletes’ ability to feel and sense their actions, this guy’s your man.
Roger Williams – Louisville Pitching Coach – Develops some of the best arms year after year including multiple 100mph arms in the Burdi Brothers.
Bobby Tewksbary – Owner of AB Athletic Development – Forward-thinking professional hitting consultant to AL MVP Josh Donaldson among many other professional hitters.
Butch Thompson – Auburn Head Coach, formerly MSU Pitching Coach – Year after year producing professional pitchers, who win in the SEC from every angle imaginable.
This is just a partial list, but I think you get the picture. And, I certainly don’t mean any disrespect to the other presenters I left off, who were fantastic in their own right, but for the sake of discussing what was going on, I’m going to keep moving here…
Aside from the speakers themselves, the attendees ranged from MLB Pitching Coordinators and Coaches to Major Division 1 Pitching Coaches, and some of the best private pitching/hitting instructors throughout the country. As much as I enjoyed the presentations, I think the real value for me was in the level of openness and candor from everyone in the casual conversations that were taking place throughout the weekend. It seemed like everyone was there to share their ideas for the greater good of the group. This was aided by the hands-on sessions that put the theory to practice and allowed guys to dig in and see how they’re actually working with real pitchers and not just discussing it on the internet.
The dynamic nature of the event seemed to be driven by this willingness of “business competitors” and conference rivals to give away trade secrets in this open environment. I think the entire baseball community is realizing that this whole development thing works a lot better when we’re all sharing ideas and pushing each other. Based on the conversations I heard throughout the weekend, we’re certainly taking positive steps on that front.
That being said, when you put a Neurosurgeon, Engineer, Strength Coach, Big League Pitching Coach, Throwing Cyborg, and Mental Performance Coach in an open field house, and let it rip for 3 days, you can imagine the depth and range of the discussions that took place.
It would be hard to sum up all of the highlights in this short recap, but here are four random points that resonated for me throughout the weekend. I’ll do my best to circle back and dive deeper on some of these topics in subsequent blogs:
- Scapular mechanics are huge for pitchers. Not just where the scapula lies at rest, but how it functions throughout its range of movement and in conjunction with the humeral head. A lot of people are missing the boat by not educating their athletes on how to incorporate their scapular movement in the context of their strength work, arm-care program or throwing motion. It’s a huge cog in the kinetic chain for a throwing athlete and appreciating this would solve a lot of your shoulder and elbow riddles.
- High-Level deliveries start with a strong lower-half. I know this isn’t rocket science, but the role of the lower-half in the throwing motion was discussed in depth by multiple speakers. We were shown a lot of creative ways to use “The Core Velocity Belt” to help aid the athlete’s awareness of the lower half, and I really think it’s beginning to get the focus it deserves. While the back-leg certainly holds a critical piece of the puzzle in the delivery, not many people coach it effectively. Learning to integrate a proper hip hinge on that back hip to aid control of the pelvis through the stride phase is essential. Beyond that, if you’re not actively coaching your athletes to understand the importance of a strong front leg into and through landing, you’re missing the boat, because creating ground reaction forces at landing is essential to drive the rest of the kinetic chain.
- This goes without saying, but needs to be said – There’s no one right way to develop pitchers. Do you like using video? Good, use it. Do you like using weighted balls? Good, use them. Do you like long toss? Good, use it. How about strength training? Absolutely. There are so many tools out there this day and age to help your athletes become better throwers, and in the end, your throwers become better pitchers. Get outside of your comfort zone and try new things. The key here though will always be listening to your athlete and understanding that they’re all going to move and learn differently. Ultimately, they are the one throwing the baseball, so they need to understand what helps them be successful on a day-to-day basis. You can either get in the way of that with a rigid approach or help facilitate the learning by being open-minded and allowing them to pursue an approach that works for THEM.
- Understanding how all the pieces fit together is essential for long-term development. If you want to use all of these tools to create a high-level throwing machine, you still have to realize that this is a human you’re working with, and adding more stressors requires a more comprehensive recovery plan. You can’t just keep adding more, there needs to be a balance to how you add volume and intensity on all fronts, whether its throwing, prehab/rehab, strength training, etc… This takes communication between multiple parties including the strength coach, physical therapist/ATC and pitching coach/hitting coach if you want to keep your athlete heading in the right direction. If your recovery plan doesn’t match the degree of stimulus that’s being introduced to the athlete, then your athlete is going to have a hard time making continued progress, or more importantly, staying healthy over the long haul.
Now, with all of that in my head as I was flying home from Nashville, I was thinking that our job really boils down to simply being part of the feedback loop for the athlete to help them calibrate their sensory systems. We’re there as a sounding board for them to ask questions, to think and feel their way through more efficient movement patterns and help them build a resilient throwing/hitting system.
In my mind, we should always be working to help them identify where their greatest windows of adaptation currently are and how we can help push them forward in their development. To that extent, I generally ask myself 5 macro questions when considering a pitcher’s development:
1) Do they need to throw harder?
2) Repeat their delivery more consistently?
3) Create better shape/more depth on their pitches?
4) Need to recover more efficiently?
5) How does their mind respond to stress and how does it impact their performance?
All of these are important pieces of the puzzle if they want to keep advancing. Any one of these things can derail development if it goes unattended. It becomes our job to make sure the athlete is aware of their strengths/weaknesses and help them shape an efficient plan of attack that keeps their strengths their strengths and reduces their limiting factors in the long run.
In the end, that certainly wasn’t an exhaustive list of things that were discussed, and it was quite random at that. At the very least, it should help paint the picture that there was a lot of great player development discussion going on and you’d be wise to consider attending next year. It certainly got me fired up for baseball season, and then I realized it’s still only December….