The following is the scrapped introduction to my first book on training pitchers. There’s a good story or two in there which is why I decided to keep it. The remaining 100+ pages needed a lot of help, and if I have anything to say about it, will never be seen by anyone. Ever.
As a young boy, I didn’t have a lot of athletic prowess to speak of. This didn’t stop me from participating in sports at all, though – I made a fool of myself on the baseball diamond, soccer field, and basketball courts throughout my youth. Growing up, I lived on a block where all my friends were a few years older than me, so they had a decided physical advantage in all the sports we played. It mattered little, as I always loved a challenge. My father would play basketball with me in the backyard, usually allowing me to shoot over him, but would cover me closely enough where I would complain that my competition wasn’t going to consist of six-foot-tall, two-hundred pound men. He would remind me that eventually, they would.
That lesson didn’t take root for me until years – decades – later. As I grew older, my desire to compete in athletics waxed and waned, until I competed primarily for fun and turned my focus towards schoolwork and academics. When I eventually hung up the spikes and moved to Seattle, I had a lack of hobbies to occupy my time with. My girlfriend (now wife) suggested that I do what all former athletes do: Start coaching. So, I contacted the local Little League and was swiftly put in charge of a Little League team full of 13 and 14-year old boys that I would have to evaluate and draft.
It was about this time that I started to fall in love with sabermetrics – the analysis of advanced baseball statistics. I understood the concepts of scouting for the undervalued assets – at the time, on-base percentage was the stat du jour. I went into the evaluations assuming that parents would carry a lot of bias towards players they knew and wouldn’t account for puberty or large growth spurts correctly. However, besides this very basic concept, I still believed in the majority of old-school theories, having been taught by those types of coaches all my life. Batting average, speed, power, velocity, and the “good face” were what mattered – and those tools couldn’t be taught.
At the draft, I evaluated many of the players with the other coaches – mostly fathers of kids in the league. I identified the best player in the group with relative ease; all the parents knew it too. His name was Corey, and he had everything you’d want in a youth baseball athlete – smooth glovework, great contact skills, early growth spurt, and most importantly, the good face. Corey just looked like a ballplayer, and he carried himself like one, too. There would be no chance I’d be able to draft him, as I was picking at the end of the round, and so I identified some of the other first-round talent.
If Corey represented everything that traditional baseball scouts love, then Sam was his polar opposite. Sam wasn’t naturally athletic; this much was obvious. Sam didn’t have a rocket attached to his arm, and his swing was a little unorthodox. But Sam didn’t make mistakes in the field, Sam poured strike after strike over the plate, Sam flashed the ability to throw a slow curveball that would be effective, and most of all, Sam played the game intelligently.
I chose Sam with my second round pick, and he would carry my Little League team to the last round of the district playoffs – where we would lose a one-run heartbreaker to eliminate us. We had a flamethrowing righty – Sean – who could touch 80 miles per hour with his fastball, but it was Sam who would anchor our rotation. We had two players – Adam and Jeff – that could rival most Little League shortstops with their range and arm strength, but it would be Sam who would commit the fewest errors in the field. Sam batted third for us, displaying outstanding plate discipline, contact skills, and enough power to drive in the speedy runners at the top of our lineup.
After the season, I would elect Sam to the All-Star team, where he would barely play, despite being one of the best players in our league – leading almost all pitching categories and finishing near the top in both batting average and on-base percentage. When I talked to him about this, he told me something I will never forget: “Coach, no one else will give me a chance. You’re the only one who gave me the opportunity to play.”
I write these words about Little League and Sam to illustrate why I chose to study the nuances of developing baseball athletes from the ground up. For every “naturally gifted” player like Corey, there had to be countless dedicated intelligent players like Sam, just looking for the guidance – and the chance – they needed to turn into great baseball players. But how would I learn how to teach the Sams of the world?
I started by spending hundreds of dollars on products from various pitching coaches and gurus out there – Tom House, Ron Wolforth, Paul Nyman, Alan Jaeger, Dick Mills, Len Solesky, and Paul Reddick. I then spent hundreds of hours reviewing their material, and the material of “crazy” theorists out there like Dr. Mike Marshall and Fritz Outman. I even purchased texts only available in Japan from Dr. Ryutaro Himeno and Dr. Kazushi Tezuka and had them partially translated so I could better understand how the Japanese taught pitching mechanics and to learn the secret of the “gyroball.”
From these materials, I learned a great deal of information about pitching mechanics and how to prepare the body for pitching. Most of the coaches believed in throwing and a strict adherence to the specificity of the sport – that is to say, they generally denounced lifting heavy weights and that training in the weight room didn’t have much carryover to fastball velocity.
I believed in this for some time, and trained many pitchers under these operating theories. However, I chose to get involved with barbell training as a way to develop overall fitness for myself. Seeking recommendations, I found the very complete book on basic barbell training – Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. After I read this text, I immediately began the novice training program outlined by the book. After a period of six months, I ended up significantly stronger in all the core lifts outlined in the book – the back squat, bench press, strict overhead press, deadlift, and power clean. Stronger than ever, I took the field and started throwing much harder and hit for far more power than I ever had in my life. All I had done in that off-season was focus on maximum strength training and took very little batting practice and threw very little off a mound.
Convinced that maximum strength training could play a major role in how I would train pitchers going forward, I then purchased and reviewed the material of general strength and conditioning coaches and instructors like the aforementioned Mark Rippetoe, as well as coaches like Eric Cressey, Glenn Pendlay, Dave Tate, Greg Glassman, Jim Wendler, Dan John, Greg Everett, Kelly Baggett, and many, many others.
I revisited the works of the pitching gurus and turned my head towards original research, digging up well over fifty research papers by anyone who had published biomechanical research on pitching mechanics or training methods to improve fastball velocity. Dr. Coop DeRenne’s work showed that various forms of resistance training combined with throwing programs improved velocity over simple throwing programs themselves. His work also outlined how weighted baseballs could have a positive effect on release velocity for pitchers. From these texts, I developed experiments and protocols to test on myself and willing clients for case studies. Sure enough, our first tests worked – extremely well. Pitchers and position players alike were putting 5-7 MPH on their fastballs in a matter of a few months.
It’s these results that have led me to write the first comprehensive book on exactly how to integrate the concepts of maximum strength resistance training, speed and agility, core work, weighted baseballs, long toss, and mobility and flexibility into both off-season and in-season programs to develop elite fastball velocities for those pitchers who just need the appropriate guidance to take them to the next level.
However, this is not an easy program. You will have to work extremely hard to develop the fastball velocity that’s required to compete at the college and pro ranks. All I can do is show you the way. Let’s get started.