Talking Pitching: A Recap of the 2010 ABCA Pitching “Hot Stove” Discussion
Posted Jan 20 2010 5:07am
Today, we’ve got another great guest post from Matt Blake.
“If I embark on a voyage of exploration, and I set as my goals the willingness to follow any lead, pursue any interesting observation, overcome any difficulties, and I end up in some exotic locale that might be very different from my predictions before setting out, have I changed my destination in any way? I would say not; the sine qua non of science is not the conclusions we reach but the process we use to arrive at them, and that is the polestar by which we navigate.”
-PZ Myers, Biologist, University of Minnesota
One might ask why the heck a pitching coach is leading off his article on a fitness expert’s blog with a quote from a biologist, and how it would have any relevance to the topic at hand. Where could this possibly be going?
Well, I recently attended the American Baseball Coaches Association “Hot Stove” Pitching Discussion in Dallas, Texas on January 10th with about 200-300 coaches from all over the country. And, I would say that this notion was the overriding theme to take away from the event.
This “Hot Stove” pitching discussion was part of the bigger national convention that takes place every year. This event provided an outstanding forum for people to hear some leading thinkers in baseball discuss pitching in an informal public setting. Some of the notable attendees of this event were Tom House, Alan Jaeger, Brent Strom, and Derek Johnson. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these names, I’ll give you a brief description of each.
Tom House is a former major leaguer, former major league pitching coach, and is regarded as one of the great modern day pitching gurus and currently coaches at the University of Southern California.
Alan Jaeger runs Jaegersports.com and has an outstanding understanding of long toss, arm care and how it should be applied to your player’s development.
Brent Strom is a former major leaguer, is an instructor in the St. Louis Cardinals system, and teams up with Ron Wolforth to run the Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp every year. They also run some outstanding Elite Pitcher Bootcamps during the summer. These two presented early in the weekend and are proponents of the “Blending” and “Chunking” theories and advocate for training pitchers through the use of athletic and aggressive throwing drills.
Derek Johnson is currently the Pitching Coach at Vanderbilt University and is regarded as one of the premier pitching coaches in the country. Producing ten drafted pitchers (including three first-rounders) over the last three years will usually do that.
Honestly, this is just a handful of people in a room that included dozens of D1/D2/D3 pitching coaches, as well as numerous outstanding high school coaches, but these guys really stand out with their contributions to the pitching community’s knowledge base.
Tom House did his part by speaking to the crowd about the importance of being able to accept new ideas that run counter to your current train of thought. He brought up an interesting point regarding the need to be strong enough to change your positions and adapt your training methods as the information presented to you deems necessary. This is not too far from what you see happening on the strength and conditioning front every day. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t too long ago that Mike Boyle questioned the value of the almighty squat. Who would have thunk it? This is a great example of a man following a process of logical thought to create his own philosophy even if it runs counter to much of the traditional thought. You don’t need to agree with him on this, as we still use a lot of squatting variations at Cressey Performance, but based on his interpretation of the research, this is what he thought gave him the best value in the risk/reward category for his athletes.
On the baseball side, this idea was none more evident than when Tom House was challenged about the effectiveness of the towel drill and admitted he was wrong about this drill in its original form. This drill has been a staple in many pitching coaches’ dry work for years. In coming to understand where the towel drill was lacking, Tom has recently changed the weight of the implement in the drill from 2 oz to 5/6/7oz depending on the training intentions. This essentially changed the deceleration demands to be more similar to a baseball and worked to counter the argument at hand, by letting everyone know, that as science has progressed he has needed to adapt his training methods.
One of the other important topics that House brought up was the need to understand the science behind the overhead throw. If we expect to train players at the highest level, we need to know what is actually happening in the body. By incorporating information relating to a player’s “Kinematic Sequence,” one is more apt to see where players are either efficient or inefficient in creating energy and delivering force to the ball. Understanding the sequencing of the body’s rotations is essential to getting the timing of the delivery right and avoiding stressful mechanic flaws.
The way he phrased it may or may not have gone over a lot of coaches’ heads and split the camp into science-based vs. common sense/feel coaches. But, I obviously believe Tom is right on this point or I wouldn’t spend my waking life in Eric’s facility. On the flip side, I can also understand where coaches who do not naturally gravitate to the analytical style would find other ways to communicate this information than the technical jargon House used. At the end of the day, your players either understand what you’re saying or they don’t. If they don’t, you need to come back to their level of thought before they tune you out.
Along these lines, one of the points I strongly agree with Tom on is the need to look at the golf industry and how advanced their level of instruction is in the private sector. Greg Rose and the people of the Titleist Performance Institute are doing some great things on the technology front, as far as analyzing swings and doing physical assessments to improve golf technique. Obviously, this is a different beast with the way their market dynamics have been established, but there is enough money within the baseball industry to start dedicating some of our resources to making sure we have the best information available to the general public. The rate at which players are getting injured because people are simply uninformed is not okay in this supposed “Information Age.”
One of the refreshing things to see is that people are at least beginning to recognize that we can’t be so rigid in our approach to training pitchers. We are just now leaving an era where we thought we had all the answers and we could box up our pitchers to 90 degree angles and call it a day. Funny that injuries are up at nearly every level of the game from little league to the Pros, so obviously something isn’t working. With that said, I’ll leave you with one last short story that Tom House provided us at the convention. It has do with a time when he was coaching Nolan Ryan on the Texas Rangers. Nolan credits a lot of his success later on in his career due to the physical shape Coach House got him in. Obviously, this is a second-hand retelling of a story, so I’ll leave it up to Tom to come over to Ericcressey.com and correct me in the comments section, but I think you’ll get the gist.
As many of you know, Coach House is famous for really being a pioneer on the biomechanical analysis front. One day, House was attempting to talk to Nolan Ryan about his famously high leg kick, by letting him know that it might make more sense to bring his leg kick down a bit and get himself a little more under control. In Nolan Ryan’s Texan drawl, he calmly responded, “Tom, with all due respect sir… I understand you know a lot about the game, but if there’s one thing I know…. It’s that the higher I lift my leg here, the harder I’m gonna throw this baseball. So you can go ahead and stick that in your computer of yours.” And if that doesn’t bring this discussion full circle, I’m not quite sure what will.
In the end, I think as important as it is to follow the research, it is just as important to let the common sense/feel aspects drive the questions being researched. Obviously, science is continuously digging deeper, but if we don’t listen to our athletes, we may be digging in the wrong places. Like I’ve said before, the athlete throws the baseball, so giving them the necessary information and letting them find their own signature style with it is essential to their development.