3 Observations on Velocity for Pitchers
1) There is a massive genetic component to velocity
Usually at the lower levels of sport, athletes that are successful at one sport are also successful at others; their superior speed and power is transferable to multiple sports. However, baseball pitchers often defy this. While they can be very accomplished at pitching, many only play one sport at the lower levels, and some aren’t even athletic enough to play a position on their non pitching days. Trainer Eric Cressey, who works mostly with pro baseball pitchers, has stated that he has trained numerous MLB pitchers who throw 95 + but have a hard time even jumping on a 30 inch box. How can many pitchers be unathletic and yet be so adept at their sport? Because factors such as height; wingspan; big hands; long fingers; extreme range of motion in the shoulder, etc have way more factor on a pitchers velocity and success than any traditional athletic qualities.
2) Correlation doesn’t equal causation
Because genetic factors have a huge influence over velocity, genetically gifted pitchers can often do any number of different training styles and methods (or none at all), and still have success (ESPECIALLY at the lower levels). Trainers that are often better at marketing than getting results, race to promote that it was their methods that lead to the pitcher’s success; because of this everything from yoga to physical therapy to 1970’s bench and clean workouts have been credited for velocity. The reality is that correlation doesn’t equal causation. Just because X elite pitcher does physical therapy doesn’t mean it was physical therapy that carried him from point A to point B. As anyone that can wade through the ocean of marketing workouts and gimmicks knows, good training does elicit tremendous performance improvements for athletes, but in no way do workouts designed for rehabbing injured athletes, or workouts of stretching routines, have any positive carryover to the field. Many of the baseball athletes who have started with us came from wasting precious years performing physical therapy workouts, only to end up with flat velocity year after year.
3) The road to improvement
While genetics is the main precursor for pitching velocity and success, there are however effective means for boosting velo for the non-gifted. It’s this simple: If you’re not one of the 6’3” long armed gumby’s, you’d better build some serious horsepower from head to toe, or you will not be long for the sport. And critically, it must be built in a way that does not place additional stress on the throwing shoulder. There’s many exercises that we simply do not do for pitchers, not out of bias, but because they aren’t safe choices. With the amount of stress that is naturally put on the arm by throwing a baseball maximally, it always surprises me that pitchers are then so negligent as to add to the stress on their arm by back squatting with a straight bar; performing Olympic lifts (notorious for shoulder and wrist issues for any population); overhead pressing; and benching high intensity with a full ROM, amongst others. There are always exceptions, and I’m sure some pitchers have regularly done these exercises without an injury; but for the vast majority they are contributors to an injury incident. It’s similar to deadlifting with a rounded lower back: you may get away with it for awhile, and maybe you’re the exception; but if you’re not, a herniated disc is a life changer. The most important thing we do for our pitchers besides improving their power is that each has a set of individualized exercises they perform for arm health.
One of the things that distinguish baseball kids is they all have lofty hopes and dreams. But what causes most to be out of the sport at 18 and 22 years old is they don’t realize that if they aren’t gifted with talent or physical anomalies conducive to baseball, they will need to put in consistent, intelligent hard work to improve physically to bridge the gap. Otherwise they will be added to the sad pantheon of athletes who look back at their playing days, and wish they would’ve done more to achieve their dreams.