Pitchers at all levels can lose fastball velocity – the meal ticket – over a season and wonder to themselves: What’s the deal? If you’re one of those pitchers who is seeing a drop in velocity despite no mechanical changes and no apparent injury, I have a very simple answer for you: You don’t work hard enough in-season.
Consider what Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez does to prepare for his starts during the MLB season:
He’s special in that he plays long toss every day, and it’s not even the normal long toss. It’s almost an extreme long toss. He probably throws the baseball about 280 to 300 feet. For the most part you see guys go out — the longer guys — 200 feet, maybe 225 feet. In his case, he throws the ball with a lot of height — he really gets a lot of air under it — and what he’s accomplishing is not only strength, but also extension. It’s a bit far, but hey, you can’t argue with the success he’s had.
If you want to reach your ceiling for fastball velocity, you need to throw a LOT of fastballs. This concept doesn’t seem hard to understand, but it’s often overlooked by pitching coaches in an attempt to “protect” a pitcher’s arm. I’ve seen recommendations on baseball forums to not lift weights the day after you pitch and not to throw too much in-season to conserve the bullets in the arm. This logic is exactly backwards, and it leads to more arm-related injuries and decreases in effectiveness/velocity rather than protecting a pitcher.
Human physiology doesn’t work the way the proponents of “rest” think it does. Humans have the amazing capacity to adapt to many different types and frequencies of stress. Pitchers should gradually throw more and more frequently and with more volume as they can tolerate it, and ideally should be throwing a baseball six days per week – including in-season work – to develop the necessary fitness and endurance to compete at the highest level.
Throwing – not pitching – more frequently does many good things:
- Conditions and develops the structures in the pitching arm
- Helps the developing pitcher work on his mechanics to feel the changes necessary to throw harder
- Aids in improving control
If all you do as a pitcher is throw one bullpen session and one start per five days, you’re missing out on development opportunities to improve.
You must learn to throw the ball before you can adequately pitch it, and you can’t develop that ability without throwing in a non-competitive situation – and this includes bullpen sessions.