Understanding Internal Motivation – Driveline Baseball’s History

On occasion, this blog can get a bit too heady with the science jargon and lack of personal feel, and I don’t want it to turn into that. So today, instead of talking about the issues that typical players have, I’ll try to relate to you the challenges I’ve faced to show you that there are plenty of doubters and haters in all areas of the game.

When I first started Driveline Baseball, I had recently been fired as a coach at Roosevelt HS. I remember it fondly, because the head coach of the Varsity had gone 1-19 with his program and the Junior Varsity similarly only won a single game. Meanwhile, my assistant Jacob and I won nearly half of our games on the Freshman team despite the roster being gutted by the JV program. The reason given was: “I want to bring in more guys who played at a higher level.” Nice reasoning, considering how well that worked for the guys above me…

The first post to this site was in 2009. I smile when I read the quick blurb I wrote and marvel in the fact that it’s already been four and a half years – it seems like it was just yesterday, but it also reminds me of the fact that I started off in my North Seattle townhome garage, training a pair of high school athletes.

Power Cage: The Garage

The humble beginnings

While I worked during the day as a slave to a desk as a software developer, I read as much as I could on training – ordering books from Amazon, pilfering studies from PubMed, and iterating my training logs with the small group of kids I had (fewer than 5 at this point). It was a stroke of luck that my partner Jacob received a set of weighted baseballs from 4-11 oz. from Frozen Ropes incorrectly when he was trying to get a 2 lb. ball for drills we had integrated into our throwing program. At this point in my life, I hadn’t thought much about weighted balls in that range of weight, but I decided to give them a test run. I could go into massive detail on the free study groups I ran and research groups I had to herd, but suffice to say the results were so good that we eventually became well-known for that kind of training and eventually designed and had our own types of weighted balls manufactured.

At about this time, my pitching mechanics blog (Driveline Mechanics) had been shut down by SB Nation because I had stopped updating it. Some readers loved what I did, but many others hated me, resorting to pretty mean insults and accusations that I had never studied biomechanics in college and had never played the game, so I was a nobody – a fraud. I had lost faith in what I was writing and let the crowd get to me – it would be the last time I would let this happen. Interestingly enough, at least one company out there plagiarized my hypotheses and now sells draft analysis services based on my writings from 5+ years ago – with no change in philosophy.

Our First Facility

We had a small breakthrough in 2010, moving our meager equipment into the North Seattle Batting Cages and partnering with their organization. Our weight room was the size of a chicken coop, about 10 feet x 20 feet, but we trained hard and loved it all the same.

GHR / Back Extension

Despite being listed as a coach on the facility website, I was overlooked – constantly. I had never played professional baseball and my last gig was being fired as a coach of a bad high school team, and we hadn’t yet turned out any athletes. The first guy to 90 MPH was Joe Marsh; I remember it like it was yesterday. I couldn’t believe that we had finally done it, yet I still had people telling me I would amount to nothing. All the while I was doing this (and losing money, mind you), I was working my full-time job during the day, which I really despised. But I needed that money to feed my family, and with a son on the way, I couldn’t afford to straight up lose money full-time.

At this point, I knew I would have to partner with a larger facility with an established base of players to expand. Through the help of one of my Internet fans (whose son now trains with me), I ended up becoming the head trainer at RIPS Baseball in 2012.

RIPS Baseball – Lessons Learned

RIPS Baseball

RIPS Baseball

I worked at RIPS Baseball and helped them move facilities from 2012-2013, meeting a way more serious group of baseball players. Some of my training ideas were well-accepted, though others were not. One of the parents of the athletes encouraged me to manufacture my own line of weighted baseballs, which ended up becoming an incredible success and was the cornerstone of the Driveline Baseball Online Shop. However, it was here that I started to meet coaches who stopped necessarily ignoring me and started actively undermining our business.

Driveline Baseball started to attract better and better talent, including athletes like Michael Fairchild (Asuza Pacific University) and Chris Carns (Decatur HS, committed to Seattle University), both RIPS Baseball players. Michael increased his top fastball velocity to 93 MPH and Chris touched 92 MPH while training with me (neither train with me at the time of this writing), and word started to spread – yet all the while, doubters shifted their attack from “it doesn’t work” to “Kyle will hurt kids arms.”

The last statement really hurt me. I had suffered very painful arm injuries while pitching in my past, and I knew that if I was to coach athletes, that injury prevention HAD to be at the top of mind for everything we did. When our first athlete suffered a shoulder injury (sidelined him for six weeks), I invited his Physical Therapist to visit my training facility and evaluate what we did. He was incredibly impressed by all the detail we took in screening athletes and trying to keep them healthy! He did give us some great ideas moving forward; ideas that persist today.

When Trevor Bauer (Indians), Jack McGeary (Dodgers), and Ryan Chapman (Mets) flew to Seattle to work with me, the reaction from my fellow coaches was not one of happiness for me, but rather jealousy and confusion. “Why would these professional athletes work with him,” they no doubt thought.

Pro Studying

What we did – and still do today – is so different from the paths that other coaches take that they simply cannot process it in their minds. I make no excuses for this and I will not apologize. Simply put: Our results are better than theirs, and this is the ultimate source of frustration for them.

Given that reaction, I knew I had to find my own place, because the acrimony was reaching new levels.

Our Own Place

After being ousted from RIPS Baseball, I interviewed with Mike Brooks at the NW Sports Center in Puyallup, WA, and eventually struck a deal to take some unused upstairs space. Our business was still breaking even – at best – so we couldn’t afford much, but Darren Larson (owner) and Mike worked with me and we figured it out. It was this move that absolutely skyrocketed our business potential.

Biomechanics Lab

No longer hamstrung by fellow coaches and bureaucracy, my research took off. My biomechanics lab became fully functional, I installed a synchronized four-camera system to analyze pitching mechanics with the click of a mouse, I got EMG sensors to evaluate training efficiency of our exercises, and most of all, the results continued to accelerate. Through it all, clients that I thought were fiercely loyal would abandon me, coaches in this facility would look up at our training space and tell their kids to never visit me, and high school coaches would hold vendettas against my players because they simply feared what they did not know – and ultimately, they were scared that a 30-year old could gain so much traction so quickly in their hotbed of baseball talent – the South Puget Sound League.

The release of The Dynamic Pitcher – the elite book on training youth pitchers – was incredibly successful, blowing all my expectations out of the water in the first two weeks of sales.

I started consulting with an MLB organization after a year of negotiations and also started consulting for a major Pac-12 baseball program which leads many categories in pitching as I write this blog post. Players across all levels love the program that I design for them, even if their teammates think they are weird.

So, what’s the message? All of my successes have been born out of a process of iteration – constantly hypothesizing, testing, evaluating, and beginning the cycle anew. The haters from five years ago are no longer around, and even if they are, I feel no need to hunt them down and shove their nose in my success. The last point is why I am often called an “anti-motivational” speaker; I believe that if you are in need of YouTube motivational videos or enemies to prove wrong, you will never be successful.

I got into this business after reading Moneyball, like so many other baseball nerds. But what I took from the book was far more powerful and far more spiritual than simply understanding the value of walks and seeing the beauty of sabermetrics (which I love, for the record). No, what brought me to tears and frustrated me to no end was reading Scott Hatteberg’s chapter – the fact that this big league player was nearly erased from history without getting a second chance despite his obviously useful toolkit. For every Scott Hatteberg, I reasoned, there must be so many more that fall through the cracks without a real chance at developing as a big league baseball player.

I know for a fact that we can help pitchers who have fallen by the wayside or who never got their careers started on the right foot – the results speak for themselves. However, most of organized baseball does not see it this way. And what drives me is the knowledge that this Holy Grail of Pitching Development – turning non-prospects into prospects, restoring the life of a former big league arm, and developing amateur talent – is attainable in my lifetime, and that I could really change the game of baseball.

Like Brad Pitt channeling Billy Beane said in the movie adaptation of Moneyball:

I’m not in it for a record, I’ll tell you that. I’m not in it for a ring. That’s when people get hurt.

Will I rejoice if the college team I work for wins the NCAA National Championship? Of course, I will probably throw some stuff around the office in joy. And if the MLB team I consult for wins the World Series with some of the pitchers that I helped develop, I will be incredibly happy.

But I didn’t get into the game to win a championship. I got into the game to change it. And so my advice to all the struggling high school, college, and pro players who can’t seem to find their way in this game (and it’s easy for that to happen given the quality of coaching out there), I leave you with this: You don’t play this game for the haters, your dumb coaches, the scouts who don’t like you. You play this game to iterate, to get better every single day, to become a better version of yourself every time you look at yourself in the mirror. In my experience, when you focus internally on why you got into this game and why you want to continue in it, great things eventually happen. Do not let others dictate your future, no matter how unorthodox your methods may be.

I leave you with a truly anti-motivational quote that I like to use from time to time when I am feeling particularly negative towards this game:

The average man will die, will not have a Wikipedia entry, and no one will remember him because he has done nothing notable with his life. So why let these men affect what you do?

Is Your Coach Responsible for Your Arm Injury?

I’ve often said in the past that elbow injuries (specifically UCL tears) are due to microscopic fraying of the ligament due to a variety of factors – poor mechanics, improper warm-up, poor fitness, etc –  that eventually cause a partial or full rupture of the ligament, thereby destabilizing the elbow and requiring either length rehabilitation or corrective surgery. While this method is widely accepted as being true, there certainly exist acute injuries to the UCL requiring surgery that have nothing to do with chronic fraying of the ligament. Some examples include:

  • Falling on an outstretched arm in an unusual position that stretches or tears the ligament
  • Trauma to the arm in football or another contact/combat sport
  • Weight training accident that subjects the elbow to extreme valgus
  • Throwing a ball from an unstable surface (this is how Josh Outman tore his ligament while pitching)

However, there is another method that can cause acute UCL tears – improper warm-up. And coaches who don’t warm-up their pitchers properly are to blame.

Activation of the Forearm is Vital

In Dynamic contributions of the flexor-pronator mass to elbow valgus stability (2004 Park, Ahmad – link), the researchers understood that “Previous studies have indicated that the demands placed on the medial ulnar collateral ligament of the elbow when it is subjected to valgus torque during throwing exceed its failure strength, which suggests the necessary dynamic contribution of muscle forces.” So the researchers sought to test how the muscles of the pronator-flexor mass helped to counter valgus torque, eventually concluding that:

The flexor-pronator mass dynamically stabilizes the elbow against valgus torque. The flexor carpi ulnaris is the primary stabilizer, and the flexor digitorum superficialis is a secondary stabilizer. The pronator teres provides the least dynamic stability.

In fact, the FCU and the FDS provide up to 24% of the dynamic stability of the joint alone!

Flexor Carpi Ulnaris

Houston, We Have a Problem

So what does this have to do with coaches and warm-ups? The flexor carpi ulnaris (FCU) and flexor digitorum superficialis (FDS), alongside all the other muscles of the pronator-flexor mass that support the elbow, all need to be:

  • Strong and durable
  • Properly activated prior to competitive pitching

Every good training program for throwing should address pronator-flexor mass strength and durability through a variety of exercises and movements, ranging from sport-specific (wrist weights / overload training), to the weight room (deadlifts / rows / pull-ups / direct grip work), to the passive (manual therapy / Marc Pro therapy). Of course, this is strike one for most coaches, since few have a decent background in sports science. Try pulling out a copy of the highly influential research paper cited above and see if your high school coach has read it – or even knows what the pronator-flexor mass even is. At least your trainer and pitching coach can address this issue on the side, so that negative effect can be mostly countered.

However, the second part can’t be stopped by your independent pitching coach or trainer. The strength and durability of the dynamic stabilizers of the elbow (and the shoulder, but that’s another blog post) don’t work very well if they aren’t activated prior to competitive pitching. That means all pitchers need to warm-up properly, especially in the cold months of the high school baseball season – and doubly so if the athlete has a propensity for poor bloodflow in the first place! (Very common in long limbed athletes, and again, not something your average high school coach ever stops to think about.)

If the dynamic stabilizers of a joint are not properly activated, the risk of injury skyrockets, and performance usually suffers as a result.

So yes, your coach can be VERY responsible for acute injuries to your UCL, but there’s just one problem with that – he is NOT going to suffer the consequences. You are. You will be the one on the surgeon’s table legging out a 6-12 month rehabilitation program, saddled with thousands of dollars of medical debt, in no small part due to your coach simply not being up to date on the current research on arm injuries – or not executing a plan to fully prepare his athletes for competition.

You have to take your arm health into your own hands – and if that means having a meeting with the coach or escalating the issue up the chain, then so be it. No high school pitcher should have to take a stand on this issue, but if high school coaches continue to put their athletes in harm’s way (and I unfortunately see way too much of this), then it leaves the athlete and his parents without a lot of options.

How to Protect Your Curveball

I was recently in Spring Training with the MLB team I consult with, watching a few pitchers throw, when a Pitching Coordinator came over and remarked to another pitching coach that pitchers need to throw high fastballs to protect their curveball. I asked the coordinator to expand on his statement, and he explained the tunneling theory of keeping the high fastball in the same tunnel as the middle/low curveball to increase deception – that fastballs located outside of the tunnel can’t adequately “protect” the deception of a pitch with a hump in it.

As most know, I’m on board with tunneling theory, and we teach it all the time at Driveline Baseball:

Drew Rasmussen Overlay

However, I have never heard it referred to as “protecting your curveball.” I loved it! The phrase makes complete intuitive sense, and the pitchers on the MLB staff in question loved the idea and immediately grasped the concept. This is huge, because we in the nerd/sabermetric community tend to overcomplicate concepts for fear of diluting their meaning – however, simplifying the truth is possibly the most important gap to bridge when it comes to applicable use on the field.

Of course, this phenomenon had already been discussed by my former co-writer, Josh Kalk…

Ted Lilly and High Fastballs

Josh Kalk wrote about how he theorized Ted Lilly threw below-average fastballs up in the zone to protect his curveball in an outstanding Hardball Times article – Pitch sequence: High fastball, low curveball. In the article, Josh illustrated the difference between a fastball that protects a curveball:

Protected FB / CB

And a curveball that is so far outside the fastball’s tunnel that pitch recognition becomes much easier:

Average FB CB

Tons of words can be written on pitch tunneling (and will be in my upcoming book!), but this is a great graphical representation of the pitch tunneling theory as well as a bitesize phrase – “protect the curveball” – that makes a lot of sense!

Compression Wrapping the Pitcher’s Elbow

Latest video just went up – understanding how we use compression wrapping of the pitcher’s elbow in our post-throwing recovery protocol!

Get the stuff here: