I’ve seen it more times than I can count – a coach is working with a pitcher, showing him a mechanical technique or something to focus on in today’s bullpen workout, and after a few pitches to the backstop, the coach yanks out the dreaded radar gun and says “Let’s get some velocity readings!”
The kid tenses up and starts muscling the ball up there, losing all focus of what he was supposed to work on. His velocity drops like a rock and the coach starts reminding him about “staying tall” or whatever mechanical cue he issued at the beginning of the workout.
Your end result? A wasted pitching lesson and a sense of frustration from both the coach and the pitcher in question.
It can get worse, too. Using the radar gun on younger pitchers who are highly competitive can cause injury. By getting them on a mound to throw their very hardest, you expose them to a lot of stress on the arm they may or may not be ready for.
Sure, we use a radar gun in our Pitching Program when our athletes are throwing bullpens. However, I make it clear before it ever comes out of the bag that we’re only using a radar gun to get their entry velocities as a starting point – and that like anything else, we hope to see improvement down the line. Just like you would not try to squat 300 pounds if you were only able to capably handle 200 lbs on the bar, you wouldn’t try to throw the ball 90 mph if you are only sitting 78 mph. There’s nothing wrong with that! The whole point of training is to have some accountability in the form of a log so you can continually improve across all the skills you’re developing, like strength (1RM in squat and deadlift), speed (60 yard dash time, 20 yard shuttle time), power (vertical leap / broad jump distance), and finally, sport-specific raw measurements (fastball velocity, bat speed).
Don’t just bring out the radar gun for every bullpen and hope to see them light it up. It’s more likely that your athlete will set an opening fastball velocity and continue to improve if you put him on a good workout program – but only over time! If you have a pitcher that comes in at 71 mph, he may be as low as 65 mph on bad days and as high as 77 mph on other days.
As long as that trend line is going up, something is going right. Don’t sweat the session to session results – it’s all about the long-term development of the athlete.