05
28
2014

Handling a Loaded Gun – Dealing with High-Velocity Pitchers

Matt Harvey. Jose Fernandez. Stephen Strasburg. Jameson Taillon. Lucas Giolito.

Those are just a few of the young fireballers in recent history who have had serious elbow issues. Pundits are quick to blame a whole rash of things – showcases, travel ball, an emphasis on velocity, pitching mechanics, and so many other topics. Teams come out of the woodwork and say how responsible they were in handling a young prospect, limiting his pitch counts and innings pitched in a season as if those are heavily predictive of a pitcher’s propensity for injury (they aren’t) and to shout to everyone: “We’re doing our job to keep them healthy – it’s really just a mix of bad luck and abuse as a youth pitcher that are causing the problems!”

Lucas Giolito

I’m not buying it. With a growing list of professional pitchers that we work with (as well as organizations we’ve done consulting work for), we know for a fact that the vast majority of modalities that can help keep a pitcher healthy are underexplored or totally ignored in professional baseball.

For example, a baseball team could collect tons of proprietary data on pitchers by installing a four-to-six camera system using off-the-shelf high-speed cameras and custom software to study the pitching mechanics of their guys as well as all of their opponents. From the qualitative data (discounting the real possibility of true on-the-fly markerless biomechanical analysis), studies could be performed to test the predictive power of certain angles and kinematics expressed in the delivery. If nothing else, this treasure trove of data would prove to be useful for the organization’s pitching coaches.

Additionally, studying recovery ability of pitchers is not something that is well-accepted at the professional level. There is a significant amount of training done to help strengthen the shoulder and rotator cuff, and as a result professional baseball is seeing fewer and fewer debilitating injuries to the scapular-shoulder complex. However, there has been a rash of elbow injuries that have been skyrocketing in recent years, and much of this has to do with the fact that little public research has been done on protecting the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). There exist strong markers for elbow fitness that can be done both in-game and between games to judge the fitness level of the pitcher’s lower arm to see what the propensity for injury may be. Additionally, few (if any) teams have a good elbow strengthening program that helps to ingrain less stressful pitching mechanics without overt focus on changing the pitcher’s mechanical pattern – the ability to increase the fitness of the muscles that help dynamically stabilize the elbow while simultaneously tweaking a pitcher’s mechanics to reduce valgus stress would be a very useful tool indeed.

By handing professional baseball a bunch of very hard-throwing young pitchers, we are giving them the ability to get more guys out and to produce massive surplus value in pre-arbitration years. However, it’s like handling a loaded gun without knowledge of how to safely use it and how to care for the maintenance of the weapon. Is it any surprise that we see more and more injuries as a result?

Comment
6
Mark

Great post Kyle. In light of the money lost from elbow injuries, it is hard to believe the apparent lack of research by individual
teams, their medical/training staffs and/or MLB as a whole as to how the ulnar collateral ligament can best be protected. One would think that there would be a willingness to explore all potential possibilities.

I

drivelinekyle

“One would think that there would be a willingness to explore all potential possibilities.”

Ah, you would think so!

“In your view, what are those markers?”

Can’t give away the farm for free, right? :) Suffice to say we’ve done a bunch of research on this and we’re really excited about the potential screening options as a result.

Chez Angeloni

Another great post! It boggles my mind that despite all the craze about TJ injuries teams have not invested heavily in organizational high speed video capture and analysis. It is negligent, no doubt, and quite ironic. The NFL is ahead of the MLB in the sports science department. I think of Chip Kelly and The Philadelphia Eagles with their “unorthodox” emphasis on rest, recovery and practice methods as the game changes over from a power run dominant game to a speed and finesse game. NFL teams are hooking their players up to heart rate variability monitors during training sessions to determine peak performance and recovery trends. The smart organizations are adapting fast. Similarly, in baseball there are organizations that are beginning to take a more progressive view of their player development process. High speed video capture is a readily available practice and the fact that it is still on the shelf for most teams is highly disturbing. On a positive note, I love the fact that the private player development sector in baseball is setting the example. Outside of affiliated baseball pitcher X can seek out more personally tailored and progressive training modalities than any organization in MLB can provide them with. A 14U pitcher at The Driveline facility can throw with the confidence that his training regiment is objectively “better” than the daily training routines of Felix Hernandez. The only issue is that MLB organizations have the built in framework to affect the most elite throwers. When MLB teams start to figure things out, we will enter a new era of player development.

~insert Marshall troll comment below

PS in this new era of player development I would love to see a wave of elite athletes train in the Marshall delivery for the duration of their careers and reach the pinnacle of the game. This can only be good for the game. Competition, much like intent in the throw, irons out inefficiency.

drivelinekyle

Chez:

Great to hear from you, as always!

“NFL teams are hooking their players up to heart rate variability monitors during training sessions to determine peak performance and recovery trends.”

Would that something like that exist in MLB – for the arm as well! (We think we have a good protocol for it, of course!)

” in this new era of player development I would love to see a wave of elite athletes train in the Marshall delivery for the duration of their careers and reach the pinnacle of the game.”

I know it was a troll comment but I’d actually love to see this as well. I am a very Marshall-friendly training facility, and any pitcher who wants to work out at my facility and just use our wrist weights and heavy balls for Marshall protocols is more than welcome :)

Kansas City Baseball Vault: Dejection, Losing, and Pitching Injury Insight with Kevin Scobee | Royals Podcast Network

[…] High Velocity Pitchers and injury prevention from Kyle Boddy at Driveline Baseball. […]

Kansas City Baseball Vault: Dejection, Losing, and Pitching Injury Insight with Kevin Scobee

[…] High Velocity Pitchers and injury prevention from Kyle Boddy at Driveline Baseball. […]

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