Yet another offseason is upon us, meaning now is the time to rest—or to put in the work that will take you to the next level. Offseason training—specifically taking time off from throwing—has been a popular target of conversation in baseball circles forever.
For professional pitchers, in particular, it’s easy to lose sight of how long the season is, which also means it’s easy to forget how short the offseason is. While highly skilled pitchers may look to take more time off in the offseason, many others are fighting for jobs and need to see an increase in one or multiple skills to continue their careers.
Such high stakes make the decisions around how long to rest versus train in the offseason incredibly important. While we’ve previously discussed all of the pieces of an offseason training program, here we are going to talk about the consequences of time.
Before we get too far, however, we need to emphasize a few things. First, a professional offseason is different from an amateur offseason. It isn’t one size fits all. And for good reason—amateurs tend to need more rest than professionals.
Types of Off-Season Training Phases
Next, we need to discuss how you can break up an offseason. At Driveline, we divide the offseason into several phases.
- On-Ramping: Going from a period of no or very low volume of throwing to high intent throwing (throwing at 100% effort)
- Velocity: Time spent pushing boundaries, scheduled throwing at 100% effort
- Mound Blending: Time getting used to the mound
- Mound Development: Pitch design, command work, or bullpens getting ready for the season
These training phases make up all offseasons. Picture each phase in two to six-week blocks. With roughly five months to work with during the professional offseason (October to February if you don’t make the playoffs), every player has approximately 20 weeks of development time.
As you’ll soon see: time concerns often determine the schedule.
Where to Start with Off-Season Training
Always start training plans with the end in mind, or in other words, when a player needs to be 100% ready to throw off the mound. In this case, that means Spring Training, meaning pitchers end their offseason with a mound development phase. They may be tightening up a new pitch in live at-bats or seeing how their velocity gains play up. Either way, they’ll be on the mound ready to go.
Now that you’ve started at the end, you can go to the beginning and schedule an on-ramping phase. These are the two phases that will bookend 99% of offseason training programs. The remaining 1% represents the athletes who go straight from the season to training with no time off.
Every offseason will have the same bookends; what you can accomplish in between depends on one variable: time.
Since we know what will be at the start and the end of every offseason, let’s work backward from schedules with the most time off to those with the least to see what can be accomplished in each situation.
No Throw Until January
Not throwing until January only leaves enough time to prepare for the season. A pitcher may get a week or two off the mound before Spring Training, but not much more.
January: Four weeks of on-boarding
Late January/early February: One week of mound blending
February: One week of mound development
A general rule of thumb is the longer time off, the longer you may need to on-ramp back to 100% intensity. Meaning pitchers who don’t want to pick up a ball until January are more likely to spend their offseason preparing for the season, not developing a new skill.
No Throw Until December
This period leaves room for mound development work, such as pitch design but doesn’t leave room for any velocity work. Trying to squeeze in one to two weeks of velocity work with the impression of multiple MPH gains is shortsighted.
December: Four weeks of on-ramping
January: One week of mound blending then three weeks of mound development
February: One week of mound development
No Throw Until November
With this schedule, you can finally make some time for velocity work.
November: Four weeks of on-ramping
December: Three to four weeks of velocity work
January/February: Mound development
You might be able to shorten the on-ramp period by a week or so, but that depends on the athlete. Generally, the duration of the on-ramping period depends on how long the athlete has been away from throwing and their lowest hanging fruit.
If there are strength gains to be had, an extra week or two on-ramping on the throwing side while busting it in the weight room would be beneficial. In other cases, the pitcher may need more fine skill work, where he would be better suited to be throwing at high intent.
No Throw Until October
This is where we start to see what can be done with a full offseason of throwing, especially if a player needs improvement in multiple areas of the game.
October: Four weeks of on-ramping
November: Three weeks of on-ramping
December: Three weeks of velocity, one week of deload
January: Four weeks of mound development
February: One week of live at-bats
This schedule also gives the pitcher the most options. They may need an extended on-ramp to work on strength. Or if their strength is solid, they could fit in another 3-4 weeks of velocity development.
Remember: All Programming is Based on Need
To determine exactly what each athlete needs to work on in the time they have available, they need to assess. We recommend to all our professional athletes that they come out right after the season to assess before they shut down (if they plan to do so).
In any scenario above, if the player doesn’t assess right after the season, the player will need to wait until after their on-ramp to have a motion capture assessment. This leaves open the possibility of not working on low hanging fruit in the on-ramping, or no throw, period. Whether it’s a mobility, strength, or mechanics issue, you can’t work on something you don’t know is an issue.
The machine of baseball tends to chew up and spit players out, so time off after a season has as much mental value as it does physical. But depending on their needs, the time off players can, or should, take may vary significantly. Every year baseball is more competitive, which may be even more true with the upcoming changes to minor league baseball. Pitching is a very fine motor skill, and to get better at a very fine motor skill, you need to practice it.
By Michael O’Connell (@OC____)