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Driveline’s Pitching Research Homepage

Baseball Reviews

Research on a variety of baseball content including performance

Ball Speed and Release Consistency Predict Pitching Success in Major League Baseball

Authors: Whiteside, David; Martini, Douglas N.; Zernicke, Ronald F.; Goulet, Grant C.

This study aimed to quantify which metrics could best predict pitching success. The study included 190 pitchers. They took one hundred fastballs, changeups, curveballs and sliders to analyze for each pitcher for a total of 400 pitches.

The regression model used found that pitch speed, release-location consistency, variation in pitch speed, and horizontal-release location were significant predictors of Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). Yet those factors only explain 24% of the variance of FIP.

Pitch speed was a significant predictor that explained 10.4% of the variance of FIP. Based on the regression model, a 1% increase in pitch speed produced a 2.3% improvement in FIP. This suggests that, of the metrics analyzed, increasing pitch speed may be the most beneficial factor in improving performance. Of course, it is also believed that increased pitch speed also comes with greater loads on the arm.

Release-location variability of all four pitches was significantly correlated to FIP. Suggesting that throwing all pitches from the same release point, paired with an increasing pitch speed, should be main focuses of training.

Variation in pitch speed, the speed difference between a pitcher’s fastballs and offspeed throws, was another significant predictor of FIP. Interestingly, pitch-speed variation did not significantly correlate with FIP in any of the individual pitch types, which suggests that the pitch-speed difference should be examined over a pitcher’s whole repertoire, not individually.

A more pronounced horizontal-release location was also a predictor of FIP. The reasoning for this is unclear, but in theory this would suggest that lower-arm slots, like sidearm pitchers, have lower FIPs. Another reason could be that sidearm pitchers are more rare, but both are purely speculative.

Anthrompometric and Performance Comparisons in Professional Baseball Players

Authors: Hoffman, Jay R; Vazquez, Jose; Pichardo, Napoleon; Tenebaum, Gershon

This study assessed 343 professional baseball players for height, weight, body composition, grip strength, vertical jump power, 10-yd sprint speed, and agility. The playing levels ranged from MLB to Rookie ball, and all testing was done at the beginning of spring training.

Rookie- and A-ball players were significantly leaner and had lower lean-body mass than AA, AAA, or MLB players. Grip strength was higher in MLB and AAA than in Rookie and A ball. AAA reported the highest grip strength. Significant correlations were seen between grip strength and home runs, total bases and slugging percentage.

MLB players were faster than all other levels (.03-.07 secs faster). MLB players had higher vertical-jump measures than AA, A, and Rookie ball (.3-1.1 inches higher).

No significant differences were found in vertical-jump height, but MLB players had significantly greater peak and mean jump power than players in lower levels.

No significant differences were found in vertical jump height but MLB players had significantly greater peak and mean jump power than players in lower levels.

Regression analysis revealed that performance measures accounted for 25-31% of the variance in baseball-specific power production. Anthropometric measures failed to add any additional explanation to the variance.

Effect of age on Anthropometric and Physical Performance Measures in Professional Baseball Players

Authors: Manquine, GT; Hoffman, JR; Fragala, MS; Vazquez, J; Krause, MC; Gillett, J; Pichardo, N

This study broke professional baseball players into 7 cohorts based on age (from under 20-35+) to compare how different physical and performance metrics changed between age brackets. Lower-body jump power, speed, agility, grip strength and body composition were all examined.

Players from age group 20-22 were significantly lighter than players in age group 23-31. In general, pitchers were heavier than position players. A significant correlation was seen between age and weight, but age only explains about 7% of the variability of body mass changes. Lean body mass only had a significant increase in players over 23, with peak LBM coming in ages 29-31.

No significant differences were found between age groups in the 10-yd sprint times. An 18% difference in grip strength was found between the lowest strength group (under 20) and peak strength (age 29-31).

Vertical jump was consistent between players under 20-28 and became significantly lower in athletes playing in their 30s. This primarily came from a reduction in vertical jump in pitchers as position players maintained their verticals. This being said, there has been little evidence of a strong relationship between vertical-power and vertical-jump measures and pitching performance. It’s more likely that pitchers, as they age, rely more on pitching specific skills than any one performance measure.

The researchers do note an important caution at the end of the research paper. This was a cross-sectional study, not a longitudinal study examining the same players over the course of their careers. Results in this case will be influenced by genetics and skill.

Relationship between Shoulder and Elbow Isokinetic Peak Torque, Torque Acceleration Energy, Average Power, and Total Work and Throwing Velocity in Intercollegiate Pitchers (Open Access)

Authors: Pawlowski, David; Perrin, David H

These researchers wanted to see if there was a relationship between strength and power of certain muscles and velocity. Data collection occurred using isokinetic testing using a Cybex II isokinetic dynamometer.

Shoulder flexion/extension, shoulder internal/external rotation, elbow flexion and extension were tested at speeds of 60 and 240 degrees/second. Ten pitchers were tested for peak torque (PT), torque acceleration energy (TAE), average power (AP) and total work (TW).

For shoulder internal rotation at 240 deg/sec, significant correlations were found between throwing velocity and PT, TAE, AP, and TW. Significant correlations were also found between throwing velocity and shoulder external rotation (240 deg/sec), PT, AP, and TW. Interestingly enough, no significant correlations were found between throwing velocity and shoulder internal/external rotator muscle groups at 60 deg/sec.

The results of the study do not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship. But they do suggest specificity of exercise for training shoulder internal- and external-rotator muscle groups. The study also points out that the speed that throwing a ball occurs at approximately 9,000 deg/sec, so isokinetic measurements at faster speeds (240 deg/sec) may better represent testing that relates to throwing velocity.

Relationships between ball velocity and throwing mechanics in Collegiate Baseball Pitchers

This study wanted to investigate between pitching mechanics and how they related to throwing velocity. 54 pitchers were included (34 right handed pitchers and 20 left handed pitchers) from NCAA and  NAIA schools. 26 body landmarks were tracked and the researchers looked only at the three fastest fastballs thrown for strikes.

The researchers found 10 variables that ended up accounting for 68% of the variance in ball velocity. They were: body weight, time from stride foot contact (SFC) to max external rotation (MER), knee flexion at SFC, elbow angle at SFC, length of time the head stayed behind the hips, maximum shoulder external rotation, maximum upper trunk rotation speed, peak elbow extension angular velocity, knee flexion at ball release and forward trunk tilt at ball release.

The average ball velocity of the 54 pitchers was 79 MPH. It would be interesting to see if these findings stood up with pitchers throwing at higher velocities (90 MPH). As pitchers get to elite velocities (85+) there is a good chance that the importance of different variables would change.

It’s also interesting that those 10 variables only accounted for 68% of variance of velocity was accounted for. Leaving an open question for what measurables could make up the other 32%.

Baseball Athletic Test: A Baseball-Specific Test Battery

Authors: Spaniol, Frank J.

This researcher examined current baseball literature to create a baseball-specific testing protocol by referencing body composition, flexibility, muscular strength, leg power, rotational power, agility, running speed, throwing velocity and bat speed studies.

This study is a great collection of data that creates an easy reference point for any coach who wants to compare measures of players of different ages and abilities by specifically comparing high school, NAIA, and D1 athletes.

Relationship Between grip, pinch strength and Anthropometric Variables, types of pitch throwing among Japanese High School Baseball Pitchers (Open Access)

133 high school pitchers participated in the study where grip strength and pinch grip strength were measured using a digital dynamometer. The researchers hypothesized that frequency of pitch types in pitchers would be influenced by grip and pinch strength measurements. The theory being that pitchers who are stronger in certain grip positions would then have a higher frequency of certain offspeed pitches thrown.

Grip Strength, tip, and palmar pinch strength and muscle mass of upper extremity of the pitchers dominant side were statistically greater than those of the non-dominant side. But key pinch strength of the non-dominant side was greater than dominant side.

The researchers found no significant correlation between throwing ratio of difference pitches and grip strength of tip, key or palmar pinch.
Additional research should be pursued in older populations to see if the results change or if there are any additional findings.

Contributing Factors for Increased Bat Swing Velocity

This is an excellent review of forty abstracts, papers and books of what training methods have been investigated for improving baseball and softball swing velocity.

Research on improving bat speed, using weighted bats in the on-deck circle and using under and overweight bats is included. The review also investigated whether significant relationships could be found between different strength and power metrics or resistance training and bat swing velocity.

Specific training with under and overweight bats was found to improve bat velocity, bat velocity will also increase with resistance training programs. Players with the greatest bat swing and batted-ball velocities had more lean body mass, greater strength and power.
There was a mix of conclusions in the literature of the importance of grip strength but the researchers concluded that additional forearm and grip exercises do not contribute to increase bat velocity.

The Role of Pelvis and Thorax Rotation Velocity in Baseball Pitching

Using marker sets on the thorax (upper body) and pelvis, the researchers studied amateur players too see how rotation velocity affected throwing velocity.

The researchers found that maximal pelvis and thorax rotation velocity, by themselves, were not associated with throwing velocity. However, the researchers did find a relationship between separation and velocity. Separation was defined as the gap of time between maximum pelvis rotational velocity and thorax rotational velocity.

The difference between peak velocities is incredibly small. The researchers believe that an increase in separation between peak velocities by 10 ms on average would increase throwing velocity by 1 mph.

Another interesting note is that the average rotation velocity profile of all eight pitchers had peak velocities before front-foot contact. Whether there is a larger difference between high and low velocity throwers is unknown.

On-the-Field–Resistance-Tubing Exercises for Throwers: An Electromyographic Analysis (Open Access)

This study investigated the  activity of various shoulder musculature while performing rubber-tubing exercises. The subscapularis, supraspinatus, teres minor, and rhomboid major were measured with indwelling electromyography. The sternal portion of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, middle deltoid, latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior, biceps brachii, triceps brachii, lower trapezius, and infraspinatus muscles were assessed using surface electromyography measurements.

Fifteen athletes performed the following exercises: shoulder extension, shoulder flexion, internal-humeral rotation at 90 degrees of abduction, external-humeral rotation at 0 degree of abduction, internal-humeral rotation at 90 degrees of abduction, external-humeral rotation at 90 degrees of abduction, high-, middle-, and low-scapular rows, scapular punches, throwing acceleration, and throwing deceleration.

The study didn’t aim to conclude which exercises were best for specific muscles; rather, it sought to conclude which exercises facilitated the greatest activation in the most muscles.

Seven exercises resulted in at least moderate activation (>20% of MVIC) of all muscles tested: shoulder extension, shoulder flexion, throwing deceleration, throwing deceleration, external-humeral rotation at 90 degrees of abduction, scapular punches, and either high- or low-scapular rows.

Pectoralis Minor Contracture in Throwing Shoulders of Asymptomatic Adolescent Baseball Players (Open Access)

This study investigated further adaptations to throwing in youth athletes, specifically the length of the pectoralis minor (PM). Because of the way the muscle attaches to the scapula, shortening of the PM can change the position of the scapula and its range of motion. The authors hypothesized that the PM would be shorter in the throwing shoulder when compared to the non-throwing shoulder.

Participants were between 14-18 years old, had played organized baseball for at least one year, and had no pain in either shoulder. All 49 participants were from one baseball-training facility. Pectoralis-minor length was measured supine, sitting at rest, and sitting with the shoulder in maximal external rotation.

The study found that baseball players have significant differences in PM length and static scapular measurements in their throwing shoulders when compared to their non-throwing shoulders. While it is not known what the exact clinical significance of this is, it is enough reason to encourage athletes to include stretching of the PM in their routines.

Early Sport Specialization: Effectiveness and Risk of Injury in Professional Baseball Players

One-hundred and two current professional baseball players of the Atlantic League completed an anonymous seven-question survey. It asked if they specialized in baseball prior to high school and how many surgeries they had as a professional and high schooler that required them to sit out a year.

Sport specialization was defined as “intense, year-round training in a single sport with the exclusion of other sports.”

Of all 102 athletes, 48% (50 athletes) stated that they had specialized in baseball at an early age, with the mean age being 8.91 years old (3.7 SD). Those who specialized early reported more serious injuries during their professional baseball career than those who did not. However, the study did not find a relationship between specialization and youth injury.

While there isn’t a straightforward link between early sports specialization and success or injury, there will always be multiple variables at play. If athletes do choose to specialize in any sport, they should make sure that they take adequate time off during the year.