How Big is He Now and How Big Will He Get?? – Taking Testing to the Next Level

What you will find below is a chapter from a rough draft of an e-book that I have been putting together.  The e-book will explore the subject of how we can use various athletic test’s to select and more importantly develop baseball players.   Based on my experience and the stats from my site this is a popular subject and I am very excited to get this e-book finished and out there for everyone to read.

I wanted to give everyone a “sneek peek” plus it has been a while since I have put out a new article.  There will be more previews to come I’m sure.

I hope you enjoy it and find it to be useful.  I welcome any and all feed back so that I can make the best e-book possible.

Thanks,

Graeme Lehman

How Big is He Now & How Big Will He Get??

From a purely athletic point of view the #1 thing that we are looking for when selecting a baseball player is their ability to produce power.  The kind of power that we want for throwing a baseball really hard can be produced in different ways which is why tall skinny guys can throw just as hard as shorter guys with more muscle.  We explored this subject when we discussed the concept of building “Athletic Profiles” based on each athletes results of their tests.

While there are a couple of different ways of producing these high levels of power the best way to increase power in the future is to get bigger and/or stronger.   So we will look at some tests and assessment which will measure specifically how big and strong an athlete is now and how much potential they have to get bigger and/or stronger in the future.

Getting Bigger means you might grow taller and have longer limbs/levers to produce more speed.  Get heavier means you will have more mass which you can use to create more force.  Getting stronger with the right type of training means you can move your mass (body weight) and your limbs faster creating more power which can lead to faster throwing velocities.

Seeing if an athlete has some room for growth or untapped power is huge because scouts and coaches are always trying to look for potential.   If we can get them bigger and/or stronger their ability to produce more power will automatically increase.

I am going to rattle off a bunch of other tests and assessments that I would run a baseball player through when evaluating their athletic ability.  Then I’ll rant about why I think it’s important without going into a ton and ton of detail because each one can be it’s own subject for article.  You will see a full list at the bottom of all the tests which wouldn’t take more than 5 minutes if you know what your doing and have experience.

You might think that this is too many tests but as long as I can get some good information I think they are worth it.  I think that any team that is going to be investing time, energy and/or money in a player would want to get as much valuable and useful information as possible.   

My criteria of knowing if an assessment or test is worth my time and effort is if it can provide me with:

  1. Results that can predict baseball playing ability
  2. Provide clues about how to better train each athlete

Some of these tests require either some equipment or skill in implementing in order to gather the information accurately which leads to the next point.  Because some of these tests are harder to implement the results that one person gets compared to another might be slightly different and as a result these types of tests don’t get used in research which means there isn’t much data out there to compare and rank players against.

That being said these tests are still very valuable.  If you build up your own data base as an organization with some standard protocols of how you do the tests the information that you gather can be used in both selecting a player and also designing them a customized program to improve their athletic ability to play baseball.

So here are my tests to see if a player can get bigger and stronger.  Let’s start with the bigger part.

How big is he and how big is he gonna get??

If someone is going to get bigger it would be because they got taller and/or heavier.

We know height and weight are important and there’s a lot of research to back that up. But if all we do is look at these two stats then we are missing the out on a lot of information.  Height and weight are just sum totals that we see on the surface but what makes up these totals can help use determine if a player has room for growth and if their height and/or weight can be used for increased throwing velocity.

If we peel back a couple more layers and dig deeper we can get some valuable info and that’s where we get into antropometrics which is just a fancy word that measures body size and portion.  Anytime a scout or coach says someone has a “big league body” or has a “good frame” they are talking about antropometrics from a very subjective point of view.  By measuring more than just height and weight we can get some really valuable and quantifiable information that can tell us exactly where a player is today but more importantly where a player might be in a couple of years.

Let’s look at height first.

How tall are they and how tall are they gonna be??

If you want to throw a baseball really hard it helps to have the right kind of levers and taller players have this advantage.  But be careful because some of the most valuable levers for throwing velocity don’t contribute to standing height so they would be missed if this was the only test.  For example there are some studies that have looked at other throwing sports (waterpolo, handball, cricket, javelin) that have found that specific physical attributes like arm span, forearm length and shoulder width were attributed to increased throwing velocity.

Simply measuring someone’s arm span while also making note of the forearm length and shoulder girth gives you a lot of great info. While your at it you can measure hand size which is another great attribute for throwing hard and creating spin.  Look at the picture below of Pedro Martinez and his disproportionately large hands!!!

pedro's handsSince I am already measuring hand size i might as well look at the length of the individual fingers to get some finger length ratio’s   There is a research about the specific ratio between finger lengths which can indicate natural levels of testosterone.  It has something to do with the amount of testosterone the fetus receives during pregnancy.  You don’t to know anything more than higher levels testosterone are a good thing when it comes to building muscle mass as well as one’s competitiveness.  How wouldn’t want someone that’s both muscular and competitive.

finger-ratio

While we are on the topic of ratio’s there are some other’s that also provide great info.

The arm span to standing height ratio is very important especially when looking at younger athletes.  The reason for this is because the limbs typically grow first so the larger the difference between the two heights (arm span>standing height) means that this player has more room for overall growth.

This ratio along with a seated to standing height ratio gives us an idea of how old this player is biologically rather than chronologically.  Chronological age is just based on how old someone is based purely on a calendar.  Biological age on the other
hand shows us how far along someone is in their maturation process.  Its estimated that up to 45% of adolescents are either “later bloomers” or “early bloomers” compared to their chronological age.  Its also been reported that the biological age can be up to three years different than the chronological age in either direction meaning a 15 year old can look like a kid anywhere between the ages of 12 and 18 based on their development.

seated

Scouts and coaches in the past have always looked at the players parents to subjectively guess what kind of growth potential there is while also making note of things like facial hair to see where a player is in their developmental timeline.  The seated vs standing height has some research to back it up to give it a more quantifiable and educated guess.  If you have that player’s previous height at 3,6 and 12 months ago you can get an even better idea as to where this player is on their growth cycle. 

This is becomes more important as you deal with younger and younger athletes.  Considering that College teams are starting to look at players as young as freshman in high school while MLB teams can sign international players when they are 16.5 years of age this kind of information can help you find those late bloomers.  

How much do they weigh? How much are they gonna weigh?

Taking into consideration how much someone weighs is more important than most people think when it comes to baseball.  Time and time again research has shown that those with higher body weights throw harder.

A lot of young baseball players simply aren’t heavy enough to produce the kind of power needed regardless of how much speed/velocity they can pump out.  There is a point of diminishing return when it comes to increase body weight and throwing velocity and that’s when someone can’t control their mass which usually means that too much of their body weight is composed of fat rather than muscle.

So ideally we want both body weight and body fat to be within a certain range.   To measure body fat and mass you could easily get a scale that does both. 

Here are some averages of pro players that have been published in the past.

Level and/or Age

Lbs

Kg

Body Fat%

Rookie Ball

202.5

92.0

12.0

“A”

202.5

92.0

12.4

“AA”

211.2

96.0

12.8

“AAA”

219.0

99.5

13.7

MLB

222.6

101.2

13.8

Pro (16-19yrs)

199.0

90.5

11.3

Pro (20-22yrs)

204.0

92.7

12.1

Pro   (23-25yrs)

211.0

95.9

12.9

Measuring body fat with the scale is quick and easy but it’s not that accurate (hydration levels can vary your results) and it doesn’t tell you where this athlete stores their body fat which is where body fat callipers come in to play.

caliper

This is a tool that does take some learning and practice in order to master not to mention the permission to pinch someone’s body fat.  The reason why you might care about where a player stores their body fat is because it might tell you something about their hormonal profile. 

This information is based on a lot more anecdotal rather than peer-reviewed research however there are a couple of papers that back this theory.   I’ve learnt about it from Charles Poliquin who refers to your fat distribution as your bio-signature.

bio sig

Higher levels of fat on your chest and triceps for example it is thought to indicate a suboptimal ratio of estrogen to testosterone since these are two locations where women tend to have more fat then men.  Fat around your belly button is also thought to indicate higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  The ratio of testosterone to cortisol is one of the best markers of performance and recovery is the exercise science world.

sites

Hormone analysis through either blood or saliva is the traditional way and is a lot more accurate and expensive.

Getting a player that has a bad hormone profile could mean that there is some area for improvement because if they can sort this out they will undoubtedly add muscle mass. Players that aren’t genetically gifted to have great hormone profiles in the first place will benefit from programs that are specially tailored to their unique needs which if your team can provide them with you would see an immediate return on your investment with a  better athlete.

Better training when combined with the right mixture of sleep, nutrition, mind set and supplements (legal ones) can help shift your body from a muscle burning and fat producing machine into fat burning muscle producing machine.  Click here to learn more about testosterone, growth hormone, cortisol and insulin.

Putting it all together:

So when it comes to physical characteristics I would measure following which shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.

  1. Standing Height
  2. Seated Height
  3. Arm Span
  4. Shoulder Width
  5. Forearm Length
  6. Hand Size
  7. Ring Finger
  8. Middle Finger
  9. Index Finger
  10. Weight
  11. Body Fat Percentage (electronic Scale)

Body Fat Distribution

  • Triceps
  • Chest
  • Abdominal (belly button)
  • Supra Illica (love handle)
  • Subscap (bottom tip of shoulder blade)
  • Thigh
  • Calf

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

 

Grunting Increases Velocity by 5%!!!!!!

Just a couple of days ago I was flipping back and forth between channels watching a samardcouple of great match ups of high level athletes going pricehead to head.  On one channel David Price and Jeff Samardzija where trading punches with 95+ mph fastball’s while on the other channel Rafel Nadel and David Ferrer were on centre court in Monte Carlo going toe to toe.

tennis

What I found interesting was that all four of these elite level athletes grunted when every time they either threw or hit the ball.

Grunting isn’t something that you see/hear in baseball all the time but the fact that both of these flame throwers grunted on every pitch made me think that there must be something to it.  In tennis grunting is part of the game and is the sport most people associated with grunting.

Tennis just like baseball relies heavily on velocity created through rotational power which made me think that there is something that we in the baseball world can learn and apply to our sport.

Being the baseball and exercise science nerd that I am it made me curious to see if grunting could in fact increase throwing velocity.  So I fired up the computer and starting to look on Pub Med for some academic research papers on this subject.  While I couldn’t find anything related to baseball and grunting I did find one on tennis.

The Effects of “Grunting” on Serve and Forehand Velocities in Collegiate Tennis Players – O’Connell et al. (2014) 

When I quickly read through the abstract the final sentence had me hooked with this quote:

“The velocity, force, and peak muscle activity during the tennis serve and forehand strokes are significantly enhanced when athletes are allowed to grunt”

This study had players hit forehands and serves with or without a “grunt”.  The results below clearly showed that grunting increased velocity by about 5%.

Serve Velocity (km/h) Forehand Velocity (km/h)
Grunt 160.56 136.59
Nongrunt 153.05 129.6
Difference 7.52km/h, 4.91% 6.98km/h, 5.39%

What’s interesting is that some of the subjects, who were all NCAA tennis players, didn’t actually grunt when they played tennis but still displayed a velocity increase when they were asked to grunt during the study.

What is a grunt?

In this study they described a grunt as a force full expiration of air.  In some martial arts it is known as a “kiap” or “kiai” which has been shown to increase handgrip force by 7% (Welch and Tschampl).

grip

Be sure to grunt if you have to test your grip strength for an increase of 7%!!!

This forceful expiration is thought to provide some core stability with this bracing method.  There is another method of bracing the core through forceful inhalation known as the Valsalva maneuver.  This however but has been shown to increase blood pressure and mean arterial pressure and could lead to what’s known as “weight-lifter’s” blackout, probably something you want to stay away from.  The fact that grunting allows air to escape makes it much safer.

How does grunting help?

The exact mechanisms that explains how grunting allows us to create more force is actually a little complicated and I am working on trying to understand it a little better myself.  Because of this I will directly quote the authors here for the reason why the pectoralis major and the external oblique muscles were able to create more force when grunting:

“the parallel pathways from the central command feedforward effects of the motor cortex passing through the medullary respiratory neurons, which help recruit thoracic trunk musculature.”

Sounds complicated I know.  It is basically saying that a by-product of forceful expiration (the medullary respiratory neurons part) causes more muscles in the core (thoracic trunk) to be stimulated.  There were a couple of other theories that were equally as complicated but we will just stick to this one for now.

How exactly does grunting help increase velocity?

This line from the research paper helps sum up the reason why velocity can be increased with grunting:

“Increased dynamic and static force production occurs when the trunk is in a more stable position”

When your trunk/core is more stable it allows other muscles to produce more force both dynamically (moving) or statically (stationary).  This is vital for throwing hard because we need some muscles to produce movement while others provide stationary stability to allow those moving parts to move faster.

Sometimes we need muscles to play both roles at different times of the throwing action and this quote from Kovacs et al. (2008) backs this up, in the tennis world anyways:

“Abdominal muscles accelerate and stabilize the trunk during serves.”

The muscles of the trunk for example need to fire to produce rotational power through movement (dynamic) but they also need to fire in order to produce stability (static) to allow optimal transfer of energy.  It’s this “stiffening up” of the trunk that passes the energy we have already produced from the legs, hips and trunk onto the shoulders and arms.

It seems that grunting helps provide a bit more stability.

In this study the stable trunk allowed the pectoralis major to produce more force.  The pectoralis major is as the authors put it “the primary accelerator” during the serve and forehand.  When we throw a baseball the pectoralis major is the primary muscle responsible for internal rotation of the shoulder so it’s pretty important for baseball too.  Please don’t read this and go bench press to build better “pecs”, it’s more complicated than that.

serve with grunt

Is being stiff a good thing?

Just like anything else in pitching it really comes down to timing.  There are times when you want your muscles to be stiff and strong but there are times when you want your muscles to be fast and relaxed.  If you try grunting the whole time and try to “muscle” the ball to the plate the radar gun will show a decrease in velocity.  Below is a quick little chart about the characteristics of muscles when they are contracted (aka turned on) and relaxed (aka turned off).

Contracted Relaxed
Strength Strong Weak
Speed Slow Fast
Fatigue Fast Slow

One of the real secrets to enhanced athletic performance is the ability to quickly switch between contracting and relaxing your muscles.  In fact elite level athletes can relax muscles up to 8x faster (Matveyev – 1981).  Going back and forth from contracted to relaxed muscles has been coined as the double impulse theory.

This double impulse theory has been shown to take place in sports like MMA and golf (McGill 2014&2010).  Two sports that are completely different from one another yet they share the importance of having the ability to both contract and relax muscles quickly, especially the muscles of the core.

In both cases when they look at the pattern of muscle contraction and relaxation researchers could clearly see muscles being activated at the start of the swing or punch followed by a relaxation of the muscles followed by another activation of the muscles upon impact.

IMG_0365

McGill et al. (2014) – Muscles of the core when throwing a Jab. 

The first peak is when they initiate the punch and the second peak happens upon impact.  Its that valley between the two peaks that allows for hand to move quickly.

The relaxation between muscles contractions as you can see from the chart above is what allows the muscles (and the bones they are attached too) to move quickly.  Try tensing and flexing your arm through the entire punching motion and you will see how slow your arm moves.

Another important part of the relaxation is that it is going to reduce fatigue.  Contracting your muscles takes energy and as a result causes a lot of fatigue quickly which means that you get tired in a hurry.

How it works in throwing (in my opinion)

Once the back leg has initiated the momentum towards home plate it’s time for hips and trunk to produce some rotational power.  This is when we would see the initial contraction from some of the muscles in the trunk and core.  In order to get a lot of rotational speed in the trunk we need relaxation like we discussed above but we also need some range of motion.  The importance of having some range of motion is that speed takes time to develop and if you are limited in your range of motion then you will limit your ability to produce trunk rotation speed.  We see this when you look at shoulder mobility.  We need lots of external rotation in order to build up lots of internal rotation velocity.

force for long toss

If the range is small you have less time to build up speed

This range of motion in the trunk is basically describing hip and shoulder separation.  And in this case a lack of hip mobility (abduction and internal rotation) would be your limiting factor in not giving our trunk enough time to build up world class speed.  Thoracic spine (t-spine) mobility would also be a limiting factor.

hipir RigasIHRbefore

Two ways of measuring hip internal rotation – seated and prone

*side note: too much mobility can be a bad thing too since it makes it harder to harness this power – for more info check out this great research paper from Dr. Andrew Robb*

Once your trunk has built up that speed and is now facing home plate it is time to transfer this speed and energy to the shoulder and throwing arm.  This is again where we need these muscles to contract and stiffen up so that as much energy as possible to help whip the relaxed throwing arm as fast as possible.

By the way this is when you grunt.

Hopefully you have found this information to be useful.  I know that is has made me think about more questions but my conclusion would be that grunting would definitely provide some benefit. Better yet a quieter form of exhalation so that baseball doesn’t go down this same road as tennis where I have to watch the game on mute.

The main part is making sure that the athlete knows and understands the importance of the roles that both muscle strength and muscle relaxation play in throwing.

And if you are going to implement grunting make sure you do it on every pitch so that you don’t tip off when you are throwing something off-speed.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

Wanna Get Drafted Out of College? Here are the physical stats of players that did. How do you compare??

This is a follow up to an article I wrote well over a year ago called “Wanna get drafted out of high school?”.  Its purpose was to show young aspiring baseball players the kind of athletic ability that professional players between below the age of 20 have displayed in the past.

Using numbers from the same study I am going to look at the athletic ability of the players that are between the ages of 20 and 22.  This is a common age range for those players at the collegiate level who are wanting to make the next jump to professional baseball.  These numbers will provide a bench mark to compare yourself against to see if you have the kind of athletic ability that these guys are looking for.

scouts

How Fast and Strong do you need to be to grab their attention?

If you fall short send me an e-mail (Graeme.lehman@gmail.com) and we can see what kind of training program you need in order to put up these kinds of numbers.

Below you will see how athletic profile of players of all between the ages of 20 and 22 in either Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets or Texas Rangers organizations between 2005-2010.  Its even broken down into position players and pitchers.  See below for the actual reference.

So perform these same tests and see how your performance ranks compared to these athletes that have reached the same goal you are trying to achieve.

Athletic Profile of Professional Position Players – Ages (20-22)

jay bruce

A Very Powerful Jay Bruce who would have been one of many players that made up these averages.

Atheltic   Profile of Professional Position Players Ages 20-22
Weight (lbs) Weight (kg) Lean Body Mass (kg) %Body Fat
Body Weight & Fat 198 90.4 79.9 11
Jump (inches) Jump (cm) Peak Power (watts) Mean Avg (Watts)
Vertical Jump 27.8 70.8 10669 2192
Time (sec) Speed (m/s) Kinetic Energy (J)
Pro-Agility 4.40 4.15 776.71
Time (sec) Speed (m/s) Kinetic Energy (J)
10 Yard Dash 1.63 5.61 1414.91
Strength (kg) Time
Grip Strength 52.6 300 Yard Shuttle 52.3

Athletic Profile of Professional Pitchers Age 20-22

verlander

The very athletic and powerful Justin Verlander who’s freakish abilities might have skewed these numbers you see below for pitchers

Atheltic   Profile of Professional Pitchers Ages 20-22
Weight (lbs) Weight (kg) Lean Body Mass (kg) %Body Fat
Body Weight & Fat 208.8 94.9 82.1 13.2
Jump (inches) Jump (cm) Peak Power (watts) Mean Avg (Watts)
Vertical Jump 27.5 69.8 10714 2281
Time (sec) Speed (m/s) Kinetic Energy (J)
Pro-Agility 4.57 4.15 815
Strength (kg) Time
Grip Strength 53.1 300 Yard Shuttle 52

Below you will find out how to complete all of these tests to get your own numbers.  Again us these numbers as a starting point and the numbers you see in these charts can serve as your goal.

Print these charts out and put them up in your gym to remind yourself of how hard you need to train in order to improve your physical tools in order to improve your chances of getting drafted as a teenager.

The Tests

Body Weight and Body Fat: stepping on a scale to see how heavy you are is easy enough but it would be nice to know how much of that weight is fat and how much of it is lean muscle mass.   Having a lot of body weight is a good thing because it allows you to generate more energy which you can transfer into the ball when you throw or hit.  But if that body weight is high because of fat you can’t generate the kind of speed needed to succeed in the game of baseball.

Try to find someone who is skilled using body fat calipers.  You can get them to measure your thigh, stomach and chest for body fat then plug into in the Jackson-Pollack 3 body fat formula which is the formula used in the study where I got these numbers.

10 Yard Dash: Due to the short amount of time and distance is does make it a bite harder to accurately time the 10 yard dash.  If you have access to laser gate timers then go for it.  If not use a stop watch.  If coaches can accurately measure a catcher’s pop time they can get a 10 yard dash time.  If your wondering why a 10 yard dash and not a 60 yard dash then click here to read about why acceleration is so important. https://lehmansbaseball.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/accelerate-your-game-how-to-improve-your-game-speed/

By looking at the combination of your 10 yard dash time and your body weight we can easily figure out how much energy you are creating.  Remember how I mentioned above how important body weight was in creating momentum?  If you are big and can run well then you create a lot of energy that can be used with a either a bat or ball in your hand.  Pitchers for whatever reason didn’t perform the 10 yard dash.

To calculate your speed and the amount of energy you create follow the these calculations

  1. To get Speed in terms of meters per second take the number 9.41 and divide by your 10 yard dash time.  (10 yards = 9.41 meters)
  2. Divide your body weight by 2.
  3. Take your speed number (step 1) and square it.
  4. Multiply the numbers you got from step 2 and 3 together to get your final kinetic energy factor number in Joules.

To learn more about importance of kinetic energy check out this article: https://lehmansbaseball.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/the-big-league-athlete-combine-how-to-better-test-for-baseball-playing-ability/

Pro-Agility: Again this test places an emphasis on short burst of acceleration, 3 of them to be exact.  The athlete must also show how well they can decelerate which takes a lot of strength and coordination.  If we apply the same the equation that we did for the ten yard dash then we can get reading on how much power is being produced with the momentum that each athete creates based on their speed and mass.  The only difference is that take the number 18.82 and have to divided the number of seconds it took you to complete the test.

pro agility

Vertical Jump: Once you get your vertical jump score in centimeters we can plug that into a formula along with your body weight in kilograms to calculate the amount of power you produce.  You will get two different scores both of which are measured in Watts which is a unit of power.  The “Peak Power” score tells you how much power you created during the take off while the “Average Mean” score is how much power you averaged for the entire jump.  They are different but both important because they have been shown to predict power numbers for hitters such as home runs and slugging percentage.

To learn more about the importance of jumping power in baseball read this article: https://lehmansbaseball.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/why-jumping-is-important-for-baseball-players/

Peak Power Equation = (61.9*cm)+(36*kg)+1822

Mean Average Power = (21.2*cm)+(23*kg)-1393

300 yard shuttle: Pretty easy to set up but not much fun to do.  Set up two cones 25 yards apart.  Run to one cone and then back to the first cone to complete one round of 50 yards.  Repeat that five more times for a total of 6 in order to run 300 yards.  Rest for 5 minutes then run it again.  Take the average of the two as your score.

Hand Grip:  For this test you need to get your hands on a hand grip dynamometer.  Pun intended.  Ideally it is made from the good people at Jamar because that is the brand they used in this study.

The Study: 

Mangine GT, Hoffman JR, Frangala MS, Vazquez J, Krause MC, GillettJ and Pichardo N.  Effects of age on anthropometric and physical performance measures in professional baseball players.  Strength Cond Res. 2013 Feb; 27(2); 375-81

Sincerely,

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

Long Toss – Part 3 – How Stressful is Long-Toss on the Arm???

This article is going to focus on what’s known as the kinetics which looks at how fast body parts are moving and how much force is being produced whereas part 2 focused on the kinematics.  Studies that look at the kinetics are important because they give us some great information that is hard to get.  Almost anyone with a camera can look at their own unique kinematics but we know that throwing a baseball is a lot more than just what someone looks like in these freeze frames.

Seeing how fast you’re moving and how much force you’re both producing and absorbing is a little more complicated.  Its a lot more expensive too.  That’s why we rely on the exercise science labs of the world which have both the expertise and the equipment.  They can measure things like rotational velocity of a joint or the amount of torque being applied at the shoulder.

The two labs were I am drawing my information from for this article are associatedjobe
with either Dr. Frank Jobe and Dr. James Andrews.  Baseball’s two most famous surgeons.  Since these studies come from these labs it’s easy to understand why they are mostly focused on exploring long-toss from an injury prevention and rehabilitation scopes rather than the performance enhancement.  Pretty much every study on long-toss out there is focused rehabilitation which is where we got this whole 120 feet max distance stuff from.  

As a performance enhancement coach this kind of information is worth its weight in gold even if its focus is looking at injuries.  Any time I select an exercise I have to look at it from a Risk vs. Reward point of view.  These studies won’t tell us much about the kind of reward (mph’s on the mound) we can get but they can let us know how much torque and force is happening at the elbow and shoulder (risk).

Before get going I want to point put that I have been learning a lot lately from Kyle Boddy’s Driveline’s blog with Dr. Buffi’s guest post’s.  Dr. Buffi discusses the short comings of inverse dynamics which is how this and most studies have computed kinetics.  It’s some pretty complicated stuff and I look forward to understanding it better in the future.  For now I am going to go with the numbers and stats from these published studies.  The good news is that even if the numbers aren’t completely accurate it is the method that they used for both long toss and pitching so at least we are comparing apples to apples here.

What’s Faster?  Pitching or Long-Toss?

I’m not talking ball velocity here but rather the velocities that happen at various joints of the body.

There are plenty of studies that show a direct correlation between how fast body parts (trunk & shoulder rotation) are moving and the velocity of the ball.  However the correlation however is not 100%. You don’t have to be moving as fast if you have a lot of body weight behind you creating momentum. 

The way they measure speed however is not in MPH’s but rather ˚/s (degrees per second).  Rotating your hips from facing third base to home plate would be 90˚ and if it took your 2 seconds you would be rotating your hips at a rate of 45 degrees per second.  This isn’t very fast at all but it paints a nice picture.

The table below again is from the Fleisig and Andrews study that I went into great detail with in part 2. Everything is measured ˚/s and the the column on the far right that’s labelled (% of pitch) looks at the ˚/s  compared to pitching.  So anything above 100 would mean that the joint is moving faster during max distance long-toss than it was when pitching.  

Joint 

Pitch

Max

% of Pitch

Pelvis

568

621

109

Trunk

1120

1179

105

Shoulder IR

7640

8040

105

Elbow Ext

2480

2603

105

While everything is faster when long-tossing the only one that was not seen as being significantly different between pitching and long-toss was shoulder internal rotation speed. 

Let’s look at each one in more detail.

Pelvis and trunk rotational angular velocity:  This describes how fast these two segments rotate.  They would place a marker on both hips and connect them to make an imaginary line.  This allows them to calculate how fast the hips rotate and they would do the same with the shoulders.

As you can see the shoulders rotate a lot faster than the hips do but that is how pitching works.  The legs and hips do the heavy lifting to get the momentum going so that things can move faster and faster as we move up the chain.  They didn’t say exactly at which point of the delivery the hips and trunk reached their peak velocity but if you want any hope of throwing hard you better make sure the hips go before the shoulders.

Shoulder internal rotation: this is the bio-mechanical stat we hear the most about because it is the fastest movement in any sport on earth.  The arm bone (humerus) rotates internally within the shoulder socket (glenoid fossa of the scapula) at an alarming rate.  Having the ability to really externally rotate your arm gives you a bigger range of motion that is needed to build up to this kind of speed.

Elbow extension velocity: as you rotate your entire body around your elbow goes from being bent at around 90˚ when the front foot hits the ground and then starts to straighten out as you release the ball and being your follow through. Pretend you’re doing a really, really fast triceps press down.  This rapid extension places a lot of stress on the biceps muscle since its job is to help control this rapid extension so that your elbow doesn’t come apart every time you throw.  

How much force/torque????

When studies look at the amount of force (aka torque) that happens when we throw a baseball they normally focus on the elbow and the shoulder since these are the two most injury prone areas.  

The point in the delivery that produces the highest level of force/torque is when the arm is cocked back which occurs when the shoulder is maximally externally rotated.  Its this position that is hardest on both the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) which can lean to Tommy John surgery as well as the anterior capsule of the shoulder which can lead to a superior labral anterior-to-posterior (SLAP) tear.

The force that we are most concerned with are elbow varus torque and shoulder internal rotation torque which we can see below.

varus force

This doctor above is performing an elbow varus force test which is used to check the UCL integrity.

shoulder ir

This doctor here is applying some torque shoulder internal rotation torque by pulling his right arm and the players right wrist towards the doctor’s body causing more internal rotation. This is a position can be risky since your throwing arm has less internal rotation compared to your non-throwing arm.  If you have ever done the sleeper stretch then you know what shoulder internal rotation torque feels like. THis risky position plus too much force is the reason why some experts don’t like this stretch and if you do perform this stretch it is done with very little force.

sleeper

Pushing too hard with your left hand in this case would be increasing the “force” which in turn would be increasing the “torque” shown in this nice diagram below.

newton

Efficient vs. Inefficient Throwing

The point of having “good” mechanics is that it allows you to produce the kind of force and torque needed to throw a baseball really hard.  And the harder you throw the more force you’re going to need to both produce and absorb.  This is just the cost of doing business.

The thing we don’t want to have happen is when we have more torque on the arm without seeing any increases in velocity.  This is a bad trade off and this type of throwing would be labeled as inefficient.  If you could throw harder while having less torque on the arm that would be called efficient throwing.

The throwing velocities between long-toss and pitching weren’t significantly different from one another and the chart below is going to show how much force is happening at the elbow (varus torque) and shoulder (internal rotation torque) when the arm is cocked back.

long toss kinetics.004

I haven’t touched on the throws from other distances (120 &180 ft) but I wanted to add them here to give more context.  All of the throws allowed for a crow hop except for the mound.

Since velocity was pretty much the same at all of the distances the most efficient throwing is the one that has the least amount of stress.  And in this study it was that magical 120 foot distance that so many MLB teams are fans of restricting their players to going.

What about the mound and the crow hop?

The two biggest differences between long-toss and pitching are how they create momentum.  Pitching uses the mound and long-toss uses the crow hop. In order to get a better idea of how each of these contributes to the kinetics of the arm and shoulder we need to look at them separately.

This is where I wanted to touch on this other study from Slenker et al. (2014) because they measured throwing from 60 feet 6 inches with and without a mound.

They also threw from 90,120 & 150 but not max distance which is why I didn’t look at this study as much.  They were only allowed to crow hop on the 120&150 foot throws and were instructed to throw “hard, on a horizontal line”.

This gives us one throw from a mound, two throws from flat ground without a crow hop (60’6″ & 90′) and finally two flat ground throws with a crow hop (120’&150′).

The subjects in this study were on average 23 years old, 6 feet tall and weighed 183lbs.  Of the 29 subjects there was one player from minor’s (A ball) , 3 players from a local club team and 25 college players from 3 different colleges.  The main thing here is that even with a pro ball guy the average velocity off the mound was only 33 m/s which is about 74mph.

Even with this lower velocity there are still some good take aways from this study. The main one being throwing efficiency which we can see with the following three charts.

long toss kinetics 2.003

long toss kinetics 2.004 long toss kinetics 2.002

Again that 120 foot mark is the safest but when you take velocity into account it is not the most efficient.

In fact the loads on the elbow and shoulder were not significantly different between mound pitching and any of the distances from flat ground. Interestingly flat ground throwing from 60’6″ was one of the most inefficient.

The authors went so far as to say:

This illustrates the mechanical advantage and increased efficiency of throwing from a mound, implying that it might be protective for players to start throwing from a mound or incline earlier on during the rehabilitation process.

This is a huge statement since we have always been blaming the mound and its slope for arm problems.  Maybe we need to be going back to higher mounds in order to reduce the stress on the arm?

Could this be the reason why we didn’t see as many arm injuries before 1969 when they changed the mound height to restrict it to 10 inches.  The previous rule was that it was limited to a height of 15 inches but there are reports of some mounds being as high as 20 inches.

We have this guy to thank for lowering the mound after arguably the most dominating season ever in 1968.

gibson

Bob Gibson 1968 season

IP – 304, ERA – 1.12, SO – 13, K’s – 268, WHIP – 0.853

I think the use of mounds of varying slopes could be used as a form of training much like under and over weight baseballs.  Over speed training at its best – more of this to follow in the final part of this series.

When looking at the velocities the throws with the crow hop were also slower compared to throwing from the mound which wasn’t the case in the Fleisig study. Compared to the results from throwing off the mound the throws at 120 feet were 79% of the mound velocity while the stress at the elbow and shoulder were both 82% of what was seen on the mound.  At 150 feet the velocity was only 70% on the mound velocity while the elbow and shoulder stress was 88 and 91% respectively.

Of the two distances in this study the 120 ft throws were more efficient.

Here is what the authors had to say about the use of a crow hop:

The use of the entire body, or kinetic chain, with a crow hop while throwing on flat ground appears to be less stressful on the upper extremity and should be emphasized of even the shortest rehabilitation throws.

We are getting closer and closer to bottom of this long-toss subject.  But every time I find an answer it leads to a couple of more questions.

The next part will look at some distance and velocity correlations to see if throwing farther actually means you can throw faster.  This will then be followed up by an article where I try to sum everything up and provide some useful tips on how and when to apply long-toss.

Thanks for reading.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

Long-Toss Part 2 – Mechanical Differences and Similarities

It’s been a long time between part 1 and part 2 of this series on long-toss, pun intended.  My two main excuses are that I got side track preparing for my presentation at Lantz Wheeler’s Pitch-a-Palooza in Nashville but it went well and it provided me with a ton of great info from the other speakers.  Check out the DVD sales here.

Pitch-A-Palooza-Logo

And my wife and I also got a puppy border collie named Saige (Satchel + Paige = Saige) and walking this high energy breed has become a part time job for me.

In part one of this series I stressed that long-toss is a tool that is classified as a specific exercise that coaches can use to help increase throwing velocity.  It however is not the only tool for the job.  General and specific exercises that can also be beneficial when the situation calls for it.

We also learnt that long-toss and pitching are not the same thing.  Long-toss is throwing the ball up and far with a crow hop versus pitching which is throwing the ball down and fast without a crow hop. While these differences are pretty obvious these two types of throwing do share some similarities.  After all they both involve throwing a baseball as hard as you can.

Knowing what’s different and what’s similar between long-toss and pitching is valuable.  This information can help coaches determine if and when long-toss should be used as a means for improving pitching performance.  If a pitcher needs help with a mechanical issue that has been shown to be very similar between long-toss and pitching then it would seem that it is a perfectly good idea to implement long-toss.

sim and diff

For now I am just going to present the research in a easy to understand manner, I hope.  I am going to save my opinions, thoughts and interpretations for the last part of this series.  Well I might go on one or two rants but thats it.

The study that I am going to be referencing is from doctor’s Fleisig and Andrews called:

Biomechanical Comparison of Baseball Pitching and Long-Toss: 

Implications for Training and Rehabilitation.

They published it back in 2011 and it is the only study that looks at the biomechanics for both max distance long toss and pitching.  There are a couple of other studies (Slenker et al. 2014 & Miyanishi et al. 1995) but they either didn’t look at the kinematics (motion) or didn’t have their subjects throw off a mound.

The subjects of this study on average were 20.6 years old, 6’2” tall and weighed about 195 lbs. Their velocity off the mound was 37 meters/second (85mph) while the long-toss was 36 m/s (82mph), this difference isn’t statically significant.  The max distance throws averaged 260 feet with a range between 213 & 315 feet.

When it comes to reading studies it’s important to look at the subjects to see what kind of players they used in regards to level of play, age, height and weight. Not every coach is going to have players that are similar to the subjects of this study so they must take this information and figure out how it applies to their specific situation with the athletes they are coaching.

This study looked at the biomechanics (aka kinematics) of each player at three different points of the throwing motion for both long toss and pitching: (1) front foot contact (2) arm cocking and (3) ball release.  They also looked at the kinetics (torque and force) but I am saving that for part 3.

wagnerIf you look up “arm cocking” in the dictionary you will see this picture of Billy Wagner.  Defined as the point of the delivery when the shoulder is maximally externally rotated.  It doesn’t get much more externally rotated that this!

Front Foot Contact: Differences

The chart below shows the exact differences that were labeled as significant between long-toss and pitching.

Front Foot Contact
Body Position Pitching Long Toss
Elbow Flexion (degrees) 78 86
Upper Trunk Tilt (degrees) 6 24
Front Knee Flexion (degrees) 47 42
Foot Position (centimeters) 25 5

Elbow flexion: if you were to make a perfect “L” with your arm you would have 90 degrees of elbow flexion.  Pitching had the elbow in more of a flexed position.  You can see a nice diagram below with elbow flexion in the top left corner (A) and Mr. Maddux (you get called mister when you win 4 Cy Young’s) looks to have about 90 degreesc of flexion.  While this Vanderbilt player is displaying less flexion.

Front knee flexion: the front leg landed in a more extended/straight  position during long toss.  Having your leg straight with the knee locked out would be zero degrees of knee flexion while being in a seated position with the tops of your legs parallel to the ground would be 90 degrees.maddux elbow at contact

long toss vandy

Upper trunk tilt: this is basically how much an incline your upper body is when the front foot hits the ground.  If you are leaning back you will have more upper trunk tilt and if you were to be straight up and down (head over top of your belt) you would have a trunk tilt of zero.  Obviously if you’re going to be throwing the ball high and far you’re going to be more inclined.  That being said hard throwers off a mound do a better job of staying back and not lunging or drifting out onto their front leg, which would produce upper trunk tilt scores in the negative. The amount of trunk tilt is very different between the two and is obvious in these pictures.

Foot Position: This was measured in centimetres.  If your front heel made a perfectly straight line with the heel from your back leg you would have zero.  During the long toss the front foot landed in a much more open position compared to throwing off the mound.

Front Foot Contact: Similarities

The other mechanical positions that the researchers measured at front foot contact that were not significantly different between pitching off a mound and long toss were:arm angles

Shoulder External Rotation: pitching had 53 degrees of external rotation at front foot contact vs. 58 degrees.  This difference wasn’t significant enough but it is about 10% more with long-toss. Top right (B).

Shoulder abduction: how far the shoulder is away from the body which were both between 96 & 98 degrees angle from the body.  If you place your elbow perfectly at shoulder height you will have 90 degrees of shoulder abduction. Bottom Left (C).abduction

Shoulder horizontal abduction:  if you stretch your pec muscles by grabbing onto a post then moving your body forward and turning away you would be horizontally abducting your shoulder from your body.  Figure (D) shows horizontal abduction when the arm is going behind the body.  Pitching and long toss both had 21 degrees of shoulder abduction.

Pelvis angle: this tells us how “open” the hips are.  If have your hips perfectly facing home-plate that would be 90.  Pitching had 37 degrees while long-toss had your hips in a more open position, but only by 3 degrees at 40.

Stride length: this one surprised me a bit but I guess the momentum gained from the crow hop is equal to the amount of stride distance that you can get by going down the mound.  Both types of throwing had players striding 80% of their height.

Arm Cocking: Differences 

This position is critical due to the fact that many injuries happen at this point of the delivery.  The injuries might not be due to what your mechanics look like when your arm is cocked but it is the position that has a lot of stress and can very easily be the straw that backs the camels back.  The arm cocking position is occurs when your arm is maximally externally rotated and is making the transition between loading (going back into external rotation) and unloading (going into internal rotation).

Arm Cocking
Pitching Long Toss
Max Elbow Flexion 101 109
Max Shoulder External Rotation 174 180

Elbow flexion:  Just like at front foot contact the elbow is in more of a flexed position when pitching compared to long-toss.  The elbow was more flexed back when the front foot hit the ground.

bauer elbow 4

It wouldn’t be a long-toss article without some reference to Trevor Bauer.  He is close to the arm cocking position and looks to have more elbow flexion than the subjects in this study.

Max Shoulder external rotation: this is a big one because the amount of external rotation that you can achieve has been correlated to throwing velocity since it provides you with a greater range of motion that can be used to apply more force to the ball.  Check out this article to learn about another study that showed how the amount of external rotation along with a couple of other mechanical points were important in determining which pitchers threw fast vs. those that threw slow.

Quick rant/opinion:  Since long-toss as an exercise produces more external rotation (ER) compared to pitching might mean that it could be used as a training method to get more external rotation.  Which if you don’t have enough in the first place could be a good thing.  However there are some pitchers that have more than enough ER and they need to work on controlling their ER and improving the rate at which they go from ER into internal rotation.  This goes back to the fact that long-toss is a tool and in some cases this tool can be helpful.

machine_flyArm Cocking: Similarities

Only one of three mechanical points measured were similar and that was the amount of shoulder horizontal adduction.  If you were to perform pec flys on this piece of equipment you would be doing shoulder horizontal adduction as you bring your hands together.

I am just using the pec fly as an example since we have all done one or two sets of these but I am not recommending it as an exercise if your primary goal is to have a healthy throwing arm.

In both types of throwing the shoulder has gone from being horizontally abducted (behind the body) when the foot hits the ground to being adducted (in front of the body) to 17 degrees.

Ball Release: Differences

This table shows all of the significant differences between the two types of throwing at ball release:

Ball Release
Pitching Long Toss
Forward Trunk Tilt 34 18
Front Knee Flexion 37 31

Forward Trunk Tilt:  The ability for a pitcher to produce forward trunk tilt has been shown to be a major factor in separating fast from slow throwers.  When long-tossing it is pretty obvious that you won’t have much forward trunk tilt because if you did you would end up spiking the ball.  When your goal is distance the body is going to organize itself to accomplish this desired outcome hence less forward trunk tilt.

mad tilt

Front knee flexion:  again the amount of flexion at the front knee is different just like it was at front foot contact.  The interesting part is that the amount of knee extension that happens from when the front foot hits the ground to ball release is nearly the same but it just happens in slightly different ranges of knee extension.  This table will show you what I mean:

Amount of Front knee extension (front foot contact – ball release)
Mound Max Distance
Front foot contact (FFC) 47 42
Ball Release (BR) 37 31
FFC – BR = Degrees of Knee Extension 10 11

If you had a higher number at ball release compared to front foot contact that would mean that you went into knee flexion.  That has been shown to be a marker of slower velocity throwers while faster throwers exhibit the strength to handle the landing forces and produce knee extension. It helps send kinetic energy up the chain as they say in the world of pitching biomechanics.

Ball Release: Similarities

Shoulder abduction: both types of throwing had the shoulder abducted to 88 degrees which is close to the ideal 90 degrees which is stated as being the best angle to produce torque and force.  Based on where the shoulder was during front foot contact the elbow drops from about 10 degrees during the throwing cycle.

Lateral Trunk Tilt: This describes the amount of leaning towards your glove side.  I’ve written in the past about a research article that studied the effects of lateral trunk tilt and its relationship to both throwing velocity and torque to the throwing arm in a two part series here and here.

Personally I thought that there would be more trunk tilt for long-tossing based on how I see most people throw for max distance including outfielders and javelin throwers.

cespodis

Based on Yoeonis Cespedes’ amazing throw he made last year we should all just throw like he does.  Looks like a bit of lateral trunk tilt to me. 

In Japanese study back in 1995 (Miyanshi et al.) one of their major findings was that in addition to a more backward lean, similar to the findings in this study, was more of a left ward lean producing increased lateral trunk tilt.

This study did compare max distance throwing to max velocity throwing from a flat ground surface which is why I haven’t talked about it much.  That and I could only find the untranslated Japanese version of the study.

That however didn’t stop me from looking at the study which in addition to some pretty awesome stick figure drawings had some tables with numbers, which I can read in just about any language.

The more “leaned back and tilted” position resulted in the ball being released at a height of 1.78 meters (5’10”) at an upward angle of 30.3 degrees.  The distance they threw the ball was about 76 meters (250 ft) plus or minus 7 meters (23 ft).

When they threw as fast as they could (flat ground) the release height was 1.64 meters (5’5″) at a 6.3 degree angle.

Just like the Fleisig and Andrews study the stride lengths weren’t significantly different but were only 73% of their height.  These subjects were on average 20 years old and were 160lbs and 5’9″.  They only threw about 67 mph.

Digging a Little Deeper Into the Numbers

When I looked at the amount of knee extension in both types of throwing I started to look deeper into some of the other differences to see just how similar they were.

As it turns out the ranges of motion that we see in both pitching and long-toss are pretty similar, it just that they happen at different points within the range of movement.

The amount of “loading” that you shoulder goes through as it externally rotates from front foot contact to ball release were only one degree off from each other.

Shoulder External Rotation
Long Toss

Pitching

Arm Cocked (AC)

180

174

Front Foot Contact (FFC)

58

53

AC- FFC = Total ER Loading

122

121

The amount of elbow extension that happens when you elbow goes from a flexed position at front foot contact to a less flexed position during the arm cocking position are both exactly 23 degrees.  Weird, I know.

Elbow Flexion
Long Toss

Pitching

Arm Cocked

109

101

Front Foot Contact 

86

78

Difference

23

23

Even the total amount of trunk tilt in the sagittal plane (front and back) from front foot contact (upper trunk tilt) to ball release (forward trunk tilt) was similar.  During long-toss the subjects were leaning back to 24 degrees and moved their trunk forwards 42 degrees to the point of ball release when they displayed 18 degrees of forward trunk tilt.

When pitching the upper trunk tilt was much lower at front foot contact (6 degrees) but moved a total of 40 degrees to the 34 degrees of forward trunk tilt at ball release.

This picture of an overhead medicine ball throw shows you what I mean by how amount of trunk tilt that happens during the throwing motion from lean back to leaning forward.

 mb tossLots of trunk movement in the sagittal plane from the 3rd picture to the last one.

Since this now past the 2500 words mark, congrats if you’ve made it this far, I am going to end things here.  The next part will look at the differences in torque (kinetics) and the amount of stress on the throwing arm before I finish things off with some of my thoughts on how long-toss should be applied.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

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