Athletic Testing of Nate Pearson

Here’s a really cool article that I wrote for Tread based on my time spent helping the College of Central Florida (CF).  I was lucky enough to have Nate Pearson come through that program and really blossom.  I was even luckier to have a great staff at CF that gathered a ton of really great data about the physical abilities of the athlete with an elaborate series of testing and assessments.

This article will go into great detail about the physical abilities of one of the hardest throwing humans on the face of the earth!!

Thanks for subscribing to my blog

Sincerely,

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

 

https://treadathletics.com/nate-pearson-1/

Career Update and New Article!!!

If you are reading this then that means you’re interested in the great information about topics like baseball, biomechanics, and exercise science.  These are some of my favorite things too and I wanted to let you know that I am going to be writing about these things for Tread Athletics.

I have recently started to work with Tread Athletics and it has been amazing!!  I’ve been able to learn a lot and I get to apply the kind of information you see here to young pitchers all over the world!!!

In addition to coaching pitchers remotely I will be writing content for their blog.  This means that I will be posting my articles over there so please sign up.  I will try to remember to throw a link up on this site each time as well.

Here is the link to my first article about the difference between pitchers that play pro-ball in South Korea vs. North America.  It is some interesting findings since the Korean pitchers threw significantly slower.

Korean Baseball – Mechanical Differences

if you are interested in learning more about the remote training at Tread Athletics then please let me know.  You can reach me at:

graeme@treadathletics.com

Thanks,

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

 

 

Body Weight : Customized Training and Mechanics Series

Body Weight, the last of the physical attributes that make up this profiling system that can be used to help customize training and mechanics.

I didn’t put body weight at the end because it’s not important.  In fact, I think its one of the most vital components of an athlete’s profile when it comes to throwing velocity.  It’s at the end because it gives me a quick visual to see what kind of foundation we are dealing with.

 

If an athlete profile doesn’t have a good foundation there’s not much point in sweating out the details in the other parts of the profile.  Check out this tweet from Ben Brewster to see the importance of body weight if your goal is to dominate on the mound.

This coupled with a ton of research studies, including my own, that listed body weight at or near the top of the list of contributing factors to throwing velocity really highlights its importance.  The reason is that if we break it down to its simplest form pitching is really just about transferring momentum from your body to the baseball.  Those athletes with high levels of body weight have more POTENTIAL to transfer higher amounts of momentum to get that ball flying through the strike zone.

After all, we all know that “Mass = Gas”, right?  Yes, to an extent.

If it were completely true we’d be seeing way more 300 lbs pitchers on the mound other than CC Sabathia.  It’s not because there’s a shortage of 300 lbs people out there.  If you don’t believe me head to your local Wal-Mart.

Image result for heavy baseball pitcher

This guy is seriously Atheltic

The “Mass = Gas” equation is missing a vital part of the equation.  Acceleration.  How fast can we accelerate the baseball that starts from a stationary position in our hand when we come set to the point where it’s flying off our fingers at release point.

This equation is a lot more accurate and scientific but nearly as catchy and memorable.

Mass x Acceleration = Force (aka Gas)

So while being 300 lbs does give you more POTENTIAL to throw hard it isn’t always the case.  That’s because it takes a lot of athleticism to build up high levels of speed from a stationary position regardless of how much you weigh.  This is made even harder when you start tipping the scales north of 250 lbs.  Getting that much mass moving quickly is difficult.  Think of the 18 wheeler truck that you leave in the dust when the light turns green.

Even if you could get that amount of body mass accelerating fast enough towards home plate it takes just as much athleticism and skill to decelerate that mass in order to transfer that momentum up the kinetic chain.

In this case, being lighter is an advantage in that it takes less energy to accelerate and decelerate. The tough part here is that we have upper limits on how fast we can accelerate.  Like I mentioned before, we only have so much time before the ball has to be out of our hands. This is why a certain level of body weight is required to reach high levels of throwing velocity.  Everyone’s F=ma equation is going to have some “mass” and some “acceleration”, its just a matter of how much of each.  The really good guys have high levels of both.

In a follow up to Ben’s tweet about bodyweight he did mention the there were 3 outliers who weighed less than 185 and that still threw really hard.

These guys are obviously exceptions to the rule but that’s only because they make up for it in other areas.  They really stress the acceleration side of the equation with a lethal combination of athletic ability, elasticity, efficient mechanics, and limb length in all the right places. This is the only way to explain it.

Image result for jacob degrom mechanics

One way that these 3 guys, or any light pitcher for that matter, can maximize the mass side of the equation is by having a higher percentage of lean body mass.  The amount of lean body mass would, in my opinion, be a better predictor of throwing velocity than overall body mass because we can make the assumption that more lean mass can help out with the acceleration part of the equation.  Whereas someone with lots of body mass but relatively low levels of lean body mass would be fighting an uphill battle in creating enough acceleration carrying excessive amounts of dead weight.

This is why if you were to dig deeper into the mass column of my profile you would find that its composite score and not merely a reflection the bodyweight that you’d get from a standard roster sheet.  The overall score would be comprised of lean body mass, overall body weight and the power scores of a couple of athletic tests (jumps, sprints) where body weight is taken into account.  Here’s an example:

  • Body mass
  • Lean body mass
  • Vertical jump power
  • 10-yard sprint kinetic energy

By combining the scores of these four different tests/assessments we get a much better idea of what kind of mass we are dealing with and how well that athlete can accelerate their mass.

The power scores from the vertical jump, for example, are the result of their raw score combined with their body weight in formulas like this one called Harmen’s formula.

Peak power (W) = 61.9 · jump height (cm) + 36.0 · body mass (kg) + 1,822 

Even though I’ve used these power scores in different parts of the profile I don’t mind doubling up on them because they are that important.  Including vertical power under both the “Speed” and “Mass” lets me place more weight (pardon the pun) on this type of test that measures both mass and acceleration.

The importance of looking at how much power athletes can produce by simple plugging body weight into some pre-existing formulas was made evident when I first came across this study.

Anthropometric and performance comparisons in professional baseball players. Hoffman JR, Vazquez J, Pichardo N, Tenenbaum G.  Journal of Strength Cond Res. 2009 Nov;23(8):2173-8.

When the authors just looked at vertical jump height there was no significant difference between levels.  When they took body weight into consideration there was a clear distinction between lower and upper levels of pro-baseball.

Here’s a better-looking chart that Ben Brewster put together using some of this data along with some numbers that I published.

In conclusion, body-weight is important if your goal is to throw hard.  It should be within a range of about 175 to 250 lbs, in my opinion.

Those at the low end of the range really need to have high levels of acceleration in-order to maximize their force output while guys at the top end of the range don’t.  They still need to be fast but not as fast.

Pretty simple right?  It is simple but nobody said that simple was easy.  Gaining body weight is the easiest thing to do when it comes to improving the look of your profile and your potential to throw hard.   But remember that its no guarantee and this body-weight has to be accompanied by some favorable physical attributes and athletic abilities if you want your profile to look like that of other high-level pitchers.

That does it for this really long series about the different parts of this profile.  I am really excited to start trying to make some sense of the whole thing and seeing how everything fits together.

Until then thanks for reading.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS

 

 

Over-Speed: Customized Training and Mechanics Series – Long Toss

In the last article about Over-Speed training, I alluded to something I call a “Throwfile” and how it could be used to help gain more insight into athlete’s physical needs.

My “Throwfile”, as it stands today, is made up of two assessments using long toss and weighted balls.  Today I’m just going to focus on the long toss portion.  From here I am going to loosely adapt a concept from the sports science world that compares various types of vertical jumps to gain some clues that can be used to help tailor training to the needs of each athlete.

The sports science concept I’m referring to is called the reactive strength index (RSI).  This simple test tells how well we use elastic energy.  Throwing a baseball requires a ton of this type of energy to be successful, both upper and lower body elastic energy.

The traditional RSI has the athlete perform two jumps.  The first is a countermovement while the second test has the athlete drops from a step (6-18″) then immediately jump as high as possible. The drop from the step will cause more of a stretch reflex so, in theory, this jump should be higher than the countermovement jump.  And in most cases that’s true but the percentage difference between the two has been used to help guide and tailor the training programs for individual athletes.

The athlete that can jump a lot higher after falling off a step has a high RSI and is good at storing and releasing energy.  Whereas the athlete who jumps are fairly similar in height isn’t as good with elastic energy.  This athlete relies a lot on just their muscles to get off the ground.

This test has its limits for baseball since it doesn’t give us any information about the upper body.  That being said, I still like the traditional test as I just described to help determine strategies of how an athlete should load their drive leg into the mound during the initial stage of the delivery.  If an athlete has a high RSI then I think they would be better suited to implement a more elastic dominant approach to loading their back leg with what I call a  “Press n’ Pop” style.  Whereas an athlete with a low RSI would need more time to develop power with a muscle dominate approach to developing momentum towards home plate.  I call this style “Dig and Drive”.  Check out this article to learn about these styles and how I’ve tried to re-name the old “Tall & Fall” and “Drop n’ Drive” with these newer and more scientifically driven names.

If we can measure the speed and/or distance of two different types of long toss throws we can create our own “Long Toss RSI”.  The first throw would be a long toss but from a stationary position.  Spread your feet, lean back, and throw.  This is what I would consider to be the equivalent of a countermovement jump.  The drop jump that creates more of a stretch would be a traditional long toss with a crow hop.

Here’s some data I presented in my last article about 3 pitchers who all threw 86mph from the mound.  What we see here are their long toss scores with a traditional long toss with a crow hop and with a stationary long toss.

The last column on the right is what I’m calling their long toss RSI which simply shows the percentage of one’s stationary long toss to their crow hop.

If you’re more of a visual kind of learner here’s what the slopes of each individual look like when you plot the data.

The slope that’s the most vertical belongs to athlete “C” in green due to the big drop off between types of long toss throws.  This suggests, to me, that he relies on elastic energy the most.  In contrast to athlete “A”, the flattest slope, who doesn’t do as good of a job of storing and releasing elastic energy from the added momentum with a crow hop.

An easy way to remember the differences between the types of slopes is to think of a pitchers mound.  The athlete with a fairly flat slope would do well on a mound that is also flat.  Whereas the athlete with a more vertically orientated slope needs that steeper angle in order to help develop more momentum prior to loading and unloading the elastic energy in his arm.

In my opinion, this is a pretty simple assessment that can give us some insight plus, in my experience, athletes like doing this kind of testing.  It has its limitations since there are only two data points. If we can add in some more varieties of long toss with varying degrees of pre-throw momentum we can find out more about their elastic properties.

Here’s a list of 5 different variations of long toss each with more pre-throw momentum.

  1. Stationary: feet spread apart, shift your weight back and throw
  2. Step Behind: take one step and throw
  3. Trevor Bauer In-Game Long Toss
  4. Shuffle: gain some momentum like a shortstop making a solid throw with a slow runner
  5. Crow Hop: limit the approach to a max of 5 steps before throwing
  6. Javelin: get a run at it and let it fly!!!

Here’s what #3 looks like:

I got the idea of using a variety of throws when I was reading about Incremental Drop Jumps, a variation of the reactive strength index.

To execute incremental drop jumps, get the athlete to drop off of increasingly higher and higher boxes to find the point where they can’t increase their vertical jump.  Eventually, you get to a point where the muscles cannot handle the amount of force eccentrically from the drop to allow for the quick transition back up as try to jump.  If you and your muscles can’t handle these forces in a timely manner you lose the potential of the elastic energy stored in the tendons.

Here’s an example of what an incremental drop jump test assessment might look like with vertical jump scores on the vertical axis and the height of the box along the bottom.  Here we can see an obvious drop off when the athlete used the 30-inch box.  Sports scientists have used this information to find the optimal height that each athlete should be using during the training process.

For our purposes in baseball, instead of jumping off of higher and higher boxes, we would use the long toss variations.  By adding more and more momentum prior to throwing as we go down my list of long toss variations we increase the amount of energy being stored in our tendons.  If we have the strength to handle these higher forces during the loading phase we should be able to produce more force during the unloading phase which would obviously result in longer throws.

If the throws don’t get longer as you go down the list you’ve got yourself a clue!!!

In this case, it would mean that the athlete cannot handle the added stretch to the shoulder internal rotators that caused by the added momentum.

My solution to this problem would be to perform a higher percentage of long toss throws with the type of throw where the distance decrease occurs.  By doing so we would be effectively training the athlete in an over-load fashion in regards to their stretch-shortening ability.  This coupled with a good overall strength & conditioning program should help this athlete improve their ability to handle increased forces.

If an athlete can incrementally add distance between each type of throw, which is most often the case, then we need to look at the slope again which is beefed up with more data points.  I wish I could give you some actual numbers to look for in regards to the slope in order to classify pitchers but I just don’t have enough data to set these types of parameters. Sorry.

Now its time for a couple of disclaimers so that if you try and do this type of testing on your own please take into account everyone’s throwing mechanics and launch angle.

*mechanical disclaimer – watch the athlete as they perform these throws to ensure that their mechanics are somewhat similar.  If they can’t throw further due to some type of mechanical change then this information isn’t relevant.  They need to practice each of these throws in order to make this data relevant.  The good news is that most baseball players long toss on a regular basis so they can practice these different types of throws and minimize any mechanical discrepancies.

*trajectory disclaimer – if you have an athlete that can’t optimize their “Launch Angle” when they perform all of these types of throws then you can’t use this information.  This would be your clue that this pitcher really needs to work on other aspects of their game since finding an optimal trajectory is way easier than painting the outside corner of the plate.

Over-Speed: Customized Training and Mechanics Series

The athletic attribute of “over-speed” wasn’t even on the original profile that I first created over 3 years ago but I think it’s important enough to add it in.  So here we go!!  Check out the new and improved graphics.

It’s not that important where I put it on my profile but it is important that we know where “Over-speed” sits on the force-velocity curve.  Over-speed isn’t represented on many force-velocity curves but if it was it would be at the extreme bottom right-hand side of the graph.

Coaches in other sports might put any type of over-speed training into the “speed” category.  But in baseball I think it deserves its own category because we use it a lot with training tactics and tools like:

  • Long Toss
  • Run n’ Gun Throws
  • Underweight Throws

Over-speed training in other sports might consist of an athlete running downhill or, if you see an athlete using bands to jump higher and faster like you see below you’ve witnessed some over-speed training.

In golf, you might see some athletes doing their best impression of Happy Gilmore.

Basically, anything that allows you to go faster than you would during the actual sport is over-speed.  And while throwing a baseball is very fast there ways to go faster. Namely by reducing the weight of the ball and/or adding momentum prior to throwing.

Now we can focus on trying to figure out how much over-speed we need.  Obviously, we want to really high levels of this type of athleticism due to its specificity to pitching. This is the reason that throwing programs that included some or all these types of over-speed training have been so successful.  Programs built by Jager or Driveline come to mind.

Assessing an athlete’s over-speed abilities is simply a matter of measuring the speed and/or distance of some various throwing drills.  Once we’ve done that we can start to put together the athlete’s “throwfile”.

The “throwfile” is a mini-profile that sits inside this bigger and more comprehensive athletic profile that I’ve been building.  It focuses only on various types of throws and its high-level of specificity is the reason it gets its very own profile within a profile.

The word “throwfile” is not trademarked yet so feel free to use it all you want.  I will really dig into this concept in my next article but in the meantime here’s a simple example of what I am talking about.

Below you will see some numbers from 3 different pitchers from the College of Central Florida Patriots a couple of years ago when I worked with them remotely.  I picked these 3 athletes because they all threw 86 mph from the mound at the time of the testing.

Here we see their results from their long toss testing where we had them throw with a crow hop and the constraint of a stationary throw.  The goal with both was to throw the ball as far as possible.

The right-hand side of the table has their testing results with Run n’ Gun throws using a 4, 5 and 6-ounce baseball.  If you don’t know what a Run n’ Gun Throw is here is an example of a long time client of mine Isaac Greer hitting 109mph at Driveline with a  3oz ball.   Based on this assessment I told him he needed a hair cut.

Looking at athlete “A” right off the bat, I think that he needs to spend more time and effort getting faster.  He has the lowest long toss scores and he can barely throw harder than his mound velocity when he adds momentum and throws a lighter ball.

While athlete “C” looks like he needs to get stronger because of the fact that he has the biggest drop off’s when the momentum is restricted and when the weight of the ball goes up. Typically if you slow down when the weight goes up it means that you aren’t strong enough.  We saw this with the weighted jump research that I highlighted in this article.

Image result for disclaimer

*Mechanical Disclaimer: this information is only good if the pitcher has somewhat proficient mechanics both on the mound and while performing long toss.  If not the numbers are useless.*

By using this kind of simple data we can really make good use of this information by helping the individual get better. We’ve all seen the guy who can long toss the s*#t out of the ball during the pre-game but then can’t come close to reaching the same high level of velocity from the mound.  I call these guys “over-speed all-stars”.

My theory with “over-speed all-stars” is that the added momentum allows the athlete to take full advantage of their elasticity which they can’t fully exploit while on the mound.  This is similar to how if you perform a drop jump you should be able to jump higher since there’s added momentum during the loading phase to cause more of a stretch.  This augmented stretch during the eccentric loading causes an enhanced stretch-shortening cycle which plays a vital role in sporting actions that take place in short periods of time such as throwing and jumping.  In fact, 50% of the energy produced during a throw is thought to be contributed to the elastic properties in and around the shoulder (http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/ntroach/files/roach_et_al_2013.pdf).

The reason these guys can’t reproduce this effect when on the mound is that they don’t have enough strength and power.  Without the crow hop, they don’t have the ability to produce enough of a stretch to elicit a big-time stretch-shortening cycle allowing them to take advantage of their over-speed abilities.

Analogy time: It’s like if you had a Drag Racer that was really fast when it reaches the fifth gear but it took you almost the whole quarter mile long track to get through gears 1 to 4.

So, for example, if your long toss with a crow hop is way further than your long toss from a stationary position, you have a good 5th gear but your gears 1 through 4 need some work.  What I am trying to say here from a sports science point of view is that long toss with a crow hop is essentially a drop jump while a stationary long toss throw could be considered a countermovement jump.

If we can make these assumptions then we can steal a concept from the sports science world knows as the reactive strength index (RSI) which I’ve covered in the past.  Basically, you look at the difference between a drop jump and a countermovement jump to help determine how an athlete produces force and what adjustments should be made to their training program as a result of this information.

This is something that I will explore in my next article.

Graeme Lehman, MSc, CSCS