Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

I attended Ron Wolforth's pitching coaches clinic and thought I would give a little summary.

Wolforth started off by stating that pitching programs HAVE to be taylored to the individual pitcher. "One size does not fit all. It doesn't even fit one forever." His recommendation is to screen the players and figure out what is holding them back and fixing it. You have to be careful that in doing so, you don't neglect their strengths.

Eric Bender, a former instructor at the Ranch who had a cup of coffee in spring training with the Cardinals and was recently hired by the Cleveland Indians to work in player development did an experiment in spring training to test this hypothesis. One was James Stokes who was a 22nd round pick that was throwing 92 MPH when drafted. He had lost his confidence and his fastball (sitting 86 MPH at the start of spring training). After 6 weeks of individualized training, his fastball was up to 96 MPH consistently and touching 98. His curve ball went from 46% strikes to 68% strikes. Eric admitted Stokes had a long way to go but the process was working for him. The other pitcher wasn't identified other than saying he was a former 1st round pick whose fastball had fallen from 100 MPH to 89 MPH. With individual training, his FB was back up to 98 MPH by the end of spring training.

This process made me think of Jesse Crain. Could there be a constraint that kept getting him injured and if so, could you design a program that could get him back to where he was prior to the injury?

Randy Sullivan MPT discussed how poor deceleration patterns caused increase eccentric contractions of the biceps leading to labrum tears. In addition, poor deceleration turns off the forearm flexors and pronators which take strain off the ulnar collateral ligament leading to tears of that structure and subsequent TJ surgery.

Trevor Bauer discussed recovery protocols that he uses and why he doesn't ice after a game. Randy Sullivan spent the night writing an ebook discussing the science of icing versus not icing which he is giving away for free. (I haven't had a chance to read it yet.)

One of the highlights was the presentation of Frans Bosch on motor learning. Baseball is taught by telling players how to perform a skill. Initially this is good BUT it requires input from the cerebral cortex. Once a skill is learned, you need to provide different stimuli frequently to teach the body to adapt and become more automatic. An example would be throwing a bullpen. The coach should NOT provide verbal instruction other than hit the target. You then change the task every 2-3 pitches by changing the environment or the organism. Changing the environment would be things like tilting the mound 15 degrees arm side, pitching off an 18 inch mound, wearing strobe glasses, pitching to a target at 70 feet, etc. You are only limited by your imagination. Changing the organism would be like having the pitcher perform an exercise (Bulgarian Split Squats x 20 only one one side for example) to tire out a leg and let the body compensate. Player trained in this method in tennis, track and field, and cricket thrive under pressure. Player trained by conventional methods tend to choke. Conventional methods tend to make the player use his conscious brain which slows the reaction time.

As I thought about this, could one of the reasons Dominican players seem to do better with pressure is that they grew up playing on fields that were not manicured and subsequently had to adapt. I also thought about hitters like Singleton, Villar, Krauss, and Dominguez and wondered if training with variable learning described by Bosch would allow these player react their potential by getting their brains out of the way.

Andy McKay mental coach for the Rockies echoed Bosch's thoughts. One of his take home messages was that baseball practice is made too easy because we want the players to feel good about themselves. Pactice should be set up harder that the actual game. This is the method that the Navy Seals use. They push you so hard that the actual combat is relatively easy.

Perry Husbands presentation was elaboration on what he has said in the past. One new nugget that I got was the concept of drinking in a pitch. On a off speed pitch low and outside, a batter will often bend at the waist to watch the pitch and "drink it in." When his body language shows that, he is VERY susceptible to a high inside pitch. He showed a sequence McHugh carving up Nelson Cruz and a sequence of Brad Peacock striking out Jeter. Interestingly, Peacock made a mistake pitch based on EV that should have crushed but Jeter took. I talked with Husbands afterwards about McHugh and Husbands stated that McHugh has only scratched the surface of EV and once he figures if out, he has the stuff that could be amazing.

The wit and wisdom of Brent Strom is to follow later this week. Stay tuned.