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The Strom List: An Interview with Graeme Lehman

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Taking a deeper look and getting to know one of Strom’s go-to experts

More than a year ago, I started digging into the theories and tactics utilized by Brent Strom. We’ve seen Strom’s magic in effect with a large number of players having miraculous turn-arounds in their careers, finding a whole new gear.

At the start, we were quick to identify some of the major tweaks that Strom made within a pitcher’s repertoire and the direct correlation in their results, but of course there are tons of other changes that aren’t covered in as much detail. Strom’s list is an eclectic mix, with some really large names in the industry and others who aren’t recognized within the main stream. Each with their own contribution to Strom’s overall vision, which continues to evolve as he continues to research the “fringe” science as others like Balkovec mentioned.

If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, I covered Graeme in a different Strom List article, what originally started off as a paragraph or two covering his methodology evolved into what could have been an article in it’s own right. For me, Graeme provides a phenomenal resource, as his writing is designed to be described in “Lehman” terms. Usually, as I dig into what are essentially detailed scientific research papers and studies, I try to simplify the concepts in an easily digestible format for all of us to gain a better understanding. Luckily for us, Graeme already does just that. Where I’d normally summarize a conversation, I decided to use Graeme’s responses directly instead because he brings modesty and an incredible way of explaining concepts to people outside of the industry who don’t have their Masters degree in Physiology like he does.

I highly recommend reading through his blog, as his articles range from anthropometrics, to coaching and testing/training tips for coaches even without the hundreds of thousands of dollars in tools/equipment. But most notably, he discovered a direct correlation between the lateral jumps of pitchers and the pitcher’s future velocity. This is a revolutionary discovery as you look through not only training but the identification of talent and their ability to gain velocity as they harness their mechanics.

But enough of my rambling, back to the main event, a discussion with the only and only Graeme Lehman!

Congratulations on being named on-to Strom’s Top Go-to Experts in the Industry! While we will generally do a lot of research, can you describe in your own words what areas that Strom looks to your expertise?

To be honest I am not exactly sure how he found my website. All I know is that one day a got an e-mail notification that someone signed up to subscribe to my blog and the e-mail address looked like it could belong to coach Brent Strom. So, I took a chance and reached out with the assumption that it was him and it was!!! We quickly exchanged a couple of e-mails where we told me he liked my work and offered to meet me in Seattle if I could make the trip. Seattle is my closest MLB city at 8 hours. I have yet to meet him but I was just blown away that a coach of his caliber and experience would take the time to read any of my articles.

Your thesis paper on the Correlation of throwing velocity to the results of lower-body field tests in male college baseball players caused some waves in the industry, and found the highest predictive correlation for future velocity was related to a pitcher’s lateral and medial jumps. Tell us a little more about this and how you use these measurements for both evaluation and development of a training plan.

The findings from my research validated what some smart coaches in the industry all knew. If you have ever worked with pitchers you will find that a lot of them don’t really do well on traditional athletic tests such as sprint speed, jump height and weight room strength. In fact, pitchers are sometimes referred to as “non-athletes” by position players. Yet pitchers can still find a way of throwing really hard without possessing high levels of athleticism that these kinds of tests measure. So, this led me to my question of “what kind of athletic abilities do these players that throw hard possess because pitching is undoubtedly athletic and maybe we as an industry weren’t administering the right tests. So, I took two collegiate baseball teams and ran them through every type of athletic test I could imagine that didn’t require any high-tech equipment since another goal of mine was to make the results of this research applicable to any coach, parent or player. The main result was that when I compared the results of all of these various tests to their throwing velocity, a test that we called the “lateral-to-medial jump” showed the highest correlation. While it sounds fancy and technical it is simply just jumping sideways off of one foot. You can try it yourself by standing on your right foot and then jump as far as you can to your left then land on both feet at the same time with your feet together. When you try this, you will quickly realize that it looks a lot like a pitcher working out of the stretch and then you might think “off course this movement should correlate since it is so similar to the actual act of throwing a baseball”. If you thought this then you are right and I am just lucky enough to have my name associated with the results of this study which proved that power is plane specific. The plane that I am referring to is called the frontal plane which is dominated by lateral or side to side movements. Most exercises and athletic tests are in the sagittal plane which goes forwards and backwards which is why the results of those tests didn’t correlate as highly. These sagittal plane movements are still important when it comes to training but we need to add in some of these lateral movements since they are much more sports specific. The question of how and which exercises should be done and when they should be performed would open up another can of worms that would be other of its own articles. For now, try adding in some lateral jumps with resistance (band around your waist), pull a weight sled while walking sideways and sprinkle in some lateral lunges into a traditional training program that focuses on sagittal plane movements like squats, deadlifts and lunges.

I can’t help but highlight what I saw in the about on your original blog that seemed like a guiding message. “My goal is to take the hard-to-understand Scientific jargon and translate it into Layman’s terms. This was too easy of a play on words with my given last name not to pass up.” It seems you have continued that work with Tread Athletics, which appears to be this tremendous resource of research content on coaching (with a large percentage of it free), and ability for people to work with some of the best industry such as yourself. Can you tell us about Tread and the work you are doing there? Tell us more about what drives you to share this information?

Tread is amazing. I was on their radar because of the work that I’ve done but I have learned a ton during this first year of working with them. The systems that they have created in order to individually assess each athlete from head to toes is something that I dreamed of putting together but gave up on due to the daunting size and complexity of this kind of task. But co-founders of Tread (Ben Brewster and Coan McAlpine) have put a lot of time, experience, education and work into creating some really phenomenal systems that have been proven to help out pitchers of all levels get better. The best part is that it is all done remotely. For me it’s been rewarding getting to work with my roster of athlete’s and having the chance to apply the knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the years to each athlete. What drives me to share this knowledge is that I want to be the resource that I think the 15-year-old version of me would have wanted.

Admittedly, my research into your work was my first foray into Anthropometrics, and the topics were very new to me. You do an excellent job of translating challenging concepts into palatable bites of information. I really enjoyed your series of articles looking at Stroman vs Sanchez and how their bodies generate power. For those who aren’t familiar can you briefly describe anthropometrics and how you take the measurements of the body and look to apply them for the customized training?

Anthropometrics is like measuring for height but taken to the next level by measuring various limb lengths. For example, you can have two athlete’s that are both 6’2” but one might have 36” in-seam and when you stand them back-to-back it is noticeable that one guy’s butt is well above the other guys belt line. So even though they are the same height overall, I don’t think that these two players would share the exact same lower body mechanics in order to optimize their physical traits.

The most common type of anthropometric information we get in sports is in the form of arm span. Basketball measures this and so does football along with hand size. To my knowledge this kind of information isn’t as common in baseball. Yet we stress a lot about biomechanics but I don’t think we can help an athlete figure out what works best for them without knowing where their length comes from. What makes this subject so interesting to me is that there doesn’t seem to be one particular body type that is best suited for throwing a baseball. If you look at the pitching staff on the Houston Astros for example you are going to see a variation in height of up to 9 inches (Austin Pruitt @ 5’11” and Forrest Whitley at 6’7”) and a variation in weight of up to 110 lbs (Jario Solis @ 160lbs and Andre Scrubb @270lbs). Those are pretty big discrepancies. I can’t think of another position in any other sport that has that big of a range in the athletes that compete at the highest level. So, to me this means that there are a bunch of different ways to reach elite levels of throwing velocity and as a result coaches need to be adaptable in their cueing and training to help guide each pitcher along their unique path.

In particular, I was impressed by your series around studying back leg elasticity and drive. And I wanted to highlight the test you discussed in regards to Lateral Jumps that allow for analysis without the access to expensive tools such as force plates. It’s also worth highlighting the series of long toss throws for evaluation. For aspiring coaches out there, the ability to evaluate without the investment into expensive equipment like this brings a ton of value. Do you have any other tips / tricks that you recommend?

The theory goes something like this. When an athlete produces force, like in jumping for example, they get this power from two different primary sources: the muscles and the tendons. Every athlete uses both of these power sources but some use muscles more than tendons while others whom I would classify as “springy” or “elastic” rely more on tendons. Most people understand how bigger and stronger muscles can contract harder and faster to make an athlete jump higher or run faster. But unless you took some anatomy and physiology classes you might not be familiar with how tendon’s create power. Without getting too technical, tendons, which connect muscles to bones, have the ability to store energy like a spring when the muscle is stretched. If you can quickly take your muscle from being stretched to being contracted you stand to gain a lot of energy from the tendon being stretched just like a rubber band. Some athletes are really, really good at storing and releasing this kind of energy which is why you might see basketball players for example who can jump incredibly high with skinny legs. In order for these types of athletes to display their ability like this they need to load and unload their tendons very quickly. When we look at pitching, the action of the back leg is performing an action similar to jumping. And because of this we can see some variety in the manner that the back leg is loaded. For some pitchers who might have strong muscular legs, their loading strategy might be more deliberate and we can see more of a bend at the hip and knee. This is how Stroman pitches. Compare this to Aaron Sanchez whose back leg action was a lot quicker and has less overall movement at the knee and hip. To measure for this, I adapted a series of three jumps that strength and conditioning coaches will use to help determine if a player is more muscular driven or “springy”. All three jumps are variations of a standard vertical jump. One jump has the athlete pause at the bottom of their squat, one is a traditional countermovement jump and the final one has the athlete drop from a 12-inch box before rebounding into the air. The ratios of how an athlete scores on these three jumps can help us determine which strategy suits them best. In the article that you are referring to I just came up with 3 lateral jump’s that follow this same theory.

Walk us through your process. If you were to evaluate a new pitcher you had never seen before, what would that process look like? Would it be taking all the anthropometric measurements, utilizing the lateral jump test described in your lateral force article, long toss tests, the field goal test you mentioned in the Korean Mechanics comparison article? Would it involve key measurements during their wind up (from degrees of rotation, to hip hinge, to FCC or forward trunk tilt?

The process that I would follow is what we do at Tread. When we are assigned a new athlete, we get 30+ videos from the new athlete performing a wide range of tests and assessments. These videos give us a comprehensive view of each athlete ranging from their mobility/flexibility from head to toe along with their athletic ability in the gym (how strong are they) and on the field (jumping, sprinting, long toss). We also perform an in-depth analysis of their pitching mechanics with a 50+ point check list. With all of this information in hand along with their injury history and goals we can really help develop a road map for success by identifying the areas that have the biggest windows of opportunity. If an athlete, for example, has fairly clean mechanics but scores relatively low in their strength and athletic ability testing, we know where we should be spending more time and energy. Athletes only have so much time and energy so we don’t want to waste either of these precious commodities. So, by doing our homework up front with an athlete we can get this comprehensive picture of each athlete and come up with a customized plan. From there we continue to communicate and re-assess in order to make sure we are heading the right direction.

Mechanically I find myself looking at peak knee lift, front foot contact and ball release. Only because I know from the research that there are some key elements that we want to see at these specific points in the delivery. Plus, its simple just to look at a couple of pictures and its easier for the athlete to see and comprehend what they’re doing. If we can help paint a picture or two of what their body should look like at these key points in the delivery their natural athletic ability will help them find a way to get from point A to point B.

Can you tell us a bit about Brent Strom from your perspective and how you became a go-to resource for him?

My first exposure to Brent Strom must have been in an Eric Cressey blog that mentioned his name. From there I can remember purchasing one of his talks he did at the Texas Baseball Ranch. It was an amazing talk where he really simplified a lot of concepts about pitching while being able to provide some reasoning and science behind the ideas he was discussing.

The reason that he has been so successful is his willingness to keep learning and combining that knowledge with his vast experience. This is the reason why he is respected by coaches both young and old. He can talk the analytic and quantitative language that is taking over the game while still being able to draw on his subjective coach’s eye in a qualitative manner. This is a great combination.

I’m not exactly sure how he came across my website by pointing to his willingness to keep learning. My site is pretty obscure and the articles are pretty long so he would have had to go out of his way and invest some of his precious time in reading my articles.

Strom won coach of the year due to the significant success of the Astros rotation over the past few years. With successes ranging from “miracle” turn arounds for pitchers like Collin McHugh, Charlie Morton, Ryan Pressly, and Will Harris or taking star caliber players to the next level like Verlander or Cole. What have you seen the Astros implement/change? Any pitchers that excite you within their system?

I’m sure that the success has a lot to do with what I just mentioned about a blending of quantitative and qualitative data that Brent Strom can see and learn about each pitcher. Identifying the problem is one thing but the real magic comes from making positive changes with each individual pitcher. To do this the Astros organization has applied a motto of “What, Why and How”. Based on a couple of different conversations that I’ve had with coaches in the Astros organization I’ve heard this saying. It means that if you want to try to fix something with a pitcher you have to know the answer to these three questions. You have to know what the problem is, why it’s a problem and most importantly how we are going to fix it. If you can’t answer these three questions don’t go up to a pitcher and only tell them what their problem is or why it’s an issue. Without the “how” you don’t want to be messing around in an athletes head. If you want to learn more about this concept Tanner Reklaitis, Director of Operations at Tread Athletics, wrote a great piece that you can read here (https://tanners.blog/what-why-how/)

Although I’m sure influences and places you’ve studied given your education (Masters in Science in Exercise Physiology, CSCS and FMS certifications) could fill an article itself, for aspiring coaches out there, what would you recommend as your 3 top resources (books, or blogs, or a person’s set of theories)?

I feel that it’s harder now to keep on top of things since there are so many sources, but if I had to pick three sources other than the stuff we put out at TreadAthletics.com I would pick

  1. Eric Cressey – he is the guy that got me excited about the prospect of combining my two passions of baseball and exercise science. Going through his archives and his educational products will undoubtedly make you a better coach
  2. PubMed – looking at actual peer reviewed research will give some in-depth knowledge that you can trust. There is a lot of “bro-science” in the weight room and in the bullpen so it’s important to have a filter to know what is and what isn’t good information.
  3. Other Sports – looking at what coaches and athletes do in other sports can be another gold mine of information. Personally, I’ve learnt a ton by diving into the track and field world. These coaches spend a lot of time and effort breaking down mechanics and individualizing training to optimize their athletes performance. Learning and applying some of this information is great. I’ve also learnt some valuable things from researching other throwing sports like cricket, water polo, hand ball or tennis.

I honestly cannot thank Graeme enough for taking the time for this interview. I truly appreciate the incredibly modest approach he takes, and most of all, that he takes the time to simplify complex concepts down to be able to be used by coaches throughout baseball.

I’m excited to continue to follow Graeme as he continues to push the limits and help define a better approach to pitching and the analysis. Tread was already a strong force in the arena of coaching, and adding a mind like Graeme’s to their organization only further expands their ability to be one of the top organizations in the country.