This is one of my favorite times of year here in the northeast. Leaves are changing color, there’s a cool bite in the air, and major league playoffs are in full gear. If you’re a young pitcher, your summer league is a distant memory, and while a lot of kids play fall baseball, that too is coming to a close. And after that last pitch is thrown and you put the spikes away for the winter, you’ve officially entered into one of the most critical times of year for any pitcher… the Off-Season.
As a former minor league pitcher, I can tell you what you do in the months that follow can make or break your career. And that’s because real gains are made in the off-season. During the season, your focus is on performing at your best and doing everything you can to maintain your strength and stay healthy. Making meaningful strength and velocity gains means pushing yourself to the limit, and that’s tough to do when your body’s already dealing with fatigue and the demands of pitching week in, week out.
But before you dive into plans for your off-season training, let me make some recommendations:
- Give your arm a rest. Overuse is one of the biggest contributors to injury, and studies confirm that kids who pitch year round without a break have much higher rate of arm injury. According to one 2006 study, leading researchers found, “Adolescent throwers who pitched more than eight months per year were five times more likely to be injured compared to those who pitched less.”
-Olsen SJ, Fleisig GS, Dun S, Loftice J, Andrews JR. “Risk factors for shoulder and elbow injuries in adolescent baseball pitchers” – Am J Sports Med. 2006
- Spend some time playing another sport or working on strength and agility. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to stick to throwing off the mound 365 days a year. Becoming a better athlete will make you a better pitcher.
Generally speaking, a month or two away from throwing a baseball will do your arm some good and allow you to come back to pitching recharged and ready to go. And there plenty of ways you can improve as a pitcher that don’t require throwing a baseball.
Now before getting all Gung-Ho about your winter conditioning, I want you to think about the # 1 thing every pitcher should do before beginning their off-season training:
[h4]Get to Know Your Weakest Link![/h4] br>
You’re only as strong as your weakest link. You’ve probably heard it a million times, but as with most clichés there’s some real truth to it. You can apply that phrase to just about any aspect of pitching. Every pitcher has weaknesses, things they could do better. Maybe you have trouble locating your fastball or getting your breaking ball over for a strike consistently. Maybe you could work on your mental approach and maintaining a positive pitching mindset when things are going against you. Maybe you have a flaw in your pitching mechanics that could be hurting your velocity and control.
It applies to your mechanics: The pitching delivery is a total body movement involving your entire kinetic chain. When you consider the speed of the movement (from the height of your leg lift to ball release takes less than second!), it’s easy to understand how a breakdown or inefficiency at any point in that chain can wreck the whole thing.
It applies to your conditioning: Good mechanics alone can’t eliminate the risk of injury. In fact, since good mechanics allow you get generate more force and velocity, the hardest throwers put the most stress on their arms. The only way to handle those stresses is through a well designed strength and conditioning routine.
Eric Cressey had a great post on his site recently, definitely worth checking out: Pitching Injuries and Performance: Understanding Stride Foot Contact and Full External Rotation[h5]What do Michael Jordan, Greg Maddux, and Mariano Rivera have in common?[/h5]
…Well, I mean aside from being among the greatest to ever play their respective sports/positions. Like all great athletes, they each understood the importance of addressing their weaknesses, facing them head on and turning them into strengths.
Michael Jordan: When Jordan came into the league he was considered a one dimensional player – a great scorer and dunker, but he couldn’t play defense or threaten with his outside shot. He committed to becoming the best defender he could be, and in his fourth season was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. Did he stop there? No, he kept looking for weaknesses, areas he could improve, and developed his signature fade-away jump shot. He looked at what people considered his weaknesses and worked like crazy to turn them into strengths.
Mariano Rivera: It’s easy to forget, but when Mo first came up, he was a strikeout machine who relied an explosive four seam fastball. The ball jumped on the hitter at the last second, nobody could touch it. It was amazing to watch. But he soon realized that all those swinging strikes meant more pitches and more stress on his arm. If he wanted to be available to pitch every day, year in year out, he’d be better off forcing contact and getting outs on fewer pitches. So he developed that filthy cutter and became the most dominant closer in the history of baseball. But he didn’t stop there. Eventually, hitters started to cheat on the cutter. So late in his career he developed a new pitch, a hard sinking/tailing two seamer he could throw to keep hitters honest.
Greg Maddux: Considered by many to be the greatest pitcher of his era, Maddux was a master at commanding his fastball and changing speeds to keep hitters off balance. But success didn’t come overnight. A few years into his career, after experiencing some success, he realized something was holding him back from achieving pitching to his full potential: negative thoughts and self doubt. So what did he do? He sought out sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman and worked on strengthening his mental approach. The result? During the four year span from 1992-1995 Maddux won 4 consecutive Cy Youngs while posting a 75-29 record with a 1.98 ERA.
(watch 3:20 minutes in where he starts talking about his mental approach)
My point is, the greatest athletes in the world didn’t get that way by accident. Talent helps, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. The world is full of talented failures. The great ones set themselves apart through a commitment to excellence and a burning desire to be the best they can be. They take the time to know their weaknesses, and tackle them head on.
[h4]So how do you get to know your weakest link?[/h4] br>
It begins with Self-Assessment. Take some time to step back and reflect on your season. What could you have done better, what could you work on this winter to become a more complete pitcher next season? Assess all areas of your game, your mechanics, your mental approach, your control and command of your pitches.
And part of the process should include assessing your overall strength and flexibility. Something I see all the time with the kids I work with is a lack of the overall strength and mobility needed to perform a powerful pitching delivery. Now is the time to examine yourself, determine what you need to work on. That way you can come up with a plan to get the most out of your training this off-season.
This off-season, I’m partnering with Strength & Conditioning Coach Josh Heenan to offer complete Pitching, Strength & Flexibility Assessments for all of my pitchers here in CT. You can learn more about Josh here. If you’re interested in getting your own Full Pitching Assessment send me an email: Phil@BetterPitching.com.
If you don’t live in the NY/CT area but think you could benefit from this kind of assessment, you can send me a video for a full Pitching Motion Analysis. Also, If you don’t have access to a strength coach like Josh, who really knows his stuff, I highly recommend checking out the Assess & Correct program.