Transitioning To The -3 Bat Size For 9th Grade

May 27, 2011

Chris Welch, General Manager, RBI Baseball Academy

           For many 7th and 8th graders the question of, “What size and weight of bat should I use so that I’m ready for the -3 that is required for high school baseball?” is something that requires a lot of thought.  It’s a very valid question and something that I would like to share my opinion on and hopefully help a couple hitters out.   The hitters I am focusing on here are the hitters that are no longer in little league/cal ripken baseball but aren’t quite in high school yet. 

            In recent years, senior league bats (big barrel) are being made in a variety of different sizes and weights.  The most common length bats being used for 7th and 8th graders are 31” and 32”.  When it comes to length I always recommend asking a professional their opinion on which length bat is right for the hitter.  Many people have general rules of thumb such as holding the bat out in front of you and seeing if you can hold it up, or holding it down to your side in your hand and having it touch the floor etc.  Now while these rules of thumb can be helpful, there’s nothing better than getting an experienced coaches opinion when it comes to length.  An experienced coach will take into consideration the player’s swing, what kind of hitter they are, and what have they used in the past to determine what the proper length is.  All of these considerations can also be used to help determine the weight of the bat for the player jumping up to the big diamond for the first time.  Some hitters may want swing a lighter bat (a drop 10, 9, or 8.5) because they themselves haven’t quite hit a growth spurt or because that’s what they feel most comfortable with.  Some hitters may want to swing a drop 5 because they feel as though the extra few ounces gives them more power without sacrificing bat speed too much.  I will happily dive deeper into Newton’s Laws of Motion at another point, but simply remember that mass, acceleration, and contact are the three big keys to the force that impacts the baseball from a hitter.  Basically, get as much bat speed and as much weight into the ball as possible, and hit is square.   So yes, a heavier bat will help you as long as you don’t sacrifice bat speed.  From my experience, the majority of youth hitters will have more success with a lighter bat because they will sacrifice too much bat speed by using a heavier bat.

            So, back to the point of my article.  When you are in 7th or 8th grade (mainly an issue for 8th graders) what’s the best weight that you should use to be best prepared for high school baseball.   For this I will refer again to the “drop” which for those who don’t know is the relationship between the length and weight of the bat.  For example a 32” length bat that weighs 23 ounces is known as a drop (or minus) 9.  A 33” bat that weighs 30 ounces is known as a drop 3.

            While most hitters are looking to answer this question of what they should use, the most simple answer I can give them is that if you are a hitter that works hard and plans on training during the fall and winter of your freshman year then don’t be overly concerned about what size you are using the previous summer.   What I mean by this is that regardless of whether you use a drop 9 or a drop 5, you will be giving yourself PLENTY of time to acclimate yourself to the new drop 3.  Now, if you feel as though a drop 5 gives you a better chance of success in the months prior to becoming a freshman, as I mentioned before that’s a different story.  For a hitter that is hard working and is going to be training in the fall and winter of their freshman year, they will be taking countless swings in the six and a half months that they are freshman prior to high school tryouts in New England.  This gives them PLENTY of time to get used to the drop three bat.  Most hitters that are looking to prepare themselves properly will be spending much of those months swinging a wood bat anyways and most wood bats now are about two ounces lighter than length (drop 2).

            From my experience, if a hitter is even thinking about the question of what will best prepare them then they are usually the type of player that will be putting in the time and effort into their training.

            We operate a 15U wood bat league at RBI that is designed for 8th and 9th graders .  It’s a seven week schedule and even in those seven weeks I see hitters getting used to the added weight of the wood bat.  I also see a lot of hitters that utilized a drop 5 bat the previous summer purely to make the “transition” to the drop 3 bat easier for them. Unfortunately because they used a drop 5 they probably sacrificed some performance on the field because they should have been using a drop 9 or 10.  To me that’s a giant waste, especially for a hitter that works hard and would’ve had plenty of time to acclimate themselves to the drop 3. 

            If you are a hitter that probably won’t put in the time to get ready for high school tryouts in March, then maybe you have more to worry about than the size of the bat unfortunately.  Preparing for hitting in March, even for multisport athletes (which we love here at RBI), isn’t really that time consuming.  Taking 100-200 swings in a week during those football, basketball, hockey, cross country, etc seasons isn’t difficult when you really think about it.  A couple hundred swings in a week from November to February will take you approximately 30-60 minutes out of your schedule per week.  Then gearing up your training in the three or four weeks prior to the season will certainly add to your regiment.  For single sport athletes that simply play baseball, the first thing I would recommend is to find a good training regiment for yourself, and then working on your hitting for at least two hours a week.  In both of these scenarios a hitter has more than enough time to get used to the new weight of the bat. 

            So in the end, put your current season ahead of the next one when it comes to bat length and weight and in the off-season.  Maximize your performance on the field NOW because in New England you have plenty of indoor months of training ahead of you to get ready for next year.

            If you have any questions on this, please don’t hesitate to email me at cwelch@rbiacademy.com. Thanks and always remember to practice perfectly!


What to Eat Between a Doubleheader

May 26, 2011

Joe Breen, Director of Baseball Operations, RBI Baseball Academy

Doubleheaders are becoming more and more common in Youth and Babe Ruth baseball with the increase in AAU/Travel teams and tournaments.  One thing I hear a lot is how different teams play from Game 1 to Game 2, both good and bad.  Sometimes a team comes out in Game 1 with all sorts of energy and enthusiasm and then by the time Game 2 starts they come out with heads down and lack of alertness.  In my opinion, one of the keys to both an individual and team’s success to play with energy and alertness over what could potentially be 6 hours of baseball (usually 20-40 mins between games) is nutrition.

I didn’t participate in a doubleheader until college so I was very unfamiliar with the process.  I was a freshman pitcher at Stonehill College and it was our first spring doubleheader.  About the 6th inning of Game 1 there was a very familiar smell in the air…burgers and hot dogs!!!  Apparently it was a tradition at Stonehill that the senior parents would organize a cookout between our Saturday games.  As soon as that first game ended and coach addressed the team, we headed out to the cookout and all I can say about this spread was WOW!  There were burgers, hot dogs, meatball sandwiches, cookies, brownies, gatorades, granola bars, and so much more.  At this time I was about 10lbs into gaining my freshman 15 and with little to no chance of pitching in game 2 I went straight for the unhealthy options.  I may have had 2 burgers, a hot dog, and 4-5 cookies at least.  By the time Game 2 started all I wanted to do was lay down in the bullpen and soak in my own gluttony.

That following summer I worked my rear off to get in great shape and learned a few things about nutrition and how to properly feed my body for performance.  The following years, there were still ridiculous cookouts between games but I made healthier choices and my performance (and mindset) were both in a better place. 

The title of this post is “What to Eat Between A Doubleheader”; however, it is crucial to have a 24-hour plan in place to maximize your between game meal.  With that said, here is a sample of what to eat and when to eat it on a day that you have a doubleheader.  Let’s just say you have games on Saturday at 11am and 2pm. 

Friday night: Be sure to have a well balanced dinner including roughly 40% slow-digesting carbohydrates, 40% protein, and 20% fat plus drink plenty of water.  Athletes should be drinking 48+oz of water each day and most players over the age of 13 should be taking in 60-120oz.

Saturday:

8am Breakfast (Options: Egg whites w/ vegetables, whole wheat toast, yogurt, fruit, cottage cheese, protein shakes, all-natural peanut butter)  Be sure to get your carbohydrates from whole wheat/grain sources.  Avoid: white bread, heavy amounts of cheese (like in an omelette or bfast sandwich), fatty meats such as sausage/ham.  Be sure to have water with breakfast NOT FRUIT JUICE which is overloaded with sugar.

9:30am-10:45am Pre-Game (Warm-up, stretch, throw, infield/outfield, batting practice).  Keep hydrating with both water and Gatorade.  I try to water-down my Gatorade a bit if it’s not an intense pre-game but if it’s really hot and I’m losing a lot of sweat, I’ll use regular Gatorade.

10:45am Snack: This is a MUST as you will not have much of an opportunity to eat until between games and you want to make sure your blood-sugar levels don’t get too low which is when you start to lose energy, alertness, and overall enthusiasm.  I would suggest either a low-sugar protein bar or a hand-full of mixed nuts, something that you can eat on the bench without causing a distraction.  Be sure to get water as well.

1:00-2:00pm Between Games: Depending on when Game 1 ends and Game 2 starts you want to make sure you don’t waste time especially if you are starting Game 2.  This is not time to lay down and socialize, IT’S TIME TO PREPARE!  As soon as your coach dismisses you for the time alotted before next game begins, you need to do 3 things:

#1: Eat/Hydrate – My suggested between game snacks are a light sandwich (on whole wheat bread), piece of fruit, protein/granola bar, mixed nuts.  My personal favorite choices are:

Sandwich: 1/2 Grilled Chicken Sandwich on Whole Wheat bread with avocado, lettuce & tomato

Fruit: Banana w/ All-Natural Peanut Butter

Protein/Granola Bar: Low-Sugar Detour Bar (30g Protein!)

# 2: Warm-up…Again! – You need to prepare your body after some down-time.  Just some light jogging, high knees, butt kicks, carioca, arm circles should do the trick.

#3: Skills – Depending on what position you are playing in Game 2, you should either take some soft toss, take some groundballs/fly balls or if you are in relief, do some light throwing.

Hopefully this helps all of you weekend warriors out there who spend every weekend from April – July in the doubleheader/tournament circuit!


5 Ways of Managing Base Runners From The Mound

May 25, 2011

Chris Welch, General Manager, RBI Baseball Academy

            As a pitcher, I always tried to pride myself on managing a runner once he got on base.  I spent a large amount of time working on how to keep runners close on the bases so that the other 8 players on the field with me always had the best chance of getting that runner out.  Obviously it’s a pitchers job to keep that runner close so that in the event of a stolen base attempt the catcher has the best chance possible of throwing them out. But don’t underestimate the importance of keeping that runner close so that the base runner can’t take the extra base on a hit, or be called safe at a close play at 2nd or 3rd on a fielder’s choice, etc.  It’s truly important to keep the runner close so that you give all 9 positions the edge on a close play. 

            I break “Managing the Runner” down into 5 areas.  Everything you can do to manage that runner can be found in one of these 5.  When I teach these I break them all down into their two word titles.  Here they are:

1.)    Step Off – Stepping off is a very valuable tool for a pitcher to use whenever he isn’t 100% confident in something.  Marc DesRoches (RBI Instructor and Director of the Hawks Travel Program) calls it the “ultimate reset button” and that’s a perfect way of looking at it.  As a pitcher, if you are unsure of a.) the runner, b.) your fielders positioning, c.) your pitch selection, d.) anything else, hit the RESET button by stepping off.  Stepping off is simply taking your throwing side foot from the engaged position on the rubber and stepping behind the rubber towards 2nd base.  Once you step off you can disengage the hands if they were engaged and now for the most part you are considered an infielder and can do anything an infielder can do (with a couple of exceptions).   For instance, if a runner starts running early, step off.  Then you can run right at them or throw to an unoccupied base just as if you were a shortstop.  While engaged on the rubber you are considered a pitcher and must throw to an occupied base and all of the “Balk” rules (will discuss in another blog) will apply.

2.)    Throw Over – Most commonly referred to as a pick-off move.  This is a very effective way of showing the runner that you know he’s there and are keeping an eye on them.  Throwing over is something I strongly recommend discussing with a pitching coach.  For me to describe how to properly throw over in a blog would overload the wordpress website.  After a game I had pitched poorly in one time (but won) I had the opposing coach tell me, “You really pitched like XXXX, but man you had a good pick-off move and kept our runners close and that cost us the game”… they were definitely a running team and after the ultimate backhanded compliment he gave me I said thank you and was proud that I was able to take away that teams strength even though I wasn’t pitching very well.  But here are a couple of major points you need to consider when you throw over. 

a.)    You do NOT have to step off to throw to a base.  Most Junior High coaches believe you do, they are wrong.  Stepping off not only slows up your pick-off attempt, but as I mentioned earlier, it makes you an infielder.  This means that if you step off to throw to 1st base and throw it away (woods, over a fence, or into a dugout) that runner advances 2 bases instead of 1, so now he’s at 3rd base.  If you made the same mistake from the engaged position they would only be awarded 1 base. 

b.)    Mix up your moves, don’t always go to your A move.  Have some different moves so that you don’t develop a pattern with them. 

c.)    Practice them, then practice them, then practice them some more.  A good pick-off/throw over can be a HUGE way of getting that big out you need desperately.  If the opposing team has a rally going and you can successfully pick a runner off, it will deflate the other team and severely hurt any momentum they have.

d.)    Not every throw over has to be a pick-off attempt.  Just by throwing over you can successfully accomplish what you are trying to do, which is keeping that runner close and managing them. 

3.)    Mix Looks – To me this is the single most important aspect of managing a runner.  Mixing up your looks means that you need to change the way you look to the runner.  This is accomplished by mixing up/changing the timing of your set as well as head movements.  Most pitchers (especially when they aren’t pitching well) will develop a pattern in how they deliver from the set.  They will get to the stretch, come to the set, wait one second, then pitch.  And they will do that every single time they come set.  As a base runner that pattern can be vital to getting the all-important first step on the pitcher.  To me a pitcher developing that pattern is similar to Tom Brady using the same snap count every time he is under center.  It would give the defense a huge advantage in the timing of their first step.  By changing snap counts, the defense cannot cheat on their first step.  By mixing up the timing of a pitchers set, they will help keep that runner from cheating on their first step.  When a pitcher comes set he should mix up the amount of seconds he holds the set for.  Sometimes going with a one count, next a three count, next a two count, next a five count, and so on and so forth.  Changing the amount of times they actually look over to the base is important too.

4.)    Mix Steps – This is somewhat similar to #3 but it has to do with your leg kick/leg step towards the plate.   To me, there are 3 types of leg kicks/steps towards the plate:

a.)    Full Leg Kick – most commonly used, this is when the pitcher brings their knee up to waist high or above.

b.)    Slide Step – this is when a pitcher doesn’t life his lead foot much more than an inch off of the dirt and simply slides it towards the plate.  When a pitcher utilized this step it is important for them to make up for the quickness of the step by breaking their hands quicker.

c.)    Anything In Between A and B –  this simply means that pitchers will utilize half kicks, pseudo-slide steps, knee-to-knee kicks so that they are still quicker to the plate than a full leg kick but aren’t going to the slide step so that they can still maximize their power properly.  These should be practiced often so that the pitcher can find what works best for them.

Combining the mixing up of looks with the mixing up of steps will create dozens of different “looks” to the base runner.

5.)    Pitch Out – This is almost never utilized but can definitely be a valuable tool for a pitcher/catcher battery.  A pitch out is when the pitcher intentionally throws the ball out of the strike zone (high and away from the batter) so that the catcher can get somewhat of a running start towards the throw down to the base.  Legally the catcher cannot leave the catchers box until the pitch is released by the pitcher (but catchers always cheat, and so don’t I).  A pitch out is most commonly signaled to the pitcher by the catcher making a fist instead of throwing down any fingers for the pitch.  When utilizing a pitch out the pitcher should always utilize the slide step.

            Next time you throw a bullpen, work on these 5 ways of managing the runner.  It will ultimately make you a more confident pitcher and will allow you to deliver the pitch knowing you helped out your team as best you could.   As always, contact me at cwelch@rbiacademy.com with any specific questions and always remember to practice perfectly!


3 Reasons NOT to Specialize in 1 Sport

May 23, 2011

Joe Breen, Director of Baseball Operations, RBI Baseball Academy

The growing epidemic of “sports specialization” has made me completely sick to my stomach. The cut throat world of youth sports have pressured many kids and parents into making a decision on whether they should give up sports that they “are not that great at” or “have the best chance to succeed.”  As someone who played 3 sports all the way through high school (football, basketball, baseball), I have a lot of feelings on this subject so limiting it to 3 will be tough but here are some of my initial thoughts on this subject.

1.  It’s the parents, not the child making the decision.  In the parent’s opinion, this is the sport that the child has the most ability at regardless of whether the child has any passion to play and/or to become better.  This results in lack of interest or desire to improve down the road especially if the decision is made too early.  Many parents did not achieve the athletic prowess that they wanted in their youth and now they are forcing their children to live their own dreams and not that of their child’s.   

2.  Loss of competitive edge.  I’ve seen players who quit football, soccer, basketball, and hockey so they can “concentrate” on one specific sport.  There is no substitute for intense competition.  I know when I’m on the mound in the bottom of the 7th with one out to go to win the game, I’m not thinking back to an indoor bullpen I threw in mid-January.  I’m thinking back to the defensive stop I had to make with 3 seconds left to go in the basketball game to prevent the other team from scoring the winning points.  The “competitive edge” is something that all great athletes need to have and is only attained through experiencing competition in various scenarios.   

3.  Loss/lack of total athletic development.  Imagine if Rajon Rondo had a great glove or Jerod Mayo could square up a baseball?  The movements repeated in sports like basketball and football help a developing athlete become quicker, more explosive, more agile, and possess the ability to change directions on a dime.  These are all qualities of some of the most elite baseball players who play at the highest of levels.  If you are a developing athlete and you never experience any of these types of movements, you will never possess the athletic ability needed to take your baseball skills to the next level.

While I am a true believer in playing a different sport in every season, I also promote training for your upcoming sport in the off-season.  Young athlete’s schedules should not be overbooked with all sorts of practices/games/training activities but I believe there is a sensible way of fully committing to one sport each season as well as some form of off-season skill training.  I see lots of players being fully committed to 1+ teams in 2+ sports PER SEASON!!!  That to me is not only overstressing the athlete but it doesn’t allow the player enough time to perfect their craft.  For example, there are a few kids I work with personally who are playing baseball for their town as well as spring soccer and or lacrosse.  So that means they go to 1-2 baseball practices, 1-3 baseball games, 1-2 private baseball lessons, 1-2 soccer/lacrosse practices, and 2-3 soccer/lacrosse games ALL IN ONE WEEK! 

To me, the spring is meant for your 1 Spring Sport!  You should be fully committed to developing your skills in that sport.  When I go watch high school games, I still see 3-5 errors or misplayed balls in the field per game.  Is this because they aren’t good players OR is it becasue they don’t or didn’t spend enough time taking groundballs/flyballs on a daily basis during their developmental years.  While it is tough to scientifically back that answer up due to lack of research, I think you get my point. 

I could go on all day long about this topic but hopefully those of you reading understand what I’m trying to say.  If anyone has any specific questions, I would love to talk or exchange emails.  In the age of social media,  you can reach me in any number of ways including:

Phone: 508-543-9595 x301, Email: JBreen@rbiacademy.com, Facebook: Joe Breen (RBI) or Twitter @JoeBreenRBI

I look forward to our discussion!


Does Your 13 or 14 Year Old Son NEED a Breaking Ball?

May 20, 2011

Chris Welch, General Manager, RBI Baseball Academy

A very common question for Babe Ruth/Senior/Junior League pitchers that come into my bullpen this time of the year for a lesson is “Can you teach me a Curveball?  I really NEED one”.  While players 12 and under typically don’t make the mistake of asking me to teach them a breaking ball, players 13 -14 will very commonly ask me to teach them a breaking ball in the middle of their season.

            When a pitcher asks me this question I will proceed to ask them a number of questions about their current arsenal of pitches then I’ll ask them a few questions about their performance so far this season.  Every now and then the pitcher and I will determine that it’s in fact time to learn (or start to learn) a breaking ball.  However, 99% of the time I am asked to teach a pitcher a curveball/slider in the middle of the season I am quickly discussing many other topics having NOTHING to do with the breaking ball.

            The reason for my quick change of topics is pretty simple, most 13 and 14 year old pitchers that tell me they NEED a breaking ball are simply trying to make up for the fact that their other pitches (fastball, changeup) aren’t working for them.  If a player WANTS a curveball during their season, that’s a different story.  But a pitch like the curveball and/or the slider is almost always best to be left until the off-season to start learning.  But let’s get back to the fact that pitchers are far too often trying to “become” good pitchers with a curveball/slider instead of trying to become a better pitcher by better utilizing the fastball.  I will never tell anyone that a breaking ball can’t be an extremely effective pitch when thrown properly.  I am also a pitching coach that believes when trained properly a 13 or 14 year old can learn how to throw a breaking ball in moderation.  But do you NEED one????

            The word NEED to me states that without it, you can’t survive.  If a junior high school pitcher NEEDS a curveball to pitch effectively, he NEEDS to rethink his train of thought.  The number one thing pitchers at this age NEED is their fastball.  They need to learn how to control it, they need to learn how to throw it in a manner that will limit their risk of injury, and they need to learn how to maximize its velocity.  Almost every single time I hear “I NEED a curveball” my next questions is, “How’s your accuracy with the fastball” and almost every time I ask the question I get the same answer “Good”.  Then when I ask them how many walks they threw in the last game the answer is almost always more than 2 per inning.  Not very “good” in my opinion.  Even if that player isn’t walking a lot of batters they are far too often pitching deep into too many counts and not keeping their pitch counts down.  Most organizations at this age have implemented pitch counts for pitchers and far too often pitchers are having the 30 pitch innings that will inevitably be the downfall of their pitching appearances.  I dive deeper into this topic in my article Looking Deeper into Pitch Counts but pitchers are having too many 30-40+ pitch innings (yes, partly attributed to poor defense) and they are lacking the ability to get out of innings by using their fastball.

            If you are a 7th or 8th grade pitcher and you cannot go on a mound and win without a breaking ball, you need to work on your fastball first and then a changeup second.  Even by having a changeup though, you should still focus primarily on your fastball.  Having a changeup is a great way for (when trained properly) for a pitcher to maintain proper mechanics and keep their individual inning pitch counts down.  A changeup is a VERY difficult pitch to throw well for most players and I strongly advise learning this pitch prior to ever experimenting with the breaking ball.  It will make you a much better pitcher in the long run. 

            So please, if you are a 13 or 14 year old baseball pitcher (or the parent of one), don’t ask your pitching coach or instructor to teach you a curveball or a slider until you are confident that you can go out to the mound and win a game with just your fastball.  Maybe adding a changeup is a great way of reassuring your ability to win, but if you are going to be successful as you get older, acquiring the confidence in your fastball is priority number 1.  This doesn’t mean you have to throw the hardest, or be “perfect” with your location.  Any velocity can be effective and nobody is perfect on the mound with accuracy.  However, a 13 or 14 year old player should be 100% confident that they can WIN by simply throwing their fastball at that age.  It is the single best way of helping you become the pitcher you want to be in high school and potentially after high school. 

            If you have any questions on this, please don’t hesitate to email me at cwelch@rbiacademy.com. Thanks and always remember to practice perfectly!


Looking Deeper Into Pitch Counts

May 20, 2011

Chris Welch, General Manager, RBI Baseball Academy

             A while back Joe Breen and I discussed the Pitch Count topic at length for quite some time and he wrote a really good blog titled “Pitch Counts Can Be Misleading” that can be found here: Pitch Counts Can Be Misleading

             The general idea for this blog was that far too often people are looking at the actual game pitch counts and not deep enough into truly how many pitches a pitcher throws throughout the course of a game (pre-game pitches, pre-inning pitches, etc).  I would like to briefly elaborate on another point relating to pitch counts that I feel is typically overlooked.           

            To me, the most important pitch counts occur in each individual inning and not the TOTAL pitch count at the end of the game.  I certainly am not saying that the total pitch count isn’t important.  What I am saying is that the most important pitch count for a pitchers health is the per-inning pitch count.  Most (if not all) youth baseball organizations at this point have rules on pitch counts.  They are almost always a total pitch count per game, and/or a total pitch count per week.  If you look at the American Sports Medicine Institute’s website on pitch counts http://www.asmi.org/asmiweb/usabaseball.htm you will notice very similar suggestions for pitchers.  These rules and restrictions have involved years of studies by major organization such as the ASMI as well as Little League Baseball and Cal Ripken Baseball.  Overall, I think these rules have done a great job creating awareness for the average youth baseball coach and will inevitably help save some players from arm injuries that they may have attained if not for these rules and guidelines.  However, I still have not seen any rules and restrictions on max pitches allowed per INNING. 

            As a coach/parent/player, I strongly urge everyone to focus more on not overloading the arm in any one particular inning.  We all know the throwing motion is very unnatural and can certainly cause injury, but as with any other sporting activity, you will always put yourself at risk of injury more when you are tired and weary.  The overall guideline for pitches per inning usually falls at 15.  For the most part, this is a very acceptable number of pitches to throw in an inning for most pitchers.  If an organization uses a 75 pitch count limit for a pitcher they are typically going off of a five inning performance at fifteen pitches per inning.  Overall, a very good pitch count.   But what about the 75 pitch count limit when a pitcher goes out in the first inning and struggles to locate their pitches, and maybe has an error or two made behind them and is now looking at a 38 pitch inning?  That pitcher was probably pretty tired after his 20th pitch so those last 18 pitches of that inning are putting him at even more risk of injury than if they were thrown in a different inning.  Now that pitcher goes back out to the mound in the 2nd inning and throws another 37 pitches.  So now his total pitch count is at 75 and he’s only 2 innings into the game.  That 75 pitch, 2 inning performance is going to have a much more detrimental effect on his shoulder, elbow, back, etc than if he went out and threw a 7 inning complete game and threw 13 pitches every inning for a total of 91 pitches.  But nobody ever sees that!

             Rest is crucial to the recovery of the arm, even if it’s the 10 minutes between innings for a pitcher.  Let’s look at two scenarios for a 12 year old pitcher:  

 1.)    Pitcher 1 throws 15 pitches in their first inning, 14 in their second inning, 14 in their third inning, 15 in their fourth inning, 14 in their fifth inning, and 18 in their sixth inning for a total of 90 pitches in 6 innings

2.)    Pitcher 2 throws 30 pitches in their first inning, and 35 pitches in the second inning, then comes out of the game.  A total of 65 pitches in 2 innings. 

 Both scenarios are very possible for a 12 year old pitcher. 

             Pitcher 1 has thrown 90 pitches (plus warm-ups) and Pitcher 2 has “only” thrown 65 pitches (plus less warm-ups).  But who has put their arm at a higher risk of injury?  In my experience Pitcher 2 has put a much greater risk of injury than Pitcher 1, but the rules of youth baseball would only allow Pitcher 2’s “pitch count”. 

             In the end, I’m certainly not looking to take away any of the current pitch count rules and regulations that are out there.  However, I am trying create some discussion and awareness of the times in a pitchers career that are putting the most risk of injury on that pitcher.  People are aware of breaking balls putting players (especially younger) at a greater risk of injury (most people don’t really know why), but I would really like people to be more aware of the fact that when a youth pitcher gets up over that 20 pitch mark in an inning, those pitches are considered “tired” pitches in my mind and are greatly putting youth players arms at risk.  Coaches need to look deeper into the pitch counts of a player than they currently are.  They need to look at how many they are throwing in each inning and they need to keep track of those innings where a pitcher throw 20+ pitches, 30+ pitches and realize that those pitches are severely putting youth pitchers at risk. 

             I have been a pitcher for 25 years, and a pitching coach for 10.  Much of what I write and talk about is from personal experience from either myself, my teammates, or my players that I work with.  But I will be the first person to tell you that there are a lot of people out there that are much more qualified to discuss the specifics of injuries to the arm with you.  I strongly recommend having a conversation with a sports medicine doctor, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, or a biomechanics specialist prior to mapping out your pitching programs.  Someone whose blogs and articles I follow closely is Eric Cressey at http://ericcressey.com/ if you’re looking to find someone who is extremely knowledgeable in these topics. 

             If you have any questions on this, please don’t hesitate to email me at cwelch@rbiacademy.com. Thanks and always remember to practice perfectly!


Good Weather or Bad, Keep Your Routine

May 19, 2011

Paul Rappoli, Owner/President, RBI Baseball Academy

Alright so as I just spent a few hours of my life last night watching the Clay Buchholz and Phil Coke dominate good hitters for seven innings in less than desirable hitting conditions (this is sugar coating it, Fenway was miserable last night).  I thought this would be a perfect item to blog on, considering that as a Massachusetts baseball player we deal with conditions like what we’ve seen in the last week more often than the comfortable sunny days.  It’s so easy for us to make excuses as hitters, “the weather was bad”,  “It was so cold I couldn’t feel my hands”,  “the batter’s box was slick”, I’ve said and heard it all.  Here’s the deal, it doesn’t matter, the best hitter’s overcome bad conditions for two reasons.

  1. They are mentally focused on the task at hand- “Hitting the baseball as hard as they can”
  2. Their routine stay’s the same

Mental Focus– Regardless of the temperature and conditions your job and focus must always be on squaring the ball up, and hitting it as hard as you can on a line.  If you’re in the dugout, on deck circle, or even worse in the batter’s box and you’re thinking about how cold or uncomfortable you are (we’ve all done it)  then you’re already beat.  The best players at every level are able to motivate themselves regardless of the weather conditions and are able to focus on the pitcher and their job at the plate.  I can remember countless times as a professional that we would play in cold weather cities in April and early May and my teammates from Latin American, Cali, Florida, Texas (or any other warm-weather climate) wanted no part of the game at hand.  But the best players regardless of where they grew up were successful because they believed they could hit and wouldn’t let outside distractions especially the weather affect their at-bats.  Manny, Nomar, Trot, Jeter, those guys always hit, 35 degrees and rainy or 90 degrees and sunny the best hitters believe they can hit they don’t let bad conditions distract them from the job at hand.

In Season hitting routine– Good weather or bad, hitter’s must develop an in-season hitting routine.  10-15 swings of batting practice with your team just won’t cut it.  In order to consistently repeat your swing in games (and to avoid a prolonged slump), hitter’s must continue to break down their swing with consistent drill work.  What a waste it is to work so hard in the off-season and then once your season begins you change it up.

My game day routine was this:

  1. (before BP)Soft-Toss with a team mate or hitting coach to get loose (8-15 swings depending on how I felt)
  2. (before BP)No-Stride soft toss- really focus on staying back, seeing the ball first, firing my back side, and staying through the ball (8-15 swings depending on how I felt)
  3. (before BP)Short – toss in front-  (10-20 swings) all up the middle and opposite field
  4. Batting practice with my team usually 3 or 4 rounds of 8 swings
  5. (After BP)- tee work- 5-10 swings top hand up the middle, 5-10 swings bottom hand up the middle, 5-10 swings both opposite field, and then 5-10 swings up the middle.

This routine happened at home or on the road, good weather or bad.  I understand that an amateur player has time restrictions that a professional player doesn’t.  Modify your routine to fit into your schedule, the key is that you have a routine and you stick to it.  Just by doing my routine every day I felt prepared and confident to play that night. Think about how hard you train in the off-season to get ready for April and then once the season starts, you cut back on your reps, the bad habits and bad at-bats happen and it’s tougher to fix because you haven’t been breaking down your swings in between games and practices.  Mentally and physically be ready to hit, if you believe you’ll succeed and prepare to succeed your quality at-bats increase dramatically.