“You have to be a good thrower to be a good pitcher, you don't have to be a good pitcher to be a good thrower.”
- Caleb Cotham, Phillies Major League Pitching Coach
In this post I want to discuss throwing (no sh*t I hear you say, it’s called Australian Pitching Development) – why its important, how to program it and why it directly translates to pitching.
I was fortunate to be on the on the Australian coaching staff in 2017 at the U18 world cup in Thunder Bay, Canada. I watched and worked with the best junior Australian pitchers close up for an intense couple of weeks and I’ve followed that group with a keen interest ever since. We have another World Cup on the horizon in 2022 in Bradenton Florida and Im lucky enough to be reappointed as pitching coach as well as being given the position of National Pitching Coordinator. These two roles have allowed me the ability to see huge amounts of video and data (e.g. Rapsodo) on eligible Australian juniors.
It can often seem that the baseball fraternity is a bit negative towards our juniors, saying things like “Australian kids can’t do this….., Australian kids aren’t strong enough”. Well, I’m here to tell you that there are 2 things that most Australian pitchers do well: we throw strikes and can spin a breaking ball. While I cannot back this up with any evidence, I hypothesize that the ability to spin a breaking ball comes from playing cricket as kids - many Australians grow up playing organized cricket or at least playing back yard games with friends/family and mimicking spin bowlers.
The ability to throw strikes on the other hand comes from the way we teach the pitching delivery and out of practicality. Australians only play once a week for the most part so a team only needs 1 – 3 pitchers and if you’re the kid who demonstrates that you can throw strikes, you get the ball every week because walks suck! When teams at a higher level require extra arms they call up the kid who can paint the zone because once again – walks suck!. As a younger player without the velocity to match it with the adults, a solid breaking ball also helps. It sounds simple, but these factors may be the reason we don’t always develop pitchers who can really bring it – we don’t allow the kid with a little nitro in their arm to develop it because we want safe and steady results.
Interestingly, I’ve seen this approach actually coach the athleticism in their delivery out of them.
“Mechanics” is a pitching term you hear at every level and it’s a word I try to avoid as it implies that pitching is something very mechanical or robotic. In the modern game we want athletes to fire a ball at a target as hard as they can because it’s harder to hit and provides a greater margin for error – this requires elite level athletic deliveries. I see two main inhibitors:
1) How we program throwing
2) How we teach the delivery
I want to focus on throwing in part 1 of this article. An early memory of mine as a young baseballer in Australia was rushing through our warm up throwing as the rest of practice (or training as we call it in Australia) was about to start. Players were rarely given the time to play catch and even then, it held no status at all. With typically only two practices per week, the actual volume of throwing was comically low, not to mention the absolute neglect of critical components such as long toss. In effect, as a pitcher you’d get a couple of regulation throws, a bullpen and then a game day appearance and that was the extent of throwing. On top of all of this was a general lack of awareness and education about playing catch. What is good catch? How long should you throw for? And what intensity should you throw at? I would like to think this has improved since I was growing up in Australia, but I know in many parts of Australia it has not.
Playing catch effectively involves 3 main factors: intensity, volume, and frequency. As coaches we must program this and as players we need to “listen to our arms” to quote Alan Jaeger. If we want to improve our deliveries, throw at higher velocities, and improve our command we must increase the volume of throwing to at least 4 times per week. Let’s consider the 3 factors above:
1) Frequency - we need to play catch preferably 4-5 times per week.
2) Volume & Intensity- catch play should be programmed around the game and bullpen days. We want to make sure we recover well and the best way to do it this is to program your long toss (greater than 70m (depending on the individual/age etc) and pulldown days on the same days as your bullpens and games.
A 7 day schedule it should look something like this:
Day 1 – Recovery day: Off or light throw 30 throws at 60-90ft low intensity
Day 2 – Long toss with pulldowns – med/high intensity
Day 3 – long toss no pulldowns – low/med intensity
Day 4 – Bullpen Day – long toss with pulldowns and bullpen – high intensity
Day 5 - Recovery day – off or light throw 60-90ft low intensity
Day 6 – Long toss no pulldowns – low/med intensity
Day 7 – Game Day – long toss with pulldowns – high intensity
You can see the above schedule has varying intensities, volume, and frequency.
Critical thinking points during a catch session:
Athletes are loose, athletic and as free as possible.
Do not throw out of delivery. Hop off back leg and explore how athlete moves
Get feedback from each throw.
Always have a target and aim to hit your partner within a couple of feet each side from distance.
If you are missing by 60ft each throw you are likely too far away.
Take your time working out to max distance, make a few throws at max distance and start to work in, as you move in the angle of your throws reduces and you start to pulldown.
There are so many benefits to long toss and throwing in general such as health, endurance, arm strength, improved recovery period, athleticism, feel, freedom, life/carry, accuracy, synching up your delivery and explosiveness.
“A throwing program should adapt to the individual, not the other way around.”
- Tom Hanson
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