Updated: Mar 12, 2022
“Give me fuel, give me fire, give me that which I desire.”
Admittedly I’m not a huge fan of Metallica but the lyrics above always gets stuck in my head when I think about developing pitchers. Velocity (or fuel) is the great divider in baseball right now. The harder you throw, the more chances you get – more chances to be seen, more chances to succeed. It’s what we absolutely desire as national coaches because it puts us on the international stage, and it gives our athletes and our teams a chance to compete.
We started the Australian Pitching Development (APD) platform with one key question, “why don’t Australian pitchers throw as hard as other countries?” Obviously, there’s no one answer, but the element that stood out immediately was strength and conditioning. In simple terms, our athletes aren’t strong enough.
In 2017 I was part of the Australian coaching staff for the U18 World Cup in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. As a first timer at that level, I was excited to be there and had my head on a swivel trying to take everything in. Arriving at the field every day, I was constantly shocked at the differences in physicality, particularly in teams like the USA, Canada, Korea and Cuba. The players on these teams were simply more mature than our players - they were men. As the tournament progressed it was obvious that this physicality was translating to the field as the pitchers all consistently threw harder than the players on our team and had the stamina to last deep into the game.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. While our pitchers may not have been matching velocity numbers, we did show the ability to throw strikes, produce good off-speed pitches and compete harder than any other country. This gave us a chance in the tournament...
The tournament was a turning point and an opportunity. What can we put in place to help develop the pitchers in Australia and give them a better chance on the world stage while also increasing the number of athletes playing college and professional baseball?
Working as a coach at the highest level of college baseball (NCAA D1) I assisted in the development of training programs that saw athletes absolutely getting after it off the field. In the weight room and in our pitching labs players consistently put in the work that directly impacted velocity. Granted these players were typically 1-3 years older than the players on that Australian WC team but I had a feeling that we could translate this to Australia.
Culturally we suffer in Australia from a view that strength training in high school is too soon, that players can do damage if they lift in their teens. I’ve come to firmly believe that this is the missing piece and that it’s the only way we’ll meet the developmental requirements of elite baseball.
I acknowledge that there have been examples of Australian’s that have brought the thunder, but in most instances, Aussies have reached the US and only then hit the weight room where they then saw dramatic increases in velo – they had to stay alive long enough for their strength training to catch up. I had the fortune of growing up playing alongside Liam Hendriks, a guy who was always athletic (as well as tall and skinny). He moved really well and threw hard for his age, but it was not until a number of years into his big-league career that a change in the way he prepared his body (and a role change from starter to reliever) saw a huge jump in velo. If you look at pictures of Hendriks, you can clearly see the way his body has changed physically over the years.
In the book “Building the 95mph Body” written by Ben Brewster which I highly recommend for young Australian pitchers, parents, and coaches there is the graph below that clearly illustrates the difference in body size and physicality between high school, college, and pro pitchers.
In modern baseball we know how important velocity is and it only continues to rise. If we wish to compete as Australians, we need to train it. Many will look to plyos, weighted balls, velocity training etc. (which I am an advocate for) but the fact is, if we don’t address issue #1 we will see little gains from these types of training and put players at higher risk due to an inability to manage the physical strain.
The fact is young Australian pitchers, and their parents need to find a way to sling iron! Prioritize the weight room and build a physical foundation. I still hear from Australia coaches that parents don’t want their kids to get “too big” or “lose flexibility” but these myths have been dispelled. We don’t want recklessness that can lead to injury, but we do want the fire that leads to the fuel.
I implore Aussie players and parents to invest in their strength and conditioning – take a gym membership, talk to professional S&C coaches to get an individualized program, and set the foundation for yourself or child to put them in the best position to have long, healthy careers and be able to reach velocity potential.
Now dig into your Spotify account, rustle up some Metallica and GET AFTER IT!
APD’s Strength and Conditioning partner is Diamond Fitness. Diamond Fitness has put together a free pitcher's program so make sure to check that out!