The deconditioning of the arm

Dan Haren (AP image)

Dan Haren (AP image)

There are a myriad of programs, tools, methods, theories and opinions that attempt to address the rising number of arm injuries in baseball. Countless dollars and research hours have been spent by the medical community and countless time, energy and discussion has been made by the baseball community to quell this epidemic.

Alan Jaeger

Alan Jaeger

For Alan Jaeger, the solution is relatively simple- any high school, college or professional organization that puts heavy limits and restrictions on arms that are, comparatively, being so well trained and conditioned in this day and age are simply deconditioning arms. The current culture (in college baseball especially) places an emphasis on throwing more, rather than less, so pitchers are well protected in general. But when a well conditioned player comes up against a throwing program that places major limits on them (distance, time, workload), arms become very vulnerable to deconditioning.

This is prevalent at all levels but ironically at the “highest” level of baseball (the major leagues), a number of organizations are actually the most conservative. Whether it’s due to the amount of money players are paid, the change in philosophy from a pitcher being on their own or suddenly becoming part of an organization-wide structure or policy, pitchers going into professional baseball can be restricted the most. Through research and experience, about a third of MLB organizations mandate a throwing program that places restrictions on time allotted for throwing (i.e. 10-12 minutes) and distance (i.e. 120-150 feet) — in some cases, it can be very extreme (about a third are considered very liberal and individualized, and the other third are somewhere in the middle).
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The new ball

new ballIn response to the BBCOR bat, TD Ameritrade Park and lower offensive outputs across the country, the DI baseball committee’s unanimous 2013 vote to change the ball to a flatter-seam version was put in play. Beginning this past fall, college baseball implemented the new ball and Inside Pitch asked coaches to chime in on their overall observations, any changes that they intend to make with coaching philosophies for their hitters or pitchers, and whether the new ball will change their recruiting mindset:

HITTING

“We are a team that likes to lengthen and shorten the field- we like to make the field real big, and we like to make the field real small- and these balls play into that. They’re going to level off the playing field, and a five-run deficit is not insurmountable anymore. It won’t be as prevalent as it was 5-7 years ago, but it is going to give hitters a fighting chance when they’re dealing with adverse conditions like wind or a bigger ballpark. I really like the new baseball, I think it’s going to add some more excitement to the game, and it might put us just about where we want to be.”

Matt Deggs, head coach, Sam Houston State
Helped UL-Lafayette to a banner 2014 season where they finished the top 10 in the nation in 14 offensive categories and had an OPS of .902

“I think you’re definitely going to see more home runs, but it’s not going to go back to ‘gorilla ball’ or anything like that. As far as coaching goes, I still like power in the middle of the lineup and speed at the top and the bottom, so we aren’t going to approach it a whole lot differently.”

Cliff Godwin, head coach, East Carolina University
His hitters ranked first in the SEC in batting average and second in home runs and runs scored in 2014

“It’s a little tough for me because I’m in a new park with new hitters, too. I think the feedback from the kids was that the ball traveled farther, which is what everyone was looking for. Hopefully it’ll balance the game back out a little bit more, adding the home run as an element for most teams. Recruiting-wise, we’ve always liked to have a nice blend of power and speed, so I don’t know that it’s going to change much. Maybe the bigger corner infielder or outfielder becomes important again, which the game has kind of gotten away from the past few years.”

Chris Lemonis, head coach, Indiana University
Former hitting coach and recruiting coordinator at Louisville helped the Cardinals to three College World Series appearances and back-to-back 50-win seasons in 2013 and 2014 Continue reading

Butch Thompson interview

butchthompsonCoaching journey…

I’m from Mississippi so it’s been pretty neat being here at Mississippi State. It’s kind of come full-circle, because I’m from Amory, Mississippi. I’ve just been fortunate to be around great people, I know three of the four head coaches I’ve worked for have been national coaches of the year.

The first one was Brian Shoop at Birmingham Southern, who I probably spent ten years with as a player and a coach. He’s now an assistant coach at UAB. He’s probably been the biggest influence on my life- not just with baseball, spiritually as well- he’s been kind of like a dad to me. I think he’s one of our best coaches in the country. He prepared me, and when we won the 2001 NAIA National Championship, I had the opportunity to go to Georgia with David Perno, and that was all because of Coach Shoop and Daron Schoenrock, who was my pitching coach in college.

I was at Georgia through 2005 and had a chance to go be with Tom Slater at Auburn from 2006-8 before coming to Mississippi State with John Cohen.

You can trace everything back to one degree of separation: John Cohen played at Mississippi State and Brian Shoop was an assistant at that point under Ron Polk. John and I had never worked together until I got here, and I’m just thankful he gave me the opportunity to come back home.

Every “break” that I’ve caught is from being around really good people, because of relationships and people being good to me. In business or any other profession, it’s about being around people that are better than me. Les Brown is a great motivational speaker, and he said “if I’m the smartest man in the group, I need to get a new group,” and I’ve never been the smartest in my group!

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The best drills in baseball

godwindrillCliff Godwin, Ole Miss

Played at East Carolina University; has prior coaching experience at UNC-Wilmington, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, LSU and Central Florida

“Here are a few drills our guys do every single day before they ever have a live pitch thrown to them:

1. Fungo swings- toss up the ball and hit 10-15 balls with a fungo to get loose. Try to hit line drives.

2. High tee drill series- set tee up away to start with and go “no-low half” where you’re eliminating the lower half where you’ve already taken your stride and both your feet are on the ground. You can either have your hands in a normal position or put them out on their front shoulder (front shoulder load).

The whole basis of the drill is to eliminate the lower half and produce three head-high line drives over the opposite-field infielder’s head. [Our players at Ole Miss] have to do three in a row and that’s what I really take pride in, getting our guys to do that, because anybody can produce one line drive and move on to the next step, but it’s not consistent. Once they do that, they take swings regularly off the high tee away and do three in a row there. Then we move the tee to the middle and finally to the inner half, repeating the same sequence: Continue reading