Offseason Throwing Programs

By: Jonathan de Marte – February 25th, 2018

             I can imagine most athletes at one time or another have heard something along the lines of: an athlete is made in the offseason, or have had coaches and parents stress the importance of working hard in the offseason. A great way to improve your skills is to play as many baseball games as possible, but not all of us have access to the outdoors 365 days per year. In the following article, I will stress the importance of offseason throwing for pitchers and explain why I believe the components I have selected are beneficial. Two things that you must keep in mind while viewing one of the throwing programs I have created and reading this article are:

  1. The athlete must be training with a strength and movement/conditioning program while using weighted baseballs. Weighted balls might lead to an increase in external rotation and valgus stress on the elbow. An optimal way to prevent this from leading to injury is making sure your body, especially rotator cuff, is strong enough to withstand this force. Throwers must work to maintain and improve strength while using weighted balls. If the arm and/or body becomes increasingly weaker using weighted balls, stop the program and get your body and arm in shape!
  2. No two athletes are the same! The programs I have created are merely templates that are subject to change each day. No two pitchers will feel the same on a given day and they will not recover the same. Why would we force them to do the same activity as their friend or teammate? One thing I noticed after writing the initial program for the Mid Atlantic Orioles Scout team this winter was that the program had to be adjusted before and after every session. These adjustments happened because certain players progressed quicker than others. Some pitchers lacked the range of motion to complete a number of the throwing exercises so those exercises were eliminated from their specific program. There were also numerous external variables such as high school practice, family or school conflicts, sickness, etc. that led to changes per the individual athlete on any given day. Therefore, we cannot expect one athlete to follow and progress the same way as his or her teammate.

One of my biggest regrets as a pitcher was not throwing enough in the offseason. When I say not throw enough, I do not mean that I neglected the number of days per week I threw or long-tossed. Instead, I believe the quantity of throws was nowhere near enough to prepare my arm for almost eight months of pitching. If a starting pitcher averages 85 pitches per start, how much throwing should be done each day in the offseason/preseason to prepare for that many maximum effort pitches? I do not know the answer. All I can assume is that the best way to prepare for this many throws in a game is to train the body and arm to be able to handle more than the average number of throws. However, this does not mean that you need to make 150 throws every day in the offseason. I believe there should be specific days implemented into offseason throwing programs with the number of throws exceeding the amount typically made in a game. When a pitcher gets fatigued, his mechanics suffer, putting him in a more vulnerable position for injury. When mechanics change due to fatigue, the arm can be stressed in locations that the body is not used to. Consequently, violent force will affect a new area, which can lead to injury. How do we train the body to last longer on the mound and avoid periods of fatigue? My answer: throw more in the offseason, find a strength and movement coach to assess and write you a program, vary your style of throwing, and prepare your arm for more than it will endure during the length of the season.

If you ever had arm surgery and completed a post-operative throwing program, I can speculate you are aware of the high quantity of throws this entails. In particular, you likely experienced multiple sets of throwing where you have to work extra hard to keep the arm loose. For a healthy pitcher in the offseason, why can’t multiple sets of throwing occur? The purpose of the high repetition rehabilitation throwing program is to regain arm strength. I believe healthy pitchers, at the minimum, can train this way in the offseason. In my opinion, multiple sets of throwing with a rest in between can replicate a game where a pitcher is sitting in the dugout between innings waiting for his team to hit. Multiple sets do not mean throw to the given max distance for the day and then call it quits. Instead, it means that when the max distance is reached for the given set, make an additional 10-30 throws from that range to build arm strength and work on a repeatable arm slot. Once the 10-30 throws are achieved at the maximum distance then continue to work in by shortening the distance slowly, with 5-10 throws roughly every 10-25 feet.

The group of “scout” level high school pitchers that I am training has been throwing multiple sets, on average, two days per week. The programs I have written for college-level ballplayers include an additional day or two during the week with multiple sets of throwing. I have done this because college athletes are typically stronger than high schoolers, so I believe their arms can handle a higher number of throws. I have adapted this same concept into my offseason-throwing regime this year. All of the high school level arms are healthy and experiencing increases in their arm stamina and recovery as the distance of throws increase. We have had two velocity, pulldown, run and gun days so far. Results and velocities have only been tracked for one day, and I am excited to release the results at the completion of our offseason winter program. Below are examples of guidelines from random nights this offseason (Winter 2017-2018):

December 7: Throw to 90′. 20 throws.

Rest.

Throw to 90’. 10 throws. 75’ 10 throws. 60’ 10 throws.

December 23: Reverse throws green 2 x 10

Pivot Picks green 2 x 10

Roll Ins green 2 x 8

Rockers BFR 4 x 5 (Set 1 Blue, 2 Yellow, 3 Red, 4 Purple)

Throw to 120’ with baseball 15 throws.

Rest.

Throw to 90’ 15 throws.

January 25: Reverse 1 x 10

Pivot 1 x 8

Roll Ins 1 x 6

Rockers BFP 1 x Dropset (B-O)

Rockers BFR 1 x Dropset (B-O)

7 oz 75’ x 5-10

90’-150’ (Your comfort) x 10-15

Run and Guns!

2 x 80% 6 oz.

3 x 100% 6oz.

1-2 x Warm-up regulation baseball

4 x 100% regulation baseball.

2 x 80% 4 oz.

3 x 100% 4oz.

February 1: Reverse throws 1 x 8

Rockers BFP 1 x 6 Y

RockersBFR 1 x 6 (YP 3 ea.)

Medial Hops 2 x 6 (YP 3 ea.)

Walking Wind-ups 2 x Dropset

120’ x 10

50’ x 15 Rockers BB/CH

Rest

90’ x 10

FG 50’-55’ 1 x 16 with sequence: FB/CH/FB/BB

The beginning portion of each day includes plyometric ball throws, three days per week. Before integrating the plyometric throws, I recommend at least 2-4 weeks of throwing with a baseball-only (High repetition from close distance 60′ – 90′, multiple sets). I believe this will help rebuild shoulder muscles as muscular atrophy might occur in the shoulder when extensive time is taken off from throwing. After the first few weeks, I chose to incorporate the plyometric phase. In a perfect world, I would have my pitchers doing variations of medicine ball throws before throwing plyometric balls and after completing the extensive warm-up and mobility routine. I believe medicine ball throws with conviction will shock the body into a state of explosion, which will prepare the body for the same type of violence in the throwing motion.

Note: Weighted ball routine is based loosely off of the driveline template with my own edits in terms of the weights, quantity, and day-to-day style of throws (Reverse throws, Pivot Picks, RollIns, Rockers, Walking Wind-Ups, Figure 8 throws, Knee-to-knee throws, Medial Hop throws, 2 Knee,  1 Knee, etc.). 

I have chosen to use plyometric balls because I believe that they help map out a correct arm path. In my opinion, throwing with varied weights helps me become more aware and conscious of my release point. Body awareness is essential because you do not want the various weights putting your body in different positions during the throwing motion. I like the concept of overloading and underloading because overloading should help strengthen the arm by throwing a heavier ball than a baseball, while underloading will help the arm fire quicker by throwing a ball lighter than a baseball. When dealing with high schoolers, I have decreased the number of throws compared to the quantity of what I believe college/professionals should perform. The various styles of throws in the weighted ball programs help train the body to throw from different positions. Ultimately, we want our pitchers to find the same release point through these varied styles of throwing.

Another section of weighted ball throwing is using a weighted “driveline” baseball to get loose, as well as for “run and gun” pulldowns. I recommend using the weighted baseballs after the completion of plyometric throwing for the day, and before integrating a regular baseball. I have the high schoolers use a 7-ounce ball, typically once per week in their first set of throwing. They throw until 75’-90’ and complete an additional 5-10 throws from this spot before switching to a baseball. For more advanced levels of throwers, after a couple of weeks, I recommend mixing in a 9-ounce ball instead of the 7 ounce.

I recommend performing the run and guns from the driveline template once, every two or three weeks in the offseason, after 5-7 weeks of throwing. We want to make sure the shoulder is strong enough to endure max effort throws from a running position. Run and guns are so important to me because they teach the body to throw with max intent. With a running, crow-hop start, throwers can use more of their body to exert force and conviction, and we hope to see this effort and intent translate to the mound. I have altered the run and guns for the group of high school pitchers I am training. I only have them performing run and guns with a 6 ounce, 4 ounce, and regulation baseball.

One implementation I liked was using a mound for roll-ins and rockers. We would begin with up-hill throws from the back of the mound, and downhill throws where the ball is released with the back foot toeing the rubber. Both of these drills involve movement and momentum driving the body forward. I liked having the pitchers begin uphill, where they have to work harder to release in front of their body and push off the ground to get momentum moving uphill. The goal of this is to coach them to then use the same enthusiasm and conviction to push off the rubber and down the mound, by exerting force through the backside. Using the various weights in the rockers (uphill and downhill), will help make the pitchers aware that they must work to get to the same release point without the weights disrupting the rhythm and timing.

I enjoyed my time working with this group of pitchers and am so excited to share some of the improvements they have made. It was important to track velocities because there was not a clear, quantifiable manner to track the results of the program otherwise. The goals of this program were to optimize and find repeatable mechanics and arm slot/path, increase arm strength and intent behind throws, develop a daily throwing routine, recover quicker, and increase some velocity if all went well. I believe the best way to measure success in this situation is tracking velocities because the speed increase can highlight a significant change. Video recording was the other tracking mechanism used. Each pitcher has a file of 20-30 clips of throwing over the course of the winter. Video analyzation is done to see the physical changes made as a result of this throwing program.

Out of five pitchers using this template, four have had increases in velocity. During this process, one player was awarded a baseball scholarship and verbally committed to VCU, throwing harder than he ever had before. We do not have results to report on the fifth pitcher, as he suffered from an illness toward the end of our time together. The VCU commit had never thrown above 84 mph before. We are not sure how hard he threw at VCU camp, but this individual was consistently pulling down in the upper 80s and up to 91 mph.

Another pitcher had never thrown a fastball above 85 mph before. In our last day of pulldowns, this particular pitcher was consistently in the upper 80s, reaching 91 as well. In his final bullpen before H.S. tryouts, he was sitting 85-87 mph and topped out at 89 with a slider that was sharper than he claims it had ever been.

The other two arms were throwing in the mid-to-upper 70s at this time in 2017. One of the two pulled down at 87mph in his final “run and gun” day. He also pitched at a college showcase camp February 18th, sitting 82-84 mph, the highest velocity recording he has ever had. This particular pitcher also developed a sharp slider. He was unable to throw a breaking ball effectively, with sharp break before this winter. I believe the mechanical adjustments with mixed weights helped this pitcher generate a higher spin efficiency, which has enabled him to better throw a breaking pitch and release the ball further in front of his body. The final pitcher was throwing 77-78 mph at this time last year. In his final bullpen, he was 82-84 mph, and up to 85 the week before, also developing a sharp slider to compliment his 12-6 breaking ball and change-up.

I know velocity does not necessarily lead to outs and strikes, but I wanted to show the quantifiable results of the program. If you would like to find out more about their progress and path this winter, feel free to contact me. I do not want to release their names, as they are still in High School. One of the six pitchers in this program did not use the weighted balls because he had ulnar nerve transplant surgery less than a year ago. Out of the five that are reported above, three are training with Strength and Movement Coach, Andrew Lysy @ RVA Athletes (Former Eric Cressey Intern @ Cressey Sports Performance). Andrew has played a vital role in their successes this offseason and will help them improve, get stronger, move better, and stay healthy.

One last thought from the great Eric Cressey, who, if you did not know, trained pitchers by the names of Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, and Noah Syndergaard this offseason:

“Make sure your throwing programs aren’t excessively aggressive early on. Spend a couple of weeks working on catch play, gradually building up. Concurrently, make sure you’re in a good strength and conditioning and arm care program to develop good end range control of external rotation as you gradually work your way up. And above all else, don’t wait too long to start your throwing program!”

EricCressey.com – Why Injuries are Highest Early in the Baseball Season

If you would like to find out or learn more about my take on throwing programs or anything else that the Students of the Game incapsulate, feel free to reach me at:

914-262-1232

studentsofbaseball@gmail.com

@StudentsOfTGame

studentsotgame.com

A copy of the throwing program for the Mid Atlantic Orioles for November-February (2017-18) can be found here. More throwing programs written for collegiate and professional athletes will be released in the future. Please feel free to let us know your thoughts and feedback!

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