April 2nd, 2018
Tom Hackimer is a right-handed side-arm reliever who was drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 MLB draft out of St. Johns. During Tom’s professional career thus far the reliever has been nearly unhittable. In 61.1 innings across Low-A and High-A in 2017 Tom posted a 1.76 ERA, 0.848 WHIP, .141 BAA, 28.9% K%, and an 8.9% BB% while racking up 13 saves. There is much more to Tom’s story than the gaudy numbers he put up last year. A Driveline pitcher and former walk-on at St. Johns, Tom’s story is a unique opportunity to learn from someone who has taken an unconventional path to playing professionally!
Matthew de Marte: For those unaware of your story to become a side-arm guy, how did you start pitching and develop your unique mechanics as you entered college trying to walk on as a shortstop at St. Johns? What happened in your freshman fall that led you to become a sidearm pitcher?
TH: The process was roughly this; I knew they were going to turn me into a pitcher. I walked out there for the first day of practice. Scott Brown, who was the pitching coach at the time (Now at Vanderbilt), I walked out to the bullpen with him. I threw two pitches overhand, and he was like, “Hold on for a second, you are going to throw from down here now.” He motioned like a side-arm submarine motion. I said alright, and that was it. The first 15 pitches I threw would have been behind a right-handed batter. There was a lengthy adjustment period though. The winter break of my freshman year, and subsequently I did this every single winter break after. We have an auxiliary gym at St. Johns where we do indoor stuff when we couldn’t go outside. We have some portable mounds, plates, and two of the pro hitters. The plastic stand-in batters. I would go in there every day take a bucket of baseballs go on the mound and set up the two hitters as close to the plate as possible, so I had no room for error to throw it over the plate. I would throw ridiculously long bullpens just to get the reps that I needed to have the consistency to throw strikes. There were points where I probably threw 200-250 pitches a day to learn to throw strikes.
MD: As a Physics major, how has your knowledge of science played a role in your own player development?
TH: I think it helped in the sense that I have always had sort of an analytical mind, and I was always looking for the best ways to improve myself. I don’t know if necessarily the physics part of it was crucial to me getting better. Having a science background and that kind of a mindset helped the way I looked at myself as a player and how I could get better. It helped me choose the best and most effective ways to get better. To be fair, I have made some mistakes along the way. It helped me the way that I looked at how I would get better or the methods I used to try and get better.
MD: You have had the privilege of working with excellent pitching coaches such as Corey Muscara at St. Johns (now at Maryland) and the Driveline staff. As someone who was not a pitcher before college, what impact have these coaches had on your development?
TH: Out of the ones you mentioned, I have worked most closely and most often with Corey obviously. The dynamic between him and me was great because he gave me enough space usually, especially in my later years at St. Johns, to try and improve on my own and find what I thought would help me. He would monitor me to make sure I would not go overboard. That was probably the most important thing for me. Once I settled into my own around my junior year or so. He gave me the space I need to develop on my own, which I think was crucial for me. You are always going to be your best pitching coach.
MD: What is different about your routine and variation of plyo/weighted ball throws as a sidearmer? While others might focus on the potential increase in velocity, remapping an arm path, or finding a repeatable arm path, what exactly are you trying to accomplish with your weighted ball throwing exercises and routine?
TH: For the most part, the plyos have become just a part of my routine. They give me a little bit of comfort every day. I look at the increase in velocity as a pleasant side effect. If it’s there, that’s great; I’m happy with how hard I throw at the moment anyway. I look at it more to ready my arm to mitigate higher levels of stress. Since side-arm throwing, some believe, is not as stressful, I believe it is pretty much as stressful as throwing over the top as long as it is the same velocity. Also, it’s pretty much all valgus stress, which is the type of stress associated with UCL tears. So, I look at all the weighted ball stuff as a way to prepare my arm for higher levels of stress when I am pitching in season.
MD: What advice can you give other side-arm/subby guys on why Driveline might work for them?
TH: I certainly think it has helped me. I certainly think it can help strengthen your arm, be a little more resilient to injuries, even just make your arm feel a bit better day-to-day which is a small victory in and of itself. My arm is almost always sore and has been for about three and a half years now. One of the main things I use the plyoballs for is warming up in the bullpen before coming into the game. It speeds everything right up so I can get ready quicker. It gets you through the stiff/ sore shoulder phase when you start throwing. It blasts you right out of that. Side-arm thrower or not you can find you can do any program like that.
MD: I believe you are at the forefront of baseball’s player development revolution with the content you release and time spent with Driveline. What do you think is going to be the next significant advancement in baseball training and development?
TH: I will be honest, I don’t know. It is going to be something, at least on the pitching side, either that has to deal with a new way to improve feel for command or something that illustrates pitch tunneling in a way that shows you the best way to use your mix of pitches. It would have to be some combination of a camera and software that is probably based off a Rapsodo that shows how your pitches are best used off of one another. I don’t know if that exists. With the limitations with the high-speed cameras in order to make an overlay or a pitch to show a tunnel and show pitches that split off each other, you need to throw the pitches perfectly.
MD: What do you believe MLB teams can learn from private instructors about player development that they have not adapted to yet?
TH: It varies for different organizations. Each one is a little different from the next. Some teams tell pitchers they can’t throw a 2-seam fastball, or if a guy throws a slider and a curve, they can only throw the curve, or can’t throw a cutter. For those teams, pretty much anything would help. I don’t know the logic behind it; I can’t think of any that makes a ton of sense for me. One of the biggest things they could take away is the use of technology and different stuff like that. Some teams are better with technology. I saw today a picture of one of my favorite pitchers, Joe Smith, throwing for the Astros with an edgertronic high-speed camera behind him. So, some teams have come around to it. Some still have a way to go. From the technological aspect making, that type of tech and data available to the players would probably be the biggest step for most of them.
MD: What advice would you give to players who do not have a scientific background? Not all ballplayers understand anatomy and can comprehend why they are feeling what they are feeling and the necessary adjustments to improve.
TH: I will be honest, even the data-driven part of my development has not come until very recently. The huge portions of how I got better was brute force, trying a bunch of different things and seeing what worked. With straightforward and brutal goals in mind, I wanted to get stronger and throw harder, and that was it. For like my first three years of college, I brute-forced my way into the pitcher I was. Lifting heavy, I threw a ton of med balls, and I discovered that by accident actually. That was really helpful for me. When trying to long toss, which I have actually cut down on as my career has gone on during the season, in the beginning, I long tossed a ton, and I long tossed sidearm. Then I discovered a lot of med ball work helped me. I had a pretty solid velocity jump after a summer where I did a ton of medicine ball work. Basically, I tried to lift as much as I could, throw as hard as I could, whether it be med balls or baseballs. That made me about 85% of the pitcher I am today. That probably got me 85% of the way there. Nothing special about it, don’t need any fancy equipment for it.
MD: Last year, you posted a .141 BAA without surrendering a single home run. Where do you attribute your success being as virtually unhittable since entering the Twins organization?
TH: I would not say that I was unhittable by any means. I have seen balls come back at me pretty hard. I contribute my success to my arm slot, it probably makes people pretty uncomfortable in the box. I get a lot of movement on most of my pitches. Honestly, I don’t throw a ton of strikes, which is not the goal obviously, but I don’t get hit because the ball isn’t always in the zone. I think for the past season, my H/9 and BB/9 were about the same. They were not the same, but the BB/9 was a little higher than I wanted.
MD: How does the analytics team play a role in your preparation for an outing?
TH: I’ll be honest up until this point, not a whole lot. We have some video prep that we can watch, stuff like that. You look at stats of guys you are going to face or who the important three hitters in a lineup might be. It was not too in depth. Honestly, that is fine for the level I was at. There is no one who you have to be that afraid of that you have to specialize an in-depth report on them.
MD: You recently threw in a biomechanics lab with Motus Global. Can you tell us about the feedback? What do you think the future role of biomechanics in baseball is?
TH: I just got the report. I skimmed through it, I have not taken an in-depth look at it yet. They give different biomechanical measurements like hip rotation speed, elbow extension, angular velocity, stuff like that. The numbers by themselves, they provide a range of what is normal and good, and where you fall within that range. That was interesting; there were no glaring flaws they needed to talk about. It is certainly interesting to look at. The awkward thing with biomechanics and researching is it’s in a lab. It’s incredibly difficult to get people to perform at game level intensities, when they are marked up in a biomechanics lab, throwing in their compression shorts. You have to wait 2-3 minutes in between pitches because a marker flew off your hand and it has to be placed back on and recalibrate the system. It allows for good collection of data that is certainly useful. It’s not ideal yet, and it is not the best it could be. In the Driveline Research lab, the mound velo record is like 92. No one has managed to throw a ball harder than 92 in there while they are doing the motion capture stuff.
MD: Your career is an incredible story of perseverance, hard work, and a novel of a guy who simply kept getting better. What advice can you give to athletes on investing in yourself and your baseball career?
TH: You will come to a point in your career where you need to sit down and take a very long look at what you have done and what you think you could do. It has to be a very realistic look as well. I have had to do that twice during my career. Once after high school when I considered not playing in college at all, and once after I got drafted by the Mets in 2015, to decide if I would go back to school or sign. Sometimes you have to sit down and see if this is what you want to do. If you have the skill, the dedication to work, and if you have just a little bit of luck, it just may work out for you.
MD: What was your biggest goal this offseason, and how did you go about achieving it?
TH: I really wanted to work on developing my change-up. That has been something that is lacking from my repertoire of pitches for six years now probably. I have always tried to throw one, and I have never had a good one. I’ve tried every grip in the book. This offseason, between the end of the Minor League season and the beginning of the Arizona Fall League, I dedicated those few weeks I had to figure it out. Basically, I decided I was going to pronate over the pitch to get it to skip and have some downward top-spin so it would get some downward movement. In that time, I didn’t really have any access to technology to aid in it, so I was just going off the eye test. I asked people I was throwing it to how it looked if it was moving down at all. I got a functional one going for when I was in Arizona. After I came home from Arizona, I bought a high-speed camera. I used that to look at the release of the pitch, to see that I was actually getting it to move a little bit downwards. I got to throw on a Rapsodo; I was, fortunately, able to get fairly consistent work throwing on it so I could see the axis of the pitch and the movement that it was projecting. Finally, I had it mostly where I wanted it by the time I got out to Driveline. So, I could look at it on their high-speed camera, which is way better than the one I have and the Rapsodo altogether. The way it came about was about as well as it could have gone. I got to develop it slowly and then finally take a look at the finished product, rather than if I went to Driveline early in the offseason and I got to look at it when it wasn’t as good and then been guessing the rest of the way.