July 30th, 2018
Earlier this Summer, Student’s of the Game’s Co-Director Jonathan de Marte got to talk with USPBL director of baseball operations and the found of the Delivery Value System Justin Orenduff. We spoke with Justin on how he handles the pitching staff and his unique style of coaching pitchers on their path to being signed by a Major League organization. From 2016-2017, the USPBL has had 20 players signed to MLB organizations. In the following transcription you will learn in great detail about Orenduff’s model for predicting injury risk and maximizing and sustaining performance, the Delivery Value System (DVS).
Visit deliveryvaluesystem.com for more.
Jonathan de Marte: Where were you between your professional baseball career and Baseball Rebellion?
Justin Orenduff: In 2009, after I retired, I went back to school to finish my degree. And that’s essentially where I started asking some questions that eventually led to DVS. I tell a lot of people, who ask me, “where did you get the idea?” and I remember, I started to go through old pictures of me pitching at VCU, because I was trying to figure out why I got injured and why I couldn’t stay healthy. So I started to look at stuff from when I was at VCU and try to find if I became different from VCU to the Dodgers. And when I started to look at pictures, I started to notice some things, and when I made my comeback, I tried to address certain things mechanically, but I didn’t really have a firm foundation of what I was really trying to do. But I remember during the period of when I retired and finishing my degree, so this is fall 2009 and spring 2010. I started to look at the correlation between pitchers that I knew that threw for long periods of time, like Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, and Nolan Ryan, and the further I dug into older guys like Whitey Ford and Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal and Bob Gibson, I started to see some things that jumped out at me. I started to print pictures and put them up on my wall, and I had these groupings of guys who pitched for a long time and guys who got hurt. So I did the brief comeback with the Dodgers. I think I had one outing in extended and got hurt again and it was just a similar situation, and I ended up getting released in 2011, came back, and I was literally in Richmond for 6 weeks before I ventured down to Baseball Rebellion in North Carolina. So this would be late summer, early fall of 2011 when I got down there. Then what started to happen was over the next three years with all the youth clients, and the video, and the research, and the shoulder testing we started to do, that’s where I slowly put together what’s now called the DVS Scoring System. So I always had a theory of what I thought the delivery should be, so I just started to test certain aspects of it. Over time, the aspects that I started to find that were more relevant were seeing that subjectively kids are feeling better, becoming a little more consistent, recovery time is shortening, and when we started testing the actual range of motion in the shoulder, their range of motion was improving as we were improving the kids’ pitching mechanics.
JD: So this is making sure that they are getting to those five checkpoints, which you are grading?
JO: Yeah, early it was just maybe that the orientation of the form at foot strike is that ‘here’ it is better compared to here, and we didn’t really know why. And I didn’t really know until everything was formally tested. Right before I put it all together, that’s when I got together with my now business partner and former high school teammate, his name is Josh Myers. He had the statistical background with experience with statistical models, and I asked him, “how can we prove that this type of scoring system has some type of relevance?” And he said, “well, let’s just do a formal study.” So we just had to go through and randomly pick pitchers from different eras, and if we couldn’t find video of that pitcher, he was omitted. The formal data set of subjects had roughly 450 pitchers. So we scored them all, and got all of their injury history, and then he did the build out of the statistical model. At the end of it, it came back as being valid, and had the ability to forecast certain injuries, and injury scenarios in pitchers and that’s where we said, “Okay, we may have something here, so let’s just form DVS into a company.” So that’s what we did, and we’ve continued to test, and that’s where the branch from Baseball Rebellion to DVS. I made the decision to say okay well, I have to get outside of the building of youth pitchers and be able to test this methodology on more of a professional sample size. And that’s where going to the USPBL has allowed us to test pitchers who are 21-26 and they are throwing routinely upper 80s – low 90s and some guys have had Tommy John Surgery or shoulder surgery in the past who have come into our league and we can really get a better sample size of what would really go on in Major League Baseball. Our guys don’t necessarily throw every fifth day or two games out of three, but we can simulate that type of volume with simulated games and additional innings for certain pitchers. So that’s where we’ve really been able to get additional data that continues to test our theory of, as the DVS score improves, and shoulder health improves, the ability to throw more innings becomes more available.
Jd: And then to verify the data, you let the players know that you are monitoring their throwing every day so they know what is going on?
JO: That’s right. You have to have control of the things that you can make constant in the program. Because right now, if a guy comes into the USPBL, I don’t know for sure everything that he was doing prior to getting here, but I can tell you everything that he was doing from the time that he got here to the time that he finished. So that’s why we can have, what to me is, very powerful data because we know what is going on.
Jd: So you saw this opportunity with the USPBL as a better opportunity to get away from — nothing against the younger generation — but for what you’re trying to do you need to be with higher level guys, so that is how your transition to the USPBL started, and how long have you been a part of this now?
JO: The first year, 2016, its inaugural year, I was the throwing coordinator. So that’s where I set up all the protocol for the throwing programs and the mechanics testing, when we test, and what we are looking at. And then last year, same thing, everything was set up, but then they hired me as the director of baseball operations so now my responsibilities have grown, but on that side of the position I try to bring that objective nature, not only to the pitchers but to the position players as well.
Jd: Could you quickly go over how your protocols and ideologies is going to work position players?
JO: I always tell people that its very similar to a quarterback, who just has to get the ball and get rid of it quickly, so once we basically teach them the footwork and how the arm and the body should work into the throw, we work with them in the specific position to be able to adapt that mechanic to that position’s specific throw. So we have had a lot of success with catchers, and we are starting to work with middle infielders more on their throwing to basically get rid of the ball quickly, but at the same time, to still get the full functionality of the body to deliver the ball.
Jd: And be able to do it every single day?
JO: Yeah exactly. Because everyone goes through cycles of my arm is tired, its fatigued, a little sore, and that’s the thing that I’ve seen with position players. Their arms, if you think about it, they are used to throwing 60-90 feet everyday and they don’t really have the option to go out there and try to long toss or air it out and try to throw hard everyday because they have to be able to play 5 or 6 days a week. So I think this year we are going to put more specific programming in place for them on the drill side and some of the programming they do prior to throwing to allow everyone to kind of advance a little bit more mechanically.
Jd: What is the connection that you are drawing from old-timers to now, from a mechanical standpoint?
JO: You have to break it up in to how a young pitcher learned and what he was subjected to during different periods. I had a phone call with Tommy John before and we were talking and I asked, “well where did you learn how to pitch?” And he said, “easy, I would sit on the couch with my dad and I got interested in pitching and he said if you want to learn to pitch, you have to watch the best do it,” and they happened to watch Whitey Ford on TV, so he would just run out back and when he was playing catch with his dad, he would try to emulate Whitey Ford. It was kind of that simplistic. And the emphasis back then was, they grew up in an era where if you want to be a pitcher, and you want to be the best pitcher, what do you have to do? You know you have to throw 9 innings, you have to keep your team in the ball game, so that’s what they tried to do. It was like if I have to be available to throw, I may not throw one day, I may take it easy, but hey, come game day, I’m gonna make it happen. Because if I put up zeroes, that’s my value. And if you start fast-forwarding, through decades, you kind of get to the late 80s and early 90s, as a youth player all of a sudden there’s more emphasis on ‘this is how to pitch’ or ‘this is how your mechanics should be’ and then there’s the introduction of long toss. It’s like hey, if you want to throw harder, just start long tossing, here’s how to do it. So guys started to slowly do that and now its advanced into hey, you want to throw hard, hit the weight room early, here’s advanced training techniques, here’s nutrition, here’s weighted balls, here’s all these things that you need to do. And it’s not that all of it is bad, its just the emphasis of when it starts to take place is so much earlier for guys, and what I’ve always said is, if that’s your main emphasis of what you come into the fold with, bigger, stronger, weighted balls to throw harder, and then the last things are hey I’m gone try to go out there and pitch 7 zeroes, and let me see how long I can do it for. Those become the backburners. And that’s why you see in the game, there’s plenty of guys who can still pitch but they are all getting hurt very very quickly. So when we come out with our new forecast, we are going to release some statistics that show, pitchers born after 1980 – here’s the injury statistics. Pitchers born after 1990, with the same objective measurements have a much faster time to injury. So why? And that’s what I’ve always said, if we have all of the latest technology, and Flightscopes and Rapsodo, and video analysis, why do guys continue to get hurt? And faster. That’s the cultural issue there. And we don’t know every single factor that goes into a single person’s injury, but the constant is the mechanics, and you start adding in his training protocols, then you can start to find some similar answers there. So to revert back to your initial question, why do we place emphasis on certain things, it’s because I think I realized from being a high round pick and all the ability, that my career got shortened and it limited my ability to make more money at the highest level because I was just injured and I couldn’t do it. Eventually, once you become injured, it hinders your performance, then your performance suffers, and then you lose value, and then all the sudden you don’t have a job. One more point, I think that one of the things that we get results I would say very quickly because it’s not necessarily that you have to be in this position or that position to improve your score, but it’s the process of how your body moves and how you understand energy to get into positions instead of critiquing a point in time in your delivery. You know, that’s the key and that’s the methodology of where we start. It’s more conceptual in nature, it’s more rhythmic, it’s almost like comparing a big time body builder to a guy in the next room doing yoga. We are the guy with the yoga mat. So it’s more conceptual, it’s understanding and embracing the feel and tempo of this energy to get to the desired output instead of building up all these components to become this machine. We just don’t go about it that way.
Jd: A big part of your focus is the mass, momentum, and rhythm, and that leads to my next question, could you go into a little more of an explanation about the the formula 45? I would like to hear about the whole rhythm part and how that all comes together, because you don’t hear many people talking about this.
JO: Right, so basically to me it’s very easy. It’s like you’re standing on the mound for a reason. There’s a reason why they lowered the mound, because it’s an extreme weapon for a pitcher, but so many guys don’t use it effectively. It’s downward sloping, so the energy and the angles of your back leg, you want it to almost mirror the slope of the mound. If you allow the lower half to go down the slope of the mound with added energy — and when I say energy I’m talking about the speed at which your back leg and your pelvis can allow you to go down the mound, and gravity is going to give you some. If you can just sustain that energy, allow your upper half to just be very loose and fluid, you’re going to get, 9 times out of 10, in a much healthier and consistent position than if I’m worrying about my ‘hand break’ or if I’m worrying about ‘staying back’ or worrying about ‘staying closed’. Or I’m trying to really ‘load up in my hips’. I mean, these are things that are cues, but you’re emphasizing a little, tiny piece of the delivery at one point in time.
Jd: Yeah, I think those are the adjustments that cause the robotic sense in guys sometimes, where then you can tell that someone is thinking on the mound rather than just being smooth, rhythmic, and letting themselves travel down the mound.
JO: Well that’s right. And I think about it like this, and I tell a lot of our young kids, it’s like if you had to go run and jump as far as you can, you are going to be able to jump a lot further with a running head start than you can from two feet planted. You know, it’s like a car merging onto a highway, if you’re going 25 and you’re about to merge onto a 60, you gotta gun it. You gotta hit the accelerator hard and rev the engine and get on. But if I’m just steadily climbing and building energy, then I get up to that 65 and I just merge on over, it’s less taxing on my engine. And I’m not having to try to always gun it. And that’s what happens with the arm, if you don’t have a smooth transition to get into foot strike, when your foot hits, your body can sense that ‘uh-oh, I gotta make up for it’, so that’s where the brain cues “GO, we gotta go!” and that becomes more taxing on the arm.
Jd: So why do you believe that focusing on creating motion that maximizes the pitcher’s longevity is the best method to help a pitcher reach his full potential as a player?
JO: I can tell you that not only from the training side, but also from the evaluation side now with the league, I think what it boils down to, is when you’re 45 or 50 and you can’t play the game anymore, and you look back, a lot of people are going to remember you were an all-state pitcher, or you got drafted in the first round, or man, this guy pitched ten years in the big leagues, or I made X amount of money, and the only way to do those things is if you are successful in games. And you can have a limited time of being successful or it can be extended out. And I think to get there, it’s all about efficiency and consistency, and there’s a lot of things that go into that. But I think now, by having that emphasis on those type of values comparatively to just velocity and performance and how hard I can throw it, and we see tons of guys here who throw it hard and show up and there’s no repeatability, you know it’s not going to play at the highest level. I’m not going to give that guy an opportunity over somebody else who looks like maybe they are just a tier below in output in terms of objective velocity or spin, but they are continually showing me that they can put up zeros, they can get outs and they display just as much value as the guy who maybe can throw it a little bit harder with a little bit better stuff. It’s a rewarding system to where the emphasis on things earlier, in terms of things like repeatability and consistency, as you progress and you prove you can do them, if you need to add more performance factors in to either become a higher level prospect or move up in the order or rotation, then you can choose those. But, you have to have those first couple steps to be there before you can choose the performance end.
Jd: Can we transition over to the application Injury Analytic Forecast, can you touch upon that?
JO: Basically, [with] what we have so far, we’ve always been able to build a report on a pitcher. So it was essentially always a PDF based report and you could request, you know ‘I want the report on Matt Harvey’ and we would go to work and say he is 50% likely to get hurt between innings 300 and 400, and we can build that out. What we decided was, instead of an organization calling us and saying hey we want these pitchers, let’s just build a software application where we have all the pitchers in our database available. We basically license out this application to where they can take the pitchers on their end, or groups of pitchers, and then they can do and have the tools to do all the outputs and the analysis. We are out of the equation, we just supply them with the tool to do it. That was the idea I had in the early part of last year, is taking everything we have done so far, and instead of a service based application now we are doing it in a product form. So we gave them the tool instead of them requesting it.
Jd: So your goal to get into Major League Baseball is to sell this as a product to Major League Baseball rather than a service?
JO: Essentially, yes. Most organizations wouldn’t be too interested I don’t think in me coming in and telling them who to sign and when to sign them because that’s their job. They want to make their decisions for themselves. So the way we look at it is, we just want to give them one additional tool to help them make a better decision. They’re still making the decisions off the value they think someone has, we just want to give them more information to make a smarter decision. And I’ll give you an example. If a pitcher is really at risk, and they like them, then we could potentially work with the organization to set up a program to help him improve his score, but that’s a much more invasive approach. I think the non-invasive approach for us, just allow them to use our information and our research is to allow them to access our product and use it as they please.
Jd: So if you are never able to crack Major League Baseball and get involved there, how are you going to move forward? Where do you see this going?
JO: Well there’s always two folds to it. Future major leaguers always start as little leaguers right? So I want the DVS score to become synonymous just like the SAT score is with predicting potential. At some point in time if you want to pitch, we want you to get a DVS score, and what does the DVS score mean, and that’s where I want it to become synonymous with the overall risk of your delivery. And it foreshadows up, hey, I have a high DVS score I have the ability to throw a lot of innings in my career. It’s not a guarantee, but it gives us an idea of where you currently are, otherwise we are just guessing. So with that, still comes the advancements in the research, the linking in with medical professionals, future studies, so we can continually supply baseball and the game of baseball with further information.
Jd: What are the challenges that you would see with this at the youth level?
JO: I think the biggest challenge I’ve seen honestly at the youth level is just the varying level of differences of how a guy should throw a ball. Whether it be mechanics or training regiments, everyone has a different opinion. And we aren’t saying that the DVS throwing program and arm care system is the best thing in the world. All we are saying is that it relates to these numbers over time, and it’s more a research-based platform. I think the DVS score remains very neutral, it’s unbiased, and someone coming into our fold from another team could get a score, we communicate with that coach, and he has that information to help his player. And we don’t necessarily take his players, we just give more information to other organizations because ultimately we just want to be a resource for everyone.
Jd: Yeah because at the end of the day, like you said, the way baseball has gone towards an analytically driven game it’s impossible to avoid some of these metrics as you grow. So the fact that you are mixing numbers and injury prediction with prevention is a combination needed in baseball. A few years ago it was the Tommy John epidemic and now you are doing something that is trying to combat that. After the Tommy John epidemic, in my opinion, is when an emphasis on training and players getting stronger started to gain traction amongst the general baseball population.
JO: Yeah and the landscape of it is, with the technology advancements that have happened in the last 3 or 4 years have happened very quickly and the ability for people to create data and draw conclusions over data, is moving fast. You have to stay up with it, but at the same time, I see the whole methodology of, if a player comes into the fold at 11, and he’s going through to 18, to allow him to avoid Tommy John Surgery or a major injury it’s really not that hard. It’s just a lot of times we just have to say, it’s ok if you don’t do something and let’s not put so much pressure on him to do something by a certain date. And I think those are the things in terms of the cultural emphasis that really place the kid at an unfair advantage. I mean I’ll tell you, of all the youth players that we have scored and evaluated, really the kids with the best scores are the ones with no formal instruction. Because there’s guys who just go up to the mound and you say throw the ball hard — which they always do to try to impress you at a young age — they naturally recruit certain muscles in order that are pretty good.
Jd: We covered everything I wanted to ask about, is there anything you would like to add?
JO: I think we covered most of the things I would like someone to know about DVS and the value of the score. I just think that if people focus on really what goes into the delivery and the energy of it and the timing of it and spend more time on that aspect instead of the output and the very end result, they could probably get a lot further in their career.