How important is baseball to you? What drives you to play baseball? These are some questions that not even the most fanatic baseball player can sometimes answer. This is a bit concerning too. In this blog, we will dive into the internal and external motivators that make young athletes play baseball and what keeps them going. However, we are also going to discuss the downfall to each type of motivator.
We all know that internal motivation is a lot stronger than external motivation. Internal motivation comes from ideas and principles. They come from the drive to be the best no matter the cost. Let’s use vegetarianism as an example. Those who actually stick with becoming vegetarians and vegans are more often those who have a strong moral reasoning behind it. They are the ones who absolutely abhor any cruelty of animals and do not want to partake in of the cruelty themselves. How else can someone go against human biology and not eat meat? They need to have powerful intrinsic motivation. Those who do it purely for the “health benefits” are the ones who usually don’t last for long. Health benefits, while sometimes intrinsic, can also be very extrinsic. The reason I say that is because if you’re doing it for the health benefits, the intrinsic motivator would be to “live a long life for my kids and family.” That is intrinsic. Extrinsic would be to “look good in a bathing suit.” While that can be powerful and get the job done, it may not last for the long haul.
How does this apply to baseball? Well, intrinsic motivators come from wanting to be the best. You do everything in your power (except cheat) in order to be the best. You don’t do it for the money, fame, or glory. Getting to the big leagues is a lot of hard work, and it will take about a decade worth of work. Yes, it will take about 10 years for you to be even close to reaching the big leagues. If you do not have a strong motivator, if you do not have the grit to be the best, then you will not succeed. If you give anything short of 100%, even if it is 99%, you will not succeed. But if you don’t have the intrinsic motivation to give 100% every single day, then how will you ever be successful? If you think the motivation of girls, money, and becoming famous for being a professional athlete are your motivators, you have already lost. You can do those things without baseball. But if you want baseball it has to come from within.
How do we get you to want to be the best? We don’t. It’s that simple. Coaches have about 10% of the say in an athlete’s development. That 10% can be the difference between being a high school player and pro, but when you have to get 50% better, there is nothing a coach can do or say to motivate you. Coaches have less a say over what actually happens to you. In fact, no one has more of a say over how good you can be than you. You, the athlete, have the most say in your career than any coach, parent, or umpire you come across. But you need a strong why to continue. If your “why” is weak, you will not succeed. If your “why” is strong, then you give yourself the best chance to be successful.
A little anecdote to finish off this blog. Roger Clemens was actually not good when he was younger. He went to junior college before becoming the person he is now. Most of you can’t stand the thought of JC baseball because you think it’s a demotion. Yet, he was able to push through it. How? He used to get angry at people when he pitched. He grew up poor, and he didn’t want to live poor the rest of his life. His mom used to clean bathrooms and floors at night in order to make ends meet. Clemens pretended that every single hitter he faced was someone that made his mom clean floors. They were the enemy and he wasn’t going to let them win. While you could say that his motivation might be “money” and therefore it wasn’t intrinsic, you would be wrong. While money can be extrinsic and a short term burst for cash, growing up in poverty is a different story. He didn’t want to live that like anymore and used that as fuel to be the best pitcher. You need a strong why to be one of the best in your field of operation, and no coach or parent can give you that why. It has to come from within.
Director of Pitching
Pitching mechanics are the most misconstrued concept in baseball. Everyone has an opinion on them and none of it is actually correct or proven. I used to be a big mechanics guy. Analyzing every little minute detail of body movements in order to improve one’s pitching velocity and effectiveness. I have recently trended away from this mantra. As I have come to realize, and you will too after this post, is that pitching mechanics do not mean that much and do not have that much bearing on one’s success. Let me provide you with some examples.
Is long or short better? Should I throw like a catapult or a shortstop? According to a few biomechanics studies, a short arm action is supposed to be better and that is what we teach here at CBC. However, here are a few examples of guys who were highly successful, and all had different arm actions:
These two have long arm actions; and yet they are highly successful pitchers. I’m not going to tell them that they need to change. They were/are better than 99.9% of baseball players that walk the face of the earth.
These two have short arm actions. This is more of the model that we look for at CBC. However, it does not always have to be so. If someone demonstrates a longer arm action, yet proves they have the sequencing of the other parts of their body that do not inhibit them to throw hard and throw strikes, then we will leave them alone. However, shortening them up usually unlocks some other parts of the kinetic chain that help produce more consistent results. But I do want to highlight that it can be done both ways.
We normally teach some form of bag leg squat here at CBC. Meaning, we would like a bend in the back leg while moving down the mound. This is not always the case either, as I will show you two different pitchers and two different bag leg mechanics:
I could not have picked two more different candidates for this one. Randy Johnson who is 6’11’’, and Tim Collins, who is 5’5’’. Johnson throwing over 100 mph, Tim Collins runs it up to 97+ mph. Their back legs are completely different and their body types are different. This is a stark contrast and should be studied extensively. This is why I do not want to have a certain “philosophy” on pitching mechanics because if I tried to teach them both the opposite of what they do, then I might screw them up.
So what do we know?
These are a few examples of pitching mechanics that differ immensely, yet they are/were all highly successful pitchers in MLB. There are a few key things that we do know that could help in pitching velocity as well as consistency.
I wrote a post on this for CBC a few months ago link HERE. It references a couple of studies that say pitching velocity directly correlates with how much force the front leg produces upon landing. From foot strike until ball release, the front leg should be producing force which allows the energy to transfer up the trunk and into the baseball. The more that is produced, the harder one tends to throw. This has been studied and actually replicated a few times. This lends one to believe that this is more than just an opinion.
I know this is not pitching mechanics but here me out. Weight lifting has shown to increase fastball velocity numerous times. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and squat a couple hundred pounds and see what happens. Remember, nothing happens in a vacuum and just doing squats will not help you. But if you have a complete, well thought out, lifting program that will definitely help to increase your velocity. By how much is a loaded question indeed.
This one is a bit of a controversy. Because there are some who complain about the health benefits of long toss. I tend to disagree with them. However, there are some people who do not react well to long toss. Too be honest, those are the exceptions though, not the rules. Most pitchers will hear this statement and say, “That’s me, I don’t react well too long toss.” No, it’s probably not. Unless you have done it structured 3x a week for more than a year and finally go, “Nope it’s not for me,” then you have not tried hard enough. Putting aside the health controversy for a minute, let’s look at the velocity implications for a moment. Here is a nice chart to help demonstrate what I mean:
So, as you can see, the farther you can throw it, the harder you have to throw it. In my personal opinion, those velocities are a bit high for those distances. However, the premise is correct. In order to increase velocity, work on the dynamic movements of throwing a baseball hard first.
This is why I do not like to get wrapped up inside pitching mechanic circles. They tend to be heavily debated and everyone picks sides. I frankly don’t care for this. I only care for making the athlete better and improving his performance in the game. If this means I have to check my ego and not teach something that I hold dear to my heart, then so be it. Player development should be focused on the athletes themselves, not the coaches. Don’t be that coach that doesn’t check his ego and destroys a player. And don’t be that player that gets so sucked into the mechanics of pitching, that he forgets to actually be an athlete.
Director of Pitching
Objective measurement is an extremely important aspect of the player development process. If we are learning a new skill, having clear, concise, and immediate feedback is of the utmost importance. Whether we are trying to play a new instrument, learning golf, baseball, soccer, speech, or math having objective feedback is important to mastering the new skill. However, much is lost on objectivity in most realms of development. When you are dealing with the human ego as well as human nature, facts matter little. This is why you see so many different “styles” of coaching. In baseball, it’s why pitching coaches have so many different opinions as to why someone throws a baseball harder than you, or has better command, or has better breaking pitches. There is always a differing of opinion as to why that person is better.
But what makes someone better than someone else in pitching? To make this question even harder, what objective measurement can we use that signals someone is a better pitcher than you? This is tricky, but the old school baseball players would say ERA, IP, Strikeouts, and Batting Average Against (BAA) would be tall-tell signs that someone is better. However, what one forgets to take into account; these are result driven stats. If you were to say, “Having a 1.02 ERA means you’re probably better than the person with a 5.45 ERA.” Well no kidding, but how do I get to having a 1.02 ERA? That is the question and its answered in many different ways. What about the new sabermetric stats being used, such as: ERA+, FIP, OBAA, etc. These are still result driven stats. They tell us who is good, but not how to be good. What we are looking for is a measurement that tells us what we can control. This could also be referred to as process-driven stats.
What are process-driven stats? How can they make us be better? Another way of asking is what makes a pitcher good? Is it command, mechanics, breaking stuff? All these are factors but lets dive into stats a bit. First off, we cannot measure mechanics. Mechanics are completely subjective unless put under a bio-mechanics lab, and even that has some varying results. Under bio-mechanics labs, it’s hard to measure load on joints and this is important. There are very few truths when it comes to mechanics so using this parameter as to what makes a pitcher good is not exactly sufficient. What about command? This is also hard to measure, let me explain. Command of the strike zone does not always mean you will be successful. Head over to Fangraphs and you will see the data. Command of the zone means that you’re throwing strikes, but strikes don’t always correlate to success. German Marquez leads the league in zone%, meaning most pitches in the strike zone. He ended the year 11-7, with a 4.39 ERA. You can find that here. Not a bad year, but not a raging success either.
So what is the most important metric? Well, that would be velocity. I can hear the parents and coaches now, screaming and yelling at me about how velocity does not matter. Well, let’s look at those stubborn facts. Velocity has a high correlation to swing and miss percentage. Well no kidding. The harder you throw the more pitches are swung on and missed by the batter. Here is a quick “study” to show you what I mean here. As you can see, the harder you throw the more pitches are missed. Here is the caveat, the more pitches that are swung on and missed, has a higher correlation to success. Don’t believe me, here is the raw data from Fangraphs on those who had the highest swing and miss percentage last year in 2017. My eyes could be bad, but I believe the top two in that list are the current Cy Young Award winners, Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber. Okay, what about in 2016? I believe the highest is Max Scherzer again (Cy Young Award in 2016) and Noah Syndergaard. But let’s look at 2015, Dallas Kuechel and Jake Arrieta. And finally I am defeated, Arrieta is 19 and Kuechel 30 respectively on the list. So I’m wrong, maybe velocity and swing and miss percentage do not matter. But I’m not soundly defeated. Arrieta’s fastball velocity was 94.9 in 2015, and Keuchel’s was 90.37. I can almost guarantee you that you are not averaging 90 mph on your fastball, and this is considered “crafty” in Major League Baseball.
So as you can see, fastball velocity matters. This can also be seen as a result-driven stat though. I am with you on that, however there are a few things we know that help increase velocity. They are strength, size, movement, and arm strength/speed. These can all be separate blogs but they are a few things that do help increase velocity. If you can’t lift a truck or eat a horse and are complaining about velocity, then you have work to do. But whenever your coach says that velocity is not important and then they reference someone like Keuchel, please inform them that he still throws harder than 99% of the entire baseball population.
Director of Pitching
Chapman Baseball Compound
Chapman Baseball Compound is a 3,000 square foot facility where we specialize in baseball development specifically in the areas of: hitting, pitching, catching, and mental training.