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Should Pitching Coaches Understand Research Methods and Functional Anatomy?

Written on July 9, 2012 at 8:53 pm, by Eric Cressey

Quite some time ago, I met a pitching coach who made a bold statement to me:

"Most Major League pitchers have terrible mechanics."

I don't know if he meant that they were mechanics that could lead to injuries, or simply mechanics that would interfere with control and velocity development, but either way, I shrugged it off.  Why?

Their mechanics are so terrible that they're in the top 0.0001% of people on the planet who play their sport.  And, they're paid extremely well to be terrible, I suppose.

Kidding aside, this comment got me to thinking about something that's been "festering" for years now, and I wanted to run it by all of you today to get your impressions on it.  In other words, this post won't be about me ranting and raving about how things should be, but rather me starting a dialogue on one potential way to get the baseball development industry to where it needs to be, as it clearly isn't there yet (as evidenced by the fact that more pitchers are getting hurt nowadays than ever before).

The way I see it, mechanics are typically labeled as "terrible" when a pitcher has:

1. Trouble throwing strikes

2. Pitching velocity considerably below what one would expect, given that pitcher's athleticism

3. Pain when throwing

4. Mechanical issues that theoretically will predispose him to injury 

In the first three cases, anyone can really make these observations.  You don't need to be trained in anything to watch the walk totals pile up, read a radar gun, or listen when a pitcher says, "It hurts."  Moreover, these issues are easier to coach because they are very measurable; pitchers cut down on their walks, throw harder, and stop having pain.

Issue #4 is the conundrum that has lead to thousands of pissing matches among pitching coaches.  When a pitcher gets hurt, everyone becomes an armchair quarterback.  The two biggest examples that come to mind are Mark Prior and Stephen Strasburg.

Prior was supposed to be one of the best of all-time before shoulder surgeries derailed his career.  After the fact, everyone was quick to pin all the issues on his mechanics.  What nobody has ever brought to light is that over the course of nine years, his injuries looked like the following (via Wikipedia):

1. Hamstrings strain (out for 2002 season)
2. Shoulder injury (on-field collision – missed three starts in 2003)
3. Achilles injury (missed two months in 2004)
4. Elbow strain (missed 15 days in 2004)
5. Elbow injury (missed one month in 2005 after being hit by line drive)
6. Rotator cuff strain (missed three months in 2006)
7. Oblique strain (missed two starts in 2006)
8. Rotator cuff strain (ended 2006 season on disabled list)
9. Shoulder surgery (missed entire 2007 season, and first half of 2008)
10. Shoulder capsule tear (out for season after May 2008)
11. Groin injury (missed last two months of 2011 season)

By my count, that is eleven injuries – but four of them were non-arm-related.  And, two of them (both early in his career) were contact injuries.  Who is to say that he isn't just a guy with a tendency toward degenerative changes on a systemic level?  How do we know one of the previous injuries didn't contribute to his arm issues later on?  How do we know what he did for preventative arm care, rehabilitation, throwing, and strength and conditioning programs? We don't have his medical records from earlier years to know if there were predisposing factors in place, either.  I could go on and on.

The issue is that our sample size is one (Mark Prior) because you'll never see this exact collection of issues in any other player again.  It's impossible to separate out all these factors because all issues are unique.  And, it's one reason why you'll never see me sitting in the peanut gallery criticizing some teams for having injured players; we don't have sufficient information to know exactly why a player got hurt – and chances are, the medical staff on those teams don't even have all the information they'd like to have, either.

Strasburg has been labeled the best prospect of all-time by many, and rightfully so; his stuff is filthy and he's had the success to back it up.  Of course, the second he had Tommy John surgery, all the mechanics nazis came out of their caves and started berating the entire Washington Nationals organization for not fixing the issue (an Inverted W) proactively to try to prevent the injury.  Everybody is Johnny Brassballs on the internet.

To that end, I'll just propose the following questions:

1. Did Strasburg not do just fine with respect to issues 1-3 in my list above?

2. Would you want to be the one to screw with the best prospect of all-time and potentially ruin exactly what makes him effective?

3. Do we really know what the health of his elbow was when the Nationals drafted him?

4. Do we know what his arm care, throwing, and strength and conditioning programs were like before and after being drafted?

There are simply too many questions one can ask with any injury, and simply calling mechanics the only contributing factor does a complex issue a disservice – especially since young athletes are growing up with more and more physical dysfunction even before they have mastered their "mature" mechanics.

The Inverted W theory is incredibly sound; Chris O'Leary did a tremendous job of making his case – and we certainly work to coach throwers out of this flaw – but two undeniable facts remain.  First, a lot of guys still throw with the Inverted W and don't have significant arm issues (or any whatsoever).  They may have adequate mobility and stability in the right places (more on this below) to get by, or perhaps they have just managed their pitch counts and innings appropriately to avoid reaching threshold.  I suspect that you might also find that many of these throwers can make up for this "presumed fault" with a quick arm combined with a little extra congenital ligamentous laxity, or subtle tinkering with some other component of their timing.

Second, a lot of guys who don't have an Inverted W still wind up with elbow or shoulder injuries. Good research studies bring issues like these to light, and nobody has really gotten a crew of inverted W guys and non-inverted W guys together to follow injury rates over an extended period of time while accounting for variables such as training programs, pitch counts, and pitch selection (e.g., sliders vs. curveballs). We don't know if some of these other factors are actually more problematic than the mechanics themselves, as it's impossible to control all these factors simultaneously in a research format.

As such, here we have my first set of questions:

Don't you think that pitching coaches need to make a dedicated effort to understand research methods so that they can truly appreciate the multifactorial nature of injuries?  And, more importantly, wouldn't learning to read research help them to understand which mechanical issues are the true problem?  

The Inverted W is certainly an issue, but there are many more to keep in mind. Just my opinion: I think the baseball industry would be much better off if pitching coaches read a lot more research.

Now, let's move on to my second question.  First, though, I want to return to the Inverted W example again. I have not met more than a few pitching coaches who can explain exactly what structures are affected by this mechanical flaw because they don't understand what functionally is taking place at the shoulder and elbow.  They don't understand that excessive glenohumeral (shoulder) horizontal abduction, extension, and external rotation can all lead to anterior glide of the humerus, creating more anterior instability and leading to injuries to the anterior glenohumeral ligaments and labrum.  Meanwhile, the biceps tendon picks up the slack as a crucial anterior stabilizer.  They also don't appreciate how these issues are exacerbated by poor rotator cuff function and faulty scapular stabilization patterns.  And, they don't appreciate that these issues are commonly present even in throwers who don't demonstrate an Inverted W pattern.

At the elbow, they also can't explain why, specifically, the Inverted W can lead to problems. They don't understand that the timing issue created by the "deep" set-up leads to greater valgus stress at lay-back because the arm lags.  They can't explain why some players have medial issues (UCL injuries, ulnar nerve irritation, flexor/pronator strains, and medial epicondyle stress fractures) while other players have lateral issues (little league elbow, osteochondritis dissecans of radial capitellum) from the same mechanical flaws.  They can't explain why a slider thrown from an Inverted W position would be more harmful than a curveball.

I can explain it to you – and I can explain it to my athletes so that they understand, too. I've also met a lot of medical professionals who can clearly outline how and why these structures are injured, but we aren't the ones coaching the pitchers on the mounds.  The pitching coaches are the ones in those trenches.

To that end, I propose my second set of questions:

Don't you think pitching coaches ought to make an effort to learn functional anatomy in order to understand not just what gets injured, but how those injuries occur?  Wouldn't it give them a more thorough understanding of how to manage their pitchers, from mechanical tinkering, to pitch selection, to throwing volume?  And, wouldn't it give them a more valid perspective from which to contribute to pitchers' arm care programs in conjunction with rehabilitation professionals and strength and conditioning coaches? 

The problem with just saying "his mechanics suck" is that it amounts to applying a theory to a sample size of one.  That's not good research.  Additionally, this assertion is almost always taking place without a fundamental understanding of that pitcher's functional anatomy.  It amounts to coaching blind.

To reiterate, this was not a post intended to belittle anyone, but rather to bring to light two areas in which motivated pitching coaches could study extensively in order to really separate themselves from the pack.  Additionally, I believe wholeheartedly in what Chris O'Leary put forth with his Inverted W writings; I just used it as one example of a mechanical flaw that must be considered as part of a comprehensive approach to managing pitchers.

With that said, I'd love to hear your opinions on these two sets of questions in the comments section below. Thanks in advance for your contributions.

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  • http://www.absolutebaseball.org Coach Craig Spilker

    Eric,

    I am so excited to see you putting these questions out there because I think it behooves any athletic coach to have a minimal understanding of Anatomy and specifically a little bit about the kinetics of athletic movement but also about how to understand those arguments that are out there in the academic research world (of which there are a lot).

    I do not have you degree or your certifications but I do have a psychology degree and I spent a ton of time doing research and I took time to pay attention in anatomy and physiology BECAUSE I wanted to understand how and why the body moves the way it WANTS to.

    Because I believe (and so do we at absolutebaseball) that throwing is a natural movement which can be understood in greater detail when any PC has even a novice level of knowledge of the body.

    Take a little time to learn. It pays off for your players.

    Great stuff Coach Cressey

  • Christian

    Eric,
    Chris O’Leary made an excellent case against the inverted W as a pitching coach, but I think Strassburg had TJ surgery due to simply throwing harder than most pitchers. We know that it takes roughly 40N of force to tear the UCL in an otherwise ‘healthy’ pitcher. The closer we get to the threshold of pitching velocity, force exerted on the arm, and mobility issues the more likely we are to find problems with the arm. I would argue that many pitchers at the HS level who barely throw 75 don’t exert as much for on the arm compared to Strassburgs 101mph from a mound. That isn’t to say that they are mechanically efficient, because most pitchers aren’t. Nolan Ryan, one of the healthiest pitchers ever over the longest pitching career was only 92% efficient (it is in one of his books). My point is though that while Strassburg has an amazing arm, he is simply pushing the limitations of what the body can handle. We may have genetic variations that make some throw harder, but when it boils down to it, we all have a similar breaking point.

    I agree wholeheartedly that as pitching coaches or any sort of coach, we should be constantly trying to learn more about functional anatomy and the cause of many injuries. With that said, most don’t know where to begin if they even decided to educate themselves on the subject. As a college pitcher/hs pitching coach, the majority of what I hear when someone is injured is ridiculous. “If your arm hurts, run ____ amount of miles each night and that will help it heal.” Most baseball players still aren’t even lifting properly! The old school of thought on not lifting because we can become big and bulky becomes an infectious excuse for ballplayers to not lift when away from their schools.

    Honestly, I agree 100%, but I don’t think that the majority of coaches are willing to put in the effort to change their program and train of thought. Only the most dedicated and willing to learn coaches would pursue this. Nice post.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Outstanding contribution, Christian; thank you!

    Also, just a FYI, Nolan Ryan actually tore his UCL in his last start. He retired three weeks earlier than planned. Was still 97mph on his last pitch, though!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Thank you, Craig; I appreciate the kind words and contribution!

  • http://www.muscleactivationsf.com Brian Hannah

    Eric, glad you brought this up! It’s been ignored for quite some time. I completely agree that most pitching coaches don’t know jack about research or functional anatomy and this is embarrassing to the profession. It is unfortunate because, even though they are elite athletes and remarkable, better decisions could be made along the way to either intervene or decide not to intervene depending on the specific circumstances if they had all the information.

    I think it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the majority of pitching coaches to learn enough about research and functional anatomy to be able to do much with it. They could, however, easily find a sports kinesiologist or biomechanist who could be used as a consultant to fill in the missing pieces. If you get 2 or 3 “experts” in various fields together who can work with each other I think much more would come out of that than one person trying to specialize in all three areas. That’s why most people don’t perform their own medical exams, dental procedures, eye exams etc. rather they consult with specialists.

    In summary, yes all coaches should be much more well versed in anatomy, biomechanics of their sport and training principles….but if they can’t or won’t learn that all, they need to fill in the blanks but adding a specialist to their staff.

    Again, great post! Thanks for starting the conversation.

    Brian

  • http://www.coachburgess.com Ryan Burgess

    Eric, 

    Had to comment on this one. You raise some interesting questions that are applicable to every sport. I truly believe that it would be in every sporting  coach’s best interest to have a basic understanding of the biomechanical and bioenergetic demands of the athletes s/he is tasked to prepare. It would help them sift thru the BS, eliminate dogmatic drills/strategies/etc., and improve their ability to communicate with both the training and S&C staff, all of which would lead to every coach’s goal- a healthier team and a higher probability of winning.

    Thankfully I have found a handful of coaches w/i the sport I devote the majority of my time to (football) that are on the right path.  It’s imperative that strength coaches/trainers/therapists exercise some diplomacy to the sport and position coaches in their networks to get everyone on the same page. It truly is win-win for all parties involved.

    Keep up the great work EC, we gotta catch up soon!

  • Bo

    Eric,

    Do you think TJ and the valgus stress placed on the medial side of the elbow could actually be coming from what the glove side arm does? For example if the glove side is tucking the glove or pulling it to speed the body up that the arm lags as a result causing the lay back off the arm to be more extreme causing more valgus stress. So if they aren’t even going into the inverted W they can still have medial issues from how the glove side arm is being used as a accelerator? Just curious as to your thoughts if that even all made sense.

  • http://nsusoftballtraining.wordpress.com/http://nsuwolvesathletics.com/index.aspx?path=softball&tab=softball Travis Owen, CSCS, MS

    Great post- thanks for expanding on your thoughts with the “inverted W.” The more I’ve been hearing about it over the years, the more I’ve been wanting to read your thoughts on it.

    Unfortunately many pitching coaches (and I suppose people, in general) are more inclined to just repeat what they’ve been told, or how they’ve been coached. One great thing about science and research is, to be WRONG is a good thing! We are trying to prove ourselves wrong and think critically…it means the field is progressing and learned something new. Many old school thinkers wouldn’t want to risk the possibility of being wrong, so I agree with Christian in that only the very motivated will look closely at what may actually cause injuries. And I am with you that it would absolutely be beneficial for coaches of all sort to check their egos at the door and look at the research and available writings. Or at the very least be open to other ideas.

    As for the actual case of injuries, I’ve seen some of the same research you’ve seen/cited and recognize that “you only have a certain amount of bullets in the gun.” Who knows how overused Strasburg- or any other injured pitcher- has been throughout their careers (showcases, pitching year round, mismanaged throwing programs, etc.). Also, as you’ve mentioned, there are so many variables that go into an injury that all we as coaches can do is what’s currently under our control (stability, efficient movement, proper volume, etc.). The point isn’t to belittle those old school programs but instead to spread the new-aged research and really find ways to manage players and keep them healthier, because better ways are available compared to the current status-quo in baseball. Sometimes it’s best for everyone to just start a clean slate and look objectively at the issue, but many times pitching coaches can be the hardest to convince because of preconceived notions and past successes (I/we did it this way and it “worked,” so it must be OK).

  • Sebastian

    Eric, I try to follow your newsletters as good as I can and this one really sparked my interest. As a teacher of research methods in kinesiology, I am trying to teach my students the importance of understanding research methods in association with knowledge in their specific focus area (e.g., personal training). While we have some students who advance with a lot of knowledge from the class, we have also others who really dislike the class, mostly (I think) because they don’t see the applicability in their field. This is a sad fact.
    From my perspective, there are three causes for this:
    1. Research methods is a complex field, which includes knowledge about how to conduct and evaluate experiments using different designs. As probably everybody knows, not all research is good research. Hence to acquire enough knowledge to be able to critically assess the results of a study takes more than just passing a class. It takes experience in reading studies and the will to understand them. And the lack of that will is not only a problem in students but also in many other groups.
    2. Most of the students I have taught are afraid of statistics. Even some of my fellow graduate students are afraid of it. I will give you an example: At a dinner, I have met a former student of our faculty. She is now a doctor and she told me that she absolutely hated statistics. While she was telling me this, I sliently wondered how she is going to progress as a doctor if she doesn’t have the tools (i.e., the necessary understanding) to improve by reading research.
    3. The last reason, why some people are hesitant to read and evaluate research is complacency. Trainers, alike coaches, will find ways how they can work with athletes in order to satisfy both sides. Good trainers, and coaches alike, are those who constantly try to improve the way how they work with their athletes in order to exceed expected limits. And those are the individuals who would put the effort in to educate themselves in research methods and other areas of knowledge.

    As a little summary, I agree with your article. In order to solve the aforementioned problems, we need to make trainers and those who want to be trainers (e.g., students) more aware of the importance of research methods and show them ways how they can apply the knowledge in later stages of their career. With your reputation as an outstanding trainer and with your outreach to many of these highly motivated, talented people who are on their way to become good trainers, I am more optimistic that this will work in the future.

  • http://www.GoToBALL.com Ted Browne

    Finally. I’ve been telling my kids’ parents this for years, and some of them *still* get hoodwinked by slick talking private coaches that know nothing except that they just landed one more meal ticket for the off season.

    THANK YOU Cressey. Now, come out with the material we’re all pining for…the same stuff you’re posting. Coaches like me care, and will pay for the priveledge to learn more.

  • http://www.drivelinebaseball.com Kyle Boddy

    Couldn’t agree more, Eric (as usual). This is why we invested in multiple high-speed cameras to actually capture and digitize three-dimensional movement patterns in our athletes – getting readings of kinematics and kinetics. These help form a specific training program for our athletes.

    Of course, in-depth understanding of mechanics, functional anatomy, and strength/conditioning is vital. Player development is sorely under-addressed at all levels of baseball, and that needs to change.

  • Dan

    Great article Mr Cressey,

    It is a very interesting subject you bring up.

    A pitching coach should be a “throwing coach” also.
    We should be able to teach a player to achieve accuracy and velocity while having the body strong,flexible,stable and healthy enough to be able to achieve full body rhythm (summation of forces and stretch reflex)in such a strenuous activity as pitching. Alot of coaches still teach explicitly in regards to pitching, especially ex pitchers turned pitching coaches who only teach what worked for them, it may not be the case for everybody!

    Arguably the best pitching coach to date, Dave Duncan, is proof as he was a big league catcher for a decade! He understands pitching and the laws around it and individualises each pitcher.

    I once saw a 13yr old lefty throwing in a program, I asked an older coach about his throwing action which had a disconnection from his body rhythm in his arm (short arm with poor deceleration in his case), he replied to me “That doesnt matter, he will get outs at the nationals”….
    I could not believe that the players long term healthiness and development wasn’t at his best interest. Shocking.

    Some coaches focus hard on short term results, the passionate coaches work hard on evolving themselves and putting the players best interest long term in to consideration.
    Ignorant coaches who do not research and understand the body and arm are behind the pack. I am a young coach from Australia who has started to specialise in pitching and have achieved alot in a short career in our elite programs due to not being an elite pitcher as such and getting the best from each individual.

    Look forward to reading more and gaining more knowledge from you and your articles Mr Cressey.

  • Ryan

    Great post. I have a background in Health Science, specifically functional anatomy, and it has also frustrated me to no end. I liken it to the statistical revolution that eventually worked its way into front offices, due to its effectiveness.

    I suspect eventually teams are going to figure out that not only do they need someone with some pitching experience in some form of pro-ball, but more so, they need someone with functional anatomical knowledge on the movement that their athletes are constantly performing (a severely stressful one at that). I think one day we’ll get there.

    Maybe somebody needs to write a book about how a small market team managed to successfully compete against larger market teams, by keeping their pitching staff healthy for a full season, by employing science and evidence based practices. :D

  • Ross Janes

    I would love to see a true timeline with injured pitchers from the initial onset of pain through injury. As you well stated, the basics aren’t even noticed by most coaches: interior or exterior rotational deficits or poor scapular stabilization. Perhaps earlier recognition of these deficiencies would help with rehab and correction before injury occurs. Might cost a few wins though ….

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Agreed, Ross. Would be tough to do, but surely beneficial.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Ryan – Ha! I like that idea.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Thank you, Dan. That sentiment sadly isn’t at all uncommon in youth coaches – and needs to change.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Thanks, Ted! There will definitely be products on the topic down the road, but in the meantime, we’re working on refining our craft.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Great post, Sebastien. Thank you!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Good stuff, Travis. Here’s a little piece I wrote on Strasburg two years ago as well:

    http://www.ericcressey.com/the-skinny-on-stephen-strasburgs-injury

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Bo – it can absolutely play into it. That’s one issue that is important to correct early on.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Thanks, Ryan! Appreciate the post!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Ryan,

    The issue I see on that front is that it’s impossible to get a team of 2-3 people together to deal with every athlete, both from a time and cost standpoint. If pitching coaches knew just a little more functional anatomy, it’d really change the game – evener if they weren’t absolutely brilliant on this front. Just looking at the great stuff Worlforth has done with a foundation in anatomy and his interactions with Phil Donley is an example.

  • Brian

    Do you think this is a common trend in all collegiate and professional sports coaching? Almost all coaches were at one time a professional/college player. While they may not have been the superstar, they were still pretty darn good. Do they get these positions based on what they did as a player or because they are truly the best person for that job? I have seen and heard of strength coaches who are big and bad and bench 500lbs and played college football get positions over highly qualified/educated persons who did not play. By employing a former player as a strength coach, the college’s can get around NCAA rules regarding staff limitations. They are nothing but another coach but employed under “sports performance staff.”

  • Robert

    It truley is a shame that most pitching coaches are so ignorant in regards to the development and on going care of their athletes. Echoing many of the above comments, their is most certaintly a better way for most pitching coaches to go about their job. Given the rate that new information surfaces, sport coaches owe it to their players to be constantly researching and updating their knowledge base. Too often sport coaches just sit on one set of information that they teach for years and years. Taking this lazy approach is only a diservice to the athletes.

    No place is this ignorance more apparent with pitching coaches than at the college level. Most of these guys have absolutely no clue when it comes to how to properly manage the physical preperation or the specific tehcnical development of the athletes. As a coach your job should be getting the most out of each athlete as you possibly can.

    A few things pitching coaches need to understand is the biomechanical aspect of pitching and how to properly coach athletes so that they can use their whole bodies as efficiently as possible. As well as the bioenergetic demands of the sport. If they would take the time to learn some of this, they wouldn’t feel the need to subject their players to mindless bouts of “conditioning” and pointless drill work that does nothing to develop their skills. I truley believe that most pitching coaches in the college ranks are so uneducated that they ultimately derail most athletes chances of improving whatsoever, resulting in a stagnation of progress where an athlete just stays the same or many times athletes actually getting worse as their career goes along. Many of times it is the naturally gifted throwers who prosper because they were talented enough that the coach could not screw them up.

  • Cole rohrbough

    Eric….awesome post…love it… Pitching coaches should 100% understand functional anatomy as it applies to pitchers…most are uneducated though, so when things go wrong they take the easy way out and make ASSUMPTIONS instead of putting in the time and finding out the FACTS of the situation…it’s the lazy easy way out…i”I know a few guys I think should read this post ;)

  • http://www.BetterPitching.com Phil Rosengren

    Great post Eric. As a former pro pitcher and current coach, I fully agree there is an alarming degree of ignorance or blind acceptance of “conventional wisdom” in the baseball community when it comes to what constitutes “good mechanics.” Every pitching coach can benefit from a better understanding of functional anatomy and what’s actually going on during the complex chain of movements that make up the pitching delivery.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Baseball-Training-Lab/296290610469876 Baseball Training Lab

    Hi Eric,

    Great post! Pitching coaches do not understand functional anatomy and primarily rely on their training staff and doctors to tell them what’s wrong physically, but rarely do the right issues get addressed as shown in the Mark Prior case.

    The average MLB pitching roster is about 12 deep and while that is quite a few people to manage, it’s not enough where pro level coaches can’t monitor and really understand each player strengths and weaknesses in great detail.

    The big problem is at the collegiate level. Pitchers get severely over used (especially in tournament time), training programs are really weak, and it’s hard to hold players accountable, and not to mention the training staff is trying to keep an eye on an entire squad (not just pitchers or position players). Talented players careers end in college due to injury or set themselves up for some type of major surgery after they get drafted due to all the factors above at the college level.

    The answer? At the college and pro level, some type of mandatory training or certification that teaches coaches the things you outlined in your post. It’s scary how little well known coaches actually know about the human body and mechanics. Most of them are former players with no background or training and typically teach what worked for them or tidbits they picked up from other players.

    Eric – its time for you to put together your Certification for Pitching Coaches!

    Ryan

  • Ryan F.

    Eric,

    Great, thought-provoking post. I’ll say this, as a very young strength coach and pitching coach trying to break into both professions, my knowledge of functional anatomy that I work to build every day has certainly helped me on both fronts.

    I am a high school pitching coach and strength coach. And, while I am still pursuing my degree in physiology & kinesiology, the knowledge I build on a daily basis has helped me tremendously in truly understanding the mechanics of pitchers. I love applying what I learn to what my athletes do on the field. And, to your point, we also have a coach with a doctorate in Chiropractics on staff. Just his knowledge of the human body and anatomy alone adds to the effectiveness of our coaching. Also, we are able to work together to help make corrections in athletes that need it when they have minor injuries or pain, without sending them to the athletic trainers that for some reason always seem to be preoccupied with football (welcome to high school sports..).

    So, I completely agree that pitching coaches, and really ALL coaches should strive to do some research and studying into functional anatomy. I’m a young buck but STILL have seen a tremendous improvement in my baseball/pitching acumen from understanding the body and how it works.

    Great post Eric!

  • Ric Wickham

    Eric, thank you for writing about an issue that for far too long has been shoved under the carpet by coaches who are either ignorant or don’t care about learning on how the body works. All they see is a young prospect with a live arm and don’t care too think about the long term damage that can take place with out the proper care and management. Far too many baseball players have chests like Mr. Universe and backs like Mary Poppins from doing weights and not developing their back muscles too balance out the overall muscle development. Unfortunately not a lot of coaches want to go the extra mile and learn about functional issues that could save a lot careers.As mentioned in previous comments every coach should read all of your articles and not just this one so as to have a greater understanding of what goes on with the body.

  • BHerring

    Eric I hope I can help your understanding of why some pitching coaches fail to understand and teach the functional anatomy of a throwing athlete. A few of my thoughts: some coaches truly believe in using other coaches (humans) for their “research” rather than reading anatomy books, online articles or blogs by specialists. I will not necessarily say these are old school coaches bc there are examples of all ages of this. Another thought I have after hearing yourself and Lee Fiocci speak is that the vocabulary that is used scares people off from wanting to further educate themselves on the body and it’s movements. I feel like I have a respectful understanding of anatomy of parts of an athlete and the biomechanics of the throw and when I hear someone like yourself speak it does make me and others feel like we are inadequate in our profession if we can not understand the words you are using and some decide to shut it off and go hit the booths to buy something. I also think that baseball is light years behind other professional sports in terms of what information is out there for the taking. Some baseball guys do not want to share information and talk openly about their craft to other coaches. For me as a college coach I can pick up the phone and call someone and get information on any topic of our sport. For the little league or a young coach without contacts it is tough to find information that is worth receiving. If you look at the sport of golf, they have the golf channel that for hours a day you can watch it and learn about the movements of the golf swing and the body. Yes I know Harold Reynolds on the MLB channel will periodically have a segment about a part of the game, but I can also watch shows on the golf channel of sport or movement specific workouts that will help me in in my preparation.

    I fight the thought daily of “not everybody is like me” and what I mean by that statement is that not everyone is going to read the Journal of Sports Medicine to figure out why their pitchers shoulder capsule is clicking when they raise their arm. Others and maybe many more than my (our) kind would benefit from someone like yourself teaching them in “baseball talk” how to teach their pitchers about the body, arm and its movements. By no means am I saying you are not teaching but all Im saying is why cant Eric Cressey or Ron Wolforth or Lee Fiocci or Tom House create a TV network devoted to teaching the movements and anatomy of a pitcher?

    Just some thoughts that will hopefully get your or someone else’s brain moving in the right direction so that we can become part of the solution by understand the issue at hand. “A problem is only a problem if you think its a problem” 7 habits…..S. Covey

  • http://www.PFAfitness.com Dave Coggin

    No doubt I know more about pitching mechanics and am soooo much better at helping pitchers stay healthy and pitch better because of the time, people and information studied by the likes of Eric Cressey, Tom House, and Dr Andrews and many others in the industry of making baseball players stronger and healthier. Also, just flat out erasing what I thought I knew about pitching mechanics. I always argue professional level coaches (pitching) usually are the worst at identifying problems. They either aren’t allowed to have their own opinion (pitching coordinators opinion is rule) or they already have guys who you don’t want to touch because they are throwing hard and getting outs. A lot of my pitching coaches in pro ball where more concerned with their golf swing then all my flaws. I cringe at my old videos, and I was told I had flawless mechanics. (2 surgeries later and career ended, something wasn’t right). Learning about the Anatomy has improved my strength/conditioning program and my pitching coaching. I learn more everyday.

  • Tom

    Good read as usual and as coach of 15-16 year olds and married to a CHT (Cert. Hand Theropist) I am all to aware of the issues we have with uneducated parents and coaches that injure young arms. Until there is some awareness in the High School programs with respect to lifting and offseason training programs we’ll continue to see injuries of ignorance. Case in point is when a local HS baseball coaches have there kids long toss in Nov. if they get a warm day after not throwing for months. This type of info should be submitted through state athletic assoc. and mandatory with respect to cont. education.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Great post and contribution, Dave!!!

  • Dennis

    Eric,

    I really enjoy reading and learning new things not only about training for pitchers but training in general.

    I have pitched all my life and at 51 still have a little something on the ball. I use myself as a guinea pig to test some of the stuff I read and learn. And I will also apply a combination of my own experience and information a glean from reading and watching how others do it. There are lots of guys doing things a multitude of ways mechanically. So it is a web of information and sometimes confusing to determine which is better. Ultimately good body mechanics, timing, and coordination along with a good training regimen and a coordinated throwing and pitching schedule deliver the best consistent results while reducing exposure to injury. I have a novice understanding of body mechanics and like one of the other posters am sometimes overwhelmed with some of your vocabulary which leads me to research and try to understand better what it is that you may be saying. I, as a pitching coach, don’t particularly desire to use that vocabulary but like to try to translate those words into baseball terminology so that players can understand.

    Just a few comments on the inverted W. Watching the all star game there are lots of guys who get to the inverted W position and some of them have been injury free in their careers so far. Competition(and big contracts)drives athletes to do things with their body that they wouldn’t do otherwise. So it’s my opinion that pitchers will develop an arm action that physiologically might not necessarily be good for them but it produces the result they are looking for. I don’t know how long Chris Sale will go the way his arm whips through and its amazing to watch Jared Weaver contort his body and whip his arm while stepping considerably across center and you’d think that he might have arm problems as a result but his record speaks for itself and it probably has a lot to do with conditioning. His body is used to that motion. And the newest interesting case subject for me is Trevor Bauer with his extreme program that has the baseball world wondering who the hell this freak is. Dominating performance this past Sunday against the LA Dodgers.

    My current conclusions are as follows: 1. Injuries will occur to pitchers – even those with the best mechanics and training programs. Careful monitoring and guidance can and will reduce the chance for injury. 2. Each person is an individual. What works for Trevor Bauer may not work for Steven Strasburg. 3. There is no substitute for hard work.

    Finally – I have a story of a former major league pitcher and a very successful closer (over 300 saves in his career) who threw the ball close to 100 mph at his peak (someone I know personally). Early in his career he had an elbow problem that required a surgery (not TJ). And I was talking to him and asking him how it was coming along. He said it was feeling great and that the reason it was feeling great was because he was getting on the bench press and lifting heavy weight. I’m talking sets with 275 lbs. Not very sophisticated but it worked for him and got him back to where he wanted to be.

    Thanks again for all of your information Eric. I really appreciate it.

  • show0706

    Eric,

    There is absolutely no cuasation with Prior and Strassburgh’s injuries and the inverted W. There is a correlation but definitely not a causation. If you look around majors or minors there are many pitchers that throw with inverted W that dont have arm problems and many that dont throw with an inverted W do have arm problems. There needs to be a more comprehensive studies done to better study the matter. Personally speaking, i pitched at the collegiate level and i always had a sore arm but never pitched with an inverted W and had a rather long arm swing. This was how we were taught to throw in the mid 80s, with arm swing like a pendulum (Calvin Schiraldi would be a good example for those who are old enough to remember him). This was the traditional way to teach the arm action and i believe its the incorrect way. After college i started to experiment with different type of arm swings while playing ball with my kids and i truly believe that inverted W is the correct way to throw. I have lot less pain in my arm becuase i am loading my scap right after the hand break and it also allows me to throw a lot harder. The ball seems to jump out of my hand. I wish i had known this while in college so i would have definitely incorporated it into my pitching motion. But coaches back then thought that a long arm swing is the way to go.I am now trying to have my son, who is 12, to throw with a better scap load with and an inverted W. I truly believe that is the safer way to throw and it also allows one to throw a lot harder. Paul Nyman believes in this and i wish his material was out when i was still playing. I would have had a less painful and a better career.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Sanjeev,

    I believe I said almost exactly this: “There is absolutely no cuasation with Prior and Strassburgh’s injuries and the inverted W. There is a correlation but definitely not a causation. If you look around majors or minors there are many pitchers that throw with inverted W that dont have arm problems and many that dont throw with an inverted W do have arm problems. There needs to be a more comprehensive studies done to better study the matter.”

    Great post, nonetheless.

  • show0706

    Eric –

    Thanks for the respons and i didnt mean to be repetitive. Chris Oleary has pointed ALL great pitchers dont have an inverted W and pointed out 7 Hall of Famers that didnt do this. He has also pointed out two pitchers (Strasburg and Prior) that were injured because of an inverted W. He has conveniently left out Billy Wagner and Craig Kimbrell who throw with an inverted W and throw gas. Also Wagner had a long career and i expect the same for Kimbrell.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Sanjeev,

    Understood – although I would add that Billy Wagner had a lot of surgeries in there…

  • John

    Great read, thank you. How do you get this information to youth league volunteer coaches where habits are started?

  • http://www.PaulyGirlFastpitch.com Rick Pauly

    Eric
    I am 100% in favor of more fitness research reading…..I’ve done a bit but find it to usually be intimidating/a little over my head. If someone would write a “Bio-mechanics of Pitching” for Dummies book I’ll bet a lot more of us would stick our toe in the water.
    Maybe there is such a book, if so please direct me.

  • http://blog.thebaseballzone.ca Mike McCarthy

    Great post. Amen!

    There are a number of human bias reasons why this will likely not change a whole lot real quickly, but it is a great point and every organization in the world would be wise to think about it hard.

    I don’t think pitching coaches need to be functional anatomy experts, but it would serve them well to A) have SOME knowledge and the more the better, and B) have some respect for the scientific method, i.e. your examples of n=1 being totally insignificant. Understanding this would provide them with a better understanding of how when they want to jump to conclusions that it might be quite erroneous, and dangerous, to do so.

    The problem is you have a bunch of guys who have been doing something (coaching) for a long time with a certain amount of success (if we are talking about pro coaches) who’d naturally be quite reluctant to change. “Forget the scientific method, this is my method and it works for me.” It is not dissimilar to your Strasburg example – why change it even if you think it should change?

    Even Mr. O’Leary, who I respect a lot and has made great strides as a “baseball outsider”, has his own confirmation biases. He believes in his theory and, while it may end up being proven, at this point it is merely observational with numerous counter-examples. It does not come close to establishing any causal relationship, and honestly I am not sure it has even established much of a correlation one way or another, however that would be a pretty great start if someone took that one up.

    So while I completely agree with you, I just don’t see it changing a whole lot too quickly. A lot of human behavior will get in the way.

  • Derek C

    Dear Eric,
    Among the countless articles is there a source, book, etc, that you would suggest someone with little or no previous knowledge of functional anatomy should start. Also, am looking forward to attending your Mentorship program this winter.Thanks again Eric

  • william ford

    why pro football qbs never have torn shoulders from throwing a heavier ball?

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    William,

    There are a number of reasons.  The heavier implement doesn’t allow for as much lay-back, so the limited ROM plays into it.  It’s also a shorter delivery; guys can’t get long in the back, so there isn’t as much valgus stress at the elbow.  The biggest thing is that they don’t throw the football off a mound, though!


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