Jonathon Niese’s Shoulder Injury Explained – Part 1

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New York Mets Pitcher Jonathon Niese has struggled with shoulder and elbow issues during 2014 spring training. He also suffered a partially torn rotator cuff in 2013. What are the causes of his injuries, and how can they be fixed? I spoke with sport kinesiologist Angel Borrelli, a scientist who works specifically with baseball pitchers. If you are a pitcher, a coach of pitchers, or a parent of a pitcher, you will find this interview enlightening.

Listen below:

What To Use To Re-condition and Preserve Your Baseball or Softball Glove

Depending on where in the world you live, there’s a chance you haven’t seen your baseball glove in a few months — do you remember where you left it? It could be sitting at the bottom of your equipment bag, out in the garage, or next to your cleats down in the basement. Wherever it is, you may not have touched it since your last game — whenever that was. Soon, though, you’ll be playing again. If you’re in a warm weather region, practice will be starting soon; if you’re in a cooler climate, indoor workouts and/or weekend camps begin in January (if not already). Once you find your glove, you may discover it to be stiff, dried out, and not quite “game ready.” If so, you may want to treat it with a conditioner to get it into game shape. But what to use? [Read more...]

Strasburg Dominates Without Strikeouts

No surprise that Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg dominated the Miami Marlins in his Opening Day 2013 start. What was surprising, however, was his lack of strikeouts. [Read more...]

Why Johan Santana May Not Return in 2011

Mets pitcher Johan Santana suffered a setback while rehabbing his injured shoulder. It may be a long time before he can return to the mound, unless he corrects the mechanical flaw that caused his injury in the first place. [Read more...]

Fritz Peterson On Pitching

A baseball conversation with Fritz Peterson, former 20-game winner, All-Star, and owner of the lowest ERA in the history of the old Yankee Stadium. [Read more...]

Pitchers Can Go Into Slumps Too

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Everyone knows that hitters can go into slumps, but did you know pitchers can as well? And unfortunately, some never find their way out of them.

This particular interview is from over a year ago, but it is a timeless / relevant piece. It is a short Q & A with Washington Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire, who spoke candidly to the Washingtong Post about Nats pitcher Jason Bergmann.

St. Claire offered his analysis on why Bergmann was pitching poorly in 2008, and how he had entered a vicious cycle that would inevitably lead to more bad outings — unless he changed his mindset.

A year later, Bergmann was moved out of the starting rotation and into the bullpen — where he’s continued to struggle. One must wonder if his inability to fulfill his once-promising potential has something to do with the way he deals with pitching slumps.

Pitching With Eyes Closed

Being from the NY-Metro area, I’m a big Mets fan and regularly watch SNY (the Mets’ cable TV network). This evening one of their on-air personalities, Kevin Burkhardt, was reporting on the Mets’ spring training and one of his big news items was the fact that Pedro Martinez was pitching with his eyes closed.

First of all, this is not a new nor cutting-edge development. Pitchers under my supervision have used “eyes closed” drills going back to the early 1990s, and even then it wasn’t a new concept — certainly nothing I invented but rather a training method that had been handed down from previous generations of pitching “gurus”.

In any case, I’m glad the story came up, because now is a good time to apply the technique. Essentially, it is what it sounds like: you go through your entire motion and pitch with your eyes closed (this should be done in bullpens / side sessions; it should be obvious that you don’t try this in a game situation). If you have solid mechanics, and total control over your body, you should be able to throw strikes. When I coached at the D1 level, and we were working out indoors (preseason) my pitchers were not allowed to advance to breaking pitches until they could throw their fastball and changeup for strikes with their eyes closed. This may sound drastic and a little nuts, but that was my way of confirming that each pitcher’s mechanics were understood, “felt”, and repeatable.

Pitching (or doing anything athletic) with your eyes closed is tied strongly to visualization, but it is also an immediate way to “feel” what the body is doing. With the eyes open, your attention is split by all kinds of distractions — most of them visual. When you are “blind”, and expected to throw to the catcher’s glove, you absolutely, positively, must focus on controlling your body and its movements. Concentrating so narrowly on balance and movement, the mind is less susceptible to outside distractions that could cause the body to fall off course. In addition, if a particular part of your mechanics or timing doesn’t feel “right”, it is a more glaring and identifiable issue with the eyes closed. You will be amazed at how quickly you can correct mechanical issues simply by throwing a few pitches with your eyes closed.

Finally, there is the benefit of self-assurance. Prove to yourself that you can throw a strike with your eyes closed — literally — and you are suddenly armed (pardon the pun) with a supreme confidence to throw strikes at will.

By the way, this method can be applied to batting, though it’s limited to hitting off a tee.

Pitching: Dragging the Back Foot

The other day I went to a batting center that included tunnels where pitching lessons were being taught. Over and over I heard the same phrase from the instructor: “drag your back foot!”.

To me that sounded a bit perplexing, and thought perhaps the coach was teaching the change-up. After ten minutes, I realized the coach was using his “drag your back foot” instruction as a means of teaching the fastball.

A few days later I witnessed another pitcher, in another facility, consciously dragging his back foot on all pitches per the instruction of a completely different “pitching coach”.

Now I’m really befuddled.

Perhaps I’ve missed something, but what I have been taught is that you want to do anything BUT drag your back foot if you’re interested in increasing velocity on your fastball. In fact, what you should do on your fastball is push off the rubber with your back foot — much like a sprinter does off the starting blocks — and as a result the back foot should fly up in the air, high over your butt, after the stride foot lands. The back foot pushes, the front foot pulls, and if you get them working in sync, you’ll be using your legs to power the ball (now you know why pitchers do so much running!).

The only time a pitcher would drag his back foot, as mentioned earlier, is on a change-up. If your back foot — or more specifically, your toes — drags along the dirt in front of the rubber as your stride (front) foot lands, then it should help take a few MPH off the change-up. However, that is a pretty advanced technique, and should only be practiced by those who have a very solid understanding and execution of sound pitching mechanics, and whose changeup needs to be just a bit slower.

If I’m missing something with this “drag the back foot thing” — perhaps I’m misinterpreting a newfangled, cutting-edge technique — please let me know in the comments below.

Why You Should Watch Tom Glavine

Pitchers of all ages should do what they can to watch Tom Glavine pitch at least a few times this year. Glavine has been, and remains, the consummate pitcher’s pitcher — a guy who relies on guile rather than overpowering stuff to succeed.

Glavine never threw very hard — even in his youth — and now tops out around 85-87 MPH with his best fastball. Yet, he continues to get big-league hitters out on a consistent basis. More importantly, he does everything in his power to help his team win — on the mound, as a fielder, and on offense. Many more talented hurlers spend less time on the “other” aspects of pitching — i.e., holding runners on, fielding, bunting, etc. — and therefore rely solely on their ability to dominate hitters. While this approach can work, it’s a much better plan for a pitcher to work on all aspects of his game involvement. Glavine is proficient in every area of a pitcher’s responsibility, and as a result helps his team win even when his pitching is sub-par.

Here is how Tom Glavine wins games:


Pitching

Tom Glavine shows smooth pitching delivery for the New York MetsSimple, Repeatable Motion - There are no herky-jerky motions, or complicated hand movements, in Tom Glavine’s delivery. His mechanics are simple, easy, balanced, and as smooth as butter. Glavine uses four “checkpoints” in his delivery — certain spots in his motion that he’s aware of where his body, weight, and the ball need to be. Very little can go wrong with the simplicity of his mechanics, and as a result his delivery is easily repeatable, and not strenuous. This is the key to consistent command of your pitches and in dominating the strike zone: to repeat your mechanics. If your body moves in the exact same way every time you throw the baseball, you have a much better chance of putting the ball exactly where you want.

Pinpoint control – Glavine only throws two pitches, but has tremendous command of both. Compare that to a high school pitcher who has 4 pitches in his repertoire but can’t hit spots with any of them more than 50% of the time.

Great change-up – Glavine throws a change-up that is about 10 MPH slower than his fastball and moves. He keeps it down in the zone and on the sides of the plate, so that when it does get hit, it’s a harmless ground ball.

Changing speeds – Did I say Glavine threw “A” change-up? I meant to say he threw two. Or maybe three — it all depends on your definition of a change-up. In reality, Glavine purposely throws his fastball at two or three different speeds during a game, and matches each one with a complementing change-up. You will almost never see Glavine throw two pitches in a row at the same velocity.

Show pitch - I lied again — he doesn’t throw two pitches, he throws three. Glavine has a curveball in his arsenal, something he rarely threw until two years ago. Even today, he’ll throw it at most five times a game — sometimes not at all. It’s an “extra” pitch he’ll “show” the other team, for the explicit reason to put it in the batter’s head. He may not throw it again for the rest of the game, but the fact that he might is enough to give him an edge and keep the hitters “honest”.

Controlling the Running Game

Watching Glavine’s pickoff move, you may be disappointed that it isn’t extraordinary. After all, shouldn’t lefties have devastating moves, such as the one Andy Pettitte possesses?

It’s true — Glavine doesn’t pick off too many runners. But he also doesn’t allow too many stolen bases, either. He controls the running game by mixing up his moves, holding the ball for varied time lengths, repeatedly throwing over to first, and — most importantly — getting the ball to the plate quickly. As a result, runners do not get good jumps and Glavine gives his catcher a good opportunity to throw out would-be basestealers. Another one of those small things, but an advantage that helps win ballgames.

Fielding

Tom Glavine fields position exceptionally well — if it weren’t for his former teammate Greg Maddux (another pitcher who does EVERYTHING well), Glavine might have a few Gold Glove awards. Glavine’s follow-through puts his body in position to field the ball easily, so he gobbles up ground balls hit back to him and pounces quickly on bunts. Just as important, he completes the play — properly setting his feet and making an accurate, strong throw to the intended target. It seems like a little thing, but the little things add up. Watch one of Glavine’s games and you’ll see him make at least three or four plays that most other pitchers don’t. As a pitcher, every out counts — regardless of whether it’s a strikeout, a popup, or a ground ball. If you as a pitcher can take care of five or six outs a game, it’s as good as adding those outs to your strikeout total.

There’s something else about Glavine’s defense that gets forgotten, and is largely unnoticed — he’s always backing up bases. Too often, you’ll see pitchers throw a ball, watch it get hit somewhere, then stand on the mound motionless. I see it at every level from little league to the big leagues, and don’t understand it. There is absolutely nothing a pitcher can contribute to a play by remaining on the mound after the ball is pitched. Don’t just stand there — do something! If it’s not covering first then it has to be backing up a base. Glavine knows which base needs to be backed up and hustles there immediately. It’s possible you’ll back up a base 99 times and it not make a difference, but that 100th time could mean the ballgame.

To field well, by the way, is completely up to you. You don’t need any special skills to be an excellent fielding pitcher. All it takes is hard work and plenty of repetition. You have only yourself to blame by not handling those 3-5 outs per game — not to mention making your outing that much more difficult.

Offense

In the age of the Designated Hitter, and pitchers specializing on the mound at a very early age, it’s rare to see a good-hitting pitcher at the Major League level. And although Tom Glavine has never batted .300 — heck, he usually struggles to bat .200 over the course of a season — he has won 4 Silver Slugger awards and is well-respected as a threat at the plate. Why? Mostly because he has laid down the most sacrifice bunts in MLB history — well over 200 and counting. Again, it seems like a little thing, but how often does a runner bunted to second come around to score? How often has a failed sacrifice attempt impaired a team’s ability to garner a run?

Like defense, bunting is an art that requires little skill — it’s all about using the proper technique and repeating it over and over. Kind of boring, to bunt the ball 40-50 times instead of swinging away during batting practice — but Glavine knows his skillset and the importance of execution. Any batter — be it a pitcher, infielder, or outfielder — can and should become adept at bunting.

But Glavine doesn’t only bunt, he also handles the bat fairly well for a pitcher. In his younger years, he hit in the .220-.240 range — better than some position players — and has a knack for getting the bat on the ball. As a result, his managers have been confident calling the hit-and-run when he’s at the plate, creating more scoring opportunities. Glavine also has a keen sense of the strike zone as a hitter, and forces the opposing pitcher to throw pitches. Since he’s not looking to hit the ball over the fence, Glavine will often take a strike — or two — then foul pitches off with a short, choppy swing. Again, doesn’t seem like a big deal, but every pitch he makes the opposing hurler throw is one more away from being removed from the game.

Conclusion

Anyone who has watched Glavine through the years can see that he carries himself as a winner. If all you do is watch his stuff — which isn’t particularly extraordinary — you might come away thinking, “how the heck did this guy win 300+ games?”. Don’t feel bad — even Albert Pujols was scratching his head after a 2006 NLCS loss, telling the press after the game, “He wasn’t good. He wasn’t good at all.” Pujols was right — if he was talking only about Glavine’s stuff. But Pujols, like many, didn’t “see the forest for the trees”, as they say. The bottom line is, Glavine knows how to win, and knows that if you do every single little thing, they all add up and can be the difference in a ballgame.

If you have an opportunity, watch Tom Glavine this year (he may be retiring). You can learn quite a bit by watching EVERYTHING he does on the field.

Learn to Breathe

Learn to breathe? Who needs to “learn” how to breathe? Didn’t we figure that out about three seconds after emerging from the womb?

Well, yeah, but, not really. [Read more...]