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METropolitan Fitness

Preparing athletes for success

My Blog

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When and when NOT to throw a breaking ball

Posted on March 18, 2012 at 7:18 PM Comments comments (0)
    Hey guys.  I wanted to put together a quick blog that would highlight some of the times when it would be best to use your breaking ball, and a few where it would be best to stick with your fastball.  Try to remember that the last thing a pitcher wants to be is predictable, so continue working on mastering your command of two or more pitches.

When to use a breaking ball

1. When the hitter pulls his head away from the ball
2. Any time the hitter is looking for a fastball (for instance, on the first pitch or on a count of 2-0, 2-1, or 1-0)
3. When a left-handed hitter who hits the ball to the opposite field is up to bat, because breaking balls will make him pull the ball
4. Right after a previous breaking ball, because many hitters guess fastball after a breaking ball, making three of four breaking balls in a row effective sometimes

When NOT to use a breaking ball

1. When the hitter is outmatched by the fastball (unless the breaking ball is throw as an intentional ball)
2. When the hitter has a slow bat and is looking for off-speed pitches (unless the breaking ball is thrown as an intentional ball)
3. When the runner at first base is stealing, because a fastball gives the catcher a better chance to throw him out (although sometimes a steal is inevitable and a breaking ball must be thrown)
4. To a left-handed hitter with no outs and a man on second base, because the batter will pull the ball

    The pitcher who has command of two, three, or even four pitches is at a great advantage.  Imagine the hitter's dilemma when he knows that the pitcher can throw any of his pitches in any situation.  More choices means that the hitter has more to think about, and decisions take time.  The more decisions the hitter has to make, the greater the chance that he will fail.  To all my fellow pitchers out there, work on it!


Playing the Percentages

Posted on February 12, 2012 at 7:12 PM Comments comments (101)
    As long as I've been around baseball I've been able to understand the law of averages. That has helped me to stay focused on the fact that in baseball there are simply more opportunities for chance to play a role in the outcome of any game.  Because of the many external factors that affect baseball, even the best teams will struggle to win 66% of their games.  When it comes specifically to pitching, a pitcher can increase their confidence just by understanding that even the best hitters will make outs 6 1/2 times out of 10. When a pitcher focuses on the 65% chance of getting an out as opposed to the 35% chance of a hit, they become more confident.
    Far too often a pitcher believes that if they make the appropriate pitch with the appropriate speed, movement and location it will work 100% of the time.  Sometimes, even to my own dismay, the hitter wins the battle.  In the instances when you did exactly what you wanted to do and the hitter still beat you, you must simply tip your cap and move on to the next batter. You did your job and you have nothing to feel bad about.  
    A pitcher must focus on their job and believe that over the course of a season the good-pitch flair hits will equal the poor-pitch line drives that are caught.  Even the umpire calls that drive us crazy will even out over a long season.  Weather, run support, bad hops and great plays will also even out over the course of a season.  When a pitcher begins to understand the law of averages they will then begin to focus or refocus on their job of pitching and let the rest take care of itself.
    For those pitchers who are afraid to challenge hitters because they don't understand the percentages, have them chart batting practice.  A batting-practice pitcher throws pitches right down the middle at greatly reduced speeds with little or no movement and hitters still make outs 50% of the time.  A young pitcher sitting behind the pitching screen watching batters get themselves out will grow in confidence.  The pitcher can also learn to read swings and look for hitters' weaknesses.  This is a great teaching tool for any coach and learning experience for the pitcher.
    The bottom line is that a successful pitcher always gauges their success on one thing: whether they made the pitch, not the result of the pitch.

    Work on it!

What's YOUR #2?

Posted on February 11, 2012 at 7:26 PM Comments comments (0)
    Working with youth athletes has always brought me a great sense of fulfillment.  Being able to coach and mentor younger players has been a passion of mine as long as I've been an athlete myself.  Sharing baseball related knowledge and practicing fundamentals has consistently been at the top of my priority list, which brings me to the topic of this blog.
    No matter what age the pitcher is that I work with, I try to reinforce to them that when a curveball is thrown right it places less stress on the arm.  However, even a curve thrown correctly still needs to be limited in terms of the number thrown per game (no more than 20-25% of the total pitch count).  While establishing a good curveball is important, it should not get in the way of developing a good off-speed pitch. When I ask a pitcher I'm working with what their 2nd best pitch is, I want to hear, "My change-up!"
    In an era when hitters are stronger than ever, aluminum bats are several ounces lighter, and the major emphasis is on hitting for power the change-up has developed into an invaluable pitch.  When thrown with the same arm speed and the same arm slot as a fastball, the change-up will look like the fastball in every way except that it will be thrown 8 to 15 miles per hour slower.  This change of speed will upset the hitter's timing and cause them to swing early.  Consequently, the batter will either hit the ball on their front foot (therefore losing power) or perhaps miss the ball altogether for a swinging strike.
    The ideal change-up is a pitch that can be thrown consistently for a low strike, at a lower speed, that looks exactly like a fastball.  The change-up, when thrown correctly is a great pitch to compliment the fastball and can be used in fastball counts to retire aggressive hitters. There are as many ways to throw a change-up as there are pitchers.  As long as it gets the desired results of appearing to be a fastball, low in the zone, at a reduced speed, it is a quality change-up.

    Work on it!

Maintaining Control

Posted on February 9, 2012 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (0)
    Hey everybody.  As the season continues to creep closer I can't help but think of things that should be at the top of every pitchers priority list.  Among them should certainly be control and consistency.  As I touched on in a previous blog, control is something that can distinguish a good pitcher from a great pitcher.  We should all know too that it could ultimately be the difference between a win and a loss.  


    Some of the factors that contribute to poor control include: 

1 - Not picking up the target with your eyes 

2 - Pitching from various release points and 
     arm angles

3 - Landing on your heel 

4 - Throwing across your body

5 - Moving around on the rubber 

6 - Over- and under-striding 

7 - Rushing your body 

8 - Excessive body movements

9 - Poor follow-through

10 - Poor functional strength

11 - Low confidence

12 - Lack of concentration

    When you start to look at some of the top pitchers in MLB it should come as no surprise that many of them are amongst the league leaders in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Want to be a top pitcher in YOUR league?  Work on it!


Balance and Control

Posted on February 2, 2012 at 12:41 AM Comments comments (0)
    Can you believe it's already February?!  With just over 17 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, here's a baseball tip aimed at all the athletes who toe the rubber.

    Show me a pitcher who is athletic, and I'll show you a pitcher who can maintain balance throughout their delivery.  They can control where they want their body to go, and do what they want it to do.  Balance and control are vital in pitching because you must be able to release the ball from the same spot, every time, for all your pitches.  If you can't control your body, your body will do something different every time!  Developing the ability to repeat your mechanics on every pitch is what separates the good pitcher, from the great pitcher.  When I think of a pitcher who has consistently set the standard for undeviating mechanics, this is the man that first comes to mind.

    Work on it!

Outfield Tips

Posted on January 29, 2012 at 10:04 PM Comments comments (4)
    Recently, after a team workout one of my teammates came up to me and commented that he liked the information available here on my blog.  However, he mentioned that most of the information was geared towards pitchers and that in the future he'd like to see more information targeted at the position players.  With that in mind, here's some tips aimed at the players who roam the outfield.  I hope this proves helpful to all of you out there in positions 7 through 9.
    The first thing we should establish is that the preparation for playing the outfield starts long before the home plate umpire yells, "playball!"  The mental and physical preparation to compete at your highest level within those white lines are days, weeks and months in the making.  But for the sake of this article, let's identify the mindset from batting practice to the final out.
    During batting practice make your best attempt at fielding all balls in your position!

    The READY POSITION is one of narrow stance with the weight on the balls of your feet and the center of gravity relatively high, so that the outfielder can move quickly in any direction. He must be ready to move instantaneously in an unknown direction. You should walk into the ready position.

    PRE-PLAY MENTAL PREPARATIONS:
    1. Determine how the ball bounces off the wall.
    2. Determine how the ball meets the corner of the fence.
    3. Say to yourself "EVERY BALL HIT IS GOING TO BE HIT TO ME." Prepare   
        yourself mentally before every pitch. That way you will never be caught off
        guard.
    4. Be alert to each special situation. Always expect the worst so you will be ready.  
        Know what you are doing with the ball before every pitch is thrown.
    a. Know when the bunt is in order.
    b. Know when the tying or winning run is at bat or on base.
    c. Know who has exceptional speed.
    d. Look for changes in sun and wind.
    5. Study the hitters so you will know who pulls and who hits with power and then play
        accordingly.

    FROM THIS POSITION:
    a. Read every pitch inside and outside   
    b. Read the bat angle. The hitter will show you where the ball is going.   
    c. Sound will tell you how far the ball is going.

    FIELDING FLY BALLS:
    a. First response is to jerk the head back using 
        inner ear.
    b. Use the drop step for fly balls over your head 
       then cross step. Drop directly towards the 
       straight line route to the baseball.
    c. Always run full speed after fly balls. Get under
       them and wait to catch it.
    d. Never glide to the ball, or get in the habit of 
       timing your catch.  
    e. Always stand deeper from where you think the 
       ball will land so you are able to turn
       through the ball when you make the catch. 
       If possible catch the ball going toward the infield.     
    f. Time the catch and go into a throwing motion. Set up 6-10 feet behind fly ball's
       when possible.
    g. Don't get under the ball. Keep the ball to the side angle. 
    h. Secure/Lock the ball into your glove. 
    i.  On diving catches use the shoulder roll, finish and get the glove up.  
    k. Remember the ball will always slice toward the foul line.  
    l.  Most outfielders use a very large glove. (Many outfielders use a 12.5" to 13.5"
        glove)
   m. Catch the ball on the throwing side above the shoulder with two hands as the rear 
        foot hits the ground.   

    FIELDING GROUND BALLS: The key is to break hard on every play. Charge all 
    ground balls, even though it is directly at an infielder and appears to be a sure out. 
    Get in the habit of backing your infielders.

    INFIELD TECHNIQUE: Always field the ball in front of you. Right handers practice 
    fielding ground balls on the left foot. Charge at full speed until you are ready to make 
    the catch, then CROW HOP to get under control. After you have caught the ball off 
    your lead foot, throw by planting your back foot. Stare down low line drives and ground
    balls. 

    THROWING:
    *Always grip across all four seams with your fingers apart.
    *Always throw overhand with full arm extension.
    *Right-handers TUCK your glove against your chest when throwing to prevent flying 
    open.
    *Over-emphasize the follow through when warming up and during infield practice. 
     You'll find this will strengthen your arm as well as make it accurate.
    *Always hit your cut-off man to prevent further advancement.
    *Don't worry about where the runners are. Just hit the cut-off man. 
    *Never THROW THROUGH (shortstop) to your infielders.
    *CROW HOP to target to create momentum and power.
    *After the catch get the meat hand into the glove as quickly as possible.
    *Be sure that you finish with the chest over the front foot.
    *With the baseball stopped at the fence, step over the ball - crow and throw.
    *On the glove side while running hard to cut the ball off - you step over and throw 
     back.

A few essential tips that every youth baseball coach should know

Posted on January 29, 2012 at 8:28 PM Comments comments (0)
    As I mentioned in a previous post, it's almost the time of year again in which all of us are looking forward to the smell of fresh cut grass, the crack of the bat, the sunshine on our face and the anticipation that comes along with a new baseball season.  While most of us will be making the necessary preparations to ready our body and minds for our own seasons, there are those of us too that will no doubt be doing our best to steer the ship of our kids and community baseball teams.  For those of you who will be coaching in the Little League system, here are some essential tips you should know to help keep your players healthy.
    The number one tip coaches should remember is that children are not miniature adults and shouldn't be treated as such.  While this may seem obvious to most, many adults don't realize that children's bodies can't take the same amount of physical stress adult bodies can take.  That's because children are still growing and are therefore more susceptible to injury.
    Let me offer these additional tips to help coaches prevent injuries to their players:

  • A good warm-up is just as important as stretching. A warm-up can involve light calisthenics or a short jog. This helps raise the core body temperature and prepares all the body's muscles for physical activity.
  • Children should not be encouraged to "play through pain." Pain is a warning sign of injury. Ignoring it can lead to greater injury.
  • Swelling with pain and limited range of motion are two signs that are especially significant in children -- don't ignore them. They may mean the child has a more serious injury than initially suspected.
  • Rest is by far the most powerful therapy in youth sports injuries. Nothing helps an injury heal faster than rest. 
  • Children who play on more than one team are especially at risk for overuse injuries. Overuse injuries are caused by repetitive stress put on the same part of the body over and over again.
  • Injuries that look like sprains in adults can be fractures in children. Children are more susceptible to fractures, because their bones are still growing.
  • Children's growth spurts can make for increased risk of injury. A particularly sensitive area in a child's body during a growth spurt is the growth plate -- the area of growth in the bone. Growth plates are weak spots in a child's body and can be the source of injury if the child is pushed beyond their limit athletically.
  • Ice is a universal first-aid treatment for minor sports injuries. Regular ice packs -- not chemical packs -- should be available at all games and practices. Ice controls the pain and swelling caused by common injuries such as sprains, strains and contusions.

    Lastly, I want to mention an all too forgotten acronym that should be foremost in minds of youth coaches everywhere, R.I.C.E.  One of the most recommended icing techniques for reducing inflammation and treating minor injuries, R.I.C.E. is an acronym for rest, ice, compression and elevation. It is best used for pulled muscles, sprained ligaments, soft tissue injury, and joint aches. Applying R.I.C.E. treatments will decrease pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, swelling and tissue damage. It achieves this by reducing blood flow from local vessels near the injury and decreasing fluid hemorrhaging as a result of cell damage.
    To administer R.I.C.E. use the following guidelines suggested by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:
  • Rest: Stop using the injured body part immediately. If you feel pain when you move, this is your body sending a signal to decrease mobility of the injured area.
  • Ice: Apply an ice pack to the injured area, using a towel or cover to protect your skin from frostbite. The more conforming the ice pack the better, in order for the injury to receive maximum exposure to the treatment.
  • Compression: Use a pressure bandage or wrap over the ice pack to help reduce swelling. Never tighten the bandage or wrap to the point of cutting off blood flow. You should not feel pain or a tingly sensation while using compression.
  • Elevation: Raise or prop up the injured area so that it rests above the level of your heart.
    How long should ice be applied while practicing R.I.C.E. for it to be effective? There are four levels of cold felt by the skin: coldness; a prickly or burning sensation; a feeling of aching pain; and finally a lack of sensation or numbness. When the area feels numb, icing should be discontinued. The skin should return to normal body temperature before icing again. Usually numbness can be achieved in 10 to 20 minutes. Never apply ice for more than 30 minutes at a time or tissue damage may occur.
    It is generally recommended to practice R.I.C.E. at intervals of 4 to 6 hours for up to 48 hours after an injury. Heat treatments are appropriate for some injuries, but should only be considered after inflammation has receded, approximately 72 hours after an injury. If the body part does not respond to R.I.C.E. therapy within 48 hours, it would be wise to consult your health care provider in the event a serious injury has occurred (ie: internal bleeding, a broken bone, etc.).
    For minor injuries, use R.I.C.E. instead of plain ice!

    This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical treatment or consultation. Always consult with your physician in the event of a serious injury.


   REFERENCES

  • TopEndSports, Sports Medicine - What is R.I.C.E?, Louise Roach
  • Health Tips Coaches Should Know - Temple University Hospital













Why flexibility training is so important

Posted on January 26, 2012 at 10:26 PM Comments comments (0)
Here's another baseball pitching tip...

Why is flexibility training important? 

Pitching is a rotational activity, the hips and core are chief couplers of power to the arm. 

As the stride foot lands, the internal rotators of the hips along with the core rotate the midsection to face the plate. 

If the external rotators are tight and don't stretch to their full normal ROM (range of motion), the whole kinetic sequence is impeded. 

Good flexibility leads to better velocity.

Work on it!

Recovery is just as vital to a pitchers success as hard work

Posted on January 26, 2012 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (0)
Here's another baseball pitching tip...

One of the most important factors in maintaining or building functional strength and/or pitching velocity is the recovery process that takes place following a workout, practice or game. 

By eating properly and getting 8-10 hours of sleep (naps are OK, too), a pitcher can hasten the healing, health and recovery process of the body, which better prepares them for their next performance. 

Don't forget the recovery part!

Work on it!

Are YOU willing to outwork the status quo?

Posted on January 24, 2012 at 10:52 PM Comments comments (0)
Couldn't wait to share this one with all of you!!

With a blazing fastball that approached 100 mph and a work ethic like none other, Nolan Ryan dominated hitters for an unparalleled 27 seasons on his way to 5,714 strikeouts, an all-time record. During four decades of prominence, he totaled 324 victories and a host of Major League records. Most notable of his milestones are a mystifying seven no-hitters and 12 one-hitters. The eight-time All-Star fanned a single-season record 383 batters in 1973 and his career strikeouts encompassed 1,176 different players.

When someone with that kind of track record speaks, I know I'm inclined to pay attention. Here's what the Hall of Fame pitcher had to say: 

"Our expectations of [pitchers] have been lowered. There's no reason why kids today can't pitch as many innings as people did in my era." 

"Today a quality start is 6 innings. What's
quality about that?"

Ryan raises a good point and I think it's this:

When you accept the status quo, you sell yourself
short. 

When you train smarter, work harder, practice
longer, condition better - barriers fall, velocity
goes up and the fun factor increases 100%.

Work on it!



    REFERENCES


  • Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
  • The Complete Pitcher's Newsletter - Steve Ellis