The Story of 4 Million Pitches

What you can learn from a recent Boston University study on balls and strikes.

Baseball is back, and with it comes the familiar sight of umpires making bad calls. If you’ve been watching college baseball, you’re already used to it for this year.

Essentially, the study found that umpires make bad calls around 12% of the time and when the batter has two strikes, that ratio jumps to 29%.

We already know that umpires make bad calls so what can we learn from this? For everyone not in the MLB, we’re going to have to wait a pretty long while for robotic strike calling machines, so we’re going to do our best to learn a lesson.

A coach told me one time, the same way I go to sleep dreaming of hitting home runs, umpires go to sleep thinking of ringing guys up. Now from this data, I know for a fact it’s true.

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Look at the chart. This is from a Boston, Toronto game in 2010. What do you see? I see missed calls on either side of the plate – not so much up and down.

I can imagine that the missed calls were probably on the outer half (depending on whether a righty or lefty was hitting). This tells me another thing I already know – umpires expand the zone on the outer half more times then not – especially with two strikes.

What what can you do with this new information (besides get mad at umpires)? You can learn that you should never strike out on an outside pitch. THEY WILL CALL IT IF IT’S CLOSE!!!


Credits:

The Conversation – An analysis of nearly 4 million pitches shows just how many mistakes umpires make

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5 Things to do at Home to Train for the Field

So you don’t want to play baseball year round but you don’t want to come back rusty…

So you don’t want to play baseball year round but you don’t want to come back rusty…

Well here’s five ways you can train without even stepping on a field.

1. Wall Ball or “Butts Up”

A wall and a tennis ball… that’s all you need.  You can either do this as a serious drill, or as a game with your friends.

Drill

Throw the ball against the wall and try to get yourself some short hops.  Work on picking the ball with one hand.  You can do this to work on footwork or to work on soft hands.

Two Methods

  1. Don’t move your feet – work on seeing the ball into your hand.  When you don’t move your feet, it requires your hands to work better – if your footwork is good, you’ll always get the good hop so don’t use your feet and work on those tough hops.
  2. Move your feet – You should never get a bad hop.  Come through the ball and get that short hop.

A Game with Your Friends

Even though it’s just a game, you work on your footwork and your soft hands.  Also, to win, you have to have an accurate arm to give your opponents a tough ball to field so you’ll also be working on your throwing accuracy.

A fun way to work on the two most important things for a young ball player – the ability to catch and throw the ball.

2. Go to the Batting Cage

It’s the off season… your time away from baseball.  You don’t have to go three times a week.  But taking a long time away from hitting can have negative consequences.

Go to the batting cage once every week or two and just hit until your swing feels good.  That way, when you come back you don’t feel so rusty.

If you want to be proactive, find one thing to work on and ONLY think about that one thing for the whole off season so when you come back you feel stronger then when you left.

3. Play Catch/ Long Toss/ Work on Arm Strength

Whenever you have free time, go outside and play some catch.  It will help your arm strength and durability… not throwing for a long time and jumping back into it right away can have negative effects.

Keep working on your arm health…  If you’re a pitcher, taking time off definitely helps.  But you can be proactive in your time off, do arm care exercises.

Here’s a video with Angel’s pitch Garrett Richards on long toss

4. Work on your Speed

This doesn’t even have to be extra work!  If you’re playing another sport, whenever you do speed or agility workouts, just remember – speed translates to the baseball field.

Work extra hard when you do these workouts because it’s not just for the sport you’re training for – it’s for ALL the sports you play.

If you don’t play another sport, here’s an exercise you can do every day.

5. Ball Recognition Drills

Pitch recognition is one of the hardest things to learn in baseball.  Usually the best way to practice is by playing or by taking batting practice with someone throwing multiple pitches.

Since you’re in your off season, you don’t want to hit too much so here’s a way to keep your vision sharp without tons of batting practice.

The video below shows how using different colored balls can help…

You can take this to the batting cage or you can just do it at home.  You don’t need to go out and buy new balls.  Instead, grab two sharpies and make big different colored marks on each ball.

Have someone softly toss you the balls from not too far away and have them tell you which one to catch.

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Bethesda Big Train Summer Collegiate Team

The Bethesda Big Train has had a ton of success over their 20 year lifetime for good purpose…

Bethesda, Maryland was where I spent my 2017 summer playing for the Big Train.  I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the team or the organization.  That being said, it was probably the team’s best year to date, we won the league championship and ended up ranked the #1 summer collegiate team.

big train hitting 1They don’t have any trouble housing or feeding players.  I spent the summer with my college roommate in a spacious basement hosted by an incredible family.  Big Train also spared no expense to feed the players.  We had a Whole Foods meal before every game and got fed after every game as well – probably the best you will be treated outside of the Cape.

Not only was the team good, the Cal Ripken League was impressive as well.  The majority of teams were filled with Division 1 ball players so the pitching and hitting were both good.

This summer (2018), the Big Train and their rival The Baltimore Red Birds were co-champions due to poor weather conditions.  The series was split, a game each but unfortunately they were unable to get the final game in.big train fielding

I’m proud to have played for the Big Train and if you have the opportunity to play for them I highly recommend it.

Notable Alumni

Click the link to see the impressive list of Big Train Alumni.

 

Why is the Big Train Successful?

Big Train treats their players right.  You go back to college and when your coach asks you how your summer was, you tell him it was great.  Not only that, you tell him the league is pretty damn good too.

You tell your coach you faced good competition, they fed you well, you got a free gym membership for the month, and you had a great time.  In return for Big Train’s great hospitality, your college coach sends his best guys every summer.

Fortunately for the Big Train they pull in 400-500 fans per game so they get good revenue from the tickets and have a great sponsors.  This allows them to do the great things they do for the players and still make enough money to bring in a profit.  They really have the business down pat.

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First Pitch Strikes

Why does throwing a first pitch strike shift the statistics so far in the pitchers favor? I think it’s all mental.

We’ve all been told to throw first pitch strikes and we know the odds are more in our favor if we do so, but why?  Why is an 0-1 fastball outside more effective then the same pitch in a 1-0 count?

The Stats

  • 92.7% of first pitch strikes lead to outs
  • 69% of strikeouts start with first pitch strikes

I could go even deeper into the statistics but those tell the story.  Pitchers are FAR more productive when they get the first pitch strike.

No More Stats.

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Melissa Wall – Off the Wall Photography

I’m not going to talk ground ball/ fly ball statistics, average exit velo or swing and miss % after first pitch ball or first pitch strike……  I’m going to talk about the mental side of the whole thing.

There will be little hard evidence to support my claims so feel free to comment if if you agree or disagree.

 

Mental Game

So we know that hitters are worse off in pitchers counts.  But why?  Do pitchers always throw more quality pitches when they’re ahead in the count?

The short answer is no.

What does happen is pitchers gain confidence and hitters lose confidence.

 

When a pitcher gains confidence a few things happen mentally:

  • You feel like you can throw any of your pitches effectively
    • You don’t have to worry as much if you have trouble controlling your off speed.
  • You feel more comfortable flirting with the black on your next pitch.
  • You whole body loosens up because you don’t have to worry about going down 2-0
    • Looser body = more velocity & movement.

Conversely, a few things happen in the hitters head:

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Melissa Wall – Off the Wall Photography

 

 

  • You’re less sure of what the pitcher will throw next.
    • 1-0 you know the pitcher is going to do everything in his power to throw a strike, and depending on his tenancies, you might even know what PITCH is coming.
    • 0-1, his tenancies almost fly out the window – you might know what he usually throws 0-1, but since he’s ahead he can do whatever he wants.
  • Some batters at this point feel pressured to get bat on the ball at anything in the strike zone – they don’t want to go down 0-2
    • A batter ahead in the count can watch a curve ball go by, even if it’s a strike in search of a better pitch to hit.
  • The pressure of the at bat builds against their favor
    • This creates tension in the muscles.  Tension takes a huge toll on bat speed and on the efficiency of a person’s decision making process.

 

Mental Changes are Magnified in Youth Players

I have absolutely no statistics to back the claim I’m about to make, but I think it’s safe to say that these confidence changes take a bigger effect on youth ball players.

Youth players aren’t as used to the failures that come with every single baseball game.  To some kids, giving up a hit can be the end of the world.  To a seasoned veteran, giving up a hit is just a part of the game and has little or no effect on him.

If the fate of the world rides on each and every batter, then getting that first pitch strike takes a huge weight off the pitcher’s shoulders and delicately places it right back on to the batter’s shoulders.

No matter what the pitcher is throwing; whether it’s a fastball, slider, curveball, change up mix or a fastball changeup mix – once that first strike has been thrown, the pressure has been shifted to the batter.  That alone can change the outcome without even mentioning the other things taking place in both the batter and pitcher’s minds.

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Source: Weinstein Baseball

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Follow Up to ‘Youth Pitchers Get the Short Straw’

While the rise of Tommy John Surgeries has risen, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop pitching.

On July 26th I posted the article, “Youth Pitchers Get the Short Straw” and I got feedback that made me rethink what I said.  Instead of take down my post I’m going to write about what I learned.

Essentially, in the initial post I said that if your goal is to make it Division 1 ball or pro ball, you should refrain from pitching until you get to high school.

Some of the feedback was that you can’t be scared to pitch.  You should not prohibit players from doing what they want.  If that’s what makes the game fun, then that’s what they should do.  Also, I had someone tell me that age restrictions from pitching weren’t the solution, better yet, focus on pre-habilitation.

I completely agree with both of these statements.  Like I said in “3 Tips for Travel Ball Pitchers,” arm care is extremely important.

So What?

There’s not much I can do about the risk that comes with pitching.  I can only warn about what can happen.  I regret trying to tell you that your players shouldn’t pitch.  Here are my key points – what I think are the most important takeaways from this conversation people are having every day:

  • Be aware of the risk involved with pitching.  Young kids sometimes think they’re invincible but they’re not.
    • Just because you don’t get have any severe pain doesn’t mean you have an iron arm.  Years of throwing takes its toll slowly over the course of years.
  • Don’t worry about impressing people with velocity or with a curve ball if you haven’t done the necessary pre-habilitation required to throw hard or to throw that curve.
    • The stage isn’t big enough to do that until you’re older anyway!
  • Don’t be afraid of pitching – in my last post I was too conservative.  There needs to be enough pitchers for this game to continue growing!  If pitching keeps your son in the game, whether he’s 9 or 19, do it.

 

I hope I don’t have to write to many more articles admitting I’m wrong.  But I’ll never take down a post and pretend it never happened.  I will learn from you as much as I hope you learn from me.

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What kind of Protein is Right for Kids 13+

3 of the best articles on youth supplementation, for better or worse.

I’m not a nutrition coach, and I haven’t had any schooling on the subject so I’ve been going around the internet researching as much as I can.  I’ve made sure to use only the most trusted sources and compiled the best 3 articles.

Should Kids Younger than 18 Take Supplements?

This question had never even crossed my mind before I started my research…

I started taking supplements when I was 13, and I haven’t felt any negative effects from it yet.  Protein supplements have been an integral part of my training experience for about 8 years now.

From what I’ve read, it seems like the sports focused dietitians don’t give protein supplements a second thought while the normal dietitians speak out against kids using protein supplements.  The general argument is that with some thought and planning, you can get all the protein you need in your daily diet.

The problem with that is that student athletes simply don’t have the time in their busy schedules to eat enough quality food…

Jenna Braddock

Image result for jenna braddock make healthy easy logoJenna Braddock, a successful and knowledgeable dietitian who teaches at the University of North Florida, gives us an example of a football player in high school who is busy from 6:30 am to 5:55 pm at school and practice.   And as we know, a similar schedule can be expected for a high school baseball player.

While this schedule might sound cruel and unusual, this is the life of a high school student athlete.  In her article, under the “How to use a Protein Supplement” subheading she gives four ways to get your protein in at the right time.

The whole article is great but towards the end she is clearly trying to sell a product.  She is very knowledgeable but if you want to buy what she’s selling do your research first, as I haven’t done any on the product itself.

I suggest the article for all of the great content beforehand.

Luke Corey

Luke Corey brands himself as a “Performance Dietitian” and works for EXOS at the UCLA Health Sports Performance Center.  Everything he says in his article is geared towards youth athletes.  I really like this article because it is about total health rather than just muscle growth. logo

If we know that student athletes have a hard time getting the right amount of protein in, what other vitamins and minerals are kids generally not getting in and what are the effects?  He goes over the answers to that question in this article.

At the end of his article he says, “Hydration affects performance more than any other nutritional factor.”  This is the easiest thing your ball player can do throughout the day, and according to Corey, it will be the most effective.

When I was in high school I would carry a gallon jug of water around school and try to drink the whole thing through out the day.  Usually I could do it, but even when I couldn’t, I could tell I was drinking a lot more water then I usually did.  I made it a game for myself which made me drink as much as I could.

It made me feel a lot better not just at practice but also in the classroom (It didn’t instantly make me smarter, but it helped me stay awake and focused).

Chris Koutures & Keith Gladstien

This is my last recommended article and my favorite.  It’s written by two well known doctors who really  know what they’re talking about and it’s easy to read and understand.

It goes over, in order, the most important parts of supplementing a growing athlete, and not so surprisingly protein supplements come 3rd on the list.

The article also talks about creatine and pre-workout supplements.  It goes over the pros and cons, but I personally do not recommend these supplements for anyone under 18 years of age.

Creatine is known to give quick and noticeable results in a short time but I’ve noticed that when you stop taking the creatine supplement, you almost immediately lose your progress.  It also is very tough on the liver even for someone who drinks a lot of water.  It also dehydrates you so however much water you drink, you need to drink 1.5X more.

As for pre-workout, most supplements are packed with caffeine and people who like taking pre-workout before a lift find themselves just a year later unable to have a quality lift without the supplement.  Caffeine is a drug and should be treated as such especially by younger athletes.

This article states, “The best pre-workout supplement is that 8-9 hours of sleep the night before starting exercise.” and I completely agree.

Sleep is the most underrated supplement because you can’t sell sleep supplements to people who don’t have problems sleeping so you never see anybody advertising a full night’s rest.

Similarities in the Articles

All three articles stress hydration.  They all say something along the lines of how a dehydrated athlete is sluggish and isn’t getting the most out of his/ her body.  Not only does the athlete not work as hard, but the body doesn’t rebuild itself as quickly or efficiently.

They all call protein the ‘building block of skeletal muscle’ and that the best time to take Gems (6-2-16)-478protein is 30 minutes after a workout.  Also, generally agreed upon is the idea that 0.5 – 0.7 grams/ pound of body weight/ day is a good amount to aim for (including protein found in the food you eat every day).

All three articles state that is possible (and recommended) to get your protein in through whole foods every day rather than through supplements.  But, they all admit that it is difficult and if you have a hard time doing that, supplements are the way to go.  They are also all concerned with getting a quality source of protein.  Whether it is through whole foods or supplements, make sure it isn’t a fatty source or from a sketchy protein supplement brand.

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Youth Pitchers Get the Short Straw

If you son is pitching before he is 13, he is only hurting his own career. Here’s why..

If your son isn’t in high school, in my opinion, he doesn’t need to be pitching just yet.

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Photo Credits: Arianna Macalouso

Save your son from the early stress to his UCL and Labrum and just have him play the field.  Pitching at an early age doesn’t do as much good as you think.  It doesn’t give him that much of an edge at the college level or even the high school level.

Kids under 18 years old have considerably less body awareness meaning they might feel like they are moving in one way, but are actually aren’t doing what they think they’re doing.

Here’s a Wall Street Journal article called “The Rise of the Accidental Pitcher.”  More and more often, pitchers who became pitchers late in their careers (college and minor league) are making the Major Leagues.  Why?  I think it’s because the competition is literally dwindling due to injury.  Players that don’t pitch their entire lives generally have healthier arms WHEN IT COUNTS.

I know this might upset or even OFFEND some people with kids who are already pitching, but here’s an honest opinion from a guy who’s SEEN college prospects lose scholarships due to Tommy John Surgery.

I don’t take your money for pitching lessons…  My selling point is honest, unbiased opinions on how to allow your kid have the greatest chance to succeed.

Benefits of Not Pitching Before High School

  • Reduce lifetime stress to the arm.
  • Increase overall athleticism by focusing on fielding positions or even by playing other sports.
  • Learn throwing mechanics through hitting mechanics.
    • Two perspectives on the mechanics gives players a better feel for their body and how the mechanics really work.
  •  Playing other sports helps a player improve his overall athleticism, it’s a lot more fun for the kid and it will allow both the parent and child to better decide which sport the kid likes the most and which he is the best at.  Also, playing other sports gives young athletes better body control
    • Instead of just throwing your child into baseball, let him choose which he thinks is the most fun.  The sport he enjoys the most will ultimately be the one he is the best at.

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Photo Credits: Arianna Macalouso

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In my next article I will put together helpful information for players trying to gain weight.