"Delayed Internal Rotation" revisited and elbow roll-in

December 8, 2012 • Training

Almost 4 years ago, I wrote an article that was sort of a spit-balled take on an arm action sequencing concept. Practically immediately, it was torn apart by Dr. Mike Marshall. I realized then that the article was poorly written. Part of that was the spit-ball nature of it, its kind of "thinking out loud" approach, but a big part was my wonderfully awful descriptions of and references to the kinetic chain.

Shortly thereafter, I threw a disclaimer at the top and promised to re-write the article. Well, there really isn't much point because, even cleaned up, I don't think the concept holds water. [UPDATE 2019: ... or does it?]

Today, at Ron Wolforth's Pitching Central Ultimate Pitching Coaches Boot Camp, that exact article was mentioned in reference to an analysis of different types of lay back, what causes lay back, and how someone can have late forearm turnover and avoid the dreaded reverse forearm bounce.

It's an action that I've addressed before in my pitcher analyses. In my analyses (both professionally and on this site), I've drawn attention to when a pitcher decreases reverse forearm bounce by "picking up" his elbow. You can see this very well in my 2009 analysis of Brandon McCarthy. Back then, I described it like this:

It's hard to tell from this angle, but McCarthy's reverse forearm bounce might be exaggerated by some elbow flexion. By this, I mean that he picks his elbow up high enough that gravity plus natural elbow flexion - rather than inertia - appear to be causing some of the ball's downward motion. This view is inconclusive, but I don't believe his ulnar collateral ligament would hold up for very long if inertia alone caused a bounce that large.

You probably noticed that I was having trouble effectively articulating my thoughts about it. Chris Holt of Pro Bound USA in Clearwater, FL [2019 UPDATE: now pitching coordinator for the Baltimore Orioles] -- who didn't know I was in the audience -- has solved this problem for me by calling it "elbow roll-in". If someone before him coined the term, I'd never heard it.

With that term in mind, watch some of those McCarthy pitches again. Pay attention to his elbow and layback. While there is almost definitely an intertial lag component that helps with McCarthy's layback, the bulk of the layback was done by the way he rolled his elbow into position to lead his forearm.

This method of layback is something for which I've become a big proponent over the past 4 years (for a number of reasons that I don't have time to get into right now). I've needed a succinct way to describe it for some time, and now I have it.


2011 Texas Rangers: Wins, Attendance, and Playoffs

March 10, 2011 • Analysis

For two years in a row, my attendance prediction model has come extremely close to predicting the actual attendance at the team's win level.

In 2009's prediction, my model overshot actual attendance by 1.15%. In 2010, it overshot actual attendance by 0.85%.

The model has been updated to include data from 2010.

Texas Rangers, Wins vs Estimated Attendance, 2011

Again, the model predicts an increase in attendance. At last year's win level -- 90 wins -- the model predicts an average attendance of 33,645 per home game. To fall below last year's attendance level, the model says that the Rangers would have to win fewer than 77 games.

Coming off a World Series appearance, it will be interesting to see how the model holds up for 2011.

Regression Notes

The standard error is down from last year's 2,602 attendees per game to 2,560. The R-square and Adjusted R-Square values are nearly identical to the previous year's -- all three years have been right around 0.90 for both values.

Thanks to the accuracy of last year's prediction, the t Stat and P-value numbers for all three independent variables improved. The growth factor variable (inflation) is still the least significant of the three with a t Stat of 1.415, but again, removing it from the calculations results in larger errors.

Playoff Probability

There were no significant changes to the playoff probabilities for each win level in the AL West. The 90% barrier is crossed at 95 wins, and the 50% barrier is crossed at 91 wins.

I'm keeping it short-and-sweet this time to avoid repeating what I've said in the past. If you'd like to read my previous articles, which are good if you'd like to read about how I constructed my model, check out the links below:

Texas Rangers Win-Curve Part I: Wins vs Attendance

Texas Rangers Win-Curve Part II: Playoff Probability

2010 Texas Rangers: Wins, Attendance, and Playoffs

If you're fascinated by this stuff and haven't read Vince Gennaro's book Diamond Dollars, I strongly encourage you to take a look at it.


A look at Driveline Baseball's Velocity Development Program

February 21, 2011 • Training

Traditional baseball conditioning does not make sense, particularly when it comes to pitchers. Pitchers are expected to run long distances and ice their arms after they throw. Many coaches insist that body-weight lunges, push-ups, crunches and plyometrics are the only strength exercises a pitcher will ever need.

The truth of the matter is that this traditional concept of conditioning for baseball is completely backwards. Baseball is a sport composed of brief, explosive physical exertions followed by periods of complete energy recovery. (Triples and inside-the-park homeruns are potential exceptions for complete energy recovery.) Extended cardiovascular training in the form of running poles, getting on a treadmill, or riding a resistance bike, is, for the most part, a complete waste of time if the goal is to get better at baseball.

Baseball is an explosive sport where massive force is created in a very short amount of time. It only makes sense that baseball players should train to be explosive. There's nothing explosive about an extended light jog or crunches. Plyometrics and other body-weight exercises, while including some explosive elements, are limited by the athlete's body weight. There is no room for progression once the athlete adapts to his own body weight.

Throwing a baseball with maximum effort involves just about every major skeletal muscle in the body. This makes it one of the best indicators of a baseball player's explosive strength.

I don't think there's a single coach on the planet that would disagree with what I've said so far, not even Dick Mills who thinks strength training is not only unhelpful but also dangerous.

The thing about explosive strength -- and this may shock some of you -- is that you can improve it by lifting heavy things, like in a weight room.

This is the driving principle behind Driveline Baseball's (Seattle, WA) Velocity Development Program, a comprehensive baseball training program where the main focus is throwing velocity.

Kyle Boddy designed the program and coaches the athletes that are a part of it. The program is split between baseball skill activities, such as defense and mechanics, and strength training.

Regarding the naysayers, Boddy offered, "What they don't get is that training for strength and power also helps young athletes to train general motor patterns, which has a clear translation to all sports. Learning to use hip drive in the back squat, thoracic extension in the front squat, and explosive jumping in the power clean all translate to any sport - you name it, it transfers."

Because throwing a baseball involves so many muscles, the Velocity Development Program is not a program that focuses solely on the arm. As Boddy mentioned, his program utilizes various squat techniques and power cleans, but he also includes deadlifts -- perhaps the best measure of someone's overall brute strength -- and soft-tissue work. He adds, "When they first arrive, they do their self-myofascial release, wrist weight warmups, and resistance band work. The warm-up is pretty fast - it takes about 8 minutes."

The key to the program isn't just getting the athletes to lift the weights, it's to get them to work hard. Not every athlete who walks through the door is ready for the program. They can't all handle it. Boddy says, "We're pretty selective about who we bring in - we're seeking to create a hard-working and competitive atmosphere first and foremost. So we've had to screen out a few guys."

Selecting the right athletes is only part of the equation, though. Working with a coach one-on-one isn't always the best way to stay motivated. This is where the semi-private training model comes in.

Semi-private training, as a basic concept, is like group exercise. A small group of athletes, usually 2-4, train together as a group with a [semi-]personal trainer or coach.

Boddy credits Eric Cressey and Pete Dupuis as having influenced this aspect of his program. He adds, "Semi-private training works better for the athlete and for our business model - we get to train a larger group of guys and fill our facility up, and they get cheaper rates and a better atmosphere to train in. We tend to group them by age first, then skill second, so they have peers they can relate to."

Athletes are competitive by nature, and by throwing a handful of them together as a strength training group this competitive nature helps them push each other to work harder.

Results from Kyle's first Velocity Development Program are already being seen. In one off-season of training, a 15-year-old in his program added 8 MPH to his throws.

Now, if fixing the way baseball athletes are trained were as simple as saying, "Train for explosive strength," I would have said that at the top, and this article would have been very, very short. The truth is that you need a coach that knows how to train for explosive strength.

It's not about getting big (a.k.a. "hyooge") or moving large amounts of weight. It's about becoming explosive and training the correct motor patterns. Exercise selection, volume, intensity, and recovery are all factors that must be taken into consideration no matter how experienced the lifter is.

Kyle's results can do a lot of the talking for me, but I know from experience that Kyle has the knowledge and skillset required to manage these factors. If you live in the Seattle area, I strongly recommend taking a good, hard look at Kyle's program.

You can read more about Driveline Baseball's Velocity Development program here:


What athletes don't know: how to squat

February 7, 2011 • Training

A funny thing happens when you walk into a weight room with an NCAA Division III athlete. It's kind of like witnessing a "Best of Bro-science" compilation, and by "best of" I really mean stuff so awful that you pray for short-term amnesia.

It isn't that what's happening is so aesthetically upsetting that you'd rather watch someone mop up a paint spill with facial tissue. Yes, a lot of it is hard to watch, but what really makes it uncomfortable is that many of them are 100% certain that they know what they're doing.

One of the freshmen said, "I think, by now, everyone pretty much knows how to lift." The irony gave me concussion-like symptoms.

The infamous ball squat.
At least I didn't have to slap anyone for doing this.

During my year coaching NCAA baseball players, I saw countless problems. Among them were some ugly rows, a shocking lack of pull-ups, the improper use of unstable surfaces, and a neglect of soft tissue work. The biggest problem, of course, was -- with the exception of a few athletes -- extremely poor barbell work.

For the most part, if anyone was doing barbell work, he wasn't doing anything but back squats, and calling them "half squats" would have been more accurate. Depth is easily the most prevalent problem with squats.

Poor depth results in quad dominance because of poor activation of the abductors, adductors, hamstrings, and glutes. Because no one wants to back off to a load that their weak posterior chains can handle, poor depth is the toughest problem to correct.

On top of that, poor depth is typically accompanied by excessive ankle dorsiflexion. Instead of bending at the hips, the athlete's knees track forward to allow for more knee flexion. This action moves the barbell closer to the ground, but does not improve the depth of a squat. In this position -- above parallel with ankle dorsiflexion -- the anterior part of the knee faces unnecessary sheer force which may cause pain and may eventually lead to injury.

Next to depth, the most common issue with squats is knee position. Apparently, someone is out there teaching young athletes to squat with a wide stance and feet facing forward. (I have a vague recollection of being taught that myself while in high school.) As the legs bend into the squat and approach 90° of knee flexion, this stance creates unnecessary valgus stress on the medial collateral ligament, which is really good if you're also into grinding your lateral menisci. Such a position suffers many of the same muscle activation problems as poor depth and causes a great deal more pain. (This is true for any flat-footed, standing position where the knees wind up medial to the feet.)

On top of these issues there are chunks of bro-science to deal with: counting that quarter-depth squat as a completed rep so you can tell people "I squatted 400 lbs", coaching cues like "look at the ceiling", and thinking that the Smith Machine is just as good as a barbell.

It takes about 10 minutes to teach someone the correct way to squat, but it takes quite a bit of practice to get it right. Anyone willing to do the work in the first place should be willing to do the work correctly. I'm not going to re-invent the wheel here by breaking the squat down piece by piece and telling you how to do it, but I'm also not going to leave you hanging.

Starting Strength, 2nd Edition, cover.

Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore collaborated on one of the most popular strength training books of all time. It's called Starting Strength. You may have heard of it.

This book is the strength training bible for anyone that hasn't mastered the basic barbell lifts (squat, deadlift, press, clean). It tells you everything you need to know to do these exercises the right way.

If you're serious about strength training, you owe it to yourself to make sure you know what you're doing, and if you're a competitive athlete, there's no reason you shouldn't be serious about strength training.


Measuring pitch variability through PITCHf/x

January 3, 2011 • Analysis

For a while, I've been wondering what can be measured and analyzed using PITCHf/x data that hasn't already been measured and analyzed. A few things crossed my mind, but the most interesting thought was about the degree of variability of a pitcher's pitches.

It would be relatively easy to measure how much variability a pitcher has in velocity and movement if all things were equal. Of course, they aren't.

The two biggest problems for analyzing this type of variability are, as I see them, pitch type identification and park-to-park measurement error. Variability would mean little if half of a pitcher's "two-seam fastballs" are actually change-ups. Variability also runs into problems when parks like Kansas City -- whose radar gun readings are notoriously high -- are included in a data set with other ballparks.

Fortunately, if we only look at a single ballpark -- usually the pitcher's home ballpark because it has the greatest sample size -- park-to-park measurement error should be less of a factor. Without some form of park-to-park normalization, though, interpark comparisons shouldn't necessarily be taken at face value.

Additionally, 2010 saw a huge improvement in pitch type identification. While it still isn't 100% accurate, it is close enough on many pitchers to give me confidence while playing around with my ideas.

I haven't really dug into the numbers yet, but I will be looking to see if variability within a pitch type helps or hurts a pitcher. My gut feeling is that the number itself won't have much meaning.

To calculate the variability, I plan to capture the 95% window using two measurements of the standard deviation in both directions from the mean. By definition, this eliminates the outliers, but it will take some study to determine if that's really the measurement to use.

It may be beneficial to use a pythagorrean measure to find the variability for pitch movement; however, this would not appropriately model pitches that have greater variability vertically than horizontally (and vice versa, of course).

Look for a follow-up after I play around with this idea.