If you follow my blog, then you already know I have a 16 y/o left-handed son who pitches. As a sophomore, he is in the early stages of recruiting and has been to 3-4 showcase camps. He has good size at 6’3″ tall and 184 pounds. He has been up to 82 mph.

We have been told he projects at the D1 level, but he just needs to throw a little harder. Baseball is all about bigger, faster and stronger these days. Analytics and numbers rule the day. Coaches have told us that once he consistently throws 85 plus, the offers will start to roll in.

So, the big push for many pitchers today is gaining velo. There are lots of programs and “experts” on the subject offering online programs, weighted balls, velocity training tools, throwing programs, etc. The two questions I always have are:

  1. What is safe for throwing athletes?
  2. What is effective?

As a physical therapist, I only want to pursue things that satisfy both questions above. Personally, I do not believe there is a quick fix, or any one program that will deliver the goods.

First and foremost, it is paramount that coaches, parents, instructors, health professionals and fitness experts recognize a few key facts:

  1. Genetics matter. Size and velocity are granted in different proportions among baseball players. Not everyone will be 6’4″ or have a live arm capable of throwing 90 mph plus. In other words, be realistic about your child’s potential and projection.
  2. There is no substitute for getting bigger and stronger. The most successful pitchers are often those who work in the weight room and simply have more mass. The old saying mass = gas is true in many cases. This process takes time and consistent effort on the part of the player. Some kids hit their growth spurt faster than others, but putting on lean mass and working to get stronger is essential. Core and lower body strength is essential to improve power/velocity.
  3. Identifying biomechanical flaws can improve throwing efficiency. Working with a trained coach can help improve pitching mechanics and organically improve velocity. Using video, it is easy to detect common flaws that may predispose the player to injury or limit performance.

I work with several MLB pitchers in the off-season. Opinions among them vary on their own programs, but most of them utilize some form of long toss, weighted ball training, strength training, plyometrics, and other methodology. Interesting enough, one of them told me a few weeks ago that he quit doing weighted ball training during the season last year and went back to just long toss and his velocity increased 2-3 mph in a short period of time.

I had another pitcher tell me he only throws up to 120 feet and no further, preferring to keep all his throws on line versus changing the trajectory of his throws, as he feels longer throws alters his pitching mechanics. Both of these guys throw over 90 mph. So, what does the science say about some of this stuff?

Here are some links to research on long toss:

Effect on arm slot and varus torque with long toss

Biomechanical comparison of pitching & long toss

The key takeaways here are that increasing distance produces arm slot changes that are different than pitching as well as higher torque on the elbow. Pitchers should exercise some caution with these throws in training and rehab settings. One size does not fit all, and younger less experienced throwers should probably use a different load compared to more seasoned throwers.

What about weighted ball training? This is a hot topic right now.

Driveline is probably the most well known program on the market. They even published their own study below with collegiate and professional pitchers:

Effects of a six-week weighted-implement throwing program on baseball pitching velocity, kinematics, arm stress, and arm range of motion 

The next paper is from Fleisig et al:

Biomechanical Analysis of Weighted-Ball Exercises for Baseball Pitchers

Finally, an article from Mike Reinold et al. with adolescent throwers between 13-18 y/o:

Effect of a 6-Week Weighted Baseball Throwing Program on Pitch Velocity, Pitching Arm Biomechanics, Passive Range of Motion, and Injury Rates

The concern with weighted ball training with skeletally immature athletes is real. It appears that velocity may come from increased shoulder external rotation, and this can expose the elbow and shoulder to more risk. Likewise, long toss may also produce unwanted arm stress.

Growth plate injuries (Little League shoulder and elbow) are concerns for throwers not accustomed to long toss or higher workloads, particularly entering a new season. I advise caution with long toss, while gradually building up volume and intensity. As far as weighted ball training goes, I have not let my son do any. I think there are more questions than answers with adolescents to date.

With that said, I am not debating the merit of weighted ball training as it seems to increase velocity. However, there are questions about which weight is best, how much throwing to do, and how long do the benefits last. Driveline’s paper shows no marked change to shoulder external rotation, whereas Reinold’s paper shows otherwise in the adolescent group.

Training adolescents is different than training grown men. I think we need more studies and information. I feel that parents should invest more time and money in supervised strength and conditioning programs, pitching instruction and biomechanical analysis to establish optimal programming.

Long toss can be used as an adjunct to a normal throwing program, but I would exercise caution with distance, volume and intensity for adolescent throwers who possess less overall strength and open growth plates. The motus Baseball sleeve¬†can be an effective tool for monitoring workload and stress on the thrower’s arm. I have one for my son, and it gives you real time data on throwing, long toss or pitching.

At the end of the day, every player needs a thorough physical assessment to look at mobility, flexibility and strength to determine needs and greatest areas for improvement. Next, a sound video analysis of pitching/throwing mechanics by a trained coach can help eliminate biomechanical flaws. Finally, incorporating a comprehensive training program with arm care and adequate recovery while letting the natural maturation process take place will set players up for their best performances and reduce injury risk.