Baseball Rebellion and My 2020 In Review — Part 1: The Pitching Developmental Process
I’ve always been slightly more of a pitching guy so it’s not surprising that, while I did plenty of work with hitting data/technology while at BR, and wrote articles like this one, I gravitated toward the pitching side of the facility after not too long. In this post I will dig into my overall pitcher developmental philosophies from an analyst perspective.
I expected to learn a lot but it was the collaborative experience working with people that were also passionate about pitching like our then-Director of Pitching Kyle Wormington and fellow-intern Ryan Kirk on a daily basis. The discussions and friendly arguments about pitch metrics (that I’m pretty sure I won) were something I took so much out of. It is always beneficial to have your ideas challenged and picked apart. This helps you gain a much better understanding of the topics at hand, than if you simply had thoughts kept to yourself.
Over the course of the summer, I believe I was present for every single pitching lesson that occurred in the facility, totaling over 150 estimated lessons. For each of these lessons I would set up our Rapsodo Pitching monitor, calibrate and align the device, and operate the Rapsodo iPad interface. After each lesson, Kyle, Ryan, and I would have detailed discussions about how the lesson went, qualities of the athlete, and what kinds of concepts we can introduce to the athlete during their next lesson. At the forefront of these discussions were mechanics and pitch metrics.
Working with Kyle who pitched in D1 and pro ball, and Ryan who currently pitches in college ball, I was able to develop a better understanding of the intricacies of mechanical efficiency, and optimizing the way an athlete’s body moves in order to maximize velocity and generate preferred results.
First, it is important for me as an analyst (same goes for coaches), our job is not to make pitchers into what we want them to be. Rather, our job is to assist the pitcher in achieving his goals. So the first step in the developmental process, if it is my choice, is to have a discussion with the pitcher. If in a facility setting, I want to know why he is here. There must be a reason, or else he wouldn’t have shown up for the lesson. Typically, the response is something like “I want to get better” or maybe something slightly more specific like “I want to gain velo.” If it is the former, we really need to continue digging to find what some specific goals are, or maybe they want to hear a coaches opinion on what exactly they should improve.
Once we have a good feel for how the athlete would like to improve, this is the chance to see what they’re all about on the mound. I want to get a feel for what pitch types they throw, their arm slot, what kind of extension they get off the mound, and during the process I am watching the Rapsodo monitor to see what catches my eye. We will go over that in the next blog post. Using my knowledge of pitch tunneling, spin mirroring, and all sorts of spin dynamics, I will come up with ideas on what we can do to optimize this pitcher’s stuff.
After the pitcher gets on the mound we will sit down with him and pull up his video. This first lesson is what we call the “evaluation” or the “eval.” In this portion, ideally, ideas are exchanged between the athlete and the coach to determine which mechanical inefficiencies to focus mainly on. For this part I let someone with more of a background in pitching handle it. While I did learn a lot about the mechanical side of things from Kyle and Ryan, I am not yet well-suited in that department to draw conclusions and be confident that they will be beneficial. I’m not a coach and therefore I won’t pretend to be one. However I will continue my drive to learn more and more about concepts taught by coaches, because that will help me greatly in whatever it is I am doing within baseball.
All athletes are different. Some of them more familiar with the data than others. Some minds are better at digesting ideas conceptually and some work more quantitatively. As an analyst, I have to have a good feel for how this pitcher thinks and the best way to translate ideas and communicate to him individually. When that pitcher leaves after that session, I want him to have a plan. Using some statistical goals, paired with mechanical goals using high-speed video, he should feel confident that we have a good plan that can work. If it doesn’t, we adjust. This process is all about communication. Without communicating effectively, we will fail.
My next post will dig into pitch design, pitch metrics, and briefly explain spin concepts.