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Implementing Pulldowns and the Correlation between Mound Velocity and Pulldowns

Implementing Pulldowns & The Correlation To Mound Velocity

By Greg Vogt

Overview

A hot topic in baseball training revolves around high-intent throws to develop throwing velocity.  Often referred to as “pulldowns” or “run n guns”, these throws are used to train the body to move explosively and produce a high velocity while improving movement patterns.  Several training facilities implement them while some are highly critical of them.

Texas Baseball Ranch and Driveline Baseball are two of the most popular training facilities that utilize this training modality as one piece of their arm conditioning and publicly support it with data.  They have been very open and transparent with how high intent throws are incorporated into a complete approach of velocity development. That being said, it has been very controversial on social media with the baseball community and programs who believe in other styles of training.  

A training environment must push the stimulus to or slightly past limitations so the body can adapt to higher levels.  Ron Worforth noted in his recent article (Texas Baseball Ranch) that Paul Nyman emphasized “The Bernstein Principle - The body will organize itself based upon the ultimate goal of the activity.”  When challenging the body to organize in a way that demands maximal output, the movement patterns and intent are often improved.  This includes weight training, high-intent throws, and medicine ball drills. It goes much deeper than just pulldowns with this principle when teaching athletes the importance of intent and how the body moves at a high intensity.

Long Toss became a very common training tool thanks to Alan Jaeger’s programming (https://www.jaegersports.com) over the past 10-15 years. Although it is not a new training tool, it is used much more commonly nationwide and his education to athletes all across the country has been pivotal.   As a part of long toss, compressions (pulldowns) come after the high-arc distance throws. While just one piece of a puzzle, the compressions have value to advance arm conditioning levels for both arm health and velocity.  Several programs practice and believe in different phases of this programming.

The goal here is understand not only what pulldowns are but also why or how they should be used with athletes of different ages.

What are Pulldowns?


A pulldown is a throw made with maximal intent after building up speed in some sort of running start.  Athletes use a variety of footwork to get to release. Some incorporate a shuffle step, some a full crow hop, but most often you see a running start into a crow hop when the most criticism occurs.  The point is to throw the ball on a line as hard as possible, doing whatever is needed to get that level of intent.

The baseball community resorts to criticizing pulldowns in this timeline over past few years:

  1. Pulldowns will get you hurt (disproven)

  2. Not worth it (for who?)

  3. It doesn’t translate (discussed below)

There has been data, studies, and blogs written about the use of pulldowns and what actually occurs.  The most common source of information comes from Driveline Baseball where they have written multiple blogs with studies including use of the Motus sleeve to track the stress levels of intent throws.

Why Pulldowns?

Why use pulldowns?  Throwers will program themselves to move as cleanly as possible when we are throwing with max intent.  This doesn’t mean they will move perfect, but often their movement patterns will look better than they do in a coached setting.  Most athletes are overcoached when trying to organize their bodies to throw hard.

Pulldowns are one way to let an athlete train in a loose and free environment.  Building up the intent of just attempting to throw as hard as possible in a low volume setting has extreme value with developing athletes.  Pulldowns let athletes get rid of all the mental and physical cues that coaches often cram into their minds.

Now, a huge aspect of doing pulldowns is evaluating the movements within them.  Videoing, assessing, and communicating the movement patterns doing pulldowns is one of the best ways you can teach an athlete to move more freely.  Some kids move much better in a pulldown. Some don’t.

Also, ASMI’s research has proven that it there is statistically insignificant difference on arm stress between doing pulldowns and throwing bullpens.  (ASMI Research on Weighted Balls / Driveline Blog)  Furthermore, Driveline has shown research that flat grounds can be more stressful than mound via data from the Motus sleeve.   If no difference in stress levels, than we need to reevaluate what should be done to condition the arm for the stress workload of bullpens and flat grounds.  

Regardless, implementing pulldowns into an arm conditioning program is just another teaching and training tool that is used in an environment that has the athlete training freely at a intent level that matches the game environment.  There is more information below about how to program pulldowns into a conditioning program. More often than not, the dosage of a training tool is more important than the exercise itself. Pulldowns are a great tool, when managed properly, to develop intent and velocity.

DatA

Correlation mound velo to pulldown.png

How and why do pulldowns correlate to mound velocity?  In 57 pitchers who participated in the training program that included various amounts of pulldowns depending on the subject, there are direct correlations to velocity improvements based on age.  Overall, there was a 6.1mph difference in pulldown to mound velocity. Each age group ranged between a 6.2 and 5.6mph difference, with 2018’s having the highest difference as well as the highest pulldown average velocity.  The improvements in the high school program showed an average of 4.7mph in pulldowns and 3.4mph in positional velocity (15 of 72 were not tested as pitchers).

The middle school program, which focused much more on throwing mechanics than pulldowns, had an average increase of 6.6mph in pulldowns and 4.8mph in positional velocity (5 of 28 were not tested as pitchers).  Both pulldowns and positional velocity increasing over the course of the program doesn’t prove that pulldowns correlate, but the trendline of each athlete showing growth in mound velocity compared to their personal pulldown improvements does prove it within this style of programming.  

Result Analysis

Out of 93 members of the 90mph pulldown club, only nine are not currently committed or already playing collegiate baseball.  Three of those nine are under 17 years old and two decided to go to college without playing despite having an opportunity to play at other schools.  


Does it translate?

  • 22 pitchers that pulled down over 90mph within the test group averaged 86.9mph in mound velocity
  • >94mph in pulldowns averaged 88mph on mound (10 pitchers)
  • <90mph averaged 78.7mph on the mound (35 pitchers)
  • <85mph in pulldowns averaged 75.6mph on mound (20 pitchers)

An important piece of this data for this program was to learn more about the athletes that have big or small gaps between pulldowns and mound velocity.  The average difference was about 6mph between pulldowns and mound velocity.  Several pitchers had gaps as big as 10mph or as little as 1mph.  This information is key and should lead to adjustments in programming for each individual athlete.  A kid who has a large gap is losing connection and energy transfer in his mound velocity. The pitcher who has little to no gap between pulldowns and mound is either breaking down mechanically during pulldowns or is lacking intent during them.  

Once data is collected, the conversation is more supported with numbers rather than guessing why velocity is what it is.  From here, the programming can be created and adjusted based on the data at hand.

When to Use Pulldowns

Pulldowns have been proven to be useful to develop intent, movement patterns, arm conditioning, and velocity.  Now, this doesn’t mean go out and follow a program of pulling down multiple times a week at age 13 without getting an assessment.  Pulldowns should be properly placed in a throwing program structured with long toss, weight training, and a mechanical analysis.

Steps to take before entering the “pulldown phase” of arm conditioning:

  1. Get assessed by a PT

  2. Video Analysis on mechanics

  3. Attack deficiencies of that assessment (ex: mobility, strength, throwing mechanics)

  4. Complete 5-8 weeks of an on-ramping program including a long toss phase

  5. Structured weight training program that includes 2-4 days a week

How to use Pulldowns in a structured way:

*Several factors could adjust the workload including age, maturity level, throwing workload, mound frequency, mechanical assessment, etc.

  1. One time a week with 5-7 high intent throws at 100% intensity.

  2. Include 3-4 other days of throwing between a low to moderate intensity

  3. 2-3 days rest in between moderate to high intensity throws

  4. Structured weight training program that includes 2-4 days a week

By no means are these absolutes, but some simple guidelines on how to get into a throwing program with high intensity throws are important to follow the first time.  Following a random online throwing program most likely won’t make you throw harder with an extreme risk for injury.

Summary

Developing throwing velocity should include a well-rounded training program to ensure that it is done the proper way.  If certain areas are left out of training then the risk for injury can overtake the need for velocity. Several pieces of the training revolve around physical strengthening and athleticism.  That being said, having pulldowns or high intent throws to develop both movement patterns and velocity should be one piece of the training.

As shown with data from several programs, the results of increasing pulldowns can also improve the mound velocity.  The 57 pitchers shown in this study have an upward trendline with pulldown and mound velocity. Even the outliers can learn a lot about their deficiencies when tracking in a consistent, well-structured program.

Now, this doesn’t mean go throw baseballs hard until your arm falls off.  This means that a properly structured training period following an assessment and on-ramping program can really lead you down the right path of velocity development.

For more information, e-mail prpbaseball101@gmail.com

Pitch Identity and Design with Rapsodo

Overview

It’s 2018.  Coaches have access to spin rates, horizontal break, and percentages of pitch types thrown in specific counts at the collegiate and professional levels.  It’s time we stop telling pitchers to “pound the knees”. It’s time we stop calling every over-the-top breaking ball a 12-6 curveball. Data is here. Some of these statements are outdated and blatantly incorrect when advising a pitcher.  It’s not going anywhere. With products like Rapsodo, we have the ability to fully design and develop a pitcher’s arsenal.

What is Rapsodo?  Rapsodo is a pitch tracking device that analyzes spin rate, velocity, movement, command, and provides the ability to break down mechanics.  It provides immediate feedback on every pitch along with bullpen reports to analyze data from each training session.

Speed is king for all levels of baseball.  There is no hiding behind this. Don’t believe it, go to a middle school game.  Then go to a high school game. What changes? The speed of the game. Running, throwing, and bat speed all become bigger factors as you move to the next level.  Scouts bring 3 things to a game; something to write on, a radar gun, and a stopwatch. You must check off boxes to gain attention from scouts and most of them come from a radar gun and a stopwatch.  

"Throwing strikes and creating hard contact in the batter’s box is always going to be important, but bat speed, throwing velocity, and foot speed are still king."

Throwing velocity is the most important tool in the tool box.  The other two most important pieces for pitchers are command and movement.  You need to have at least 2 of the 3 to stand a chance being successful at the next levels.   Velocity doesn’t solve all of a pitcher’s problems, but it is a very important box to check off for scouts and recruiters.  When developing the other two pieces, Rapsodo becomes a critical measuring tool for pitchers.

We are in an era where pitchers are throwing 90+mph off-speed pitches with elite horizontal and/or vertical break.  For example, Blake Treinen is throwing 96-100mph sinkers that look like a left-handed pitcher throwing sliders. These major league clubs are utilizing pitch tracking data to maximize velocity and movement to create weak contact.  Below is information on what pitch tracking means, how to digest it, and most importantly how it can maximize your success in-game.

What does Pitch Tracking mean?

Pitch tracking data comes from different tools like TrackMan, Rapsodo, FlightScope, and Diamond Kinetics that provide different metrics for every pitch thrown.  Some only track spin rate, movement, and/or velocity. Most major colleges, almost all MLB clubs, and higher end training facilities have products like Rapsodo to use for off-season, spring training, and throughout the season.  TrackMan is in several Division 1 stadiums as well as every MLB stadium. This data gets crunched by employees and companies such as BaseballSavant.  Data analysts, coaches, and pitching coordinators are using this data to digest performance along with enhancing pitch design, pitch development, and  pitch usage for their players. More data below in this article shows different spin rates for MLB Pitchers.

What Does Rapsodo Do?

Rapsodo has provided a product that allows us to measure everything about a pitch including velocity, spin axis, spin rate, spin efficiency, and movement while supplying reports to analyze for coaches and players.  See below (Image 1), you can identify your pitches, track your velocity and command, and work on creating the best movement for your pitch arsenal (Image 2).  In Image 1, the charts on the bullpen report show strike percentage for different pitches along with horizontal and vertical break of every pitch.

Image 1

IMG_9227 2.jpg

Image 2

Pitch Data - Cutter - RHP

Pitch Data - Cutter - RHP

This small sample size of information is from one short bullpen that shows what is being done with the Cutter.  Without this immediate feedback, pitch design becomes much more difficult to match the pitcher’s feel along with data.  The Cutter shows it is moving on two different planes with little horizontal movement from spin. Two of the biggest factors are finding the consistency with axis and spin efficiency.  Several key things can be abstracted from this data to apply to pitchers of all levels. The conversation between coach and player becomes much more supported by information rather than guessing.  Trial and error is ultimately the best route to designing a pitch. If all we are relying on is the naked eye and video, then our rate of success will suffer.

Rapsodo can be used for all ages and skill levels, but should be a priority when working with higher level athletes who are wanting to maximize pitch efficiency.  Movement being one of the key factors in pitch ability, you can get a full breakdown of your pitch arsenal in each bullpen.

Image 3

rapsodo spin eff.jpg

Data Usage

Now, how do we use the data?  Rapsodo does a great job of supplying data.  But the data means nothing without considering all factors.  Pitchers generate spin and movement thanks to several variables such as delivery mechanics, slot, intent, grip, pressure distribution among fingers, etc.  Just because Cy Young winners produce “x” type of spin rate does not mean you should aim to match. Numbers are different and unique to each pitcher. Your individualized skill set can be maximized in a completely different way than your peers.  

For example, we know that a high spin rate fastball should be used in the top of the strike zone.  It fights through gravity better which can is maximized at top of zone (Magnus Force). A low spin fastball should be kept down in the zone as gravity will drive that pitch down and produce more ground balls.  With breaking balls, a heavy spin curveball with high efficiency can create heavy tilt and depth.  A high spin, low efficiency (below 60%) will have less vertical break but could produce more horizontal movement depending on the axis.  A slider from a low ¾ slot with low spin and efficiency will feature more depth from the gyrospin which can produce a high swing and miss rate.  A high ¾ slot slider with heavy spin and low efficiency can produce the same result despite different grip, slot, and axis.

Point is, don’t aim for a “goal” on spin rate, axis, or efficiency.  Collect data and analyze what is best for your delivery, grip, slot, spin, and tunnelling off of your other pitches.  

"Every pitcher is an artist."

How you create your final product can be done in many ways with success.  The goal needs to be that it is a repeatable, natural delivery with confidence to maximize soft contact or swing and misses.  

Digesting Current MLB Data

With all of the data collection in the MLB these days, we can start to digest the importance of velocity, spin rate, movement, and the results they produce.  Data shows that there are several outliers and differences between results and spin rates.

"We know that there is not one single way to develop more spin rate (legally), but there are ways to maximize pitch success within a pitcher’s current capabilities with spinning the baseball."

MLB pitchers feature different spin rates despite great results:

Yu Darvish - Fastball (4-seam) - 2564avg RPM

Gerrit Cole - Fastball (4-seam) - 2450avg RPM

Lance McCullers Jr - Fastball (4-seam) - 2301avg RPM

Michael Pineda - Fastball (4-seam) - 2098avg RPM

Bartolo Colon - Fastball (2-seam) - 2085avg RPM

Marcus Stroman - Fastball (2-seam) - 2245avg RPM

Jeff Samardzija - Fastball (2-seam) - 2454avg RPM

 

Justin Verlander - Curveball - 2803avg RPM

Clayton Kershaw - Curveball - 2364avg RPM

Charlie Morton - Curveball - 2835avg RPM

Sonny Gray - Curveball - 2890avg RPM

Madison Bumgarner - Curveball - 2356avg RPM

Seth Lugo - Curveball - 3337avg RPM

 

Andrew Miller - Slider - 2625avg RPM

Chris Sale - Slider - 2395avg RPM

Luis Severino - Slider - 2687 avg RPM

Carlos Martinez - Slider - 2185avg RPM

 

Max Scherzer - Change-Up - 1511avg RPM

Marco Estrada - Change-Up - 2026avg RPM

Johnny Cueto - Change-Up - 1520avg RPM

 

Kyle Hendricks - Sinker - 1932avg RPM

Drew Storen - Sinker - 2103avg RPM

Jake Arrieta - Sinker - 2259avg RPM

Blake Treinen - Sinker - 2385avg RPM

Jordan Hicks - Sinker - 1985avg RPM

 

The average spin rate for a fastball in 2016 was 2264rpm in the MLB.

Source: BaseballSavant

These examples show different spin rates that accomplish the same goal.  The efficiency, axis, and slot are what is most important and make the biggest impact on the pitch movement.  It’s easy to say that maximizing spin rate can better a pitch. When discussing breaking balls, that could be true when predicting the ceiling of a pitch.  But to keep it simple, the goal is to manipulate the baseball with spin and movement. How you accomplish that can vary from subject to subject.

Image 4 (via @mike_petriello on Twitter)

IMG_9237.jpg

Image above (Image 4) shows that an increased spin rate and velocity can correlate to a higher swinging strike percentage.

Yes, higher fastball velocity leads to more swinging strikes.  Image 4 shows data proving that higher spin rates combined with velocity usually equal more swinging strikes as well.  Velocity and spin rate are also somewhat correlated. Typically a spin rate will climb with the velocity of the pitcher.  Average RPM’s vary at all age levels along with velocity.

With the MLB average being 2264 in 2016 on the 4-seam fastball, this provides a general baseline for how pitchers should attempt to control the zone.  High spin rate fastballs should be utilized in the top of the strike zone.  Low spin rate fastballs should be utilized in the bottom of the strike zone.  Those aren’t absolutes, but in general it provides a common approach that leads to weak contact. Typically, identifying a low spin rate on a 4-seam fastball leads to designing a 2-seam fastball to utilize less true spin and creating even more kill on the vertical break.

Bauer Units

Driveline Baseball posted a Blog in March of 2017 about Bauer Units.  

Bauer Units = Spin Rate (RPM) / Velocity (MPH)

This equation provides coaches of all levels easier ways to compare data whether you are a big leaguer or a 14u pitcher.  The MLB average was 23.9 Bauer Units. For example, a 72mph fastball at 1750RPM would be 24.3 Bauer Units (Driveline Baseball).  When assessing younger athletes or lesser velocities, the Bauer Units formula is a great tool to truly assess where a pitcher stands in comparison to others.  This clears up a lot of misunderstandings when working with mid-80’s HS/College pitchers with spin rates around 2,000. A pitcher throwing 84mph at 2100 will have 25 Bauer Units.  This information and formula is very important when using Rapsodo for younger pitchers.

Design It

Once you have your pitch profiles, it is time to see what needs maximized while staying within your natural abilities.  Here are some measurables for spin efficiency and spin rate to try to combine:

Rapsodo Chart.jpg

How do you design it?  Knowing your spin and axis is step number one.  Once you know, it becomes a trial and error process.  Adjusting grips, wrist angle, pressure on fingers, and thumb placement are just a few to mention.  Each pitcher has different hand and finger size. It takes time and a lot of repetitions. Pitchers must be able to “feel” release and the adjustments on the spin when learning how repeat a pitch.  Inconsistent data on Rapsodo is very common when trialing a new grip or pitch. An inconsistent pitch in a bullpen setting is a set up for failure in game when it comes to pitch execution.  

There are several ways to drive pitchers towards feeling differences in grip, pressure and release.  Making too much of a change one way or another will make it very difficult to find a comfort zone for the pitcher.

Know your data?  As mentioned before, this alone is critical to understanding where and how you should be using your arsenal.  If you are a high RPM or Bauer Units 4-seam Fastball pitcher, you should be working up in the zone.  If you are in the “average” category, you should trial with some adjustments in grip, pressure, and assess your 2-seam spin rates.  Below average spin rate, you should be working in the bottom of the zone.

"Most pitchers have never been told to work up in the zone due to the misunderstanding of pounding the knees having a correlation to success. "

Few tips:

  1. If want to throw a harder, higher spin rate off-speed pitch, stay in the middle of the ball longer.  Resisting early hand torque or “fall off” can create a higher velocity and/or spin rate. Keep it simple, think fastball longer.

  2. Move your fingers closer together on 4-seam and 2-seam.  Several pitchers create a cut action on the baseball as fingers being setup wider on the baseball allows middle finger to pull the side of baseball.

  3. Try pressuring different fingers.  Emphasize the middle finger more on a slider than a cutter.  Emphasize the pointer finger more on 2-seam and sinkers.

  4. Move the thumb!  The thumb does a lot to affect spin.  Notice different movements and spins on change-ups, sliders, cutters, 2-seam, 4-seam when tucking the thumb.

  5. Collect video!  Must match what you see with what you feel.  Slow-motion video of behind the throwing hand will allow you to see what you may or not feel causing the results of the pitch spin and movement.

  6. Be open to suggestions.  Not one way works for just one guy.  Don’t give up on a new grip or pitch just because you fail the first few reps.

These are just a few staples in developing a new pitch with or without a pitch tracking device.  When using a Rapsodo in the bullpen, you can get immediate feedback whether or not moving grips or pressure changed anything with the pitch result.

One of the biggest successes that I’ve personally had with teaching new grips and pitches is the change-up.  Often, pitchers try to create too much pronation or have a grip that doesn’t allow the ball to spin with intent.  Pitcher’s want to slow their arm action to ensure lower velocity than fastball. The change-up grip should be something that can be thrown with intent and comfort.  The grip and axis will do the work while the delivery and the arm action should think fastball. The goal is to create an axis that produces lower efficiency than the fastball.  This will kill velocity, create depth, and horizontal break. Typcially, this means a true spin of about 500-800 less than the pitcher’s fastball. Grips vary between pitcher’s mechanics and arm slot, but a common cue I personally use is throwing the the thumb and middle finger through the catcher’s mitt.  This can motivate the pitcher to create later pronation and enhance intent. Again, this is just one example but have found success with pitcher’s at different levels.

Change-up from RHP

Change-up from RHP

Rep It

Designing and gaining feel for a new pitch is a love/hate relationship.  It can take several bullpens before even getting a feel for the new grip or hand positioning.  

Goal number one is to get comfortable with it just throwing with a catcher.  This can take a while.  Recommendation, add it more to your catch play when prior to bullpen.  Step two, have a hitter stand in provide feedback. Step three, live at bats with data collection and video analysis to see the translation from bullpen setting to live.   It is common for pitch data to change from the bullpen setting to live ABs due to adrenaline and intent.

Collecting that feedback along with batter results can provide very important information that shows the true impact of the pitch adjustment.   Now, go back to the lab and see how results transferred over to live. If data wasn’t consistent, get back to work in a controlled bullpen setting.

Summary

Before getting into much change with pitch design, a personal suggestion is to tell the pitcher he has to strike out an elite hitter with his best stuff.  Now, collect video and watch. Get a feel for the pitcher does when just trying to produce a filthy pitch without more external cueing. Go to work from there once you have data from Rapsodo and slow-motion video of delivery, grip, and hand positioning.  Take Bauer Units, spin axis, movement, and success rates into consideration before breaking down a current pitch.

Having technology such as Rapsodo or Trackman and high-speed video cameras can separate your pitch development from the competition.  The ability to digest the data and make necessary adjustments without over-coaching it is an art that is often misunderstood.  By all means, pitches have been designed for well over a 100 years now but the ability to do so with immediate feedback outside of the “eye test” can expedite the process very quickly and efficiently.

Throughout a pitcher’s development, pitch design always remains key piece. Understanding the information on spin rates, movements it can cause, and how to utilize in your pitch sequencing are all important variables.  Proper coaching and use of the data can separate pitchers from their peers.

 

For more information or data, contact PRPBaseball101@gmail.com.

 

Sources:

www.drivelinebaseball.com/blog

www.baseballsavant.com

 

 

Contact - PRPBaseball101@gmail.com

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