Rebuilding Injured MLB Pitchers

mlb pitcherOne of my favorite opportunities is working with current or ex MLB pitchers. They usually come to me with amazing talents that have been sidelined due to injury. I enjoy the challenge to discover the source of the problem that caused their injury, removing and rebuilding the pitcher. It is like working with an elite sports car that is broken down and it is my job to get it back running like the elite machine it once was. It is very rewarding to help give someone back their baseball career, especially when it helps them make a living.

The process of rebuilding a once successful mlb pitchers career is first evaluating the mlb pitcher to find the source of the problem that sent them searching for me in the first place. In the case of MLB Pitcher Cody Hall, he came to me with a broken down lower half throwing 89mph at 28 who just a few years ago was throwing 100mph. When I say broken down lower half I mean his leg drives were barely working to support his upper body movements. Before I started training him to rebuild his legs I needed to first discover what I was working with, in his evaluation.

Evaluating the MLB Pitcher

I started the evaluation process by measuring his joint mobility. He had a very poor hip internal rotation, hip extension and hip abduction range of motion. His vertical jump and sprint speed was also below average. I then did an assessment of his squatting ability and quickly found the problem. He had a serious back injury. Every time he would squat deep he would get a sharp pain in his lower back to the point he would just about scream and drop the weight.

At this point, I needed a professional evaluation of his back from a specialist so I sent him to my good friend and back specialist Dr. Pat McNeil. He found Cody’s sacrum was pushing out of alignment with the L5 vertebra pinching his spinal cord when he would lower into the deep squat position. Dr. McNeil put him on a wobble chair and taught him to tuck his sacrum to neutralize his pelvic orientation using a wedge and some exercises to restore his posture which after just a few weeks had him squatting with no pain again. Now I could start the rebuilding process of his 100mph mechanics.

The challenge at this point for Cody was the rebuilding of his lower half to become more dynamic again. It had been a few years since he had used his legs this dynamically so I needed to give him more augmented feedback to help him rediscover the movements. In the process of teaching an experienced MLB pitcher to change his mechanics, it is important to understand how sensitive of an issue it is. Most do not like to be changed and if they are willing to change they usually become very emotional. I have had MLB pitchers yell profanities, throw things at me and punch walls. Due to my experience coaching the MLB pitchers I knew and the evidence supported the fact that over-exposure to feedback may interfere with the learning process if the feedback is provided but not needed (Salmoni, Schmidt & Walter, 1984). This meant I had to be very selective with the feedback I provided to Cody in this beginner stage of learning to prevent frustration which would delay the process or even worse distill doubt of my coaching abilities in him. The evidence also suggested that the frequent use of different feedback sources is important and relevant at the beginning of the skill acquisition process, but less important later (Winstein & Schmidt, 1989).

Due to the market, lacking devices providing feedback for the leg or entire kinetic chain movements in baseball pitchers, I didn’t have much to choose from. Here are my sources and most of them have been developed by myself or I have worked with other organizations who developed them as an advisor in the development process of these feedback products like the King of the Hill and the motion capture sensors.

Rebuilding the MLB Pitcher

The sources of feedback I used for Cody was the King of the Hill pitching trainers to give him feedback on the timing and force production of the leg drive movements through an auditory response. The 2lb 3X Medicine Ball Throws to teach him hip to shoulder separation using video analysis. The sled drills to help him get a sense of how much lateral power he is generating measured by how far he could move the sled and the motion capture sensors to give him speed, position and timing metrics of his mechanics through the interface. He gravitated more favorably to the King of the Hill and the Med Ball Throws because it challenged him every throw to change and improve his lower half.

Once he began to master the timing and force production on the King of the Hill pitching trainers and started to break velocity records on the Med Ball Drills he began to gravitate to more of the feedback from the motion capture sensors. I have a database of 95+mph pitchers and their biometrics. We pick a few MLB pitchers in the database and their metrics to compete with for Cody. He used the quantitative feedback from the knowledge of performance from the motion capture sensors to beat the hip and trunk speeds of two 98mph fastballs that were recorded in the system (Magill & Anderson, 2017).

At this point, we took the advice from the evidence that suggests in advanced stages, elaborated `summary feedback’ may incorporate combined information from all feedback channels and have a positive effect on performance (Winstein & Schmidt, 1990). The goal at the final stage was to dominate the metrics on all feedback devices. Once he began to accomplish this he started to pitch in the mid to upper 90’s again. Just today he faced three Yankee hitters in MLB Spring Training 2018 and struck out two with one flying out to center field. The final strikeout was Yankee’s superstar Aaron Judge. It was a great feeling seeing him back to his old self and beating some of the greats in the game.

Check out highlights from the outing here:

MLB Pitcher Reference

Magill, R. A., & Anderson, D. I. (2017).  Motor learning and control: Concepts and applications (11th ed.).  New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Salmoni, A., Schmidt, R. A., & Walter, C. B. (1984). Knowledge of results and motor learning: a review and critical reappraisal. Psychological Bulletin, 95, 355-386.

Winstein, C. J., & Schmidt, R. A. (1989). Sensorimotor feedback. In Human Skills (edited by D.H. Holding), pp. 17-47. New York: Wiley.

Winstein, C.J. and Schmidt, R.A. (1990). Reduced frequency of knowledge of results enhances motor skill learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 16, 677-691.

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