Written on June 4, 2012 at 7:06 am, by Eric Cressey
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As we enter June, we hit the time of year when young pitchers are transitioning from school baseball to summer baseball, but this isn’t the only change that’s occurring. June is usually the time of year when pitching velocity tends to go up or down – and often quite significantly. To that end, I wanted to use a two-part series to outline the reasons why this occurs in both the positive and negative directions. In today’s installment, I’ll cover nine reasons why pitching velocity increases over the course of a season.
1. Increased external rotation
Over the course of a season, pitchers acquire slightly more external rotation at the shoulder (roughly five degrees, for most). Since external rotation is correlated with pitching velocity, gaining this range of motion is helpful for adding a few ticks on the radar gun as compared to early in the season. However, this added external rotation comes with a price; it is usually accompanied by increased anterior instability and, in some cases, a loss of internal rotation. As such, you need to stabilize or stretch accordingly.
2. Optimization of mechanics
Many pitchers integrate subtle or dramatic changes to their mechanics in the off-season and early in-season periods, but these changes won’t “stick” until they have some innings under their belt. June is often when those corrections start to settle in.
3. Transfer of strength to power
Some pitchers build a solid foundation of strength in the off-season, but take extra time to learn to display that force quickly (power). In short, they’re all the way toward the absolute strength end of the continuum, as described in this video:
4. More important game play
Some guys just don’t get excited to pitch in games that don’t mean much. While that is an issue for another article, the point here is to realize that a greater external stimulus (more fans, playoff atmosphere, important games) equates to a greater desire to throw cheddar. Right now, the high school and college post-seasons are underway, so you’re seeing some of the big radar gun readings more frequently.
5. Warmer weather
Many pitchers struggle to throw hard in cold weather. Pedro Martinez was a great example; during his time in Boston, he was undoubtedly one of the most dominant pitchers in the game, yet his Aprils never held a candle to what he did during the rest of the year (good thing his change-up was filthy, too).
Warmer weather makes it easier to warm up, and many guys – especially the more muscular, stiff pitchers – need to lengthen the pre-game warm-up early in the season. If you’re a guy who typically doesn’t see your best velocity numbers until you’ve got several innings under your belt, extend your pre-game warm-up, dress in layers, and don’t pick up a ball until you’re sweating.
6. New desire to prove oneself
For many pitchers, summer ball is a new beginning. This might be in the form of a Cape Cod League temp contract, or a situation where a player is transitioning from a smaller high school that doesn’t face good competition on to a program that plays a challenging summer schedule. Again, that external stimulus can make a huge difference, as it often includes better catchers, better coaching, more fans, better mounds, and more scouts behind the plate.
7. Mechanical tinkering
Piggybacking on the previous example, some pitchers may find their mechanics thanks to help from summer coaches. So, a change in coaching perspective can often bring out the best in guys.
8. Freedom to do one’s own thing.
I know of quite a few pitchers who’ve thrived in the summer time simply because their pitching coaches haven’t been in the way. Usually, this means they can go back to long tossing rather than being restricted to 90-120 feet all season. It’s a great way to get arm speed back.
9. Different pitch selection
There are quite a few college coaches who have guys throw 75% sliders in their outings – and wind up ruining plenty of elbows in the process. Summer ball is a chance for many guys to take a step back and really work on commanding their fastballs, so it’s not uncommon to see a few more mph on the radar gun.
In tomorrow’s post, I’ll outline the reasons why pitching velocity may decrease over the course of a season.