With the MLB draft fast approaching and summer baseball about to begin, I figured now would be a good time to tackle a couple of issues that are pet peeves of mine. 1) The overuse of young pitchers and 2) The ‘use them while we’ve got them’ mindset of many programs regarding pitchers, rather than a developmental orientation.
The popular notion in most youth sports is that you need to get kids as much exposure as possible to enhance their chance of getting a college scholarship or making it to the big leagues. In addition, each sport is becoming year-round, and by the time a kid reaches high school (and often much earlier) they are encouraged at best, and forced at worst, to pick one sport.
This is especially harmful in the case of pitchers. They do not need to be working on pitching every weekend year round. As Tommy John recently said, “If the best pitchers in the world don’t pitch year-round, why should your kid?”
Few in recent years have sent more pitchers to the major leagues than Vanderbilt University coach Tim Corbin. When Corbin recruits pitchers he is known to put a priority on finding pitchers from colder climates. Why, you may ask, when most top baseball prospects hail from warmer climate states. His logic is simple; if they come from climates where they can’t play year-round, their arms are less likely to be used up when they get to him. His results speak for themselves.
Corbin is also a big believer in the importance of the mental side of performance. Pitchers, like all athletes, can benefit greatly from the effort they put into developing their mindset. Additionally, players can benefit from visualization and mental rehearsal to take some of the wear and tear off of their body. As Corbin says, “Physical ability is only brought out if the most important tool is developed, and that’s the tool between the ears.”
The second issue I want to address regarding pitchers is the pressure college coaches are under to get as much out of their pitchers as fast as they can. Many pitchers are good enough to get guys out in college, but have issues with their mechanics or their minds that will prevent them from pitching at the next level.
When you take the time to work on a player’s mechanics or mind issues, there’s a reasonable probability that they will perform worse before they begin to perform better. This is especially true when it comes to a pitcher making a major change in his mechanics. Unfortunately, the best long-term interests of a pitcher stuck in this conundrum run counter to what’s best for the team in the present.
When you change a pitchers mechanics (depending on the degree of change necessary) it could take up to a couple of years to see the benefits. If you are a college coach who may only have the player available for three years, the likelihood of putting him on ice for up to two of those three years is pretty low. Then factor in that he’s serviceable at the college level ‘as is’ and you may end up getting four years of use out of him rather than three by not overhauling his mechanics. The way the system stands now, in my opinion, there are far too many disincentives to do what’s in the best interest of pitchers that fall into this category.
Just because you are successful at whatever level you are currently playing at, that is no excuse to become complacent. Those who are the best in their field are always looking for ways to improve; that’s what makes them the best, they don’t settle. Tiger Woods overhauled his swing right after he won The Masters by a record number of strokes.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson, who a few years into a successful NBA career successfully changed his shooting hand from his left to his right, said it best, “A lot of people stick with what they know because they’re insecure about putting something new out there and getting embarrassed. I don’t want to sit here in 12 years and think, What if I made a change? Could I have been one of the best power forwards in the league? Could our team have taken a leap?”
I always say that we all live in comfort circles and no matter how big or small our circle is, the only way to make it bigger is to step outside of it. Are you doing all you can to expand your comfort circl