When Jamie Evans was hired by the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this year, it was welcomed with open arms. For those of you who do not know, Evans was the man given credit for rebuilding the career of Steve Delabar with the Velocity Program after Delabar had undergone many surgeries and was more High School Teacher than Professional Ball Player.
The more I research the now famous program, the more skeptical I become about certain areas of it. The program was developed by pitching legend Tom House and Evans, with the idea coming from tennis and how it is a perceived injury free overhead motion sport. House theorized that the reason there aren’t as many injuries is because tennis players do not release the racket like pitchers release the ball. This of course comes down to what is called deceleration training, because the deceleration when releasing the object compared to when not releasing is obviously different. The National Pitching Association(NPA) uses four pieces of equipment to enhance and refine the deceleration phase of pitching, with the main focus being on weighted balls. So why use weighted balls, you say?
Weighted balls range from 3 oz. – 12 oz. A lot of people in the industry are against weighted ball training because they feel it alters mechanics and creates cracks in the structure of the body due to increased torque. This is all true which is why weighted ball programs should never involve playing catch or pitching the balls. Weighted balls should be thrown into nets or against a wall without thinking about mechanics or throwing perfect strikes. They are designed to increase strength and arm speed.
One of the key elements for all athletes in the off season is to rest, get healthy and get stronger. For pitchers, the offseason is extremely important for arm care. There should be an 8-12 week period in the off season where a pitcher doesn’t throw at all. One major part of the shoulder that is often ignored in strength training is the decelerators. The kinetic chain in the pitching motion can be broken down to these main parts: the pitcher taking his stride, trunk rotation, elbow extension, shoulder rotation and wrist flexion. These motions create a tremendous amount of kinetic energy flowing through the body into the ball. With all that momentum and force something has to hit the brakes so the humerus doesn’t rip right out of the socket. Therefore, strengthening the posterior musculature should be a major goal for pitchers in the off season because the stronger those decelerators are, the more acceleration a pitcher can get. To use a car analogy, most pitchers try and get the most powerful engine and fancy car but have no brake pads.
My main issue with Evans program is what are called holds or sock/towel drills. The pitcher will take a weighted ball and simulate a throw without releasing the ball.
This is Evans using the tennis raquet analogy. By not releasing the ball you are fatiguing the arm more quickly by cutting off the blood flow in the forearm.It is also hard on the tendons and forearm muscles. The problems don’t end there. By holding on to the ball the arm is forced to “brake” like a car trying to stop on a dime. This prevents proper external rotation
and is more like pushing the ball instead of the arm laying back.
These are some mechanically flawed nasty habits pitchers shouldn’t be doing. This is a huge fundamental problem with the program. Repeating mechanics is such a huge part of being a successful pitcher. The program itself is sold as a velocity program. Any throwing program that involves weighted balls should theoretically increase velocity. You would really have to screw up training to not see even a small amount of velocity increase. Having said that, the reason the program was created was to strengthen the decelerators and help prevent injury. Due to poor research methods, there isn’t even evidence that the holds part of the program strengthen the decelerators.
There are other proven methods such as
Glute Ham Pull Aparts
Reverse Band Patterning
There is a lot about this program that is misleading and confuses people. I believe it is the velocity part that does it. For Jays fans we see the Delebar story and think any pitcher with a velocity dip can sign with Toronto, get on the program, gain velocity and be perfectly healthy. People have to realize that weighted balls are a must in any throwing program, but they are just one small part. Pitching is an unnatural event that occurs at an explosive moment. The training a pitcher does in the off season must focus on that fact. Core strength, leg strength, improved thoracic spine mobility, hip abduction mobility, hip and core stability, lower body power, scapular stability and overall strength are all vital pieces to the off season training schedule.
Now I’m not trying to take anything away from House or Evans. In my opinion Tom House is one of the greatest things to happen to baseball. He revolutionized pitching methods in the 70’s and has helped develop thousands of pitchers over the years. The man is a pitching genius, I’m just concerned about one part of this program because the Jays organization appears to be all in with it. I love the progressive approach the Jays are taking here with this program. I have spoken a lot about my distaste for the pitching targets this team goes after. I love that the pitchers on this team will have access to a program like this.
Unfortunately it’s not going to be magical injury cure if the pitching acquisitions don’t change.
Increasing Throwing Velocity (DeRenne, 1985)
David J. Szymanski, MEd, CSCS, June 1998: The Effects of Various Weighted Bats on Bat Velocity – A Literature Review. Strength and Conditioning, pp. 8 – 11
DeRenne, C., Tracy, R., and Dunn-Rankin, P. 1985: Increasing Throwing velocity. Athletic Journal, April, 36 – 39.
Brose, D.E., and D.L. Hanson 1967: Effects of Overload Training on Velocity and Accuracy of Throwing. Research Quarterly. 38:528-533.
Escamilla et al. 2000: Sports Med Apr; 29 (4): 259-272
Egstrom, G.H., Logan, G.A., and E. L. Wallis 1960: Acquisition of Throwing skill Involving Projectiles of varying Weight. Research Quarterly 31:420-425.