Its 2018, radar gun purchases are at an all time high, social media hype is through the roof, and you're still sitting around wishing upon a star that will magically endow you with an arm that can throw baseballs through concrete walls.
Oh, wait. Something's wrong there.
Having pitched as my athletic background, and having gone from a 70poo slinger to a guy that could throw a baseball (inaccurately) in the realm of the low 90's, I've had some anecdotal experience to say; Velocity CAN be developed!
Before you begin to walk down factually inaccurate line of logic pertaining to velocity development, lets take a look at two keys in enhancing velocity.
1. Throwing is more about how your body functions, rather than how fast your arm goes.
Whenever I see a sub 14 year old kid on an aggressive throwing program, I cringe. Elbows and knees flailing about, a body that is asymmetrical, and a "guru" who tries to persuade you that "throwing year round is ok, as long as you're not on the mound".
No, just no.
There is a cool principle we use in the training world called Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands or S.A.I.D. It basically says, when a demand is placed on a body, the body will (over time) adapt to what is going on.
Now, the presupposition to this is that all adaptations are good. This is false.
When we squat to develop leg strength, we place a demand on the body with the expectation that over time the body adapts by creating muscle stimulation and growth.
When we consider the violence associated with throwing, and the one-sidedness, we create a litany of movement related issues including underdeveloped anterior chain, weak rotator cuffs, elbow stiffness due to lat shortening, underdeveloped serratus and rhomboids, and thats just in the upper body!
These issues don't just "undo" themselves, and no amount of Y's, T's and I's are going to fix the host of issues surrounding this terribly posture. Additionally, how can we expect a body like this to produce elite level velocities? You're right to think, "We can't."
To kinesthetically produce elite level velocities, we have to have a body that is fit to get into the positions we desire. This is done by encouraging a more global level of movement, and eradicating the asymmetrical build up done during high volume periods of throwing.
2. Time Away from Throwing Isn't a Suggestion, It's a Mandate.
Throwing is a tear down activity, how do we know this? Google "Tommy John Surgery" and see what comes up. You'll see pages and pages of articles and news reports about the growing trend of Ulnar Collateral Ligament tears.
To throw hard warrants a risk. The arm is moving a light object quickly and repetitively. However, we can be working to mitigate that risk by shutting athletes down for 6-8 consecutive weeks per year.
Now Chris, surely there is an exception to the rule. There often is, and little Johnny has to play in 12 showcases this summer, scout ball, winter showcases, and spring season.
Lets unpack this briefly.
First, if you think Johnny can only be exposed through year round throwing, that's simply not true. This is especially true if you reside in warm weather states with large demographics of baseball players like California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, and Florida. Additionally, with the proliferation of social media, Johnny will get his looks - he just better have value when the people are looking.
Second, if you value the future of Johnny, you will equip him for his development by taking time away from the game and working to just develop as an athlete. Free from the stress of competition, and focused on preparing the body he will be using when competition commences yet again. Kids love to play, and they don't often understand the implication of pushing to play 150+ games per year (typically consolidated over two to three day tournament style windows), so its your job to educate them, and ensure they are able to play well into their young adult and adult years.
Lastly, whoever tells you you can only get better at throwing by throwing is giving you a half truth. When our professionals enter their offseason, its not untypical to have them take around 8 weeks completely off of throwing. Our time is spend rebuilding their bodies, and preparing them for the demand of the next season. No one forgets how to throw a curveball or compete in a game, and anecdotally, they typically see their velocity come back with greater numbers than what they've had in the past. This isn't because of magic, this is because training your body properly leads to a healthy, more durable arm.
3. Spend Time Working on Throwing in an Attention to Detail, Individualized Format.
Everywhere I've gone, weighted balls have been a method for developing velocity. Some programs are more aggressive than others, but it seems the baseball world has globally adopted the weighted ball as a method to develop a healthy arm.
While this can be true to a certain extent, as our attention has been focused on the athletes at the professional level, we've seen that there are many hard throwing athletes who have NEVER picked up a weighted ball, most notably, Max Scherzer.
What Max Scherzer has is size, impeccable timing, efficient moving pieces, and feel among other things. When you compare his delivery to that of Aroldis Chapman, you see a lot of similarities and a lot of differences. The principles are the same, the route to get there may differ.
Athletes need throwing to be conducted in a more individually designed setting. Pitching lessons have given way to small group training, which has subsequently given way to circus style atmospheres. How does any disciplined, focused work get done?
The fact is, more isn't always better if the reps suck.
Everyone has physical limitations, and they should be encouraged for the sake of sport to move in a way that's most conducive to them. That's where the individual with thrive and begin to make substantial strides in their development, rather than heaving 100 weighted balls at the wall waiting for the magic to happen.
Total body care is arm care. Don't let the buzzwords and eye wash fool you. Time away from throwing will do you more good than harm, especially if you are using that time as an opportunity to hit your individually designed training program hard. When throwing commences, find avenues where you can be working on your individual movement patterns to get you where you want to go, and avoid places that lump everyone in the same group and say, "Here throw this 10,000 times so you can master it." Maybe you will, maybe you'll just do 10,000 reps of suck.