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The Lost Art of Long Toss
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Rediscovering the Lost Art of Long Toss
Alan JaegerOriginally appeared in Collegiate Baseball Magazine May, 1999 "I'll start playing long toss in January. If I can throw it 200 feet, I try to throw it 300 feet. I don't stop at 120 feet, I throw it as far as I can." - Greg Maddux, Atlanta Braves Kerry Wood, Matt Morris, Kerry Lightenberg, Alan Benes, Paul Wilson (twice), Jason Dickson, Jeremi Gonzales, Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, Ben McDonald, Jeff D'Amico, Jason Bere, Mike Grace, Jeff Wallace, Mike James, Roger Salked , a who's who of extremely promising pitchers struck down by a major arm injury -- and that's just the beginning. Coincidence? I don't think so. For every famous case, ala Kerry Wood, there are those lesser known examples where arms are breaking down before they have the opportunity to reach the Big Leagues... to sign a professional contract... to step foot on a college campus... to finish their high school careers. In your hometowns, you will find the Dan Oppermans and Darren Kerkreits of the world. First round draft picks that you may never hear of. The Drew Pearces (Cal Berkeley) and John Phillips (UCLA) -- promising college pitchers that never got the chance to play pro ball. The Joel Zamudios (Monroe High) and Justin Dunns (St. Francis High), high school pitchers who can only hope that their careers can be preserved. "Last year (1998), three pitchers from my team all had major arm surgery (two "Tommy Johns," one major shoulder reconstruction) on the same day." - Anonymous Member of a Division I power The numbers are mounting and the Dr. Frank Jobe's, Dr. Lewis Yocum's, and Dr. James Andrew's of the world are getting busier. As a baseball community, it's time to WAKE UP. There's a serious flaw in our system, a weak link in our development of baseball players' arms, and it's undermining their futures.
Why?"Without the opportunity to long toss the arm isn't able to gain the strength, length, and endurance it needs. Your arm will eventually reject you." - Seth Etherton, Cincinnati Reds, Former 1st Round Draft Choice There are many reasons a pitcher's (baseball player's) arm breaks down, why a ligament in the elbow detaches, all or part of the rotator cuff tears, or the shoulder needs to be reconstructed. These could be the result of poor mechanics, a lack of monitoring [a relief pitcher at a Division 1 program told me that he threw in 14 consecutive games. Later that year he had Tommy John surgery], throwing with pain on a vulnerable arm, throwing too many pitches in one particular outing, throwing too many breaking balls, not enough recovery period time between games, or throwing curves in Little League. The good news is that most of these problems are obvious and can be corrected. What really alarms me is a seemingly growing trend that is not so obvious, and perhaps, even more responsible for a deteriorating arm and a career threatening arm injury. And it comes in an era when our levels of instruction and technology are at a all time high. This growing trend is what I refer to as "short toss" (as opposed to "long toss"), a throwing regimen where players are advised not to throw beyond 120 feet.
The 120-Foot Phenomenon"You do not clone pitchers. If an individual chooses to long toss, that's fine. You don't give him a distance. Why there's a limit on 120 feet I do not know." - Leo Mazzone, Pitching Coach, Atlanta Braves When I think in terms of a baseball player's arm being deprived of throwing beyond 120 feet, I immediately feel a tight, tense, short and rigid sensation from my shoulder to the tips of my finger, the opposite kind of qualities I would use to describe a healthy arm or a healthy muscle. When I think of a healthy arm I think of such characteristics as stretch, loose, length, strength and endurance. Qualities that are hard to attain when we're shortening, rather than, lengthening our arms. I'm not sure who started it or where it came from, but it seems that in recent years this 120 foot theory has taken root at every stage of the development of baseball players. It seems to have become the rule rather than the exception. "Actually, I realize that throwing 300 feet isn't such a bad idea...in fact I used to do it myself, but the manual says to stay at 120 feet, so you must stick by it" - Head of player development for a Major League Organization to his first round pick after player pleaded with him to do a long toss program in the off-season The idea originally behind the "short toss" was that if you keep a player at 120 feet, he'll throw the ball on a line. This theoretically will serve two purposes:
Pulling Down: Reinforcing A Lower Release Point"The pull down phase of the "long toss" has actually solidified my release point on all three of my pitches, especially my curve ball." - Barry Zito, 2002 Cy Young Winner When a player throws beyond 120 feet, granted, there does comes a point where his front shoulder must lift slightly and the release point is slightly altered. This must be done in order to get the much desired stretch and distance that the arm needs to build length, strength, endurance and health. It is unavoidable. But the irony is that the same slight adjustments that are created by the lifting of the front shoulder and the altering of the release point are actually regained and reinforced at a lower release point as the player works his way back in from the desired distance (pull down phase). This is because when you begin to take a 250-300 foot throw into 150, 120, 90 and eventually 60 feet, the release point must get lower. This occurs because the pitcher must learn not to decelerate the arm as he gets closer and closer to his partner. In other words, he must take the arm action of his maximum throw that day (i.e. 250 feet) and "pull it down" into 60 feet. A 300 foot throw at 60 feet (without decelerating the arm) will force pitchers to finish through their release point on a downward plane without trying to throw hard. Concentration skills are developed because the pitcher must learn to pick a very low focal point to pull down through (i.e. his partner's shoe), otherwise the ball will end up going a long way over his partner's head. There is no way around it. A number of additional benefits take place when a 300 foot throw is correctly compressed into a 60 foot throw:
Realizing Your PotentialPut a four-foot snake in a five-foot cage and its expansion is limited. Put that same snake in a twenty-five foot cage and an opportunity of growth presents itself. My experience from working with pitchers is that if they can throw in the low to mid 80's they can easily build up to throwing a baseball 250 feet. If they throw from the mid to high 80's, they can build up to 250 to 300 feet. Pitchers who throw in the high 80's to low 90's should be able to build up to 300 feet without any problem. If we use 300 feet as a model for the potential distance a college or professional pitcher can throw, than a 120 foot throw equates to 40 % of that pitcher's potential distance. That means his arm is only stretching to 40% of its capability. Now forgive me if I'm having a hard time with this, but how can it make any sense to suppress the arm's need to expand? I mean, why do we stretch before we play any sport? Isn't it to enhance our performance, to give us agility and flexibility, to avoid injury? So then why is it okay to stretch our arm to only 40% of its need? Would a sprinter only stretch 40% of his hamstrings before running a 100-meter race? Would a hockey goalie stretch only 40% of his groin before a game? Would a golfer enter a long drive contest after stretching just 40% of his back? "If you don't stretch your arm out, you are more susceptible to an injury. I know that from experience." - Rudy Seanez, Boston Red Sox The point is that a pitcher who throws a baseball 80 to 100 miles an hour without properly stretching his arm puts himself in jeopardy. It may not be obvious because 120 feet is just far enough to feel like a stretch, but it is not a real stretch. It is not the kind of stretch that the arm truly needs to open up, lengthen out and establish a base. "Organizations, coaches, etc. discourage pitchers from throwing or put so many limitations on them as to what they can do because they feel that they will get blamed if there is a breakdown." - Leo Mazzone Can you tell I'm frustrated? Wouldn't you be if you put a pitcher into a training program to stretch, strengthen and condition his arm, only to watch his arm regress because he's been put in a throwing program that does not allow him to exceed 120 feet? Or worse, to watch him spend a year and a half rehabilitating his arm after a major arm surgery because he wasn't given the proper time or distance that is necessary to keep his arm healthy. I haven't seen the throwing program at every High School, Junior College and four year College. I haven't seen every Major League's off season throwing manual. But I have seen enough and heard enough over the past several years to be alarmed. If we don't make an adjustment soon, we are going to continue to see this growing trend of major arm injuries. In other words, shattered dreams and broken hearts. "Long Toss is a very important part of conditioning and training for everyone." - Dr. Lewis Yocum, Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic For those coaches who subscribe to distance throwing, to some form of long toss, I can only say that you are doing your best to insure that your players are optimizing their arms and staying healthy. For those of you who have subscribed to the theory of the 120 foot toss or timed throwing, I hope that you will take this article to heart and reevaluate your throwing program. We are, after all, all dedicated to the same thing: the well-being and success of our players. Note: I would sincerely like to thank Atlanta Braves Pitching Coach Leo Mazzone and his pitching staff and all of those players who have contributed to this article and cause. - Alan Jaeger
Alan Jaeger is the founder of the Jaeger Baseball Academy in Woodland Hills, CA and has worked with several High School and College players, as well as over 70 professional players, including Major Leaguers Barry Zito, Randy Wolf, John Snyder, Mike Lieberthal, and Glendon Rusch. He holds a degree in psychological training from California State University at Northridge and his post-graduate studies include a certificate from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Develop a Strength Program That Fits Your Needs
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