Dr. John Bagonzi, also known as the "Pitching Professor," is a very highly respected pitching instructor and the author of the book �The Act of Pitching� (http://pitchingprofessor.com/home.html).
Coach Bagonzi graciously agreed to answer a few questions on the subject of pitching, ranging from the importance of stride length to his thoughts on the quick fix pitch known as the slider.
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Q: How do you define �arm fatigue� and what are the means/steps of restoring the arm to pre-fatigue levels?
Coach Bagonzi: I see this as a mental as well as physical event. Arm fatigue shows up when velocity is reduced, the fastball is not crisp, is flat and bland or dull, has little bite to it, and certainly no "afterburn." Pitches are usually high; mechanics suggest an incomplete followthrough, and there is a reluctance to throw the ball in the strike or hitting zone.
Pitches result in wild pitches and passed balls because of a reluctance to challenge the hitter and come into the strike zone, and batters are teeing off when the ball does eventually come into the strike zone. Rotation is not tight on the fastball, curveball or slider. Obviously throwing is improper.
Some possible cures:
1) Stop throwing - skip pitching batting practice (I always felt this caused problems by creating an unrealistic form of throwing).
2) See the trainer, be sure there is no arm injury; massage perhaps.
3) Continue to run and keep the cardiovascular going.
4) Check for mechanical flaws (i.e. low elbow).
5) If pitches are high, lengthen stride. You know, this whole business of fatigue could be from underthrowing as well as overthrowing. Look closely at the number of innings pitched. Check for burnout if there has been year-round throwing.
Q: What are some of the things you would look for when scouting high school/college pitchers, trying to project what they might become?
Coach Bagonzi: I look for body type and build - what does it look like his size is going to be? I really treasure arm action (three junctures). Surely arm strength and always velocity (87-90 mph). The boy's attitude - does he like to pitch? Can he handle pressure? A live arm always impresses me. Is there tight rotation on the fastball? Is there good rotation on curveball, which I hope he has before the slider? Is he agile and can he field his position?
I really like fluid motion and long-armers, as I feel they have less arm problems. I want to see his attitude towards instruction and learning. Is he a gamer? Finally, is there movement on his fastball? With control? Do his mechanics allow for good control? Good physical health is a must - check family health and size.
Q: What are your thoughts on stride length and how increasing it could increase velocity as well as reduce stress on the arm?
Coach Bagonzi: I make this perhaps the most important phase of the mechanical process. In my pitching camps, this is an area that gets a lot of precise attention. I'm a big believer in a long stride. Too many young pitchers have a short stride and throw high, and too many are inconsistent with their stride length and front foot alignment. Good pitchers are very uniform with their stride length and are very aware of small adjustments within it (the front foot should be slightly closed).
Lengthening stride makes the ball go lower and faster. All the big winners have solid repetition with strides and touch down consistently on their "right" spot. Stride is one of the very important components in optimal mechanics and consequently a stress-free and efficient pitching delivery.
Q: What are your thoughts on pitch counts and the possible negative effects on an arm? Myth or reality?
Coach Bagonzi: Pitch counts have their purpose if the radar gun shows a trend after a certain number - say 100 pitches and velocity goes down, then there is a value - and pitches start going high after a certain number (elbow drops). Otherwise, I would use a subjective judgment, because it could easily be a placebo effect if the pitcher always knows his limit is 100, 110, or 120 pitches, and he expects to lose his efficiency then. In this business it is all or mostly mental, make no mistake about it!
I suspect I threw over 200 pitches sometimes. If someone is throwing real well after 130 pitches, and there seems to be no stress, I'd be tempted to let them continue if they are pitching well, but there is a different mentality today. It also depends on the type of pitcher. Fastballers have less tolerance for numbers. With today's salaries, and the "Grady Little" episode, everybody is a little gun-shy. I like to use my eyes.
Q: Why were more pitchers able to throw 200-plus innings a generation ago without the explosion of injuries that are so common in today�s players? Are today�s players soft?
Coach Bagonzi: I pitched 200-plus innings three years in a row, and during this time pitched a 14-inning game, two 13-inning games, two 11-inning games, one 10-inning game and a doubleheader at URI. A lot of innings were expected in my time (good or bad?). A nine-inning chore was routine and expected. I suspect we threw a lot more in general. It was the manly thing; pitchers ate up a lot of innings.
I'm not sure today's pitchers are soft - they are generally bigger, look stronger, make a lot more money, and they have become conditioned to throw five to six innings. We didn't use pitch counts; maybe we should have, but there didn't seem to be a lot of arm problems, so some of this is mental. I favor a lot of throwing, but constructive throwing. The hard or "power" slider has a lot to do with arm problems in my opinion, and the jury is still out on the splitter.
Q: What is your opinion regarding the development of breaking pitches in young players? I've had a front office person tell me that many of their scouts believe that if a young pitcher can't "spin" a breaking ball by the age of 19, that they will almost never get it.
Coach Bagonzi: If a young pitcher doesn't start to develop a curveball early in his career (age 15-plus), I don't think he will ever have a good one. So, I agree with your contact who says that if he can't spin it by age 19, forget it, and I think that is why there are so many sliders (the "devil's pitch") - it's the quick fix.
In fact, I talked with the pitching coach of the Rangers a few years back when they [still] trained in Port Charlotte, Florida, and asked him why there were so many sliders and so few curveballs among the Rangers' pitchers, and he quite emphatically stated that the young pitchers' "window of opportunity" was small and narrow, and the slider could be learned faster, and this became the "fix."
That is why before a young pitcher signs, it would be good if he had a curveball - a good, down-breaking 12-to-6 curveball with crispness thrown for strikes. This enhances the fastball and its effect multifold. Pitching up and down trajectory-wise is a devastating event, even for the good hitter; the trouble is that few pitchers do it well. Those that do are generally winners and high-strikeout guys. [Nolan] Ryan had a good curveball, and this made him electrifying.
Curveballs are less stressful on the arm than sliders because of the deceleration of the arm on release. However, one has to be aware of losing arm speed on their fastball if too many curveballs are thrown. A curveball should precede a slider in the learning business.