It turns out my 2 part column is turning into a trilogy…
November 22nd marked the start of my off season. During the off season I like to set short term goals for myself because that is the most effective way for me to obtain long term results. I broke down the off season into 4 sections, and had goals to achieve for each section.
The first section was from November 22nd – December 15th. The first goal of that 3 week period is REST the body. Rest might seem like an easy thing to do, but when you are working every single day for a year it is very hard to shut it down for 3 straight weeks. I felt myself getting very antsy and wanting to run around, almost like an 8 year old kid, but I kept telling myself that I really needed the rest.
The second goal for this period was to objectively look at my mechanics and pitching scheme, to be able to make adjustments in order to be better next year. I am not a fan of major adjustments during the season because I feel like a major adjustment takes weeks of repetition in order to successfully execute in a game. I do believe you can fine tune during season, but that is it. (Note: that is my personal opinion, obviously people can make drastic adjustments during the season and be successful i.e. Jacob Diekman). Mechanically I realized I was creating too much force and power in the wrong directions. Ideally, I want all my force and power focused directed toward home plate. I realized that my back knee was collapsing (force and power focused down), then jumping at the plate (force and power focused upward and outward), then leveling off and releasing the ball (force and power focused toward the plate). This can all be fixed from the beginning. If I bend my back leg slightly I won’t be able to jump up, and if I don’t jump up all my momentum will be focused straight to the plate. In theory I should be able to get a few extra miles per hour and have better accuracy. With this slight change I am still able to maintain the same deception.
In regards to pitching scheme, I felt like I only needed to make one adjustment this year. As I described in a previous column about general pitch philosophy, I have two types of sliders. The first type is the “get-me-over slider” that I use when I am even or behind in the count (Note: I really like to call it my hang-and-pray slider. Some other people call it a cement mixer slider, but it is most commonly referred to as a get-me-over). The second is the “bullet” up and down strikeout slider. Of the 17 extra base hits I gave up last year, 12 were on my get-me-over slider, including both home runs. You might be thinking, “Why did you throw so many if it got hit that much?” My answer is that 7 of the 10 times I would throw it, I got a free strike out of it. Getting the count from 2-1 to 2-2 or 0-0 to 0-1 is huge for an at bat. The problem is the other 3 were either balls or got crushed. I almost never recorded an out on it. This is the main reason my BABIP has always been awkwardly high. The more I went up in levels the more it got hit hard, so my solution to this is to get rid of it completely and add a cutter to my repertoire. The cutter would be 5-7mph harder than the hang-and-pray, and would break 2-4 inches. I watched you tube videos about Mariano Rivera’s cutter as well as talked to one of my friends that has a really good cutter. At this section of the off season, I cannot throw the pitch but I can learn grips and theories on finger pressure in order to execute the pitch properly.
The last goal of this 3 week period was to have fun with friends and family. I tend to go out and party a fair amount during this time frame, and I believe that letting loose and having fun is important. I have a theory that the people who are 100% live, breathe, and die baseball tend to burn out and are too tense. These people tend to clench up in clutch situations and generally do not have fun playing baseball. (Note: this theory comes from my observations only. I have no proof to back this up at all). As you know I love everything about baseball, but I believe the reason I have had success is because I have fun playing the game. My favorite activity in the world is pitching, but if I spent every waking hour worrying about it, I would no longer have fun doing it. If I did not have fun, I would not have success.
December 16th– January 16th was the lifting only section of the off season. The goal was to transform myself physically from the most out of shape I will be this off season, December 16th, to an in-shape athlete ready to start a throwing program on January 17th. I worked out 6 days a week, alternating lower and upper body workouts. I also conditioned 6 days a week. 2 days being long distance runs, 2 days of cycling, and 2 days of interval training. Each week within that 4 week period I increased the level of difficulty in both the workouts and conditioning. By January 16th I was in very good shape which was a little disappointing as I expected to be in great shape. I thought I could get there in 4 weeks, but it turns out I needed a month or so more to be in great shape.
January 17th marked the first day of my throwing program. It was a surprisingly warm day in Alexandria, Virginia as I stepped into my front yard and had my first catch of the year with my dad. I can’t remember the last time my first catch of the season was not with my dad. He is now 56 years old, but he is still my favorite throwing partner (even though he de-frames everything and makes it look like every pitch I throw misses its target).
After throwing for the second time, I realized how strong my arm felt. I was throwing at about 25% and the ball was coming out so easily. I thought this was normal and would only last for the first few weeks of throwing, but it turns out I was wrong (but that’s going into part 3).
On January 22nd I headed down to Charlottesville, Virginia for the annual step up to the plate fundraising dinner. This year the speaker was Dave Winfield. Mr. Winfield was a great speaker that offered valuable insight on the game of baseball, as well as hilarious anecdotes about his teammates. If you ever get a chance to listen to him speak – do it. By the way, Virginia baseball is now number 1 in the nation, GO HOOS! I stayed a few nights in Charlottesville, and on January 25th I drove to Clearwater, Florida. I will pick up the rest of the story from there in part 3.