So, You Want to Throw Harder?May 03, 2023
Velocity is a funny thing. It's something that you build and increase as you age and mature until you reach your limit or your max. Then you try to maintain it for as long as possible, stay on the plateau before the eventual decline begins. Before you realize it the radar gun is reading lower than the number of candles on your birthday cake.
It happens to all of us. The slopes and numbers of peaks, valleys and plateaus on everyone's charts are different. The only constant is that it starts near the zero line, goes up to a peak and eventually works its way back to or near zero. For pitchers this can be problematic. It becomes very difficult to change speeds when your top speed is not much above what's required to get it to the plate.
Young players are almost always chasing velocity while older players are trying, sometimes desperately, to not lose it.
If you look at the professional game today with all of the analytics, velocity is still the metric that wins out. It makes every pitch better - aka: harder to hit. Two curveballs with the same characteristics - spin rate, spin axis, location, etc that differ by 5 mph; the faster one will be more effective. The data is very clear. You can look at contact rate, slugging pct, swing and miss percentage, exit velocities, essentially any measure of batting success and the faster pitch wins.
It's why teams and scouts are always looking for velocity first. Obviously, it's not enough to just throw hard, especially in professional baseball. However, the WBC clearly showed that velocity matters. Mike Trout, one of the best hitters in the game, swung and missed at two 100 mph fastballs in the strike zone before chasing an 87 mph sweeper out of the zone.
It's not hard to see why velocity is so valuable and why pitchers want it.
I don't fault anyone for wanting to throw harder. Even if the guy already throws 100mph. It probably shouldn't be his top priority, but no issue if it's a priority. 102 or 104 is harder to hit than 100. Making it a priority won't necessarily lead to more velocity, but it might just be what he needs to maintain his current velocity over several seasons. It may also lead to him finding ways to continue to throw 100 mph with less effort and stress on his body - a very good thing. Regardless; the intent to throw harder isn't in itself bad.
It's always a matter of context. It depends on where you are in your development cycle, baseball life cycle, pitcher development cycle and so on. There is no one right answer. It will differ for everyone whether it's a priority at all and how high of a priority.
I'll use myself as an example. I have above average velocity for the age groups I pitch in - 45, 50, 55. When I review what makes me effective as a pitcher, velocity is a key component. When I examine my performances and think about how I can improve my effectiveness it rarely results in the conclusion that I need to throw harder. Certainly this would help, but improving my command or my secondary stuff usually ranks higher. Not to mention that at my age, increasing my velocity enough to matter on the field is not the same prospect as it would be for someone under 30.
When I started playing baseball again at the age of 38, I mostly just needed to throw strikes since my velocity was overpowering for most hitters. If I could throw strikes I was going to be effective, even dominant. It's the main reason I threw 6 no-hitters. I don't throw that hard anymore. I need to locate my pitchers better now to be effective.
I pitched in a tournament recently against a very good hitting team. Whole lineup, top to bottom, could swing it. I felt really strong and had very good stuff that day. If I left anything over the plate, fastball, slider or change-up they hit it hard. I mean on the barrel. I gave up 5 extra base hits and none of them were cheap. They hit a few barrels at people as well. I had to work really hard to be on the corners or off the plate.
I faced the same team later in the tournament and held them to two hits in a shutout, only a couple of hard hit balls. I did a really good job of hitting my spots and staying away from the middle of the plate.
A couple of years ago, that tournament probably would have played out very differently. My command is significantly improved; all of my pitches have benefitted from the work I've done. That's a story for another day...back to topic at hand: throwing harder.
So, velocity and increasing it is a matter of priority. What are your goals? How important is it to your goals? You need to decide what’s best for you. No matter your age or your level, velocity matters and can be developed.
If someone tells you that velocity isn't important, I recommend you walk away. They aren't interested in helping you. If it's something you want to talk about, reach out to me and I can help you sort out your goals and prioritize your time. Your time is your greatest asset, spend it wisely.
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