Daisuke Matsuzaka – Change Agent?

Yesterday I met two of my friends form my White Sox days for lunch. They both now work for the Houston Astros, Dewey Robinson is the Pitching Development Coordinator and Jaime Garcia is his assistant. They were talking about an article in Sports Illustrated about the Japanese pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is now pitching for the Boston red Sox. I had not read the article, but when I got home from workout I read the article. It was a breath of fresh to me. Matsuzaka training habits and his ability to achieve high pitch counts in games and then do a high volume of throwing between starts has caused quite a stir in the closed conservative world of baseball. If you get a chance read the article in the March 26, 2007 Baseball Preview issue of Sports Illustrated. The following are my comments stimulated by the article and reflecting my personal experience and Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox for nine years and as Director of Athletic Development for the New York Mets for eight months.

Will Matsuzaka training habits and approach to pitching change the American approach? I hope so, because change is needed. We have put the pitcher on a pedestal and forgotten to train him and then marvel at the extent and severity of the injuries that continue to occur. In reaction to the injuries we have them throw less. We must train to tolerate the demands of pitching. We must recognize the demands of pitching as a ballistic explosive activity and train for those demands. Matsuzaka also does not ice after he throws. I really do not know what that is so revolutionary; we instituted that as a policy in the minor leagues with the White Sox in 1989. I thoroughly researched the physiology of icing then and have continued to follow the research and there is not a physiological reason to ice a healthy shoulder or elbow. In fact it may be counterproductive. I am glad he is getting publicity for that because maybe it will force people to reevaluate icing.

As far as the amount of throwing he does in the bullpen and in long toss, it certainly does not seem unreasonable to me for someone who has progressed to that level. The key here is to progress to that level. Our young players pitch too much and do not throw enough. They need to condition to throw and then throw to condition. Throw anything when they in their developmental stages, softballs, football, rocks, just play throwing games where they have use to use different angles and positions of the body. That will prepare them to pitch. Instead we train them in a phone booth. We teach them a narrow rage of throwing skill called pitching mechanics and lock them into that movement repetitively and then wonder why they get sore and hurt. In essence we are cloning pitchers so they all look alike. There is no model, let them find their pattern and then condition them to withstand the forces.

Throw away the radar gun! The obsession with velocity is the root of all evil. Everyone in the game preaches location and control and the ability to throw strikes, but then judges the pitcher on velocity. No one really knows how hard Bob Feller or Sandy Koufax threw, did it matter?

Forget the argument that a pitcher has only so many pitches in him – that is absurd. The fact that Doctors have said this has lent credibility, but there is no science behind this. That reminds of the argument before Roger Bannister broke the Four Minute barrier in the mile that there are only so many heartbeats, so don’t use them up by training hard!

Here are five rules for training the pitcher:

Build the pitcher form the ground up. You can’t launch a cannon from a canoe, build strong legs

Train toe nails to fingernails – train all the links in the chain to produce and reduce force

Train for power and explosiveness, not endurance

Train the core as a relay center. The trunk positions the arms and transfers force from the legs

Focus on the big picture - recognize that that the shoulder and elbow are the last links in the kinetic chain

Recognize also on this issue that you have many ‘experts” weighing in on this argument that have no background in sport science or training. They have never had to produce by keeping a pitcher healthy and developing a young pitcher. You can look at all the stats you want, but you must know the individual pitcher, understand biomechanics of throwing and pitching and have a principle based program.

In many respects this comes back to physical education. Get them moving and playing. Put the softball throw back into the presidents Fitness test, you will see throwing improve.

I sincerely hope that Matsuzaka has success because it may force the sport to take a hard look at training. Knowing baseball, and the conservative nature of the game I really doubt that any change will occur even if he wins twenty games. Baseball is a game defined by failure. Secretly you can bet that everyone in the game is wishing he will fail so that the can keep doing what they have always done. Spit, scratch and chew


At 4/5/07, 12:20 PM, Blogger KP said...


I would love to know if there is any current research out there now on icing the healthy shoulder. Also, I feel the frustration everyday with our pitching staff on the whole "throwing" issue: they do no long tossing, were given no guidance about how to increase arm strength coming into the season by the coaching staff, and were expected to show up day one ready to pitch, all of the conditioning they do is distance running (even after 3-4 discussions I've had with the coaching staff) and the coaching staff and the kids wonder why they have arm troubles and can't "hit spots" after the 4th inning.

At 4/5/07, 7:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

kp, you shouldn't need research, it is simple natural physiological healing. If cryotherapy slows this process, then proper healing will not take place.

At 4/5/07, 7:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never seen so much garbage until I went to a clinic at ASMI in Birmingham, AL. Here is a "guru" up on stage talking about bench pressing is a bad for a pitcher or the overhead athlete. Three slides later, the speaker, himself, is on the stability ball doing bench press. He then stated that benching isn't bad if it is done with light weight. Whoooaaa...wait a second here!! Whether it is 50 or 30 pounds dumbbells, whether you are on a stability ball or a bench, you either believe in benching or you don't. You either believe in long toss or you don't. Unfortunately, it is a trend now, monkey see monkey do, to say let's take it easy and be safe with our approach with our athletes.

At 4/5/07, 8:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is another great topic at ASMI, Weight training for the younger athletes. Kids at age of 9 can start weight training; body weight squat, small (2-5lb)dumbbells etc etc. Weight training is safe for kids when it is introduce properly. Great...wow...what an innovative speaker. When asked at what age should plyometrics be implemented for kids? Same speaker answered, plyometrics should NOT be introduced until they are in their late teens 16-17 years of age because of the growth plate...blah blah blah. WHOOAAAaa Nelly!!! PE teachers...stop your kids from skipping ropes, stop running,stop jumping off of swings, stop playing hopscotch, stop doing the double dutch because your growth plates haven't set yet. Instead, go read...It is safer and it is more productive...without breaking a sweat.

At 4/8/07, 10:28 PM, Blogger Jedd Johnson, CSCS said...

In my pitching days in high school, I never worried about my arm getting tired - it was my back. My lower back would get tired out and tighten up in between innings. I look back now and feel that this was more because of lack of true conditioning and improper hydration than anything else. I, however, do not believe in long toss for being the end-all exercise for creating a strong pitcher. Again, hindsight being 20-20, I wish I would have worked at creating a more brutally strong and explosive body, a stronger core and hips, and improved mechanics. I put in a tape of me pitching in college and I almost cried...

Great topic- I enjoyed reading it.


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