Here is an email question I got this morning about how much should a baseball pitcher throw during the offseason?
“How many times during the week, should I throw in the offseason? One more thing. Can I throw a football instead of a baseball in the off-season to get my arm better?”
The answer depends on what you are trying to accomplish.
As a developing pitcher who is not playing another sport and who is high school or college age, I believe that it is helpful to do a combination of conditioning and throwing, if at all possible and convenient.
If a high school pitcher does not engage in a formal offseason conditioning program, does it mean he will not be able to perform better the next season? Not necessarily, since that is the case for many pitchers. It all depends on the individual since everyone responds to varying types of activity differently. Some need less training than others. Some are more naturally talented than others. So, you must take each situation case by case, and if there have been injuries, those certainly should be considered. Ultimately, it will be the individual who will have to take responsibility for their overall progress and ultimate performance.
In most cases, however, I would highly recommend a formal weekly conditioning program that emphasizes full-body functional training and explosive movements since pitching is one of the most explosive movements in all of sports.
Any type of throwing that you do that is not structured throwing from a mound where you are working on improving your mechanics, your pitches, your command or velocity, I would lump into a general type of overall conditioning.
Throwing a football or doing long toss, for that matter, during the offseason is just a form of generalized full-body conditioning. Neither is going to transfer well to throwing from a mound at game intensity. We have to remember that pitching velocity is not just arm strength, but is a full body activity where energy is created, and then gets passed off efficiently with proper timing that ends up as arm speed. That is the effect that a pitcher gets from long toss. Long toss is not just about the arm. It trains the whole body and, because it is not like throwing from a mound, I would consider it more generalized training than skill development.
If a pitcher is trying to become a better pitcher for the next season, such as winning a position in the starting rotation, then, preferably he must work on improving his ability to throw with good mechanics from a mound, rather than flat ground. Flat ground throwing is completely different mechanically than throwing from the mound.
Pitching is a skill activity just like golf is a skill. Getting better at pitching does then require that you continuously work on perfecting those skills. Since baseball pitchers are graded on their ability to get hitters out while throwing from a mound at game intensity, then that is the ultimate way to become better. Flat ground throwing is different because weight shift is different which creates a shorter stride length, which puts the arm in a lower position. Trunk flexion is less and so is external shoulder rotation, which all create a different release point.
So, even though throwing from the mound is the absolute best way to perfect throwing mechanics, throwing from flat ground is certainly better than no throwing at all.
If we look at top collegiate or pro golfers, they do not take off four or five months at any time because much of golf, like pitching, is maintaining proper rhythm and timing. A pitcher could probably do that by throwing just twice a week for 15 minutes, and even throwing from flat ground would be helpful than no throwing at all.
Each individual baseball pitcher must ultimately understand his strengths and weaknesses. Depending on his age and his overall ability, he should continue to address and improve his weaknesses. Much of that can be done during the offseason.
We also must be aware that pitching velocity is not about strength, but is more about the ability to move the body parts quickly and explosively. That’s why spending the offseason in the weight room is not going to transfer to more velocity while throwing from the mound.
Remember that the most specific thing that a pitcher can do to improve is to throw with good mechanics at game intensity from the mound without overdoing it taking into account proper rest and recovery.