Two Ways That Long Toss Reduces Mound Pitching Velocity

Long Toss Teaches Different Mechanics Than Mound Pitching

The above photos show the differences in mechanics between long toss and mound pitching. This difference, when practicing long toss, can have a negative transfer to mound pitching.

The pitcher in the top row is Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard who pitches from 96-100 mph. Notice his body position at landing compared to the long tosser below. The long tosser has too much upward tilt of his trunk while his landing leg has too much bend or forward flexion, unlike Bard who exhibits proper bracing action with the knee less bent.

In the bottom row of photos, which displays a long tosser at ball release, note that his head, shoulders and trunk are still positioned behind his landing knee. This would indicate that the arm will get less energy from trunk flexion thus the arm would have to do more work. I believe this is one of the reasons why there are so many arm injuries today.

But Daniel Bard at ball release displays proper mechanics where the trunk is flexed forward so that his head and shoulders are positioned out over his landing knee and notice that his landing leg has straightened. This is a position that is displayed by most high velocity pitchers.

One of the important points to consider about this study is that if you practice another activity that is not almost exactly like the movement you will use in competition, then there is little positive transfer and a possible negative transfer. This is all based on the Principle of Specificity that says, basically, that you must practice exactly how you will perform in a game. Long toss, although it uses a baseball, has little other resemblance to mound pitching.

In an ASMI study (Jan. 2011) comparing long toss to mound pitching, there were two factors shown why long toss would reduce amateur pitcher’s velocity. And besides reducing pitching velocity the study finally proves why long toss is more stressful on both the elbow and shoulder.

There are two important factors are highlighted that allow pitchers to maximize their velocity, proving why long toss would actually reduce pitching velocity for all amateur and probably many professional pitches as well.

When my son Ryan and I do video analysis or one-on-one lessons, we observe closely those actions that reduce the ability of the pitcher to produce force (momentum or kinetic energy). We also analyze his ability to transfer those forces from the lower body to the trunk so that they get to the throwing arm as late as possible.

If a pitcher is not able to produce force, then his velocity will suffer. This can happen because he collapses his back leg, or has poor weight shift, or can’t maximize leg drive, all of which prevents him from developing momentum.

If he gets his arm involved too early his overall timing will be upset. If he is able to maximize his momentum, but at landing his back leg and hip has collapsed, then he will not be able to transfer those forces to the arm.

Prior studies on biomechanics, many which we have posted on this website, have proven how pitchers are able to maximize their pitching velocity. One of those studies showed that the trunk had much more to do with maximizing velocity than previously known. Specifically, how the trunk was used, and its angle (forward flexion position) at ball release was a major factor in velocity. In other words, the farther the trunk was flexed forward the more velocity.

Giants Tim Lincecum, at 5’10” 170 lbs. is a good example of a pitcher who has shown in the past the ability to throw 100 mph. How he uses his trunk is a big factor.

Factor #1 Why Long Toss Can Reduce Pitching Mound Velocity And Mechanics

The latest study by ASMI revealed that long toss reduced trunk flexion angle, which means the trunk is not providing maximum force production to propel arm speed.

This was not true during mound pitching. During mound pitching the pitcher is able to get his head and shoulder out over his landing knee, which is a good indication he is using his trunk correctly.

Conversely, if the trunk is not being used properly to assist the arm during long toss, then the arm must do more work. This could be a contributing factor to the total arm stress from elbow to shoulder that  long toss has now been proven to increase,

The implication for this is that if pitchers are practicing long toss then they are practicing how “not” to use the body to maximize velocity and reduce stress to the arm. When they get on the mound, there could be a negative transfer from long toss which would effectively interfere with mechanics and not allow them to use their trunk properly.

Essentially long toss is teaching them poor pitching mechanics from the mound, which they will use during games.

Factor #2 Why Long Toss Can Reduce Pitching Mound Velocity

The second factor about long toss that will have negative transfer to mound pitching is the inability to brace the front leg, knee and hip upon landing. During long toss the pitcher’s knee will continue to drift forward, which my son Ryan and I see regularly.

We have coined the phrase “pitching on the beach” to describe this motion, Try pitching on the beach, and you’ll notice the immediate lack of velocity since the front leg and hip cannot provide bracing This bracing helps speed up trunk rotation and flexion forward, and drives arm speed.

The Main Reason For Practice Pitching From The Mound

Unfortunately, you can have negative transfer to your mound pitching,  such as happens with the trunk position during long toss and not bracing up. Basically, you’re practicing mound pitching wrong. You end up with poor mechanics and possible injury.

When I presented my findings in Jan. 2009 at ASMI’s 27th annual Baseball Injuries Course, I was met mostly with blank stares from the other presenters Rick Peterson, Ron Wolforth, and Bill Thurston – all long toss advocates. Only when Dr. James Andrews, the head of ASM, came into the room and said a study would have to be done, did people pay attention to what I had said.

In that talk, using PowerPoint slides I pointed out that during long toss, the pitcher’s trunk was too far back behind the front knee at ball release, and upon landing, the front knee continues to drift forward. That 30 slide presentation is all shown in the back of my book, How To Build And Develop The Natural Explosive Pitcher.

Be Careful Because Old Baseball Beliefs Die Hard

Old baseball beliefs die hard. The belief that long toss will increase speed and avoid prevent injury have been advocated since about the mid-80’s.

We could say that those who have advocated long toss have actually taught pitchers to throw with less velocity, while contributing to the high incidence of arm injuries today at all levels of baseball.

We know they meant well, but that is no excuse when they all had the same opportunity to investigate and read what the latest research has found. I started doing that back in 2004, and have not listened, since, to what the “gurus” are teaching. That’s because most of it is based on outdated beliefs.

If you want to maximize pitching velocity and overall performance, don’t waste time on techniques that don’t work. Long toss has not proven to have any major benefits for improved pitching performance. If fact, now we can say long toss has mostly been negative, and performance reducer.

Since 2004, when I elected to stop recommending long toss, most high school and college pitchers were required to use long toss by their coaches. And yet, most of these same high school and college pitchers still lacked velocity. And injuries continued to skyrocket.

If you waste time practicing what does not work, then you lose the opportunity to maximize your God-given talent as a pitcher.

When will baseball turn to sports science research for answers to improved pitching performance and reduced risk of injuries? And how long will amateur pitchers search for the secret to more velocity – when there are no secrets?

The “secret” is to find mechanical faults, refine pitching mechanics with the aid of video analysis, and spend more time pitching FROM the mound than OFF the mound.