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General  | General  | 5/6/2021

Wolforth Thrower Mentorship: Article 6

Jerry Ford      Ron Wolforth     
Photo: Johnny Tergo/Truth Baseball
Ron Wolforth probably knows more about the throwing arm and arm care than anyone we know. Many of you may have heard about the famous Texas Baseball Ranch that Ron has been running for many years. We have built a great relationship with Ron and his wife Jill over the years.

It all started a few years back when Ron sent his son Garrett to a Perfect Game event. His son was a catcher/infielder and set some all-time PG records for pop times (1.75) and velocity (89 mph) at the time. He also threw mid-90s across the infield. He is now playing professionally. Being an average-sized kid, this really drew our interest. Once we realized who his father was, it became clear.

Since then we have followed the Texas Baseball Ranch closely. Ron is a very humble man, which is a reason so many speak highly of him. We have never run across a single person that shows any disrespect for him or the Ranch. So we decided to ask him to help our millions of followers.

Over the years he has helped thousands of pitchers, including many that became Major League All-Stars. Yes, he teaches velocity gains, better control and command, and everything a pitchers needs to be successful. However, unlike many others, he is an absolute stickler when it comes to doing it safely. His interest doesn't just involve velocity gains and other improvements, all of which are very important. He wants his students to understand arm care and how to throw and stay healthy. He does this without a cookie cutter program. He understands that all players are different individuals.

Perfect Game's interest in prospects, arm care and keeping young kids healthy is the major reason we have decided to work with Ron Wolforth.

Below is the sixth of an ongoing column he will be doing on our Perfect Game website. This information will be gold for any player interested in improving their throwing ability and staying healthy. Make sure you read every column he contributes and feel free to comment on them.

If you want to attend one of his camps and improve your throwing ability, here is the link to the website:

Jerry Ford
Perfect Game

. . .

Article 1: Where the Sidewalk Terminates
Article 2: The Exact Location of Your Arm Pain is Incredibly Valuable Information
Article 3: No Pain, No Problem...Right? Not Quite So Fast.
Article 4: The Secret to Accelerated Skill Development: Hyper-Personalization
Article 5: The Case Against Weighted Balls?

In the past 15 years or so, pitch counts have become all the rage. In my personal opinion, pitch counts have become a double-edge sword. While pitch counts certainly can be of value as an objective measure of pitcher volume and workload, they do often require context.

A dear personal friend of mine of more than 20 years, Brent Strom is the major league pitching coach for the Houston Astros. Prior to that, Brent was the Minor League Pitching Coordinator for the Montreal Expos, Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals. In that role he was constantly scouring through reports trying to decide, among other things, if he had assigned the appropriate workload for his minor league pitchers throughout his organization.

His approach is a textbook case of how to utilize pitch counts effectively. The amateur coach can learn a lot by studying and following Strommy’s approach to whatever degree he can. Brent considered a myriad of variables such as age and experience of the pitcher, arm health history, mechanical efficiency, weather, point in the season, pitch counts of the previous three starts, mental/emotional state, stressfulness/intensity of the game (ie. was it close or a blowout), etc.

Most in the amateur baseball universe fail to look at pitch counts from this rather wide and deep perspective and I believe this often leads to blind spots and precarious inferential leaps. In other words, too many parents and coaches are making important decisions without some very critical information.

Yes, I do realize many reading this might react, “Well that’s Brent Strom and professional baseball. We do not have his resources or the time to do such a deep dive.” I hear you. I really do. But some of those variables are well within the amateur coach’s ability to include in his decision-making process. It’s what I refer to as adding ‘context’ to the pitch count.

Let me give you an example of what I mean:

Let’s say we have two identical twin 16-year-old pitchers. For the sake of the analogy, let us say that in every other way and in every before-mentioned variable they are exactly the same: Same years of experience; Exact same ramp up to competition; Exact same history of arm health and mechanical efficiency. Etc. Etc.

In this weekend’s games, Twin A threw 110 pitches. Twin B threw 55 pitches.

Which twin had the more stressful workload?

This is what I mean by context. If I told you nothing else, if those numbers were all you had to make your decision by, a vast majority of people would respond in this general fashion:

“Twin A had quite a workload. Better watch him carefully. Twin B is pretty safe. 55 pitches are much more reasonable. So, in reality, Twin A actually had twice the workload as Twin B.”

But what if I added this context:

Twin A threw a complete seven inning game. Twin B threw one inning.

Does that change your view of the two workloads? You bet your sweet bippie it does!

Twin A averaged 15.7 pitches per inning. Twin B averaged 55 pitches.

If all other variables are equal, which Twin was at greatest risk of injury? Unquestionably Twin B.

Still skeptical of my call for context? Let me take it out of the pitching realm for one movement.

Offering a Non-baseball Analogy to Help Drive Home My Point

Two young men very equal in ability and training are tasked to perform 105 ‘perfect’ sit ups.

Young man #1 performs 15 perfect sit-ups then rests 20 minutes. He repeats the process 7 times.

Young man #2 does 105 perfect sit-ups all at once without stopping.

Therefore, they both perform 105 sit-ups for that day.

Immediately after their 105th sit-up was completed, I ask each one how difficult the task was.
I suggest we would get significantly different responses. The tasks are simply not equal although the total number of sit-ups were equal. This is what I mean by ‘context’.

Now let’s return to our twin pitcher example.

Imagine if I now significantly alter the other variables such as experience, ramp-up/preparation prior to competition, weather; point in the season, history of arm health, pitch counts of the previous three starts, mental/emotional state, stressfulness/intensity of the game and mechanical efficiency?

Are you starting to feel that simple pitch count isn’t enough information for you?

Good. That’s a good place to be in my opinion: Open and constantly searching for additional context.

So the next time someone tries to throw around plastic and rigid terms such as ‘pitch counts’ and ‘overuse’ and uses them as an arrogant battering ram to make some kind of cogent point, you can honestly counter: “Pitch counts can certainly be helpful and ‘overuse’ is indeed a real thing, but unless we deal with these through the prism of each individual athlete and look a little deeper, putting his specific workload in context, we will be at great risk of over-reacting on some athletes and under-reacting on others. I just don’t want to do that, and I don’t think you do either.”

At the very least it will be fun to see the reaction.

Until next time,

Stay curious and keep fighting the good fight

Coach Wolforth
CEO - The Texas Baseball Ranch®

P.S. The term “overuse” is quite frankly, in my opinion, overused. I obviously look at things from a completely different viewpoint than most medical professionals. I see most injuries not so much as overuse as I do a case of athletes being under-prepared for the specific stress they encounter at game time.

Coach Wolforth's Specific Recommendations:

  • Pitch count is a valid method of assessing and tracking workloads. Just because pitch counts are often over-simplified and/or misapplied by the general baseball culture doesn’t mean they DON’T have merit. Pitch count as a general tool for monitoring workload is absolutely fine. It’s the over-generalized way it is typically utilized with which I have an issue.

  • “Pitches per inning” is a more important measurement of workload in my view, as innings exceeding 25 pitches are for more stressful than innings using less that 15 pitches. In essence, the total pitch count is less important than the way you get there. Spacing 120 pitches over 9 innings is a far less stressful day than 80 pitches over 3 innings.

  • My advice is to pay attention to both total pitch count and pitch count per inning. Start the preseason with a low pitch count of 30 pitches in your athlete’s first outing and incrementally increase that workload over time – based upon how the athlete responds and feels.

  • Pitch count per inning should always be watched carefully and a vast majority of pitchers should never extend their night further after one inning of 35, two innings of 30 or three innings of 25.

  • Personally, I reject the common perspective of “overuse”. Instead, I believe injury occurs when the specific demands, intensity and/or duration exceed the amount of preparation. Most athletes are underprepared and not overused.

  • Coach Wolforth has written six books on pitching including the Amazon Best Seller, Pitching with Confidence.  Since 2003, 122 of the players Wolforth has trained have been drafted and 458 have broken the 90mph barrier.  He has consulted with 13 MLB teams, dozens of NCAA programs and has been referred to as “America’s Go-to-Guy on Pitching” and “The Pitching Coaches Pitching Coach”.  Coach Wolforth lives in Montgomery, Texas with his wife, Jill.  They are intimately familiar with youth select, travel baseball and PG events as their son Garrett (now a catcher in the Cincinnati Reds organization) went through the process.  Garrett still holds the PG Underclass All-American Games record for catcher velocity at 89mph which he set in 2014 at the age of 16.

    If you would like a free copy of Pitching with Confidence, go to freepitchingbook.com.