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General | General | 5/13/2021

Wolforth Thrower Mentorship: Article 7

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 seventh 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:
https://www.texasbaseballranch.com/


Jerry Ford
President
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?
Article 6: The Truth About Pitch Counts, Workloads, and Overuse

If you happened to have been on a space mission for the last 50 years and just returned to Earth, you might actually be surprised at how much more velocity is coveted by competitive baseball than let’s say, in the 1970s.

In truth, velocity has always been coveted but with the increased accessibility of the radar gun and technology such as Trackman®, velocity has become identified as a far more prevalent determiner of pitching capability and a crucial marker of opportunity than ever before in baseball history.

It is not difficult to see why. In a playoff game last fall between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays, the average fastball in that game broke an all-time record at 97.1 mph. As a long-time baseball fan who grew up loving to watch Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan, that number is even hard for me to put by head around.

I see no reason to believe anything other than this trend continuing for the foreseeable future.

With velocity development being at such a fever pitch, it is of course common that myths, confusion and exaggerations will arise and young parents everywhere will feel anxious about where their Johnny stacks up for pitching time, college scholarships and draft status. Of course velocity is often, rightly or wrongly, at the epicenter of this discussion.

As someone who has trained pitchers for 25 years and seen 122 of our clients drafted and hundreds of others receive college scholarships, let me offer some all-important context for the parent of the aspiring elite pitcher regarding velocity assessment.

Lesson #1. Pushing for velocity gains during the ages of 8-14 is an incredibly precarious and risky decision in the view of the Texas Baseball Ranch®. Before some of you freak out, let me clarify that we do feel developing a very healthy, durable and powerful arm is indeed an absolutely appropriate endeavor at any age. However, actively chasing velocity and obsessing over a certain radar reading is often a very hazardous enterprise.

Here are four self evident, common sense reasons why chasing velocity at a young age is contraindicated in our opinion.

#1. Scholarships and draft positions are never ever decided at those ages. A few of you may argue, “Well, so and so received an offer from the University of X his freshman year in high school, so you are wrong Coach Wolforth!”

With all due respect, I am not wrong.

While on rare occasions, freshmen and sophomores can indeed receive a ‘conditional’ offer from a school, at the end of the day, it will be this athlete’s performance during the spring/summer of his junior year that will determine if that verbal ‘offer’ actually becomes acted upon or not. The dirty little secret many people may not know (but hundreds of baseball players and their parents are blindsided by the fall of the athlete’s senior year in high school) is that verbal offers are not binding. Unfortunately for some, as this harsh reality plays out, they finally come to understand that not only is their recruiting process not over, it has actually just begun. The parents pain and anxiety is palpable in those type of scenarios. I feel terrible for them.

#2. Physical development is decidedly uneven in those years. I have personally observed numerous athletes that at 12 years of age were already throwing 75-78 miles per hour, which is way above their competitive peer group, only to stagnate, plateau and fizzle at 82-84 mph at 19 years old. On the other side of the experience, I’ve also witnessed numerous athletes throw 58-65 mph at 12 years old, go on to throw it 90+ mph at 18 and advance and pitch in the Big Leagues. As I’ve often mused with parents and players over the years, no one has ever asked me how good I was at 12 years old. Primarily, I believe, because people intuitively know that my baseball capabilities at 12 had very little value as to the predictability of what my skills would become at 25.

#3. Soft tissue is developing at that age (8-14) and very susceptible to injury under high levels of stress. At the very ages where the body is in full growth mode, it is a very risky proposition to at the same time to have high volume, full effort, high performance execution. Yet, I see this almost every week at the Ranch: Young athletes and their parents sprinting to the top of some theoretical ‘mountain’ to get there first. Unfortunately, it’s almost always the wrong mountain.

Placing some degree of stress to developing soft tissue is absolutely warranted. Wolff's Law states that your bones will adapt based on the stress or demands placed on them. When you work your muscles, they put stress on your bones. In response, your bone tissue remodels and becomes stronger.

The body responds to stress. With inadequate levels of stress, there is no adaptation… too much stress and the result often is accommodation and/or injury. The question always comes down to dosage, frequency and duration of that stress. (More on this important distinction in future lessons).

#4. In the obsessive hunt for velocity, the following four crucial variables to advancement get overlooked or obscured by what number happens to flash on the radar screen.

Pain - As I’ve eluded to before in this PG series, if the athlete has chronic/acute pain or discomfort to his arm, elbow or shoulder, reducing or eliminating that pain must become our primary focus. Almost nothing can be attained let alone sustained without health and durability. It is common for athletes to come to the Ranch and tell us their primary objective is to gain velocity. After we identify regular, limiting pain, we then make the strong recommendation that arm health and durability comes before velocity enhancement. After the arm and body are robust, then and only then will our efforts toward velocity enhancement have its best chance to bear fruit.

Recovery - As I’ve also eluded to earlier, if we have considerable swings in velocity and/or consistency in performance, we almost assuredly have a recovery issue. And like with pain, almost nothing can be attained or sustained without high levels of recovery. It is also common for athletes to come to the Ranch seeking velocity but with unsatisfactory levels of recovery. We then make the strong recommendation that recovery must come before velocity enhancement.

Command - We often muse at the Ranch that while velocity may afford us opportunities to show our abilities, it will be command that allows us to keep pitching in competition. Pitching in baseball games is not the same as trying to hit a big number on the radar gun and win a teddy bear for our girl at the carnival. Pitching successfully in competition on a regular basis is about far more than just your radar readings. The sooner we realize this the better off we will be.

Stuff/Spin/Deception - To advance in levels of competition, it is imperative that we have developed swing-and-miss capabilities. There are hundreds of young men who threw hard enough on the radar gun to stay in professional baseball but simply did not miss enough barrels to advance in levels. We have all seen this phenomena play out multiple times over the years in professional baseball: The pitcher who throws 95+ mph but can’t get anybody out. At the end of the day, successful pitching is about avoiding 100% on time solid contact. The swing-and-miss is the epitome of that paradigm.

Lesson #2. When I say velocity is often viewed differently in different areas and regions of the United States, a few people get confused on how a seemingly objective measurement could be viewed from a subjective lens.

Let me explain. A 17-year-old pitcher throwing 85 mph in Kimball, Neb. would almost certainly be viewed differently than a 17-year-old pitcher throwing 85 mph in Houston, Texas, Miami, Fla. or Santa Clarita, Calif.

Because we are social creatures and we internalize competition primarily by those we deal with on a regular basis, this of course happens all the time. Therein lies the challenge. The parents of the 85 mph athlete from Kimball might mistakenly believe their son is better than he might be and the parents of the 85 mph athlete from Houston might mistakenly believe their son is not as good as he might be.

I often counsel athlete’s and their parents to take the long view…to look broader, wider, and deeper. Far too often we get caught up in the moment or the situation and believe the result…either good or bad…means more than it actually does.

So here is how we at the Texas Baseball Ranch® view the numbers per age group:

How Hard is Hard Enough?

12 years of age

<55 mph: You are currently considerably behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity almost certainly will be a primary constraint to your advancement.

56-60 mph: You are currently slightly behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity may prove to be a constraint to your advancement.

61-64 mph: You are on track.

65-69 mph: You are slightly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. Something other than velocity will be a greater constraint to your advancement. How is your pain, recovery, command and stuff/spin/deception?

>70 mph: You are significantly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. We would recommend that you spend your time on something other than velocity.


13 years of age

<60 mph: You are currently considerably behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity almost certainly will be a primary constraint to your advancement.

61-65 mph: You are currently slightly behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity may prove to be a constraint to your advancement.

66-7 mph: You are on track.

72-75 mph: You are slightly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. Something other than velocity will be a greater constraint to your advancement. How is your pain, recovery, command and stuff/spin/deception?

>76+ mph: You are significantly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. We would recommend that you spend your time on something other than velocity.


14 years of age

<68 mph: You are currently considerably behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity almost certainly will be a primary constraint to your advancement.

69-73mph: You are currently slightly behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity may prove to be a constraint to your advancement.

74-79 mph: You are on track.

80-83 mph: You are slightly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. Something other than velocity will be a greater constraint to your advancement. How is your pain, recovery, command and stuff/spin/deception?

>84+ mph: You are significantly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. We would recommend that you spend your time on something other than velocity.


15 years of age

<72 mph: You are currently considerably behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity almost certainly will be a primary constraint to your advancement.

73-78 mph: You are currently slightly behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity may prove to be a constraint to your advancement.

79-82 mph: You are on track.

83-86 mph: You are slightly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. Something other than velocity will be a greater constraint to your advancement. How is your pain, recovery, command and stuff/spin/deception?

>87+ mph: You are significantly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. We would recommend that you spend your time on something other than velocity.


16 Years of age

<75 mph: You are currently considerably behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity almost certainly will be a primary constraint to your advancement.

76-80 mph: You are currently slightly behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity may prove to be a constraint to your advancement.

81-85 mph: You are on track.

86-89 mph: You are slightly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. Something other than velocity will be a greater constraint to your advancement. How is your pain, recovery, command and stuff/spin/deception?

>90+ mph: You are significantly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. We would recommend that you spend your time on something other than velocity.


17 years of age

<80 mph: You are currently considerably behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity almost certainly will be a primary constraint to your advancement.

81-83 mph: You are currently slightly behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity may prove to be a constraint to your advancement.

84-87 mph: You are on track.

88-91 mph: You are slightly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. Something other than velocity will be a greater constraint to your advancement. How is your pain, recovery, command and stuff/spin/deception?

>92+ mph: You are significantly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. We would recommend that you spend your time on something other than velocity.


18 years of age

<82 mph: You are currently considerably behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity almost certainly will be a primary constraint to your advancement.

83-85 mph: You are currently slightly behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity may prove to be a constraint to your advancement.

86-89 mph: You are on track.

90-92 mph: You are slightly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. Something other than velocity will be a greater constraint to your advancement. How is your pain, recovery, command and stuff/spin/deception?

>93+ mph: You are significantly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. We would recommend that you spend your time on something other than velocity.


19-22 years of age

<84 mph: You are currently considerably behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity almost certainly will be a primary constraint to your advancement.

85-87 mph: You are currently slightly behind your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. If not addressed and corrected, velocity may prove to be a constraint to your advancement.

88-92 mph: You are on track.

93-95 mph: You are slightly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. Something other than velocity will be a greater constraint to your advancement. How is your pain, recovery, command and stuff/spin/deception?

>96+ mph: You are significantly ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of velocity. We would recommend that you spend your time on something other than velocity.

Bottom Line: The topic of velocity and velocity enhancement falls just below politics and religion in terms of the degree of angst and heated debate.

It is my hope that our weekly conversations assist you in separating the wheat from the shaft and making the best informed decisions for our young athletes.

Until next time,

Stay curious and keep reaching for the stars.

Coach Wolforth
CEO - The Texas Baseball Ranch®

P.S. Our next topic will cover our Command Appraisal: How ‘Accurate’ is ‘Accurate Enough’?

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.
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