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General  | General  | 5/27/2021

Wolforth Thrower Mentorship: Article 9

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 ninth 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?
Article 6: The Truth About Pitch Counts, Workloads, and Overuse
Article 7: Velocity Appraisal: How 'Hard' Is 'Hard Enough'?
Article 8: Command Appraisal: How 'Accurate' Is 'Accurate Enough'?

Just a quick review of what I led off with last time:

It might surprise a certain percentage of the population who have never been to the Texas Baseball Ranch®, but one of the more common phrases used with our athletes is this…

“While velocity will certainly give you opportunity…

It will be command that will give you more innings in competition…

And it will be creating swing and misses on a regular basis that will give you your best chance at advancement…

And most importantly, having a healthy, durable arm will afford you the only chance for a long career.”

I’m not going to quibble on this one, I’m going to cut right to the chase.

The concept of “Pitch to Contact” is naive at best and a dangerous misconception at worst.

I realize this is going to step on some toes, but I think at the end of this lesson you will at the very least have a slightly different take on the concept of pitch to contact.

The Pitch to Contact Paradigm infers that throwing strikes in competition is sacrosanct (sacred) and that the selfish or arrogant desire for strikeouts may lead to one throwing more pitches, walking more hitters, and failing to utilize the defense behind you.

From the outside looking in, this philosophy sounds very logical…benign even.

For one moment, let’s utilize a scenario that will hopefully guide us to looking at this enigma from a different (and I believe a more enlightened) perspective.

You are the GM of a major league organization. You need to bring up a minor league pitcher to join the staff on your major league team. Which pitcher do you choose?

Pitcher A is right-handed, has an ERA of 3.12, and is averaging 4.5 strikeouts per 9 innings.

Pitcher B is right-handed, has an ERA of 3.95, and is averaging 9.3 strikeouts per 9 innings.

Now, of course there are always far more things to consider than ERA and K% — WHIP (Walks And Hits Per Inning Pitched), BB% (Pitcher’s Walk Percentage), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play), FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), and wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) — just as a few examples. I use ERA and Strikeouts per 9 innings specifically because everyone is more familiar with them, and they help us understand the choice that is almost always made by the GM in these scenarios. (And of course, the financial intangibles of the game also greatly affect decision making.)

I would contend that all things being equal (and I openly admit that rarely are all the other influencers equal between pitchers), even with Pitcher A having a moderately better ERA, the GM will overwhelmingly choose to promote Pitcher B. Why?

It’s quite simple.

If you don’t strike out people in the minor leagues, what is the chance that improves when you move to the major leagues? That answer may not be zero but I’m sure you would agree that the chances are extremely low.

What is the opposite end of the continuum from the swing and miss? That would be 100% on-time barrel match.

By definition, the strike zone shrinks in the major leagues and the hitters are better and hit it further/harder.

Therefore, if you are a “pitch to contact guy” in high school, college, or in the minor leagues…the 320-foot lazy fly ball that you used to induce for an out at your previous level…very well may become a 420-foot fly ball into the water spectacular in the big leagues. The 85 mph rollover ground ball that you lived on often turns into a 98 mph screamer that gets through.

So…What to do? What to think?

In my opinion, we need to rethink and rephrase the concept. Instead of the more passive phraseology of “pitch to contact” …We want to be as difficult to square up with 100% on-time barrel match as possible. In essence, we want to be nasty AND be inside of the strike zone when we need to be.

Our goal should be to be as difficult and complicated as possible for the hitter to predict our location and time of arrival with the sweet spot of his bat.

There are many ways we can do that…

We can complicate that by velocity.

We can complicate that by changing speeds.

We can complicate that by hitting and changing specific locations.

We can complicate that by spins and movement.

We can complicate that by deception, pitch sequencing, tunneling, and pitch design.

And this is the takeaway for you in this lesson:

When we dedicate ourselves (instead of pitching to contact) to becoming a pitcher that is extremely difficult to time up and square up as possible…we will, by definition, also get more swings and misses.

Throwing strikes remains sacrosanct but when our goal changes from preferring contact to preferring extreme difficulty for the hitter to create on time, squared-up contact while throwing pitches inside the zone when required…the dynamics flip.

So then how nasty is nasty enough?

The top SwStr% (the Percent Swing and Misses vs. Total Pitches Thrown) in the MLB last year was Shane Bieber (18.7%) and Jacob deGrom (18.3%). The league average is around 10%.

Who are the all-time best in MLB history in strikeouts per 9 innings?

Well, interestingly enough, 11 of the top-15 are still active today: Yu Darvish, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom are the top-four — all averaging above 10.61 strikeouts per 9. Randy Johnson came in 5th at 10.6, Pedro Martinez in 9th (10.3), and Nolan Ryan in 15th (9.54).

But for today’s high school and college pitcher, these are the standards we use at the Texas Baseball Ranch®:

If you average 1 strikeout every 3+ innings: You are currently behind your competitive peer group in terms of swing-and-miss capability. If not addressed and corrected, it almost certainly will be a primary constraint to your advancement.

If you average 1 strikeout every 2 innings: You are currently slightly behind your competitive peer group in terms of swing-and-miss capability. If not addressed and corrected, it may prove to be a constraint to your advancement.

If you average 1 strikeout every inning: You are on track.

If you average more than 1 strikeout every inning: You are ahead of your competitive peer group in terms of swing-and-miss capability. Something other than swing-and-miss capability will be a greater constraint to your advancement. How is your pain, recovery, and command?

So, the next time you hear someone sing the praises of the Pitch to Contact Paradigm, at the very least it should give you pause.

It is not that our goal should be to strike everyone out.

Throwing strikes does indeed matter.

Inflated pitch counts exacerbated by trying to induce the strikeout absolutely can become a problem.

Generating weak contact is almost always a good thing.

However, I suggest that inducing contact as a primary goal for a pitcher is naive at best. Every time a ball is put into play in fair territory, it has the potential to do us damage.

Therefore, I suggest changing your phraseology and the goal.

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 “The 5 Most Common Mistakes Pitchers Make in Their Training”.

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.