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General  | General  | 3/4/2022

Wolforth Thrower Mentorship: Article 20

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 20th 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'?
Article 9: Swing & Miss Appraisal: How 'Nasty' Is 'Nasty Enough'?
Article 10: 5 Common Mistakes Baseball Players Make In Their Training
Article 11: The Truth About Curveballs, Sliders, and Cutters
Article 12: What is Involved in Deep, Deliberate Practice vs. Traditional Practice
Article 13: The Truth About Long Toss?
Article 14: The Truth About Conditioning of Pitchers?
Article 15: Simple and Effective Post Throwing Strategies for Pitchers
Article 16: 12 Common (Yet Often Dangerous) Narratives For Pitchers, Part 1

Article 17: 12 Common (Yet Often Dangerous) Narratives For Pitchers, Part 2
Article 18: 12 Common (Yet Often Dangerous) Narratives For Pitchers, Part 3
Article 19: Things To Consider When Embarking On A Velocity Enhancement Program This Year

Wouldn’t it be great if our pitchers came with a ‘check engine light’ that would flash on before there were serious problems, the need to be placed on the IL or the worst case, for an injury requiring surgical intervention?
The great news is that if we learn to pay close attention to a few key indicators regarding an athlete’s body and his performance, we can gain incredible insight into the status of his health and durability.
In other words, athletes actually do come with at least some degree of their own ‘check engine light’, if we learn to notice six simple signs.
First, let me start with the obvious. In my opinion, no matter how much we pay attention to warning signs and how good a particular developmental system we utilize, we can’t avoid every injury. Human beings are simply too complex, too unique and the outside forces too varied to predict or solve every case.
However, paying attention to six simple signs can be very helpful in reducing injury and developing healthy, durable, consistent, high performing throwing athletes.
As you can imagine, building a diagnostic system for identifying potential problems is a very complex and involved process. In this piece, I’m going to risk oversimplification in order to afford a more straightforward and simple assessment so that hopefully, others can benefit from its potential utility. 
The following is ‘The Pitcher Check Engine Light’ Series of diagnostic descriptions that we utilize at the Texas Baseball Ranch® to help parents understand the methods, direction and urgency of our intervention with each pitcher. 
The descriptions lead us from the most serious and urgent (magenta) to least serious and less pressing (light yellow).

Steady, consistent, reoccurring pain and/or discomfort that impedes normal throwing and requires shutdown or intervention. Pain, tenderness, soreness and discomfort are recognizable to most people as clear impediments to regular, consistent performance over a long season. This issue, in our opinion, is something we should never ignore or regard lightly. It is the primary reason that in May of 2010 we coined the phrase “Start With The Pain!”, and it remains a core value for us in 2022.
Pain is our body calling to us to pay attention…to change our behavior and/or our movement patterns. We gloss over this at our own peril.
Rest alone almost never solves the problem, but ‘rest’ remains by far the most prescribed remedy. But you already knew that.  With arm discomfort being such an endemic part of throwing a baseball regularly at high speeds, one would think that the baseball community would be far better at attenuating or eliminating it. The best I can tell is that we as a collective universe are intimidated by the complexity of the issue itself and have simply accepted the inevitability of arm issues and have relegated ourselves to managing workloads and holding our breath.
At the Texas Baseball Ranch, we reject that model. There are things we absolutely can do and should do, and we have found that this proactive approach to pain and discomfort has positively affected hundreds of young pitching athletes.

Velocity drop of 3+ mph off the athlete’s average fastball during a game before 40 pitches have been thrown. (We refer to this as Recovery 1). A vast majority of parents and coaches do not check for velocity changes over the course of the game. At TBR, we believe that everyone should monitor them and if you’re not, you should start.  If the average fastball drops three or more miles per hour under normal circumstances prior to 40-60 pitches in a game, that is clearly an indication of stress coming from some source and is causing premature fatigue. This is a very important and clear sign of trouble on the horizon. If we identify this phenomenon ASAP, we have our best opportunity to keep it from manifesting itself into pain/ discomfort and potentially something more serious. 

Velocity drop of 3+ mph off the athlete’s average fastball from the previous game or from game to game with normal rest between outings. (Recovery 2) Most parents and travel coaches also really don’t focus on average fastball velocity changes from outing to outing. Clearly most elite college programs do and certainly every single MLB organization does.  The reason is simple. At the higher levels of competition, a 3 mile per hour + swing in average fastball velocity from one outing to the next not only indicates fatigue but almost always forecasts a drop in performance as well.
Again, at TBR, we believe that everyone should begin paying attention to and monitoring velocity changes from start to start or outing to outing.  If the average fastball drops three or more miles per hour under normal circumstances and with the requisite rest, it is clearly an indication of stress coming from some source that is not being mitigated and contributing to premature fatigue and/or inefficient recovery. This is a very important and clear sign of trouble on the horizon.
And again, most importantly, if we identify this phenomenon early in its onset, we have our best opportunity to keep it from manifesting itself into pain/ discomfort and potentially something more serious. 

Stuck on the same velocity or losing velocity over a 3-6 month period while otherwise the body is getting stronger. Simply put, from the time we reach puberty until we are, at minimum, in our early 20’s, the average, healthy male will continually grow in size and strength. Therefore, logically, young healthy throwers should see a regular rise of 3-4 mph every 12 months from 13-22 years of age. Of course, there are occasional exceptions for early bloomers or exceptionally hard throwers, their gains may be much smaller as they are already closer to their ‘physiological ceiling’.  Regardless, the important point is, a healthy athlete age 13-22 should experience fairly steady, incremental gains in velocity as they grow.
If an athlete is growing in size, mass and strength and is not improving or is in fact regressing in velocity over a 3-6 month period, it is a clear indication that something may very well be inhibiting or constraining his development and that should be addressed as soon as it is identified.
Furthermore, velocity stagnation can often be a sign of problems on the horizon and as with all the engine lights described in this piece, if we catch and address this issue early, we have our best opportunity to keep it from manifesting itself into pain/ discomfort and potentially something more serious.    

Regularly missing intended locations significantly high to the arm side and/or significantly low to the glove side. Many of you may be understandably perplexed by this indicator. How can missing locations possibly be predictive of future arm issues?  Where you miss your target, and the degree of the miss tells us a great deal about how the body organized itself to throw the baseball. 
While every pitcher is absolutely going to miss his location from time to time, missing routinely out of the zone high to his arm side and/or out of the zone low to his glove side are indicators to us at TBR that you are probably ‘disconnected’ and almost assuredly are adding an additional degree of stress to either/or the anterior shoulder, medial elbow, posterior shoulder or lateral elbow. 
It can be very helpful to connect the signs of these specific misses with arm pain, significant swings in average velocity or with an unexplained plateau in velocity development. 

Difficulty in developing an effective curveball. A tendency for the ball to regularly ‘pop’ or ‘slip’ out of the hand and an inability to get the fingers to a more effective position at release.
Very much like the previous command indicator, the ongoing struggle to create a consistent breaking ball often revolves around the premature unraveling of hips, trunk and the throwing arm.  This often leads to an earlier launch, making it far more difficult to impart the required spin on the baseball for effective rotation.
Quite often coaches will misinterpret this issue and attempt to circumvent the problem by quickly tossing out the curveball and replacing it with the slider.  While it is certainly possible the slider may ultimately end up being a better pitch for this athlete, we must never confuse symptoms with root causes.
For example: If a golfer tends to slice his/her drives, the quick fix may be to simply aim far to the left and allow for my slice. However, that is not a long-term solution. To score better over the long run, they will need to correct the slice. 
For the throwing athlete, the truth about focusing upon and then correcting root causes instead of managing the symptoms can be even more stark than with the golfer because golfers are rarely at risk of pain or career changing injury. 
All six of these are very likely indicators tied to an individual athlete’s mechanical inefficiency and more importantly, possibly (probably) a challenge for him in attenuating or mitigating the stress created by throwing at full or near full effort.
Of course, there can be many alternative or additional contributors to these behavioral descriptions such as physical asymmetries, deficits in mobility, strength imbalances, contraindicated strength programming, sickness, sleep issues, poor nutrition or mental/emotional stresses outside of baseball. These possibilities absolutely need to be considered and factored into our decision-making process.
However, much more common is that most, if not all, of the descriptions below concrete pain are rarely considered, observed, reflected upon or appraised by the general baseball universe.  And just like the engine light that pops up on your car dashboard, simply ignoring the indicator is almost never a good idea.  This happens all over baseball every single day and yet we are somehow surprised that injury rates to youth pitchers are still on the increase.
The signs are all over the place, yet we ignore them. 
If we familiar ourselves with these six simple signs of disconnection and inefficiency, we have a far better chance at intervening before the athlete needs to take time off or worst-case scenario, he requires surgical intervention.
Just like we as parents train ourselves to look for signs of physical or emotional maladies in our children to avoid more serious issues down the road, I believe, with a little help, we can do that with our throwing athletes.
It is my hope this starts the process for athletes, parents and coaches to look at an old problem with a new set of eyes.   

I look forward to continuing our discussion.

Coach Wolforth
CEO - The Texas Baseball Ranch

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Coach Wolforth has written six books on pitching including the Amazon Best Seller, Pitching with Confidence. Since 2003, 127 of the players Wolforth has trained have been drafted and 488 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 www.freepitchingbook.com.

If you would like to learn more about the Texas Baseball Ranch and its training programs, go to www.texasbaseballranch.com.