Editor's Note: How do you manage a youth baseball pitcher? Some programs have limits on the number of innings a kid can pitch in a week or a tournament with required rest depending on the number of innings pitched. There is a movement in youth baseball to using pitch counts instead of innings pitched. The concept is the same, but the thinking is the actual pitch count is a more accuate measure of the stress pitching puts on a player's arm. In the Clubhouse today, is UVA Pitching Coach Karl Kuhn talking pitch counts and drills to help protect our young pitchers' arms. Why listen to Coach Kuhn? In 16 years he has not had one arm injury on his pitching staff plus the '10 AAC pitcher of the year, Danny Hultzen. Watch the show and learn his secrets. If you like today’s show, click on our “subscribe and share” tab in the menu at the top of the page and share CHG with your friends and family.
Casey: So you think you know everything there is to know about coaching pitchers in 11 and 12 year old baseball. Well you may not know everything. Today, we catch up with a major division one pitching coach who has not had a single arm injury in 16 years on his pitching staff. It’s pretty good statistics. Well stay tune we’ll find out how he does it right here on Clubhouse Gas.
We’re fortunate enough to be joined by University of Virginia pitching Coach Karl Kuhn, Karl thank you so much for joining us.
Karl: Thanks for having me I appreciate it.
Casey: What we’re going to talk about is these coaches sort of prepare these 11 and 12 year old pitchers to get ready to move to the next level so their working on fundamentals. You as a college pitching coach what are some important things that they can work on with these kids to make sure that they are fundamentally sound number 1 their maximizing their potential and number 2 their not going to injure themselves?
Karl: Well first thing I would like to say before we get in to kind of the drill work is the big thing that really hurts our kids is pitch counts and pitch totals and if we can really get these coaches to understand that. If I could just throw a couple of numbers out at you and hopefully this will help the coaches and the kids that are in your age group that you’re targeting 45 pitches off of a mound. We like to give our kids 72 hours rest. That doesn’t mean that they don’t pick up a ball again for 72 hours, it just means that they don’t hit the rubber again or they don’t get on the mound again.
And the last number that I would like to throw it at you is 100 pitches times that kid’s age is all we’re going to allow him to throw competitively. So if your kids 11 years old he’s got 1100 competitive pitches that’s all that we’re going to give him for that calendar year that’s it. So now he’s going to— hopefully he doesn’t throw a 100 pitches a start at 11 years old but he’s got 1100 pitches competitively so if you can just target those numbers 45 pitches, 72 hours rest or you can get to 100 pitches times that kids age and you can also match it with the 45 and the 72 then I think you’re in a good threshold for the kids in your target area.
And we use at it at the University of Virginia as well 100 pitches times that kid’s age is basically all we’re going to allow them to throw for year.
Casey: At 11 or12 year old does the type of pitch they’re throwing change at numbered off. They’re throwing half those pitches as curve balls does that increase that number?
Karl: Well it doesn’t increase. It lowers the threshold for how many pitches we want them to throw. All 11 and 12 years-old all kid’s aren’t created equal all kids have different strength levels. They mature at different ages so what we like to look at is and mom’s are the best at this. Johnny starts out in a particular posture with his pitching form. If he changes that posture he’s usually doing that because he’s getting weaker or the pitch counts are going up and he’s losing his strength. So he has to recruit from bigger muscles to in order to move that ball forward. Does that make sense?
Karl: So when he changes his posture we only give our pitchers at the college level 5 pitches to fix their posture, if they can’t fix it then it’s time to go we need to shut them down if we’re going to skill session. So with that being said posture being good, if it changes then the number can go up or down according to the kid’s size. I mean if you’re 11 years old and I’m 11 years old you can definitely handle an little bit more than I can because of your strength level, and body type and mine.
So with that being said your posture probably is going to be better than mine longer or past 1100 pitches and with that posture you can take them past 1100 but very judicious because if you’re doing that to me and I can’t handle the work load that you can then we’re putting that kid in harms way. Does that make sense?
Casey: That’s the last thing we want to do.
Karl: No doubt.
Casey: We want to keep the kids safe and you talk about using different muscle groups obviously the biggest muscle group being below the waist. Watching you do a drill that was dealing with the stride and so I would love to talk a little bit about that?
Karl: Well we do a towel drill and I’ve got one right here and we take the towel and we can hopefully get those out of all of the mother’s kitchen’s you know and we can get these drills and it’s very important to get a hand towel and Hilton here was so generous to let me borrow this for today but we want to take it in our power finger which is our middle finger and we want to actually cut that towel in half which will roughly leave about 1 foot on each side of the towel and then we want to go through our motion and do the exact same motion as we would do with a pitch and we’re going to have a partner holding the towel or holding a glove in front of us at our belly button to chest height.
And I’ve gotten this drill, it’s not mine, I’ve gotten this drill from Tom House in the National Pitching Association and they do some great work as well and definitely give credit where credit is due, this is not me inventing the wheel but we have used this for 16 years going on my 17th year being a pitching coach and this drill in conjunction with strength, in conjunction with conditioning and work load levels that we just talked about at the University of Virginia we have not had one arm injury in 16 years, not one.
Not one Tommy John and not one labrum, not one surgery, not one arm injury in 16 years so I attribute to this a lot to this drill.
Casey: So the end game is healthy pitching but also through this drill you maximize your potential for throwing?
Karl: No question about it. Pitching is linear with a rotational component and the towel drill allows you to stay on line as long as you can until its time to rotate.
Casey: Alright we’re going to go through the drill, I’m going to do my best to keep your miked here, you got a partner here.
Karl: Yeah, come on in coach.
Casey: With a great hat.
Karl: No doubt about it. Stand over or sit over there like you were like before and he’s going to be my partner. Basically I’m going to start back here at this little mark which is going to be my rubber, okay and then I’m going to go through my entire motion as a pitcher from the stretch so give me 1 second to do that. So now here’s my motion, boom! So from wherever I land we call it stride plus 5. Your stride plus 5 of your heel toes and now my partner is going to have his hand at my belly button between belly button in chest height, he’s going to have his hand right there.
And usually if you’re dealing with your size kids you can probably use your hand as a dad or a coach but at college level we have our pitchers hold their gloves and they put their gloves on their hands and because there’s some guys throwing pretty hard and we don’t want to break a finger or 2 so he’s going to hold his hand right there and I’m going to go back to my rubber and basically everything that I’m trying to do is to hit his hand with this towel.
So I’m going to show you a couple of bad ones and then I’ll show you a good one. Deal, okay. If you notice on that I kind of pulled my head and we talked about posture. The head is very critical to posture. If put my head to the left or I fall off I still got plenty to reach in but I’ve taken my way, taken myself off of a linear path.
Second problem that we see with young kids is they rotate too soon or they pull their arm back so now we got the head rotating too soon and now we’re going to pull our arm back.
You notice I got plenty there as well but because I pulled my arm back as the instant I begun to pull my arm back I begin to rotate and we want to rotate later so as I said over there before this is 3 and half% of our body weight, this is another 3 and a half percent of our body weight. This is 93 of what percent of what we are. We want to take the 93 to the 3 and half not the 3 and half back to the 93 so now I’ll do it right.
So as you can see I was on line as long as possible. I rotated late, I took my body to my target, I took my 93% to the target or to home plate and I was able to get closer to home plate and rotate later which is basically what as pitcher’s we want to do.
Casey: So we stay under control, we use the majority of our body weight. It helps us be healthy but also helps us be more effective. You’ve talked about increasing the velocity or appearance of your velocity.
Karl: Yeah that’s a very good point. With the first two you notice that we did not hit our target and we did not hit our guys glove and we basically missed between a foot or a foot and half, okay and when we did hit him we actually got a foot or foot and half closer to home plate. One foot closer to home plate equals 3 to four miles per hour in perception to the hitter so the gun or whether they’re going to stay 80 miles per hour but in perception to the hitter it’s now 83 or 84 or it’s 77 or 76.
77 and 76 will get you hit, 83, 84 may get you a college scholarship or might get you in high school ball playing. So that’ is a big swing that’s a 6 to 8 mile an hour swing in perception to the hitter and everybody knows the harder you throw the less reaction time the hitter gets. So you may not be able to throw 90 miles an hour but you can get perceived velocity which is just as deadly as velocity.
Casey: And we’ve seen that in a great career of Randy Johnson who’s 97 mile per hour fastball probably looks about a buck or 5 so he’s throwing it about 3 feet away from him.
Karl: No doubt he is actually 46 feet away from home plate when he let’s go of the ball and that’s—
Casey: The little league bounce.
Karl: No doubt it, very close.
Casey: Well coach we really appreciate it thank you so much this was fantastic. That’s going to do it for us today. We’ll see you right back here for another great edition of Clubhouse Gas.