Measuring Progress with a Radar Gun

A radar gun is used in baseball to measure velocity of a pitch, a thrown ball and even other things.

In any event, the common remark that I hear that’s associated with using a radar gun is the phrase … “ to measure progress…”

I hear this a lot in the amateur ranks, when a youngster is either going through some sort of training, or is leaving one competitive group for another, and even placing some sort of benchmark to be compared against later.

In the amateur ranks it’s kind of difficult to use a radar gun for any worthwhile purpose because of three influences that enter into the picture. They are – (1) the growth cycle, (2) the lack of serious devotion to athletic professional training, and last but not least, (3) sustainability.

(1) The growth cycle of a youngster can influence readings from season to season, simply because the youngster is growing stronger and developing. A reasonably healthy youngster who’s eleven (11) should be stronger and throw harder when he’s twelve (12), without a radar gun actually saying so. And even at that, the tempo of growth and strength from youngster to youngster - eleven (11) to twelve (12), will vary based on so many things.

(2) Youngsters grow with a wide range of attention spans, wants and desires. Serious athletic training can be a really a hard sell for many. Besides, the agendas floating around with mom and dad can complicate the expectations of many coaches and add nothing but background issues from reading to reading. Add to the fact that a serious training itinerary for a sixteen (16) year, specifically tailored, is both time consuming and expensive. Serious athletic training for a prospect is around $5,000 to $7,500, for nine (9) months at today’s going rate, and that includes meals, regular physicals, extensive conditioning and so forth. Flipping truck tires, clean-n-jerk dead weights, tossing weighted balls IS NOT, of itself, serious athletic training for pitchers. It’s a five (5) season…. yes five (5) season, training itinerary. Add to the fact that this is a very narrow view on one’s future.

(3) Sustainability is one of the biggest drawbacks for using a radar gun at the amateur level – even in the college. So many things interact with an amateur that are totally out of the control of the coaching staff, or anyone else for that matter, that uses a radar gun to chart and evaluate …. progress.

If progress is going to be a statement or qualification that a radar gun either supports or not, in any way, then there has to be graduations of that progress that the person reading the scales understands and understands intelligently. This understanding is usually foregone in the amateur ranks only because there is not control in the heretofore mentioned (1) through (3).

On the other hand, sign an amateur’s parents or legal guardian to a binding contract that says if so-n-so is not attained based on a radar gun’s measures of this so called …. Progress…, then they’ll have to fork over $ 5,000 to $ 7,500. Now watch the shoe be on the other foot, the coach’s foot that is, and turn the tables around that he will have to fork over $5,000 to $7,500 if this so called … progress…, isn’t reached using the radar gun as a measuring tool.

I’m sure there are all kinds of supporters in one way or the other that support the use of radar guns in the amateur ranks. If I were in the amateur ranks I’d rather focus on things that I know are within my reach to evaluate with reasonable certainty, and leave the other measuring tools to the professionals.

Coach Baker,
I have very much respect for your postings on this website & believe you offer excellent advice. My question is at what age is the radar gun a useful tool? I agree its pretty useless at younger ages other than to satisfy a curiosity or to disappoint most of the time when Jr’s about 10 mph slower than dad thought. By the time these kids get to HS they are measured by the gun be it right or wrong. School has one and all pitchers are clocked periodically. Showcases and camps also measure by the gun. Bought my first when my son was 13. Showed me he had a big jump in velocity from 13-14, much smaller increase from 14-15 & another big jump between 15 to now closing in on 16. Doesn’t change how he prepares but does give him some feedback on whether what he’s doing is working. Unfortunately the reality is he will need to pitch at a certain velocity to continue playing beyond high school (be it right or wrong) & the feedback tells him if he’s making progress towards his goal. Right now he has a goal to hit 90 before he’s finished in high school. Using a radar guns not going to get him there but let’s him know he’s getting closer.

I honestly wish I could answer your question with some degree of certainty – but I can’t.

First off, I’m not from the amateur game and I really have no credentials to say I should quote chapter and verse on how to coach youth of any age. I’m simply not qualified.

On the other hand, I know the requirements of those pitchers who are paid to perform and the many tools that are used to qualify that performance – radar guns being one of them. Therefore, a pitcher who is both matured physically, mentally (yeah right), and has all the support with financial and professional coaching should be expected to have a benchmark that says… “there, there is the evidence that he’s doing well with those pitches in his repertoire…” That benchmark has a velocity rating to it – within a range + or -, depending on the pitcher and his “state” at the time.

Ok, let’s address your question given the paragraph above.

I know high schools, colleges and showcase’s galore, all use radar guns to meter pitchers. These readings are somewhat a knee-jerk reaction to what others do as a convenient means of qualifying the selection process – only because any other process requires a lot more with investing in training and a host of other things by the people that use these devices –radar guns. So, if I were to say, oh… at the age of sixteen (16), that’s a good time to start using these things, I’d be contradicting my last posting about they’re limitations.

By the way, did you ever notice the “WAIVER OF LIABILITY” that you must sign in order for your youngster to play high school baseball and/or to attend any showcase or similar event? That’s because these people have absolutely no control over how your son prepares for, plays and conducts himself at these events. It’s that knowledge that these people have …. “no control over your son…” that has them backpedaling like crazy over responsibility for your son’s well-being while in attending their program(s). Now at that point, if it were my son, I’d start asking …”what’s the radar gun for?”

Tell you what, the next time you see a coach or staff member using a radar gun at a tryout, practice, or even a special event – ASK WHY? Don’t be surprised to hear … “ well sir, everyone here hits around XX mph, and that’s our standard-bearer for pitchers at this level.” Don’t look for any sophistication in the responses, nor will you get one. You won’t hear that every pitcher that hits XX mph has a balanced diet, a conditioning program, a sleep management program, etc.

If your son is given a training table (diet), bed checks backed up by phone calls, a conditioning program that evaluates his physical conditioning, a periodic physical by a qualified medical professional, a must attend training sessions with a professional pitching coach – daily, a sleep management program, and finally a signed agreement by you and the program that your son is involved with where serious financial penalties are levied on you for your son not following his training – then a radar gun can be one tool used to evaluate your son’s pitching. Your son will have a benchmark that a radar gun will show for each pitch in his repertoire – fastball, slider, curveball, split-finger fastball, etc., based on all the training and support for him to reach and sustain that benchmark.

Here’s my belief – there is no substitute for a trained eye, seasoning based on a long tenure of successes and failures, observing the individual characteristics of each pitcher – health and not, and a lot of mature reasonability about the human spirit. Now I know I sound out of touch with today’s tech, in fact I admit it.

On the other hand, I use the gun to support what I need to know as reinforcement, reinforcement only.

I sympathize with you in regards to the environment that you and your son are in. Like so many others, you have to exist like all those before you with the scales of economy and those that follow suit like their predecessors.

Coach Baker,
Thank you for your reply & I understand.a lot of what you’re saying. It is true kids today (or kids that pitch) are judged in some part based on the reading of a radar gun. My sons coach did not select any pitchers throwing less than 70 during tryouts proceeding Freshman year. It is a competitive program & coach has had tremendous success for many years. A couple of the kids not.selected had been successful pitching in the local league and were pretty good athletes but they didn’t make the team due to pitching speed or lack of. Coach teaches “intent”; throwing hard is not hard enough. It’s difficult to argue with his results & he had more than his fair share of kids go on to the next level. Reality is certain benchmarks are set for the next level and they are different depending on what level program. Guess my point is kid at least knows where he stands & knows which schools to target based on what speed he’s pitching.

There was no such thing as a radar gun back in the day. My wise and wonderful pitching coach did all right with a good stopwatch. I will never forget the day when I told him about my “whoops” pitch, which was a good deal faster than my other stuff, and he told me to throw that pitch nine or ten times because he was going to time it! He did so, and then he surprised me with the news that I had a fastball. 81, 82, and for a finesse pitcher such as I was, it was a fastball—and a good four-seamer it was too. He told me about how I could use that pitch to set up batters for my hard slider. And then I picked up speed on that slider and it was 86 MPH—and when I used the crossfire with it, it wasn’t long before I lost track of the strikeouts I piled up. :baseballpitcher:

Zita, if you get the chance, try coaching at the 18 and under level. You could pass on so much of your knowledge and reasoning. You offer a “thinking” approach to this craft. That kind demeanor is noticeable to all scouts and recruiters big time.

Pitchers in that age group would listen to you.

In my short exprience with a 14 year old playing JV baseball for an 18 - 2 team, I’ve found that the radar gun is a.) fun to talk about and b.) doesn’t make a difference in whether the kid pitches or sits on the bench.

I’ve observed these are the attributes that makes our HS coach comfortable: 1) consistency in keeping the pitch low in the strike zone and a 2) good curve. Although velocity is fun to ohh and awe over, the kid with the power fastball sits on the bench, wondering if he will ever get a chance.

One of the parents recalled the story of one of the relief pitchers on the team that went to the States. The scouts and recruiters were in abundance, watching the talent from both teams in the State finals. The game got a little out of hand and the little used reliever got to wrap up the game and pitch the final two innings. For the first three years in HS, he sat the bench, watching kids with consistency and a lesser fastball get the glory. From the kid’s perspective his pitching was nothing spectacular; it was what he always did. But at the end of the game, the scouts and recruiters lined up to talk to the kid who sat at the end of the bench and pitched only when the game was lopsided. The kid, at 6’2" 220 pounds, threw in the 90s, and threw strikes. No curves. He wasn’t a finesse pitcher, changing speeds and keeping the hitters off balance. He just came in and threw heat. By the end of the day, he was offered a scholarship. The following year he again pitched as a reliever, getting the leftovers. Eventough he was just a reliever in a HS program, he was drafted in the 8th round as a Major League prospect.

Our HS coach looks to win now. His experience and instincts tells him who has the best chance of winning the game. That’s the guy he going to trust with the ball. The radar only tells him he has a guy throwing 90 on the bench. It kind of like colleges boasting that they’re so selective they’ve rejected 400 perfect students.

My son, who throws harder than all but one kid on the team, sits on the bench. The sophomore, who sits on the bench next to him, eventhough he was clocked at 90 during his last game. Yeah, the had a gun on him. Neither has pitched in the past two months. But the team is winning, and the coach is doing what he’s supposed to do.

So, grab the radar and have fun talking about how fast the kid can throw. But leave the camera and the video recorder at home, cause the kid isn’t going to pitch unless he earns the coaches trust. Our coach wants to win now, and he wants consistency in keeping the ball down, a good curve, and no surprises.

If anyone ever bottles “serious devotion to athletic professional training,” please let me know. I know several kids who could use some devotion. :slight_smile:

I briefly touched on that subject by mentioning:
… a serious training itinerary for a sixteen (16) year, specifically tailored, is both time consuming and expensive. Serious athletic training for a prospect is around $5,000 to $7,500, for nine (9) months at today’s going rate, and that includes meals, regular physicals, extensive conditioning and so forth. All of that mind you, has no promise of being used or even appreciated by any coach or coaching staff.

There is no real “bottle” as mentioned, but rather a time consuming, continuous period of coaching, observation, critiques, evaluations, and so forth, specifically designed for that individual worth bringing along. Also, the dollar figure that I stated above is strictly for an amateur in his late teens who shows the physical stamina and worth to warrant such training. These coaching facilities/coaches are usually not open to the walk-in public … “here, show my kid how to pitch.” These places are reserved for referrals, usually. I should mention that this kind of coaching is not fun, nor is it remembered with any kind of fondness by those in attendance. Hence the selection process and referral nature of process.

This experience can take the form of a college camp, Rookie-League short season, and any number of private facilities devoted to the disciplines. I was part of one of these facilities for one season, and I found the washout rate to be very high and the expectations of those in attendance to like night and day going into the training as compared to what the experience was really like. I wouldn’t recommend this experience for anyone with less than a full bucket of maturity and a hardboiled attitude on life.

We are very fortunate to have Steven Ellis who has seen the process that I’m describing - briefly, here. He can warrant the nature of what I mention and the grit and low tolerance for any failure along the line with … serious devotion to athletic professional training, even for 16-18 year olds in this sport - pitcher or not.