This article was very interesting about how to improve mechanic’s and mental approach.
Combining old school with new methods
By Gary Graves, USA TODAY
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — To see Mets pitchers working on their leg kicks almost in tandem for a New York minute, you might mistake this scene for a Rockettes rehearsal instead of a pregame warm-up.
New York Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson eyes Grant Roberts during a bullpen session in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Peterson joined the Mets after six seasons in Oakland.
By Richard Drew, AP
Overseeing this choreography, er, workout is new pitching coach Rick Peterson, who is blending science with an old-school belief that repetitive motion is a key to effectiveness. Which is why everybody from veteran Al Leiter to youngster Jason Anderson is still taking those first steps late in spring training, a routine exercise with one exception.
“The first thing he had me do was try to get my balance with one leg out of the stretch and then do it with your eyes closed,” says Anderson, a right-hander competing for the fifth spot in the rotation. "That’s a whole different thing. You do it with your eyes open and think you have the hang of it, but then he says do it with your eyes closed and you find you have to start all over again.
“I fell the first time, and I’m still falling.”
Fortunately for Anderson and the Mets, Peterson has a track record for helping pitching staffs fall into place. He spent the last six years building the Oakland Athletics rotation into one of baseball’s best, one that had the American League’s lowest earned run average the last two seasons and earned left-hander Barry Zito a Cy Young Award in 2002.
“I know what he can do (because) he did a great job for me out in Oakland,” Howe says. “He’s just a tireless worker and does a great job with the pitching staff. He gets to know each player individually and finds out what makes them good, works with that and tries to improve things if he can.”
Peterson’s “prehab” approach includes traditional ingredients, but his strong belief in biomechanics along with cerebral touches set him apart from his peers. Just before spring training he took a dozen Mets pitchers to the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), the Birmingham, Ala., center founded by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, the dean of rotator cuff and ulnar collateral ligament surgery, or “Tommy John” surgery.
Peterson, whose relationship with ASMI began in 1989 while he was pitching coach for the Chicago White Sox’s Class AA Birmingham affiliate, had the Mets don spandex suits with sensors hooked to six high-speed cameras and a computer to record their deliveries. The video and stick figure results have given way to an on-field tutorial mixing tried-and-true methods with Eastern philosophy and a few mind games.
The 49-year-old’s simple goal is finding the perfect motion for each pitcher that increases effectiveness and reduces the chance for injury. Skeptics might snicker about the need for yoga to throw a better fastball, but A’s starters went seven-plus innings in 58% of their starts last season, second to the Yankees’ 59%.
“Where this approach is now and where it was six years ago is light years away,” says Peterson, whose three-year contract with the Mets is a rarity for pitching or hitting coaches. “My job is to educate these kids to not have to throw so hard to be effective. But it’s possible to throw hard without injuring yourself, and that’s what I’m stressing.”
The Mets seem to be listening. “He wants us to hit the glove and duplicate our motion over and over,” right-hander Grant Roberts says. “We’ve had some really good (pitching) coaches, but he’s definitely into what he does and everybody’s going along with it.”
Peterson, the son of former Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Pete Peterson, learned how arm and shoulder injuries derail careers. He pitched four years in college and four in the minors but wasn’t the same after injuring his arm as a freshman. He went on to coach in the Pirates, Cleveland Indians and White Sox organizations, immersing himself in pitching mechanics.
The latter job led him to ASMI, which Andrews opened with the goal of preventing injuries. Peterson was curious about the institute’s technology, then considered futuristic, while ASMI sought his on-field knowledge.
Years studying more than 900 injuries to high school, college and professional players helped Peterson and ASMI develop an individual model for correcting mechanics that goes a long way toward improving a pitcher’s consistency without blowing out his arm.
Through cameras each recording 240 frames a second, the institute analyzes 35 segments of a pitcher’s delivery. It compares where his arm is to where it should be and how his hips should rotate.
Peterson puts the analysis into practice with a mix of throwing and mental exercises. Most popular are his visualization techniques, which literally force the pitcher to prove he can pitch in his sleep.
“He had us throw (in the bullpen) with our eyes closed, that was pretty offbeat. … It really gets you in touch with your body,” says Zito, who went from 23-5 in 2002 to 14-12 in 2003 but pitched a career-high 2312/3 innings.
The unique part is that Peterson honed the approach at the developmental level before taking it to the majors, reversing the usual trend where youths copy their idols. ASMI research chairman Glenn Fleisig says this is where Peterson’s input has helped the institute make its biggest impact in reducing pitching injuries. Results as to whether biomechanics have saved careers are anecdotal at best, but Fleisig says the institute has received enough positive feedback to suggest it’s working.
“It’s not subjective,” Fleisig says. Peterson “can bring in Zito or a minor leaguer and (biomechanics) gives an accurate description of one’s motions. It doesn’t improve anybody; it just helps give data to coaches. We tell them the flaws, and it’s up to them to correct them.”
Peterson has taken it a step further in the majors.
“It’s a triangle,” he says. "One side is fundamental skills, another is physical conditioning and the other is mental and emotional skills, and it’s important that all three are balanced. … Talent does not equate to performance; preparation equates to performance."
Andrews believes biomechanics could benefit clubs that have spent millions in injury and disability payments, but he knows it will be awhile before Major League Baseball as a whole gets on board.
“You’ll see computer science get more involved with biomechanics to teach a young pitcher the proper motion to throw,” he says. “Once you prevent injuries and extend longevity in players, everybody will become interested.”
Learning new tricks
An oft-mentioned theory about Peterson’s success with Oakland is that he had a group of young, impressionable and talented pitchers to work with. He faces a different challenge in New York, where the projected starting rotation features Leiter and Tom Glavine, both 38, and right-hander Steve Trachsel, 33.
Leiter, however, is open to Peterson’s advice because of his connection to Andrews, who has operated on his shoulder twice and made Leiter part of ASMI’s database. His 15-9 record last season illustrates the center’s effectiveness.
It won’t eliminate the need for ice packs after every outing, but Leiter says it has meant the difference between soreness and pain — soreness being good. Besides, there are new tricks he is learning.
“I wasn’t aware of my set prior to my delivery, and he saw that and is working to keep it consistent with every pitch,” he says. “It doesn’t sound like much, but there were a couple of moments where I stopped my delivery because I didn’t do what we were working on.”
Peterson’s biggest mark might be on a group of mid-20-somethings vying for the fifth starter’s spot. Righties Tyler Yates, Aaron Heilman and Roberts are getting his full attention because their careers are at the make-or-break point.
Some still await the video-game treatment; others know the day will come when Peterson suggests that yoga deal. He’ll know he’s gotten through in one way when he enters the clubhouse and sees them sitting on the floor with legs crossed, eyes closed and index fingers and thumbs pinched together in meditation.
They’ll know he’s gotten through completely when pitches are getting over the plate and they’re feeling fresh enough to last nine innings.