In 2007, only 35 Major League pitchers were throwing 95mph or better. In 2014, 74 pitchers were achieving that velocity. Today, over 100 MLB starters and relievers throw 95mph or faster. In less than 20 years, the number of 95+mph throwing pitchers has more than tripled. That is a fantastic testament to recent developments in the technology, strength and conditioning, nutrition, and youth sports fields. The game is growing, and competition to be the best is getting more fierce.
Attaining the ability to throw at such high velocities is an exceptional talent. However, throwing heat doesn’t allow an athlete to stand out as much as it used to. It’s almost routine to hear of 100mph throwing high school phenoms each year.
For pitchers, velocity isn’t the only objective measurement that evaluates talent. As technology continues to improve, so does the advancement of analyzing an athlete’s abilities. We can now measure the spin rate on a ball. This refers to the rotations per minute (RPM) a ball is spinning during a pitch. Higher spin rates mean the ball is more likely to move laterally or down instead of moving in a straight line, making it harder to hit. A baseball scout will sometimes refer to a fastball as a “heavy fastball.” A heavy fastball refers to the late lateral, sinking movement on a pitch. This makes the ball a little harder to catch, as the catcher will often struggle to catch the ball in a comfortable spot on the mit due to the late movement. This can increase the pain of catching the ball, thus giving it the name of a heavy fastball. If it’s hard for a catcher to catch the ball properly, it’s undoubtedly much harder for the hitter to hit the ball. A high spin rate is attributed to more swings and misses than just velocity in the higher levels of baseball. Therefore, velocity AND high spin rates are highly sought-after abilities for a pitcher.
How can we increase spin rates?
There’s plenty of research for improving velocity, but spin rate is a new concept, and research is slim. However, recent research from the Texas Rangers has shed some light on how we can train for spin rate development.
It is theorized that range of motion is the key to spin rates and producing “late-life” on the ball. However, the 90 professional pitchers used in the study showed no correlations with spin rates to shoulder, elbow, wrist, and even finger ranges of motion.
What they did find in their study were two factors heavily associated with higher spin rates among their athletes:
- time to wrist extension
- radial deviation strength
Go ahead and sit in a chair with your forearm on an armrest, palm facing down. Lift your hand up using your wrist. That’s wrist extension. Now, move your wrist inward, bringing the thumb towards your body. That’s radial deviation. If you want to improve your spin rate, this study shows that you need to be strong in these two movements.
Not only should you be strong with wrist extension, but you also have to be quick too. Here are the three exercises I recommend to start strengthening these movements. These can be used with a resistance band or a small dumbbell, whatever works best for you.
These are small exercises using small muscles. There is no need to go heavy on these. Start slow, as the wrist and elbow are prone to strains, tendonitis, and even sprains. Ensure proper control is always maintained. Once you develop a good strength base, practice speed with the wrist extension. The study showed that strength not only mattered, but the speed of the wrist extension also improved spin rates.
It’s also important to note that these exercises shouldn’t be completed before throwing. Throwing a ball accurately involves lots of fine motor movements. Intentionally fatiguing muscles involved in that precision would not be wise. Complete these exercises on off days or after throwing.
Increasing your spin rate is perhaps the most powerful tool to achieve positive results on the field. Velocity is important, but even college hitters are crushing 100 mph fastballs over the fence. Developing increased spin rates will give more life to the ball, and will make it way harder to hit. Your catcher may complain about the hand pain too.