Jeff Mault affirms that the body’s lower half is the foundation of baseball.
When instructing pitchers or hitters at Extra Mile Baseball in a pole barn next to his rural home near Kimmel, Ind., the former college and professional player talks a lot about the important part played by biggest muscle groups.
“I’m a mechanics guy,” says Mault, who had close to 20 lessons on his schedule this week and counts third baseman/second baseman and Wright State University commit Jake Shirk (Fort Wayne Carroll High School Class of 2020) and left-handed pitcher/first baseman and University of Kentucky commit Carter Gilbert (Northridge Class of 2022). “Hips is where it’s at with pitchers. I don’t care about the arm slot. If you can do what I want you to do, your arm will not hurt. Period.
“I had one of the very first ones,” says Mault. “It’s awesome.
“I wish I had it when I was playing.”
A right-handed pitcher and right fielder in high school then pitcher-only after that, Mault played for Tim Schemerhorn at West Noble (the Chargers won the IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional in 1998 then lost 7-5 to Northridge in the first round of the Wawasee Sectional with smoke-throwing Mault and Doug McDonald as the top two pitchers).
Mault got the ball up to 92 mph in high school.
“I didn’t have anything else,” says Mault. “I had a curve that curved when it wanted to. I couldn’t throw a change-up.
“My theory was throw hard in case they missed it. That’s how I pitched.”
“It seemed like home,” says Mault. “It’s out in the middle of nowhere with cornfields.”
Mault grew up on a farm and still tends to chores at his in-law’s place in Wawaka, Ind., besides a full work week as parts/service advisor at Burnworth & Zollars Auto Group in Ligonier and having a half dozen lawns to mow.
Mault was a medical redshirt his freshmen year at Olney Central after a hairline tear was found in his ulnar collateral ligament, which is similar to the injury that leads to Tommy John surgery.
“(Surgery) was not even suggested,” says Mault. “Tommy John doesn’t make you throw harder. It’s the rehab (which for Mault took about nine months).
“The next year was a mental block. I just didn’t feel comfortable throwing hard.”
In his third year at OCC, Mault was back to normal and the Blue Knights won 39 games.
Olney played in a fall tournament at Austin Peay State. Governors head coach Gary McClure was looking for a closer so Conley used starter Mault to finish two games.
Once at Austin Peay State, Mault set the single-season school record with 10 saves in 2003. In his senior year (2004), he alternated closing and starting until he accumulated the three saves he needed for what made him at the time the Governors’ career saves leader.
Springfield/Ozark Ducks manager Greg Tagert offered Mault a chance to play with that independent professional team. He instead went for what turned out to be a very brief stint with the Gateway Grizzlies.
“I pitched in one game and they let me go,” says Mault. “When there’s money involved, it’s cut-throat.
“But if not for that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. Everything works out.”
Mault was released the following year in spring training.
“I worked out with Triple-A,” says Mault. “I was on the field for two hours and got called back in and they let me go. That was rough.
“But I was still going to play.”
He came back to Noble County and worked on the farm then finished college in fall of 2004.
In 2006, Tagert was in his second season as manager of the Gary SouthShore RailCats and brought Mault aboard. The righty went 0-2 in eight games (six in relief) with five strikeouts and five walks in 18 1/3 innings with a 4.91 ERA.
Mault was reunited with former Olney Central assistant Andy Haines in 2007. At that point he was manager of the Windy City ThunderBolts in Crestwood, Ill., and is now hitting coach with the Milwaukee Brewers. The pitcher went 3-0 in 11 contests (eight in relief) with 21 K’s and 17 walks in 24 1/3 innings and a 3.70 ERA before his pro career came to a close at 26.
Jeff and Abbey Mault have two children — daughter Cora (9) and son Casyn (6). Abbey is an Arts teacher at Central Noble Junior/Senior High School in Albion, Ind.
Jeff Mault, who pitched at West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., Olney (Ill.) Central College and Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn., was signed by the Seattle Mariners and pitched in Everett, Wash., in 2005. (Everett AquaSox Photo)
Jeff Mault, a former college and professional pitcher, offers instruction at Extra Mile Baseball in Kimmel, Ind.
Ryan Harber was a left-handed pitcher at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, Butler University and in the Florida Marlins system. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and played five minor league seasons.
He has taken his experiences as an athlete, student and 17 years as a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach at Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Sports Performance (he works out of the Carmel location) to help athletes in many sports, including baseball.
Harber shared his knowledge on “Assessing the Overhead Athlete” at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville as a guest of Greg Vogt.
The pyramid for “ideal athlete” development as Harber presents it has movement at the base with performance in the middle and skill at the top.
“Every athlete should have a wide range of movement,” says Harber.
Movement involves the ability to squat, lunge, bend, extend along with single-leg stability, shoulder mobility, trunk stability and rotary stability.
“It’s everything Greg works on in his program,” says Harber. “It’s everything a strength coach works on.”
Performance includes speed, strength, power, agility, endurance, reactivity and quickness.
Skills are sport-specific, such as working on throwing mechanics or taking cuts off the tee.
“Where we get out-of-balance is when we focus too much on the skills and the performance and not enough on your fundamental movements,” says Harber.
“This movement becomes dysfunctional when you have poor range of motion, or a lack of stability.”
Harber says among his goals is to minimize injuries and maximize potential.
“You can’t make the team if you’re stuck in the training room,” says Harber. “You’re not going to help the team if you can’t stay healthy.
“Your durability is more important than your ability.”
Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from a difficult condition.
“Everything you do in life is managing risk,” says Harber. “You guys took a risk, getting out of the house, getting in your car and coming over here. You could have got into an accident.
“What did you do to minimize that risk? You put your seat belt on.”
Harber says the system as it currently stands does not work in players’ favor.
At 43, Harber came up before travel baseball became what it is today.
There was some American Legion and Connie Mack ball in the summer.
“You guys play 50, 60, 70 games a year right now just in travel ball,” says Harber. “On top of that comes your high school season. Then you may take three weeks off in August right around tryouts for the next travel ball season then you go play fall ball.
“It’s too much. Your bodies can’t handle that at this age.”
Harber says most pain — outside of direct blows or trauma — will seem
to appear suddenly.
“In fact, it’s been building up for years,” says Harber. “Your body is able to compensate and adapt.
“The day that your pain shows up is simply the day that your compensation ran out. Try to start thinking of pain as a request for change. It’s your body’s way of saying, ‘I can’t do it anymore.’”
Harber presented findings from the American Journal of Sports Medicine:
If a pitcher pitches while fatigued, there’s a 36 times increased risk of injury.
• Pitchers lose 6-18 percent of rotator cuff strength after one game.
“Recovery is important,” says Harber.
• Pitchers lose 3-4 percent of rotator cuff strength over the course of one season.
• Throwing more than 75 pitches in a game yielded a 2.5 times greater chance of shoulder pain.
What is the cumulative effect (according to the AJSM)?:
• Pitching for greater than eight months out of the year results in
five times as many injuries.
• Pitching greater than 100 innings in one year results in three times as many injuries.
• Pitching showcases and travel leagues significantly contributed to increased injuries.
• Throwing more than 600 pitches per season yielded a 3.5 times greater chance for elbow pain.
In addressing performance, Harber notes the following:
• The peak age for a baseball player is 27.
“It’s not 18 or 21,” says Harber. “It takes time to develop these players.”
• Typical MLB pitcher is 6-5, 250 pounds.
• Starters 200-plus innings per year.
• Starters throw 3,500 pitches.
• There make 30-35 starts.
• They throw 35 bullpens.
“Injuries are going to happen,” says Harber. “Every pitcher has been hurt, is hurt, will be hurt at some point in their career.
“To be able to withstand that, you have to train. You have to manage that fatigue. You have to recover. All that stuff’s important.”
Harber also talked about the importance the Central Nervous System plays in the whole equation.
“Central Nervous System is king,” says Harber. “It controls everything.
“Without proper motor control, your nervous system doesn’t feel safe.
If it detects a threat it will not give you freedom of movement. It will not let you put force through a joint.”
CNS grants strength and mobility.
“Potential strength is always there, but the brain won’t give it to you if it feels vulnerable,” says Harber. “The brain is always asking itself, ‘Is giving you more strength right now a good idea?’ If the
answer is no, you aren’t getting it no matter how much you want it.
“Your nervous system will only let you go as fast, hard and heavy as it knows you can slow.”
Harber says there is no such medical definition for a “dead arm.”
“It’s the nervous system,” says Harber. “Your brain detects an instability somewhere and it’s not going to let you put force through that.”
Addressing mobility (the ability to move or be moved freely and easily) and stability (the resistance to movement) can help diagnose many issues.
With poor scapular stability, the body locks down the thoracic spine and should range of movement.
When there’s poor core stability, the body locks down the SI joint to find stability/strength.
If there’s poor mid-foot stability, the body collapses the arch and up the joint to create a rigid structure to push off of.
“You were born with all the mobility in the world,” says Harber. “You earn stability and we mess it up along the way due to poor posture, past injuries and faulty movement patterns.
“I’ve got a 7-month old baby at home. He’s like Gumby. I can bend him, and he won’t break. He’s trying to figure it out developmentally.
“I can stand him up and he becomes a Starfish. He locks out his legs and
his shoulder blades. That’s his body trying to create artificial stability.”
During a five-year period of working with youth players while in Atlanta, Harber collected data and found a number of players with shoulder mobility asymmetries with at least a 6 inch difference
between the right and left.
The number of asymmetries went up as the players got to be 16, 17, 18.
“Why?,” says Harber. “More games. The more you throw, the more imbalances are going to happen.”
On top of that, older players are beginning to get into the weight room, lifting heavier loads and getting tighter.
“If they don’t have somebody addressing mobility and stability along the way, they are going to create more issues,” says Harber.
A joint by joint feet-to-fingertip assessment (going up the kinetic chain) includes:
• Foot stability.
• Ankle mobility.
• Knee stability.
• Hip mobility.
• Lumbar stability.
• Thoracic spine mobility.
• Scapular stability.
• Shoulder (gleno-humeral) mobility.
• Elbow stability.
• Wrist mobility.
“Mobile. Stable. Mobile. Stable,” says Harber. “They stack on top of
“When that pattern is broken, injuries happen.”
Ryan Harber, who pitched at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, Butler University and in the Florida Marlins organization, has been a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach with Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Sports Performance for 17 years.
Ristano uses an assessment with his ND arms he calls MMA — Mechanics, Metrics, Arm.
Ristano’s priorities for mechanics:
Establish an efficient/repeatable delivery.
“If you can repeat in an efficient manner we can, hopefully, keep you healthy and put the baseball where you want it,” says Ristano. “There’s not a lot of starts and stops. Once we start, we go.”
“To me, it lacks pauses and slow deliberate actions. Speeding the delivery up is usually one of the adjustments we make before we talk about arm path, hip and shoulder separation and what we look like at foot strike.”
Ristano uses the analogy of riding a bike to talk about funneling energy to home plate.
“I want the energy to go forward,” says Ristano. “If I ride slow and deliberate, I wobble.
“If I ride that line with some pace and stay in control, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to stay on a straight line.”
• Establish dynamic balance.
• Pitch athletically.
“You don’t want to take the venom out of the snake,” says Ristano. “You’re a good athlete and you need to pitch that way.
“The worst label you can get as an amateur or a high school player is the P.O. (pitcher only). It’s the most disgusting verbiage you can have for a pitching coach.
“The game doesn’t go until (the pitcher) decides it does. You start to label yourself into the P.O. mentality, you limit your athleticism.
“We want guys to behave and move athletically and pitch accordingly.”
• Glove in front of chest at release (proper blocking technique).
“We think about breaking the body in half,” says Ristano. “The front side is the steering wheel. The back side is the accelerator.”
Ristano teaches a “shadow sequence” where the delivery is broken down into six phases:
• Low balance. It’s the beginning of the leg lift.
• Dynamic balance. It comes at the peak.
• Hand separation. When the pitcher starts to come down toward the belt buckle.
• Power position/foot strike. Achieve symmetry with the lead and throwing arms.
• Release. Tension on the back side become energy on the front side.
• Finish. This is where the blocking technique comes in. The back foot comes off the ground and front side is firmed up.
In practice, pitchers of drills were they get to each of the phases to test their strengths and weaknesses and gain a feel for their delivery.
“If you want to find where the inefficiency in the delivery is, do it backward (finish to release to power position/foot strike to hand separation to dynamic balance to low balance),” says Ristano. “It’s a little weird. We call it ‘back shaping.’
“Some of these are monotonous, but they can really help if you do it right.”
Ristano also has his hurlers do three core drills:
• 3-pump balance. The quad is lifted three times before a throw is made. It helps to hit delivery check points. Energy is collected. The front foot comes off the ground. It is done at the pace of the delivery.
• Trace/retrace. There is a toe tap, the ball is brought back to the middle and then the throw is made. A trace is made from balance to power to balance. The energy stays over the back quad at landing. At toe tap, the throwing arm should be at peak height to be one time in the release zone.
• Kershaw’s/Houston’s. Based on social media visuals, including those of Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, pitchers doing this drill get to the lowest point in their delivery and pause before they go forward. After that, the front hip goes and the sequencing toward home plate begins. The cues are: Hip, heel, toe, knee.
There’s also a drill that Ristano has called “El Duque’s” based on the delivery of former big league pitcher Orlando Hernandez.
“We throw from the ground up,” says Ristano. “We use the ground to go forward.
How quickly can I get that lower body going and force my upper body to catch up.”
Additional throwing drills (with purpose):
• One-hop drill (extension, release point and athleticism).
• Softball catch (extension and manipulation of spin).
• Maestro (Scap load, hand speed and opposite/equal).
• Weighted glove (stable front side and back side).
• Figure-8’s (hand speed).
Ristano says he has become a real believer in mechanical development via strength and share some statistics.
Reading an MLB.com article from two years ago, Ristano saw that the average height of an American male was 5-foot-10, yet 14 MLB teams didn’t have a pitcher under 6 feet tall.
The New York Yankees had one pitcher under 6-2 and boast five pitchers at least 6-7. The St. Louis Cardinals had eight pitchers 6-4 or taller. The Kansas City Royals were the only team in baseball with five pitchers 6 feet or under.
Of the top 50 pitchers of the last decade, less than five were 200 pounds or less.
“I know you can’t do much to manipulate your height,” says Ristano. “What’s my actionable data?
“I show this to my guys not because ‘mass equals gas.’ But pitchers today are men.
“As you develop, it’s important what training values you choose.
“(Strength and conditioning) is your new modality to get better. Sometimes when you’re having trouble throwing strikes, the key sometimes is not some wild mechanical adjustment. Sometimes it’s just that you lack the strength to be able to execute the highest angular velocity movements — the pitching delivery — that the world knows 100 times in a game and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it.
“You’ll be shocked once you start to hammer the strength and conditioning component, how well your body begins to align even when you’re not thinking about mechanics.
“It works for us.”
Kyle Jean is the strength and conditioning coach for the Irish.
Ristano says that developing the entire kinetic chain is taught at Notre Dame.
A native of Valley Stream, N.Y., and left-hander who pitched at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., certain workouts were not done when Ristano was in college.
“We didn’t touch the upper body,” says Ristano. “We pulled more than we pushed.
“There’s some validity to that to this day still, but we build guys who are big, tough and capable of withstanding 14, 15 or 16 starts if we’re going to pitch in Omaha (at the College World Series.”
Ristano says the earlier a pitcher can adopt this routine, the easier is will be for them.
ND pitchers use many tools including MediBall medicine balls.
Ristano makes these points regarding the value of metrics:
• Quantify what the eye sees.
• Validation of what we already know.
• Seeing some of what we don’t know.
“I know that not everybody has access to Rapsodo, TrackMan, Edgertronic,” says Ristano. “But it will become part of everybody’s development plan.”
ND’s director of baseball operations, who is now Steven Rosen, gives reports to the coaches after every outing and the data is shared with the players.
“What I look at immediately if I’m evaluating metrics is pitch movements (what are my pitches doing?),” says Ristano. This involves vertical and horizontal break plus spin efficiency rates and velocity. “You don’t just track it in singular entities. You have to track it over time to maximize the effectiveness of it.”
As for the arm, Ristano says conditioning is key and that the kinetic chain can break anywhere.
“If you don’t train your body holistically, you’re not conditioning yourself to be today’s pitcher,” says Ristano, who adds a caution. “When you get the benefit of throwing harder, you absorb the risk that angular velocities increase and you become more susceptible, unfortunately, to injury. How many guys throw 100 (mph) now vs. 10 years ago?
“You’ve got to be willing to adapt your training modalities and condition the entire body if you’re going to accept the gift of throwing harder.”
Ristano says low-intensity throwing can build feel for a pitcher.
The coach likes his hurlers to be able to spin the baseball at a low intensity and distance.
“You want to develop secondary stuff,” says Ristano. “Can I pronate from me to you (when playing catch) and still put the ball in your center of mass?”
Ristano says the bottom line is getting people out. That’s the job function.
“You need to learn how to build feel,” says Ristano. “The feel is the deal.”
There must be a time off from throwing.
“A rest period is worthless if you don’t get four weeks off at a time,” says Ristano, noting that time off from throwing doesn’t mean time off from training.
Most ND pitchers stopped throwing two weeks ago and won’t begin again until the second or third week of December. The Irish open the 2020 season on Feb. 14.
Ristano says the Irish long toss and it looks different depending on whether it’s in-season or out-of-season.
In-season, the pitcher is building to his next outing. Out-of-season, they can let it fly. Some throw 300 feet or more.
It’s a two-part phase in long toss — stretching out (aggressive with the lower half and easy with the arm).
Once at peak distance (which varies from day to day), Ristano says his pitchers spend as much time coming in as they do going out.
“I go from aggressive lower half and easy arm to aggressive lower half and aggressive arm,” says Ristano. “I keep those throws at eye level.
“That’s how you build arm strength with the long toss.”
Ristano talked about the progression of Notre Dame pitchers from preseason to season:
• Arm regeneration phase (late October to early December).
• End-of-semester throwing packet.
• Return to campus ready to hit the mound.
• Separation of roles (build up pitch count and get comfortable pitching in relief roles).
A sample week for an ND’s Friday night starter looks like this:
• Friday (pitch live with postgame flush cardio and recovery bands).
• Satruday (optional throwing with sprints, post game charts and lower body work).
• Sunday (long toss and MediBall circuit).
• Monday (short bullpen, intermediate cardio, postgame video review and total body work).
• Tuesday (drills, sprints and MediBall circuit).
• Wednesday (bullpen and intermediate cardio).
• Thursday (optional throwing).
This past fall, the first new Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett, pitchers did not go above 50 pitches per outing. Appearances were prioritized over building up pitches and innings.
“What are we building up to?,” says Ristano. “We don’t need a guy to throw six innings in October.”
After the season, Irish pitchers receive the following:
• Full assessment of performance (see season summary).
• Clear directives on what needs to improve.
• Determination of what is best for your summer (continue pitching, rest, strengthening etc.).
Rest the arm is key for collegians and high schoolers alike.
“Be confident enough in who you are to take some time off,” says Ristano. “The bullets you fire at 15, 16, 17 years old, you don’t know the damage it potentially does until that kid’s 20 years old and he’s becoming a man.
“I’m not laying the arm injuries on the high school coaches because we are just as responsible. We bring guys back on short rest. We try to go to the College World Series. Big league baseball has its starters pitching the bullpen.
“When you’re 16, you don’t need to start Friday, pitch in relief Tuesday and start Friday again.”
Notre Dame emphasizes and charts getting ahead in the count and being efficient.
“We want to get the at-bat over in three pitches or less (A3P),” says Ristano. “We’ve tracked this for four years. We know that with a first-pitch strike, 72 percent of the time we get a positive outcome. When we executive an A3P, 75 percent of the time it results in a positive outcome.”
Ristano offers a final “M” — Mentality:
• Identity (what we want to be, how we want to be viewed).
• Culture (how we go about our business).
“How do we handle our business?,” says Ristano. “From the outside looking in, what would you take away from watching the Notre Dame pitching staff.
“We embrace each guy’s individuality. But we have to respect the standards of the group.”
Ristano says there are three parts to pitching the “Notre Dame Way.”
“We want to work fast, pitch offensively and project confidence,” says Ristano. “It’s very simple. It has nothing to do with our velocity.”
“You do not out-think hitters in the ACC,” says Ristano. “You do not out-think hitters in most of college baseball.
“What do you do? You out-execute hitters. At this level, we prioritize pitch execution over selection. You throw the pitch you want to throw. I call pitches and let our guys shake (off the sign). But, at the end of the day, the well-executed pitch that was wrong is better than the poorly-executed pitch that was correct.”
It’s about developing young men who attack their work with ferocity.
“If you’re ready to go, suffocate the opposition,” says Ristano. “Press. Press. Press.
“It keeps the defense engaged. It’s a thing of beauty when you have a guy who’s throwing strikes. It’s disgusting when you have a guy who is not.”
Ristano says he is proud of be part of the state’s baseball community.
“I get that our locker room is populated by kids from 17 different states,” says Ristano. “But, yes, we have to do a really, really good job in the state of Indiana
“(Notre Dame is) a unique place that has unique standards aside from whether or not you can play.”
Ristano encourages coaches to “be a thief.”
“Learn something from everybody,” says Ristano, who still repeats ideas he heard at his first coaches clinic from Oklahoma City University head coach Denney Crabaugh. “Be willing to share and ask questions. Ego is the enemy.
“Be confident in what you do. We’re not all right and we’re not all wrong. What we do works for us.
“If you’re not comfortable teaching it, it makes it really hard to get buy-in from your players.”
Ristano says great pitchers think:
• 9 vs. 1 mentality.
“The deck is stacked in your favor as a pitcher,” says Ristano.
• Focus on what they can control.
• Embrace pressure situations.
• One pitch at a time mentality.
• Focus on solutions over problems.
• Embrace competition and don’t use how they feel/mechanics as a crutch.
These are the conduct standards at Notre Dame:
• Best effort in everything that you do.
• Bring energy. Also be vigilant against those who suck the energy out of us (gravity vs. energy).
“We don’t want the gravity to pull us down, we want the energy to pull us up,” says Ristano. “Are you a fountain or a drain?”
• Expect the best, don’t hope for it.
• Value what you project to the world (body language).
“Have some energy,” says Ristano. “If you don’t have it, fake it. It really matters. Somebody’s always watching.”
• Take advantage of additional development opportunities.
You want to be great? Do stuff that’s pitching-related but doesn’t actually consist of the actual throwing mechanics — MediBall stuff, video review, low-intensity throwing.
• Honest/constructive dialogue between teammates (as well as players and coaches).
“Spoiler alert: Your parents don’t give you honest/construct dialogue,” says Ristano. “At the end of the day, talk your coach. He’s there for a reason.
“What do I need to do to be better. There has to be an element of trust in your circle.”
Chuck Ristano enters his 10th season as pitching coach for the University of Notre Dame baseball team in 2020. (University of Notre Dame Photo)
Chuck Ristano, the baseball pitching coach at the University of Notre Dame, takes an aggressive approach with his staff. He wants them to train and execute with ferocity. (University of Notre Dame Photo)
Chuck Ristano is entering his 10th season as baseball pitching coach at the University of Notre Dame. He is now working with new head coach Link Jarrett. (University of Notre Dame Photo)
What Jay Lehr enjoys most about coaching baseball is passing along his wisdom to pitchers.
So the seasoned instructor has decided cease fielding travel teams — he ran the Aces Baseball Club out of Hamilton County Sports Complex in Noblesville, Ind., for six years — to focus on pitching instruction.
Factoring in body type and age, gets pitchers to repeat their deliveries and throw strikes by starting at the feed and working their way up.
Concepts like ground force, lift (balance point), direction with the hip (center of gravity), hand separation, release point and finish are covered.
“The goal is to have pitchers become their own best coach so they can fix themselves,” says Lehr. “Pitching’s boring. You have to do the same thing over and over again.”
Unlike hitters, who can swing the bats hundreds of times a day, pitchers have to build muscle memory using dry runs and reps without delivering the ball.
“It’s like tee work for hitters,” says Lehr. “You’re no good to anybody if you can’t get anybody out.
“And you need to make reps count. There are only so many bullets. You want a career or a season?”
While the baseball world is obsessed with velocity, Lehr would rather see pitchers who can establish the fastball and locate it.
“Throw 83 (mph) with sink and cut,” says Lehr. “I enjoy that. Hopefully, that will come back.”
Lehr likes to challenge his pitchers to throw no more than three pitches per batter.
When working with a group, he likes to end a session with a competition.
Sometimes, they play H-O-R-S-E.
“The first pitcher throws a fastball on the inside corner,” says Lehr. “Everyone else has to do it or they’ve got an ‘H.’
“You want to try to hit a spot and have a purpose every time you throw a ball.”
At the younger ages, Lehr teaches a four-seam, two-seam and no-seam fastball.
Generally, the four-seamer has glove-side movement and is elevated for the batter to chase it.
The two-seamer produces arm-side action.
The no-seam goes down in the strike zone.
If they can command the fastball, Lehr will mix in change-up grips.
“It’s a fine line to when you start the breaking ball,” says Lehr. “I won’t teach it until they can command the fastball and the change-up.”
For all pitchers, the idea is to upset the hitter’s timing.
This can be done through perceived velocity.
By hiding the ball and releasing it late, pitchers can deceive the hitter.
“It’s all about late movement and command,” says Lehr. “And the most important (ball-strike) count is 1-1. Whoever wins the 1-1 battle is way ahead. You’ve got to trust that process (as a pitcher). Commit to a pitch and finish it.”
Lehr says players should be leery about lifting weights too young and should be getting advice from someone who is certified or holds a degree in strength training.
Lehr was Carmel pitching coach for seven seasons. He was on Eric Lentz’s staff, served one season as interim head coach then was an assistant to Dan Roman.
Mitch Roman, Dan’s son and a Chicago White Sox minor leaguer, is also a Power Alley instructor as is former big league corner infielder and current Philadelphia Phillies fielding coordinator Chris Truby, former Carmel and Notre Dame player Kyle Fiala and former Triple-A outfielder John Tejeck.
Lynn, 31, made his Major League Baseball debut in 2011 and pitched for the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees in 2018.
Storen, 31, first appeared in an MLB game in 2010 and pitched for the 2017 Cincinnati Reds. The Carmel, Ind., resident missed the 2018 season after having Tommy John elbow surgery. The free agent is exploring his options for 2019.
“Lance has God-given ability,” says Lehr of Lynn. “He’s loose and has the same delivery he’s had since 12 years old. It’s clean and simple.”
A move from the first base side of the rubber closer to the middle helped Lynn excel in the second half in 2018.
Lehr plans to meet Lynn and his strength coach this winter in Nashville, Tenn.
“Drew is very meticulous,” says Lehr of Storen. “He was smaller when he was young so he had to learn how to get people out.
“He did not throw hard until his junior year of high school.
“Once strength caught up to him, the velocity came.”
By then, Storen already knew how to repeat his delivery.
“Drew has a knowledge of the kinetic chain and how it works,” says Lehr. “He has has proprioception (the sense that deals with sensations of body position, posture, balance and motion).
Lehr says Pete Page and Bobby Pierce are the men who taught him the love of the game.
Pierce was head coach at Chipola and retired from Troy (Ala.) University.
Jay Lehr is the president of Power Alley Baseball Academy and lead pitching instructor. He conducts individual and team lessons at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind., and at Mooresville (Ind.) High School. He has been working with big league pitchers Lance Lynn and Drew Storen since they were kids.