Tag Archives: MediBall

Taylor’s Gould shares hitting approach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kyle Gould has enjoyed plenty of diamond success at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.

In 15 seasons as NAIA-affiliated Trojans head baseball coach, Gould has seen his teams go 515-291. The makes him the all-time wins leader in program history. His 2018 team won a school-record 44 games. There have been seven Crossroads League championships on Gould’s watch and several of his players have earned all-conference honors.

Gould spoke about his approach with hitters during the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic at Noblesville as a guest of Greg Vogt.

A three-sport athlete in high school, Gould never had a private hitting or pitching lesson in his life. When he structures practices many of his influences come from the coaches he had in sports other than baseball.

“I’ve never approached the game from an overly-mechanical way,” says Gould. “It’s always been through how we develop these skills externally — things I learned playing football and basketball.

“I have this desire to learn, challenge what I’ve learned and challenge what I’ve been taught and maybe look for a better way to do things.”

Gould, a 2002 Taylor graduate, says what his players do in practice has to be shaped by what they want to do in games.

Outlining game-time expectations, Gould wants Taylor hitter to:

• Get a good pitch to hit.

• Get on time with the fastball.

• Handle the breaking ball.

• Hit the ball hard.

• Be tough with two strikes.

• Be situational.

What does Taylor train this in practice?:

• They are challenged to control the strike zone.

“We’re always praised for taking balls and we always want to have that conversation,” says Gould. “We want that communication (between coaches and players and players and players).

“We want to give them feedback.”

• The speed and angle of the pitches they see is varied.

“Rarely do I throw the ball from 25 feet at 35 mph belt-high, they hit it and we tell them how great they are,” says Gould. In our program — with everything we do — everything and everyone is good and bad not good or bad.

“Because if this, we’ll use a ton of BP variations. I could probably give you 50.”

• Hitters track and/or hit spin everyday.

Taylor pitching coach Justin Barber had his arms tossing breaking pitches while hitters are taking a look.

“We spin a lot of breaking balls off the mound,” says Gould. “I want our hitters in the box, tracking spin and identifying very early ball or strikeout, getting feedback from the catcher. We hit off machines, but we’re identifying breaking balls everyday.

“When I played, we never talked about hitting the breaking ball. If hitting the baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports then hitting the breaking ball is the hardest thing of the hardest thing. We need to be able practice.

“The more you do it, the more it takes the fear out of it. The ball eventually has to pass through the strike zone and it’s learning how to track that.”

• Hitters develop and track exit velocity.

“We get great feedback from HitTrax,” says Gould. “The players love it. It makes them competitive with others. Hopefully, it makes them more competitive with themselves.

• Hitters develop A and B swings and use them daily.

“A B swing is what I used to call two-strike approach,” says Gould. “When I say two-strike approach to our hitters, they took that very passively. They took that to mean don’t strike out. So we changed it to B swing. It gets the point across.

“With B swing there are three things: Choke up on the bat, do not get a hand load and the front toe stays on the ground.”

In 2019, 46 percent of Taylor’s at-bats had two strikes in them.

“If that’s going to happen 46 percent of the time and we’re not practicing that, right?,” says Gould. “Forty to 60 percent of our swings in practice will be B swing approach.

“The most important swings we take are either plus in the count or way behind in the count. I want to make sure that guy’s faced a slider with a B swing.”

• Hitters work on relevant situational hitting.

Gould says the 230-pound 4-hole hitter pounding ground balls to shortstop to him. Neither is the 135-pound 15-year-old trying to drive a runner in with a fly ball.

One drill that the Trojans do in the cage with HitTrax going is for the hitter to face a tough pitch and Gould will ask them to do something with it that they’re good at. Some might be asked to hit-and-run, others to elevate the pitch.

“We just hammer the two or three things we need them to do to be successful and to help us score runs,” says Gould.

What about the training environment?

“It’s what matters the most,” says Gould. “The best thing you can do is surround players with other players who want to develop and compete.

“It’s a common phrase: We’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. For players, most pitchers are the average of the people they play catch with everyday. Most hitters are the average of the guys they go hit with.”

Gould says he believes strongly in progressions not rotations.

“We want to think about going smaller to bigger, slower to faster,” says Gould. “We want to really have a plan on how we progress.”

Ninety percent or more swings are done with an external focus.

“If we’re going to do mechanical work, it’s going to be outside of our drill work. It’s going to be one-on-one. Very rarely, do I pull a guy out.

“I may say go hit five line drives to right-center field and let’s see what happens.”

One thing that Gould is careful about is the less mechanical cues he gives to the players, the more they give to each other.

“They don’t know what they’re doing much less what someone else is doing,” says Gould. “That’s a big thing for us.”

Players at Taylor hit in intentionally selected groups of three.

“I don’t like groups of two. I think it’s too quick,” says Gould. “I don’t like groups of four. You can lose them pretty quick.”

Groups may consist of power hitters, speed guys, older players with younger players or the batting order in thirds.

“It is incredibly intentional,” says Gould. “We’ll tell them if they can not hit with them and not give great effort and attention, I’m going to move you (into another group).”

Gould prefers 1-5 swings per round.

“It is a personal pet peeve of mine,” says Gould. “Guys come in and take 10-12 swings and rotate.

“That is not how the swing is. You don’t have that much time to adjust.”

Something is recorded everyday.

“Development is measured against self,” says Gould. “We only want you comparing your numbers to your numbers.

“Guys are very different. If they start comparing themselves to each other, we’re going to have problems.”

Practices include something competitive everyday.

“If we’re doing those groups right, they’re competing against guys it makes sense to compete with,” says Gould.

In their daily schedule, hitters do up to six things in this order:

MediBalls.

“We’re trying to active the muscles we use to hit,” says Gould. “We’re trying to train good movements.”

• Tee work.

“The only thing that we use it for is contact points,” says Gould. “HitTrax gives us some very good data on where we should be contacting the ball.

“We want them to understand where they hit the ball the hardest. We can sit a tee there and get them comfortable hitting it there.”

• Front toss.

The feeder tosses it flat from 17 feet and is done for things like internal rotation. Plyo balls are often used. This drill is done on most days.

Overhand Batting Practice

Forty to 50 percent of swings come during this part of practice.

• Machine work.

It’s done everyday, including breaking balls.

• Competition.

What Taylor manipulates in practice:

• Bats

Overload, regular and underload are used in different position.

• Balls.

Baseball, plyo balls, tennis balls, wiffle balls, basketballs and more are used.

• Distrance.

A three-plate drill that Gould favors has his hitters changing between various distances from the machine, which can be set to delivery various pitches and velocities.

• Pitches.

Breaking balls and fastballs can be delivered from live arms or machines.

• Person.

Technology used by Taylor:

Hack Attack machines.

• HitTrax.

• Radar gun with display board.

• Overload/Underload bats.

Driveline PlyoCare balls.

• Blast Motion.

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Kyle Gould, a 2002 Taylor University graduate, is entering his 16th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2020. He is also the school’s athletic director. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Notre Dame’s Ristano expects his pitchers to be aggressive

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Chuck Ristano sees it, delivering a baseball from 60 feet, 6 inches is not passive.

That’s why the pitching coach in his 10th year at the University of Notre Dame takes an active approach with his young athletes.

“Pitching development is a fight,” says Ristano, who was a presenter at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville hosted by Greg Vogt. “It’s aggressive.”

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.”

The Irish play in the very competitive Atlantic Coast Conference with a top-notch non-conference schedule.

“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.”

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Chuck Ristano enters his 10th season as pitching coach for the University of Notre Dame baseball team in 2020. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

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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)

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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)