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July 25, 2022

Why I Hate the Word “Efficiency” – Part 1

Strength in Numbers #55

Have you ever said a pitcher has an “efficient delivery?”

If so, I will tell you why you cannot use the word in general terms and how you can quantify “efficiency” to make this determination accurate, meaningful, and, most importantly, actionable. 

In the context of “efficiency,” we wrote a piece a while ago that gives some definitions as it relates to velocity, energy use, and fatigue.

Although, we need more specific definitions, and nothing should resonate more than evaluating pitching efficiency from a workload standpoint.

After all, pitching causes pitching injuries, so throwing less in games can reduce the risk of injury.  Also, fatigue can hamper velocity, miss spots, and induce increased barrel% for rock-solid contact, all of which turn the tables in favor of the opponent. 

I recently talked with Scott Emerson, MLB Pitching Coach for the Oakland Athletics. The dude has been around, but I was amazed when he texted me that the team got a win over the Astros and that the pitcher threw 67 pitches in 6 innings.

The MLB average for the number of pitches thrown per inning is about 16.5, but in this game, his pitcher averaged less than 11 pitches per inning. That’s a savings of more than 5 pitches per inning, and over the 6 innings, that’s 30 pitches that were not thrown.  

I hope you see my point about reducing pitches per inning—but how do you accomplish that? 

HIT YOUR SPOTS BY HAVING A STRONGER ARM

We are in a world focused on velocity. No getting around it.

However, I can imagine a world that can have athletes throwing harder and throwing less, but that will take an understanding of individualized pitch counts and definitely restructuring coaching approaches to be focused on command. 

Take the scenario above…

Let’s say the pitcher throws 90 mph. That translates, on average, to be about 70 ft-lbs of torque on the inner elbow.  This means that the forearm muscles must be strong enough to resist that much load on the ligament with each pitch.

If the athlete has 30 pitches saved, that means overall, the dynamic stabilizers of the elbow (i.e., your flexor-pronator mass muscles) will avoid having to withstand 2100 ft-lbs of torque.  

If those muscles are fatigued from a high cumulative load, there’s no wonder hard throwers are popping their ligaments and why they cannot put their pitches where they need to be and induce soft contact for outs. 

As it relates to the shoulder, pitch efficiency is definitely impacted by the fatigue of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers.

In a recent research study, pitchers lost command due to changes in shoulder abduction, horizontal abduction, and maximal external rotation.

This means for a repeatable release point position you need to have…

  • scaption strength to raise the arm high enough,
  • the posterior deltoid and scapular retractors have to be strong to draw the arm back,
  • and appropriate shoulder balance between the internal and external rotator cuff muscles to load the arm back.

If there’s variability in these positions, there’s variability in location

Elbow Torque Pitching
A 90-mph fastball imparts elbow torque on the inner elbow equivalent to having a 70-lbs dumbbell in hand at the max layback position. Valgus is the torque that opens the inner elbow, and varus is the torque that opposing rotational force resists the joint from opening. Varus torque is an eccentric contraction that is coordinated by the flexor-pronator mass muscles and ligament in keeping the inner elbow closed. The shoulder position is difficult to see with the naked eye through the uniform, but you will know there’s been a muscular compensation when the athlete’s head starts moving further to the glove side.

Many more pitch efficiency influences are not physical, but you can cut down on command inconsistency by having a really strong arm.

That means the release point position will be repeatable, your elbow will have a reduced workload, and the number of bullets per game will be lowered, all of which increases athletes’ ability to recover from high-intensity stretching and explosive contractions and lessen the threat of injury.

Not to open a pandora’s box, but we will talk about biomechanical efficiency next week.

You can get started by understanding how it’s defined and what it can mean to overall health and performance by watching ArmCare FX 5, which will change how you determine efficiency from an analytics perspective.

Lots more on the topic, as it’s the second part of the STRENGTH FIRST-MECHANICS APPROACH that we will introduce in our Certified Pitching Biomechanist course in the making. 

On a final note, I am also praying that arms did not weaken during the All-Star Break. It’s generally the second wave of injuries after the pre-season and can really change the playoff picture for teams.

Pitch efficiency is critical in this case, as the arm may be de-conditioned.

When it comes to how we are using the word “efficiency”, your eyes can lie, but your arm strength can’t. Strength Matters Most!

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