Why 120 Feet Isn’t Enough

Release Point

If you have been around baseball as long as I have, I am sure you’ve heard many coaches instruct their young players not to increase their long toss distance beyond 120′. Many coaches will argue that throwing beyond 120′ can lead to improper mechanics and overuse of the arm while also making the case that long tossing does not increase velocity. Hopefully this 3-part article will help clarify some of these statements and assumptions.

Some coaches will make the claim that when a player increases their long toss beyond 120′, they have a tendency to start “arching the ball” and throwing “uphill”, which causes the back shoulder to be lower than the front shoulder, and consequently the release point to be late. Proponents of a 120′ long toss program will insist that throwing the ball on a line keeps the front shoulder from lifting and promotes a consistent release point. This is the major mechanical argument for the 120′ throwing program because the advocates of this theory ultimately think that “arching the ball” will cause the release point to become inconsistent.

Baseball players make throws from different angles and different places on the field all the time!

First of all, if coaches want to maintain a consistent release point, they should have their pitchers do all their throwing off a mound the rest of their careers. After all, any throwing not performed from a mound and at 60 feet and 6 inches from the target would alter the release point right? So, what is the point of of having your pitchers perform 90% of their throwing on flat ground when they always throw from a decline in the game?

The idea that tilting your shoulders causes your release point to be “late” is misleading. Quite the opposite actually! For example, when a player long tosses from 300 feet (as opposed to 120′), they are forced to lower their release point continually as they move back in to 60′ from their partner, thus creating a downhill angle as you compress 300′ in to 60′. You might have also seen pitchers make their first few warm-up throws in the bullpen from the uphill backside of the mound. This is done to force the pitcher to release the ball out in front and get over their front side. This is yet another controversial idea.

As far as the release point being altered, whenever a player makes a throw beyond 120′ they are forced to slightly alter their release point thus developing greater feel and control from different distances.

By keeping the ball “on a line”, shoulder muscles actually experience less range of motion. This prevents the arm from experiencing the flexibility that is gained by throwing with arc at different angles.

Work Load

In athletics, the one thing we as coaches do not want to do is set limits on what our players can achieve. Yet there are many coaches out there whose 120′ throwing programs not only restrict the distance their players can throw but also the number of throws their players can make in a single day by placing a time limit on the throwing session. Ten minutes is generally the amount of time players are given to warm their arm up and prepare for practice. I am not sure who came up with this time limit, but let me explain how these throwing programs limit what players can achieve.

Daisuke Matsusaka threw 103 pitches in his second bullpen session during his first spring training with the Boston Red Sox.

It is obvious to anyone who has ever coached baseball that there are young players who possess extremely strong throwing arms while others do not. So, if every player is only allowed to throw for 10 minutes, how do players with weaker arms build them up and how do players with the strong arms avoid plateauing?

Based on experience through my career, it is evident that when arms are given the chance, the capacity of their workload actually increases and allows them to throw more, not less! Quite simply, the arm will condition itself to whatever it’s capable of producing. For example:

  • 15 minutes of throwing has the chance to increase to 20 minutes of throwing, and 20 minutes to 30 min…
  • 120 feet has the chance to increase to 220 feet, and 220 feet in to 320 feet…

If this logic still doesn’t make sense, consider this. A marathon runner will train his legs to run 40+ kilometres. So, what would happen if the marathon runner was only allowed to run 5 kilometres per day?

Greater workload leads to greater strength. So, increasing the workload of the arm will lead to increases in the player’s velocity, endurance, and intimacy with their arm. A player must know how his arm feels so the more he use it, the more he will understand it. In time, a player’s arm will tell him how long to throw and how hard to push it.

I am a firm believer that the more these restrictions are lifted, the more the arm will want to throw. Let’s use the Japanese as an example. It is not uncommon for Japanese starting pitchers to throw 200-pitch bullpen sessions in the spring, and 90 pitch bullpen sessions the day before a regular season start.

Daisuke Matsusaka threw 103 pitches in his second bullpen session during his first spring training with the Boston Red Sox. He has also been known to throw 300 pitch bullpen sessions while in Japan playing for the Seibu Lions. Despite what you may be thinking of Matsusaka today as you read this article, he reported to spring training with the Red Sox with a perfectly healthy shoulder.

Overthrowing / Overuse

This is one of the most controversial topics in all of baseball, and one of my favourite to discuss. The 120′ throwing program is predicated on the notion that you only have “X amount” of throws in your arm.

For those players and coaches who believe that you only have “X amount” of throws in your arm, well they are correct IF they condition your arm to only have ‘X amount’ of throws in it. This is simply a result of “under training”, and is how a players arm begins to acclimate itself to a reduced workload. Quite simply, by throwing less you are teaching your arm how to maintain this workload, and ultimately, reduce the “amount of throws in the arm”. When you make minimal deposits (through under training) and take large withdrawals out, your arm is vulnerable.

Long toss allows the arm to condition in a way in which far more deposits are being put into the arm, than withdrawals taken out.

At Diamond Dreams, we believe that the more you use your arm (correctly), the more it will produce. If you have ever been around professional baseball, you will know that some of the healthiest arms on the field belong to the guys who throw batting practice every day. Leo Mazzone, the long-time pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves believes in his pitchers throwing more, rather than less.

The idea that there are only “X amount” of throws in the arm stems from a major misconception that we can “get more out of the arm by using it less”. The truth is, the arm responds best by being utilized rather than sheltered. In my opinion, one of the biggest culprits of spreading the common misconception are general practitioners. So many parents will take their son and daughters to their G.P at the first sign of soreness. And what is the advice most players receive? “If it is sore, stop throwing”!

Velocity

The major proponents of a 120′ throwing program will argue that you can’t gain velocity by throwing beyond 120′, and that long toss does not play a role in increasing velocity. I touched on this a little earlier, but this is simply physics. A 90 mph pitch will travel approximately 300 feet and a 95 mph pitch will travel approximately 350 feet.  As you can see, velocity does increase as distance increases.

So a player on the 120′ throwing program who can max out at 75 mph, how is he to increase his velocity if he is unable to throw beyond the maximum 120′? The answer is simple. Increasing his distance to 220′, then 320′, etc. Remember, velocity has a direct correlation to distance.

The opposite is also true. Take the player with the strongest arm on the team. If you bring him back in to 120′, and restrict him to throwing for 10 minutes at that distance, you will see a graduate reduction in his velocity and endurance.

My point is that a player can dramatically increase their velocity through long toss because they are able to tap in to resources in their back, shoulder, and arm that were otherwise dormant. The arm is like a treasure, we can’t be sure what’s in there until we open it up. Maybe there’s 75 mph, and maybe there is 95 mph in it. As a coach, wouldn’t it be nice to find out what we have in our players?

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