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Optimum Performance: There are many predictive factors to determine a young baseball player’s skill level

With Major League Baseball just starting and college baseball in full swing, this is the perfect time to examine the relationship between certain performance variables relative to baseball ability in young baseball players.

The October 2013 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a Japanese study in which the objective was to evaluate how body mass index — a measure of height versus scale weight — along with physical fitness criteria, such as power, flexibility, agility, speed, and hand and back strength were related to the actual performance of young baseball players attending elementary and junior high schools.

Having worked for numerous MLB teams and players, as well as having twice travelled to Japan at the request of Mizuno Sports to teach Japanese coaches my baseball-specific protocols, I am keenly aware of how performance variable like leg and back strength can be important factors to successful batting performance — along with the ability to rotate the hips and upper torso much like in tennis.

The Japanese researchers made the assumption that, “the strength of the lower leg muscles would be a significant predictor in baseball pitching, because it is likely that the lower extremities contribute to the generation of ball velocity and to dynamic control of the body in different unilateral (one side) and / or bilateral (both sides) loading conditions with different stages of the pitch.”

From my own professional experience with MLB pitchers, the legs can represent 65 percent of the pitching motion. A major mistake, which ultimately will take its toll on an adolescent pitcher’s elbow and shoulder, is to reduce the impact of the legs during the pitching motion. In other words, the shoulder was never meant to be the source of power for the pitch. The arm is simply the delivery mechanism.

The researchers sought 164 young male baseball players between the ages of 6.4 and 15.7 years old, with baseball experience, height ranging from 3-foot-8 and 5-7 1/2, who weighed between 42 pounds and 176 pounds. Each player was tested in the following performance tests: standing long jump, side steps (lateral agility), sit-ups (feet held), 10- meter sprint, trunk flexion (low back and hamstring flexibility), back strength, grip strength (both hands), and pitching and batting velocity (on different days).

The researchers determined that, “for batting, the predictive variables were age, BMI, standing long jump, and back strength.” In addition, it turns out that the standing long jump was “a good predictor of baseball performance in both pitching and batting in youth players.”

The researchers also pointed out the importance of flexibility in youth players at lower levels of elementary school.

“For the youngest players (with a median age of 9.3 years),” noted the researchers, “our findings recommend that training should be focused on improving agility and sprint performances rather than working on the development of strength of the lower leg and back muscles.”

While in the middle age group (11.4 years old), “sit-ups, and the 10-meter sprint time was a significant predictors of pitched ball kinetic energy (an objects energy possessed due to its motion), where as weight was a significant predictor of hit ball kinetic energy.”

It was revealed that for older elementary players, proper trunk training — including the sit-ups — were important variables to pitching at higher velocities, along with sprint speed, while in the oldest group tested (with a median age of 13.6 years), 10-meter sprint time was a significant predictor of pitched ball kinetic energy, and weight and standing long jump were significant predictors of hit ball kinetic energy.

Based on my years of experience with baseball players of diverse ages and talent levels, the key to long-term success and a reduced injury potential is to build up the training intensity gradually. Quoting Buddha, “be moderate in all things.”

Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently the fitness coach for Serena Williams, has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. He is St. Charles Parish Hospital’s Fitness and Wellness expert. Contact him at

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