Prospect-ives on Long Toss-ing


The long-toss workout method has come under much scrutiny lately as high profile draft prospects such as Dylan Bundy and Trevor Bauer have come out and told teams that do not endorse long toss to not draft them.  Pitchers like Bundy and Bauer are big proponents of long toss and feature it as a prominent piece of their workouts.  According to this article from yahoo, Bundy and Bauer have told certain teams, including the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates who hold the #5 and #1 picks, respectively, not to draft them.

Baseball has reached a level of specialism players of the 1970’s would scoff at these days.  Young kids continue to do advanced routines and workouts specific to the types of pitchers they want to be.  The ability to recover from injuries and surgical techniques have made injuries less of a concern than they once were.  Tommy John surgery was once considered a career derailing injury, but no longer.  Despite all of this, with all the techniques and all the knowledge and all the talent out there, the window to get to the pros is smaller than ever.  Teams no longer have 4 or 5 years to put into a player before seeing results and if you’re not close to the majors after 2-3 years then you might have missed your shot.  This has put an increased emphasis on the ability to stay healthy.

One way of strengthening a young pitchers arm and trying to remain healthy is the method of long toss.  This has been around for quite a while as a training method but has been picking up steam a lot lately as more and more young kids are using it and are demanding they be allowed to use it as part of their workouts at the major league level.

Long toss is a program by which a pitcher starts at the standard 60 feet away from his partner and throws normally.  He then begins to move back at increments of 90 feet, 120 feet, 180 feet, 250 feet, and 300 feet (although the stopping points of these distances vary per player per program), and making their way back to 60 feet from their furthest point.

The trick is that once you reach the 300 foot plateau, every decrease you make in your distance, you do not slow down your arm speed when pitching.  This causes a few things to happen: (1) when you throw from 300 feet away, your arm naturally stretches itself out, so when that arm motion is compressed to 60 feet you are left with a stretched out arm that is able to generate more arm speed, (2) a player learns to lower and accelerate through their release point, otherwise the pitch sails well above their intended target, (3) piggybacking on point (2), the mind has to learn how to concentrate and finish through a specific focal point which improves their accuracy, (4) the looseness of the arm as obtained at 300 feet, reinforces solid mechanics for a pitcher in game situations.

The best way of describing it is use a fish analogy.  When I was growing up my dad had a saltwater fish tank and we used to go to the pet store together to pick out fish to buy.  This is a much bigger decision for saltwater fish because they are much more fickle and more expensive.  Further, the size of your tank and the eventual size of the fish are important because you can’t pack 300 blue tangs into a saltwater aquarium the way you can goldfish.  It is for this reason that the question was always asked of how big a fish would get.  The answer always depended on the size of your tank.  A blue tang in a 40 gallon tank would remain pretty small, but put the same fish in a 1,000 gallon tank and you have much more room to grow for it and the growth opportunities are there and it can get much bigger.

The same philosophy can be used to think of long toss workouts.  If you stop a pitcher from throwing more than 120 feet, and they have the ability to throw a greater distance, then you are stunting the growth of that pitcher and not allowing their arm to reach its full potential.

This all seems well and good but there has to be a reason that nearly half the league doesn’t endorse long toss programs.  There are a few reasons that teams like the Royals and Pirates are apparently against long toss (although I have heard that the Royals have allowed Mike Montgomery to do his long toss routine in Omaha).  First of all, some of the issues with long toss address the fact that at the maximum distance (and usually any distance beyond 120 feet), players must change their throwing mechanics to get the ball to its destination.  This is in stark contrast to the proponents of long toss who suggest that, when done properly, it can actually reinforce solid mechanics.  Teams worry that long toss causes a player to dip his shoulder and doesn’t allow them to throw the ball on a straight line for the entire distance which might affect how they pitch in a gametime situation.

The long toss debate will rage and rage.  There are no stats to support one way or another and most likely never will.  If a pitcher throws 95+ for his entire career and never gets injured, was this player just gifted or was it because they did or didn’t long toss?  It’s a question that will most likely never be answered.  As with most workout routines the long toss debate is best left up to the individual.  Each players style and arms are different and some may benefit with a long toss program while others may not.  It should not be for the organization to try to force a player one way or another.  Ultimately, the goal of an organization should be to maximize the talent they have and if long toss helps them do that, then they should allow it.

One thing you don’t want to do with bright young talent is mess with their routines and their psyches.  Maybe teams like the Royals and Pirates will allow pitchers like Bundy and Bauer to continue long toss because it suits them best, only time will tell.  One thing is for sure, this issue is only getting bigger and more and more pitchers are starting to use the long toss programs. It will be interesting to see how things play out this year and in the future.