Pitchers have a pretty simple job to do when you break it down to the basics: throw the ball 60 feet, six inches and try to make it a strike. When you look at it in a bit of a more complex way, you have to consider all of the variables, all of the things that make baseball so great. But looking at it quite simply, you’d call me a fool if I told you one of the most important workout techniques is throwing a ball 200-300 feet.
Seems kind of silly when your job is to throw it just a touch over 60.
But the long toss is something that’s present in just about every level of baseball. It’s a drill with one purpose — strengthening a pitcher’s arm. However, it’s a drill that always manages to makes its way into the cross hairs of old-school baseball purists. The problem with long toss is no one can ever seem to prove its true value.
One of the doubters is Bill Conlin, the Daily News baseball institution who has seen just about as many ball games as, well, anyone. Conlin wrote in his recurring “When I’m King of the World” column that he would stamp a Surgeon General’s Warning on the long toss that would read: “Throwing a baseball more than 200 feet on flat ground may be hazardous to a pitcher’s long-term arm health.”
Conlin isn’t alone. But as a “new-school” baseball person myself, I had to defend long toss, and go against Conlin, whom I have seldom had a run in with in the past. I have nothing but respect for Conlin’s blunt style and he is one of the true treasures of Philadelphia journalism. That said, we have exchanged emails for much of the past week, where Conlin has brought up names I had never heard and I have brought up names I was surprised I even knew, to defend our respective points.
But when I was crafting an email for Conlin this evening, I thought of the best example for the success of long toss and the modern era workout style there is. His name is Roy Halladay.
He’s the best right handed pitcher in baseball right now. Maybe the best period. One thing that got a lot of attention in camp was the incredible workout regimen that Halladay has. He arrived every day at 5 am to workout, sure obviously off a mound, but also to hit the weight room and to engage in activities like long tossing to make sure he had the best body for pitching that anyone could have.
He improved his strength and swears that his dedication to making himself a better ballplayer, through a routine that relies on weight lifting and long tossing as pivotal exercises in becoming a better pitcher, is the biggest reason for his success. Does he have a little god-given talent? Of course. Does he need to work off a mound to be a good pitcher? Absolutely.
But the fact remains that he, as well as 99% of modern-era pitchers, rely on these other methods to improve their games. And they are working.
The mere notion that long tossing could actually harm a pitcher’s game really makes no sense. Is it the best solution for a pitcher with poor mechanics? No. But for someone who has nailed the art of pitching (which most pros have) it is a tremendously productive exercise to improve their fastball.
Conlin has a point that 12-year-olds shouldn’t be long tossing, because they’ll burn their arms out and screw up their mechanics, but for someone who has mechanically mastered pitching, long tossing is surely a beneficial exercise. It will strengthen your arm.
It can’t teach you how to throw a jaw-dropping changeup or a cutter that handcuffs hitters, but it can certainly make the good pitchers better, and at a major league level, that’s what you’re dealing with the pitchers who are already good.
The other part of Conlin’s argument is perhaps more valid. Are the modern era workout regimens shortening careers? You can look at Jamie Moyer and say no way. But when you look at the era as a whole, the pitchers aren’t pitching like they used to. We heard a lot about Robin Roberts this week, and for those who are like me, and never got to see him pitch, hearing stories of 17-inning complete games and starting both games of double headers seem so foreign to us. Hell, even a double header is way outdated.
The bottom line is the era is changing. The game has evolved and it isn’t 1940 anymore. Pitchers are working out differently. For a baseball purist like Conlin, sure, the change is alarming. But it isn’t something we can be afraid of. We need to embrace the change not run from it. Long toss is just a part of the ever-changing game of baseball.
It’s a new era. Let’s not hide from it and reminise about the good ole days. Let’s instead embrace it, because like an other era, it’s tremendous in its own way. You’ll never see another 17-inning complete game, but baseball fans from 1950 sure can’t say they ever saw a 100 MPH fastball.