Today we get a great interview with Mississippi State University’s pitching coach, Wes Johnson. He has been a coach since 1998 and has had numerous pitchers of his drafted by MLB teams.
His specialty is developing pitchers and increasing their velocity. This is something all pitchers aspire to when looking to impress college coaches and MLB scouts on the recruiting trail.
In the interview below Coach Johnson talks about focus/intent when pitching, his challenge to his pitchers when playing catch, the biggest issue he sees with HS pitchers today, how to build lasting velocity and much more!
Franco: What do you tell high school pitchers that ask you, “How do I increase velocity?”
Coach Johnson: The number one thing I would tell them is intent, “What is your goal for strikes?” If we can’t learn to throw strikes AND throw the ball harder, than what’s the point? It’s important to learn to throw strikes while throwing harder. I give my pitchers the analogy of a sprinter. He doesn’t jog to get faster, he sprints to get faster.
And the arm is the same way. As with anything in your body, you continually learn to work efficiently. So, what’s your goal, what’s your intent? Is it to throw it as hard as you can? Or is it to hit a spot? So the first thing we always address is intent. I want you to understand WHY we throw the ball hard. On those days where we’re scheduled to throw hard we have the radar gun out. If you throw 85 to 88 in the game, and you’re throwing a bullpen and you’re 100 percent and you’re throwing 82, I’m gonna ask you why.
If you throw 85 to 88 in the game, and you’re throwing a bullpen and you’re 100 percent and you’re throwing 82, I’m gonna ask you why.
Because where’s your intent? It’s just like a sprinter. Sprinters may work to get faster in the 100 meter. He may run a lot of ten-yard sprints, but he’s running them as fast as he can.
So my analogy there is that in baseball, we can’t always throw 100 pitches as hard as we can. Even in a bullpen session. But we can throw 15-20 every day at max velocity. That’s the first thing we do.
Franco: How often do you like your pitchers to throw?
Coach Johnson: We throw every day.
Franco: Every day?
Coach Johnson: Every day. Our pitcher who threw 60 pitches yesterday. You’ll see him playing catch today.
Franco: What does it specifically look like to “throw every day”?
Coach Johnson: You gotta throw to tolerance. So as they get better, as their arm gets maybe, more in shape, or whatever the term is, when it gets to that point, then they may throw 60 pitches a day and stretch it out as far as 200 feet the day after. So it’s once their tolerance gets there.
Franco: What’s your philosophy on long tossing?
Coach Johnson: I want them to go out as far as they can every day. So what do I typically do out with my guys? I think that varies, but I think when you let them go out every day, this is what you’re gonna find out. Our guys’ low tolerance is a minimum of two days between throwing sessions.
Keep in mind that college is a lot different than professional baseball, because these guys pretty much are throwing every seven days. You know, they throw on Friday, then they throw on the next Friday. Those guys though, they’re gonna get a minimum of two—I’ll have some guys go three—days between starts.
Franco: Where they fully stretch it out?
Coach Johnson: Yeah, and that’s high-arching, it’s not a line. I call it “taking your arm out for a walk” and some guys will walk their arm for fifteen minutes, some guys will walk their arm for thirty.
Franco: Do you always have them “pull down”?
Coach Johnson: No. I’m not a big pull down guy, for multiple reasons. I think I would rather them pull down to a flat…I mean, I like the fact that we go all the way out, we start coming back in if you want to call that a pull down, but I don’t want the ball to start flattening. I want them to work back in and get to a point where we go to a bull pen and throw.
Franco: And that’s when you have your guys let it loose?
Coach Johnson: That’s when we start doing it there. My analogy there is “does a hitter just stand over in the on deck circle and practice and swing the bat as hard as he can? No he doesn’t. What does he do? He gets in the cage, he hits BP.” So I want our guys to be able to throw off the mound as much as possible. That’s their BP.
Hitters hit every day. We can’t get on the mound every day, but we’re gonna get on that thing four times a week. Going back to tolerance, I find that the pull down limits how much we can get on the game mound or the bull pen mound.
I’ve had the privilege of spending a lot of time with Coach Johnson and it’s clear to see why he is one of the elite pitching coaches in the country.
Today’s insight does a great job of highlighting the importance of throwing regularly and the importance of throwing with a purpose.
If you’re looking to pitch at the next level, prepare your arm and body is a must.
Throw with a purpose this week!!!