Scott Kazmir- Part 3

The Resurgence of Scotty Kazmir

Part 3 of 3

A lot of people are talking about Scott Kazmir and his return to the Majors.

Two years ago, he was released by the Angels.

At age 28, his career was over, according to many pundits in the media.

So, whenever someone in the baseball community hears that I work with Scotty, they want to hear the story and possibly get the ‘inside scoop’. But I do not have any insider information. I was simply involved in developing the process.

When it comes to Scotty, most people ask me 3 things:

  1. Who did I think was to blame for his downfall?
  1. Who should get credit for his comeback?
  1. Was there an ‘Ah ha’ moment when I knew he was going to make it back?

Here are my responses …

1)      To this day, I haven’t given even one fraction of a second to ‘who’ was to blame. It was absolutely irrelevant, and in all frankness, impossible to uncover in my opinion. Instead I was completely fixated on uncovering the possible constraints or limitations that precipitated the downward spiral of his performance and lifting or eliminating those constraints.

2)      Scotty Kazmir deserves the credit. Period. He persevered. He grinded it out. But if you must have a hero, in my opinion, an unsung hero in this process was a little known assistant strength coach named Kevin Poppe. ‘Pop’ is a former college catcher and caught pens and played long toss with Scotty 2-3 times a week for almost 2 years. Kevin is an assistant for Lee Fiocchi at Dynamic Sports training in Houston and he completely understood the process Scott was undertaking and gave support, reinforcement and constant feedback to Scott about how the ball was coming out. I believe his contribution was critical to Scott’s return. Every great story usually has one or two unsung heroes…Pop is certainly one here.

3)       There was not one ‘ah ha’ moment but there was a definite turning point in the process.

When I decided to take on Scott, I jotted down some notes on both sides of a napkin at lunch.

Here’s what I wrote …

STEP 1. Start With the Pain

STEP 2. Address His Mindset- No Quick fix /Instant Solution….Utilize the Power of the Slight Edge…SK didn’t lose it in a day and he won’t get it back in a day.

STEP 3. Eliminate Major Mechanical Constraints or inefficiencies without altering personal signature

STEP 4. Find a Pattern that Works            

STEP 5. Build/ Restore Athleticism- The Bernstein Principle is either working for us or against us

STEP 6. Develop Feel / Trust

STEP 7. Lay the Perfect Brick

STEP 8. Bang on Your Craft

STEP 9. Keep your Eyes on the Prize.

STEP 10. Steady wins the Race

I’m not going to bore you with the rest of the list but Step # 5 I believe was the turning point in Scott’s training. Once I felt that he had returned to a more efficient and connected movement pattern and I thought his body and specifically the soft tissue in his shoulder and elbow was ready for the ramp up, it was time to push the envelope.

Paul Nyman of SETPRO is a significant influence of mine and several years ago he coined a phrase from world renown Russian motor learning pioneer Nikolai Bernstein and called it the ‘Bernstein Principle’. It has become a guiding principle for us at the Texas Baseball Ranch. The Bernstein Principle states: The body will organize itself based upon the ultimate goal of the activity. In other words the specific intent of the activity is critical as to how the body will actually organize itself to reach its goal. If my goal is to throw a baseball 100 miles an hour, the body will attempt to organize itself to meet that goal. On the other hand if my goal is to throw it to a specific location, the body will organize itself quite differently.

In short, the goal really matters.

Scotty’s patterns had improved but his velocity had not. The Bernstein principle of course is always in effect and at that moment was actually working against Scott. We had to change Scotty’s goal. Up until this point Scott’s goal was to be connected, smooth, rhythmical and efficient. Now it was time to add explosive, electric and dynamic to the mix. It was time to push.

Scotty’s mood darkened and he had a very negative initial reaction to me bringing out the radar gun. I both anticipated and understood his trepidation. Scott’s experience in professional baseball taught him that velocity alone didn’t get big league hitters out. Emotionally Scott was worried that he’d never return to the mid to upper 90’s that he had before his slide down hill and this would just be a repetitive painful reminder of that fate. So I was faced with an obstacle made up of both logic and emotion. That’s a powerful combination. I reassured him that the radar gun was simply objective feedback and that it certainly didn’t predict the future. At the time I was unsure if he had bought in or not. Scott is very difficult to read at times.

His first throw was 82 mph and brought some understandable distain from Scott and a few French words. Again I understood. Scotty is a competitor. I didn’t want or expect him to be happy with 82. I just reminded him to stay on the process. By the end of the first throwing session he was at 86 mph and while it wasn’t Earth shattering, it was better than when he was released by the Angels. Six weeks later he hit 90 mph and he never looked back. Soon he was averaging 90 mph. The Bernstein Principle was now working for him. Flash forward to his start in July against the Baltimore Orioles, he touched 96 and sat 93 mph.

There are some reading this who might say I should have went right to the radar gun. All this assessment and preparation mumbo jumbo is a way of trying to sound smart. I remind you there was a reason Scott went from mid 90’s to mid 80’s in about a year and it sure as heck wasn’t because he wanted to. In my opinion, we had to go through steps 1-4 before we could once again push Scott. Steps 1-4 seemingly took forever…but in my opinion they were absolutely necessary. Everyone wanted it sooner or faster than it came. But God’s delays are not always God’s denials. We needed persistence and patience. Scott somehow mustered enough and I know it wasn’t easy.

There are others who believe using the radar gun in training is one of the very worst things you can do for a player. I would agree with them if the athlete has chronic pain or discomfort, has major mechanical inefficiencies, physical asymmetries or strength imbalances. However, I firmly believe after we have addressed those issues and have developed a connected and efficient movement pattern we must give the athlete as much objective feedback regarding his throwing as possible. It is not enough for the athlete to ‘look’ better or have ‘better mechanics’…whatever that means. Bottom line: the movement pattern must create an improved performance at game time. Velocity can be objectively measured. I find it’s measurement not only helpful but essential in developing world class performance.

In closing, it is my hope that sharing Scotty’s story will help other pitchers, coaches and parents understand development isn’t a ‘thing’ , it’s a process. ‘Mechanics’ are not yes or no answers. For example: There are movements that place the humeral head in a less advantageous position inside the glenohumeral joint and movements that place the humeral head in a more advantageous position inside the joint. There are movements that are more connected and there are movements that are less connected. There are patterns which create greater valgus force on the UCL and patterns which minimize valgus force on the UCL. Limitations in ankle mobility, hip mobility and/or thoracic spine mobility can really limit or impede an athlete from creating the specific pattern he is desperately trying to develop.

As Einstein once said, ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler’.

We all long for the simplicity of yes/ no and right/ wrong answers, but as for human beings we must be careful about making it too simple.

Scott Kazmir is a prime example of that truth and I believe his best days are now once again in front of him! 

Coach Wolforth

P.S. – Just added. New fall and winter dates for the Elite Pitcher’s Boot Camp. Take a look here now before we sell out again 

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