[Nine-year MLB veteran David Aardsma is a semi-regular contributor to Baseball Essential. In his latest article, he discusses some of the challenges of a pitcher fighting to work his way back to the big leagues.]
I invoked my out clause with the Toronto Blue Jays in late May. I had to — my mechanics were off and I wasn’t getting the innings I needed to lock them in. Instead of heading home and relaxing while waiting for teams to call, I got right on a plane and immediately went back to training.
Baseball isn’t something I take lightly. My preparation, work ethic, and increasing knowledge of this game are things I take very seriously. Fixing my mechanics wasn’t just going to happen on its own. It was going to take me focusing on every rep to get this right. Being a perfectionist with my work is both a blessing and a curse; it has helped me play many years in the big leagues, but there are never enough reps before and after games for me to feel satisfied.
I know I have more in me, and I know I have what it takes to be a big leaguer again. My desire to play this game is stronger than it has ever been. And because of this desire, I’m not enjoying time with my family on a beach somewhere. Instead, I’m sweating my ass off in a gym in Covington, Louisiana, working to get back.
Back to my out clause. I had to take it — there was no other choice. Something felt off; my off-speed wasn’t as sharp as it should be, and I never felt consistent with my fastball. My throwing partner hated every minute of playing catch with me. Almost every pitch I threw felt different than the last, and the next without a doubt would be just as unpredictable. It’s extremely difficult to be confident in a situation like that. But what was wrong?
In 2015 with the Atlanta Braves, I had a career low BB/9 of 4.1, but with the Buffalo Bisons this season I was working at a rate of 5.9 BB/9 — an increase of almost two walks per game! What the hell was going on? I killed it this offseason. I’m bigger, faster, stronger, and more mobile than ever. But when I threw a ball, none of it was syncing up.
Given enough time I would have figured it out in Buffalo. In fact, in the back of my mind I already knew what was wrong. But I needed the reps to get it right, and attempting to do so in Buffalo would have been difficult, to say the least. I knew that to save my season I needed to do the last thing I wanted to do: take my out clause and fix my mechanics.
The problem with my mechanics was actually pretty simple. I got a lot stronger and more mobile in the offseason, but I forgot one of the key concepts in pitching: Have a firm, strong, closed front side. I had gotten into the habit of using all my power too early, causing me to slowly fly open more and more with that front side. By flying open I felt more powerful, but the reality of pitching is it makes you more and more inconsistent as you try to pitch with this huge deficiency in the mechanics. You can be as strong or as powerful as a horse, but if the kinetic chain doesn’t sync, up you won’t be using any of that power.
That was my problem.
The answers to all of my mechanical flaws were in the biomechanics.
While the reason for my inconsistencies are pretty simple in concept, discovering them takes a good understanding of the biomechanics of pitching. Down in Covington lives Brent Pourciau, the owner of TopVelocity.net. In 2014, I was at a crossroads in my career. I was struggling with velocity and a torn adductor and was searching for some answers. I had become completely rotational, slow, and inconsistent.
I wasn’t always like this. For most of my career, I used my body — especially my lower half — to generate my upper-90s fastball. But in 2014, I was using all arm to throw the ball and my velocity was the slowest it has ever been. I could leave the game like many of my teammates, or keep fighting.
I found Brent by searching through videos of pitchers online. Brent’s knowledge of pitching, especially the biomechanics of a pitcher, stood out to me immediately. I always loved studying pitching and watching pitchers. Whenever I get the chance, I will sit behind a pitcher and watch their bullpens. I’m always asking questions and constantly annoying pitching coaches by listening in on their conversations with other pitchers. The more I can learn about other pitchers, the more I learn about myself. And after listening to Pourciau’s analysis, I knew I had a lot more I could learn about pitching, which could in turn rejuvenate my career.
While spending most of the next two offseasons in Covington with Brent, my knowledge of pitching has grown immensely. We have completely changed how I train and how I see the game of baseball. By incorporating Olympic lifts, I have become stronger, more powerful, and more mobile than ever. And by completely overhauling my mechanics, I have become healthier and even gained velocity on my fast ball.
More importantly, I have learned how to see pitching biomechanically. I watch other pitchers and immediately understand how their kinetic chain works and what makes them good at what they do. This knowledge is by far the most important thing I learned with Brent. I can watch my video or throw a ball and immediately understand how it all works together. More importantly, I can understand how to fix problems.
Performing biomechanical analysis is exactly how we found the problems in my mechanics this season. And now, with a solid understanding of what is wrong, we are moving forward to fixing it.
I have already made huge strides in becoming more firm, strong, and dynamic with my front leg. Performing drills every day and constantly having video of almost every rep of my bullpens, we are seeing the fruits of our labor. Pitches are now coming out crisper and more consistent. No longer am I opening up and slinging the ball to the plate. It’s amazing how this knowledge of how my body and pitching mechanics works allows me to constantly keep evolving and getting better and better.
I now know every pitch is going to be a little bit better than the last.
I’m still down in Louisiana training with Brent, but now I know that when the time comes and a team calls, I’ll be ready. Not just with a fastball, but a weapon much stronger: knowledge.