Long-Tossing, The Pirates, And The Amateur Draft

Starting pitcher Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants delivers to a Washington Nationals batter during the first inning at Nationals Park. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Things were going so well for the Pittsburgh Pirates, they were bound to catch a little bad luck at some point. High school right-hander Dylan Bundy has told the team not to take him in the draft. From Jeff Passan of Yahoo!:

Prep right-hander Dylan Bundy, perhaps the top talent in one of the most loaded Major League Baseball drafts in years, has informed several teams not to select him because of fears they’ll try to change his throwing program, a source close to Bundy told Yahoo! Sports.

That’s more diplomatic than saying "The Pirates tend to throw their pitching prospects into the maw of some gigantic, weird space-desert arthropod, where they are slowly digested over a thousand years," which is what I would have guessed the real reason is. Passan notes that UCLA starter Trevor Bauer is also concerned with the teams that prohibit long-tossing.

If you don't know what long-tossing is, picture a left fielder playing catch with a someone standing behind home plate. It hurts my arm to think about it, but pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Cole Hamels are huge proponents of the exercise program. When Lincecum struggled last August, Baseball America noted that Lincecum thought it might have been because he wasn’t as diligent with his long-toss (link is subscription-only).

Some organizations, like the Pirates, forbid their pitchers from throwing farther than 120 feet, and some pitching gurus hate the idea of long-tossing. Dick Mills thinks long-toss is an unnatural abomination, the equivalent of jumping out of a window to help your range with field goals:

 

But Pirates prospect Tim Alderson thinks that moving away from long-toss might be one of the reasons he can’t break 90 MPH any more, and Baseball Prospectus just interviewed Allan Jaeger, who is a huge advocate of long-toss, getting a lot of his students to throw from as far as 360 feet, which is farther than Emilio Bonifacio has ever hit a baseball.

Two pitching gurus, each with completely different ideas on what long-toss means for pitchers. Sounds like a job for the researchers:

CONCLUSION:

Hard, horizontal, flat-ground throws have biomechanical patterns similar to those of pitching and are, therefore, reasonable exercises for pitchers. However, maximum-distance throws produce increased torques and changes in kinematics. Caution is, therefore, advised in the use of these throws for rehabilitation and training.

So they’re reasonable exercises ... but you should be really, really careful. Oh. I see.

So it will be a while before there's enough research to come to a conclusion, and as more and more pitchers swear by the exercise, there will be more case studies. Until then, the divide is fascinating. It feels like one of the camps has to be right and one has to be wrong -- it doesn't seem like a "medium-toss" middle ground is going to pop up and become the preferred method. Here's hoping that whatever keeps pitchers healthier is the one that wins out.

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