April 28, 2016
MALIBU, Calif. — Pepperdine University’s pitching coach Rolando Garza is utilizing one of the most progressive systems in baseball.
Garza collaborated with Korean strength coach/skill developer Youngjin Yoon to create a holistic, hybrid pitching philosophy that merges the American power pitching culture with Southeast Asian baseball developmental strategies.
Over three years as the pitching coach at Riverside City College under legendary head coach Dennis Rogers, this system produced 10 MLB draft picks/free agent pitching signees.
In 2013, the developmental program produced the most pitching draft picks in California at the NCAA Division I, II, III or NAIA levels, with five pitchers selected.
Moreover, the pitching staff was second in the state of California with an ERA of 2.08.
Garza learned everything he could about the pitching philosophies of Southeast Asian baseball with the help of Yoon and even made two trips to Korea to survey the baseball infrastructure within pitching development.
Garza said that Yoon has been a 10-year skill developer/strength coach in Korea for the Lotte Giants Major League team. He is currently finishing up his Ph.D. in exercise science.
Prior to this intensive study of the way Southeast Asian pitchers are trained, Garza earned his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Cal. St. San Bernardino, graduating in 2010 with honors.
Because of this background, his focus is not only to help pitchers improve and become the best they possibly can be. But his system is 100 percent player and health driven.
That is why so far, no pitcher he has taught with his full system has undergone any surgery.
“I started working at Riverside City College in 2011 and began working with Youngjin Yoon from Korea at that time as well,” said Garza.
“I was working on my kinesiology undergraduate degree from Cal. St. San Bernardino. One of the department heads introduced me to him on a study abroad. He ended up moving to Southern California with his wife and two daughters.”
Garza said it turned into a 4-year odyssey on pitching development merging the American and Korean systems of pitching instruction and development.
“We worked together the first year. Just before our season started at Riverside, we went to Korea together. He took me along to research for about a month the whole baseball infrastructure from Korean Little League to high school, college, minor leagues, independent leagues and Major League.
“It was fascinating looking at all of their developmental models. When I saw the pitching development aspect and their fine attention to detail, I was blown away. We finished the trip and came back. He was a sponge with the information I gave him as well since I had been in the American minor leagues for 10 years. He wanted to know all about power pitching. He explained to me that there are many different ways you can train within power pitching development.
“That’s when we came up with a hybrid approach between both cultures from Southeast Asia and what we do in the western hemisphere.”
Pillars Of System
Garza explained the system.
“We have come up with the seven pillars of our hybrid pitching development. The first is balance, and we utilize proprioception training.”
Proprioception is the ability of the body to determine where every part is positioned at any given time.
It is almost like the athlete has a subconscious internal computer complementing his conscious effort to stabilize everything whether you are moving or standing still.
This internal mechanism triggers muscles to contract and relax to fit the situation. Proprioception helps athletes perform better in sports and also avoid injuries.
“In the context of what we were doing, it is fine muscle movements training to help repeat the delivery,” said Garza.
“We call them pitching functional movements. For example, working on your balance position and holding it for 15-20 seconds or holding the extension or release point in the delivery for 15-20 seconds. We also have different range of motion drills to create stability and repeatability in the delivery. The end goal would be to throw more strikes.
“Our pitchers also do a lot of work on balance beams to help with pitch direction. We also use the beams for body control, keeping their head on line and holding different pitching functional movements throughout the delivery. The purpose of the balance beam creates a foundation of direction and enhances body control throughout the delivery. We hit a lot of pitching functional movements from a mechanical standpoint on the beam.
“Pitchers learn how to center their body and keep moving in space so they learn a repeatable delivery that is efficient pitch to pitch. How many pitchers do you see out there who fly open and step off target from home plate or throw with a closed front side? They are all over the place. The balance beam helps tremendously with these issues.
“Our balance beams are about 12 feet long, 10-12 inches wide and about eight inches off the ground. We have had our balance beams fabricated with aluminum so they will last a long time. They are powder coated so they won’t rust and are light enough they can be moved easily.
“Some beams that are out there are a bit too small in width for me where it causes the pitcher to fall off easily. Ours is wide enough that the pitcher can control his body on it. Yet if he opens up too quickly and steps too far to the side or is too closed and doesn’t step toward the target, he will fall off.
“When pitchers are on the beam, they utilize dynamic pitching movements where they move properly through space without throwing balls. Once they feel proper movements they should have in their mechanics, they can duplicate it in bullpens and in games.
“We also work on stride length for pitchers on the beam as well. Some guys are a little shorter and some longer. Whatever works for their body, that’s what we will do. People have different hip mobility, shoulder mobility and things of this nature. So whatever works for them is what we focus on. Everyone is different. We focus on a sustainable and repeatable stride length for each pitcher.”
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The rest of the article delves into symmetrical training, flexibility, quick twitch and explosion, mind and body along with training focus and clarity as strike percentages increase. Plus, he explains how this unique hybrid system utilizing the best of USA and Southeast Asian development programs keep pitchers healthy.