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The day a pitcher gets drafted or signs a professional contract is probably one of the happiest days of his life. Not only is it a dream come true, but he is validated for all of the hard work and determination that was surely a part of his journey.

A major piece of this hard work is of course the process of understanding “what works best for his arm”. Typically, this is a by-product of many factors, including input from parents and coaches over the years, along with many other resources like books, videos and the vast amount of information available on the internet.

But ultimately, if a pitcher is good enough to get drafted, than he has probably spent a great deal of time getting to know his arm intimately well. This would include a number of essential aspects of development, including his Arm Care Program, Throwing Program, Athleticism, Feel and Pitching Mechanics. The net result is that by the time most pitchers are drafted, they have probably figured out what optimizes the Health, Strength and Endurance of their arm.

In addition to this tangible form of discovery, there is also another very important type of discovery – this is what I’d call the athletes intuitive discovery of how his arm works best. It’s an unconscious occurrence in which the athlete learns to self-regulate his development based on the “higher intelligence” of the body. There isn’t a manual or workbook for this. It just happens instinctively. We could simply say that it’s the “innate” part of the athlete taking over, organizing itself to attain its most optimal movements. It’s a very intimate relationship that matures over time.

And finally, there is a third form of discovery that has become very popular over the past few years — “metrics” (data and analytics). This tool of measurement has not only heightened the awareness of how players train, but it has further demonstrated the importance and reality of athletes intentionally getting to know themselves and what “works best for them” on a more intimate level.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors that occur over a long period of time that are involved in this process of getting to know what works best for a particular individual prior to draft day (or prior to going to college). You could simply argue that today’s pitchers have a significantly deeper understanding of how their body and arm “work” than ever before. And it is crucial that this is understood both by the pitcher going into professional baseball, and the professional organization that is about to welcome their new player.

The History and Familiarity of the 7 Day Cycle

In addition to this long and deep progression of events regarding a pitchers Arm Development, starting pitchers also develop a very intimate connection and rhythm with a 7 Day Throwing Cycle (relief pitchers will be addressed as well a bit later). Though this rhythm and cycle of pitching “once per week” may have started, in some cases, as far back as Little League, once a pitcher enters middle school (12-14), there’s a chance that they have started to integrate some form of routine whereby they are developing this mentality of “starting once a week”. And for sure, once a pitcher enters High School (15-18), we can assume that a 7 Day cycle is now pretty much firmly in place for most pitchers.

So for a pitcher drafted out of High School, you can see that there is the potential that they have spent at least 4 years getting used to this type of rhythm and cycle, and for someone drafted out of College, you can add on an additional 1-4 years (based on Junior College or 4 year College). In short, whether it’s “only” a few years leading up to the MLB Draft, or as long as 10 years in some cases (based on starting this cycle around 13 years of age through being signed as a College Senior) you could project that this 7 Day routine has probably been pretty well ingrained prior to being drafted.

Now, we don’t know for sure “what” this 7 Day Cycle looks like for each pitcher, or how long they were on it prior to being drafted, but based on how advanced coaching has become in the past 10 years, the vast amount of resources available via the internet and the significantly increased level of competition, it’s safe to say that the pitchers being drafted today have potentially a great deal of history and familiarity with a 7 Day Cycle.

That means they have probably become very in tune with “how much” they throw on their start day, “how much” they throw on the days after their start and leading up to their bull-pen, “how much” they throw on their bull-pen day, and “how much” they throw on the days after their bull-pen leading up to their next start. This not only includes their throwing distance, throwing volume and the degree of throwing intent each day, but how they Build-Up, Maintenance and Recover from their throwing throughout the week. Not to mention there are so many nuances that manifest themselves as a pitcher adapts and adjusts to what works best for his arm to self-regulate these 7 days. And let’s not forget that there is also a huge mental component to this routine – that players can develop a great deal of mental comfort, trust, familiarity, reliability and connection with what works best for their body.

Lastly, if the pitcher was good enough to be drafted in the first place, you could also extrapolate that each pitcher had to be on a relatively good program in order to stay healthy, throw hard enough and evolve to the point that the arm progressed rather than regressed over the course of time.

The Shock of the Arm: Going from a 7 Day to a 5 Day Cycle

So herein lies the central issue – for those pitchers who have incorporated this long standing mode of preparation, whereby the body has acclimated and adapted to a system (7 Days) that is potentially protecting and promoting an optimal routine — has been tried and tested to get to the point where the pitcher is being drafted – may then, within days, be put on a completely different routine (5 Days).

Fortunately, because Major League Baseball Organizations have made such great strides the past number of years regarding Pitching Development, we also can assume that there is great merit to their 5 Day Cycle. But the problem of course is that the 5 Day Cycle is based on exactly that…5 Days. So this of course can create a number of concerns:

  1. A 5 Day Cycle promotes a completely different approach and rhythm to a pitchers workload, volume, intensity and recovery compared to a 7 Day Cycle. It is potentially in stark contrast to what the pitcher has been built to do, and is intimate with. And it also necessitates that a pitcher throw off a mound twice every 5 days, rather than twice every 7 days. In either case, these two cycles are significantly different on many levels.
  2. Understandably so, you have potentially two competing forces – on the one hand, you may have some MLB Organizations ready to bring their new players into a program that they feel works best for the pitcher in this new environment, and then you have pitchers who are excited to bring in their routine that they are extremely comfortable and familiar with leading up to the draft (as you will see later on, the key of course is that there is a collaboration of the two parties).

Though on the surface, it may seem relatively straight forward to “transition” their new draftees into this new condensed cycle, it can actually be very tricky. For starters, not only does a 5 Day Cycle necessitate a completely different rhythm and cycle compared to the pre-existing 7 Day Cycle, but unless this transition is done correctly (takes into account the pitchers pre-draft throwing routine) you can see where this could be a real shock to the arm – a shock to the system. And in the case that the MLB Organization transitions them in more gradually as to “not” shock the arm, another potential issue may arise – this “decreasing” of the workload on the mound “because the pitcher is entering into a shorter cycle” can lead to a “decreasing” of the workload away from the mound.

This can also work counter to the way that the pitcher has been used to training and conditioning as well because pitchers on a 7 Day Cycle have the luxury of conditioning a great deal away from the mound (i.e. “condensing” the mound workload doesn’t mean it’s proportionate to “condensing” the arm conditioning workload away from the mound). This decreasing workload can thus, quickly decondition the arm and can be a major disruption to what the arm is used to doing from a volume, conditioning and maintenance point of view.

In short, if this “new” integration of a throwing schedule doesn’t account for what the pitcher has been doing for years, it can truly shock the arm (and body), and create a great deal of mental frustration.

How to best Bridge the 7 to 5 Day Gap

After spending over 30 years working and consulting with players and coaches on Arm Development and Throwing Routines, I feel strongly that there are 4 keys that will help High School and College pitcher’s transition into professional baseball, positioned to thrive.

Recommendation #1 — Maintain their 7 Day Cycle for year 1

An assist to Baseball America’s JJ Cooper for this — If a pitcher is deeply rooted in the rhythm and flow of a 7 Day cycle, let’s keep him there for a year. This not only avoids the “shocking” of the arm to a brand new schedule, but it also gives the coaching staff an opportunity to evaluate and see what works best for the pitcher on his 7 Day Cycle. They can use this time to not only get to know the pitcher, but use this information going forward to collaborate and share ideas (as opposed to by-passing this stage and putting the pitcher on a 5, or even 6 Day Cycle). It also allows the pitcher to have a buffer to stay in a comfort zone and adapt to the potential lengthier season, and increase in innings. Lastly, and as important as anything, because they are able to maintain the familiarity and rhythm of their 7 Day Cycle, they can continue to use these 2 extra days to train and get stronger during this first transitional year.

Recommendation #2 – Transition from 7 Day to 6 Day Cycle after year 1

Once the first year is completed, and the pitcher has had the opportunity to “stay on the program that he is most comfortable and familiar with”, he can more easily be weaned off from a 7 Day to a 6 Day Cycle. This small, incremental adjustment is not only more manageable, but it allows the pitcher to make a smooth transition into year two without, again, shocking the arm.

Recommendation #3 – Stay on 6 Day Cycle

As you will see in the sidebar below, I believe strongly that for several reasons, pitchers should generally be on a 6 Day Rotation. Yes, there may be other factors involved like “roster spots”, “financial considerations” and “less starts per pitcher each year”, but strictly from a Health and Longevity point of view, the 6 Day Rotation offers profound benefits. That’s because compared to a 5 Day Cycle, the benefits of the extra day is actually exponential. The reason why is because this one extra day happens to put a lot of major benefits in motion (see sidebar below). For starters, it provides the pitcher with the luxury of having an extra day to recover and rebuild after their start and prior to their bull-pen. This plays a major role in the arm being significantly more fresh and conditioned “for” the bull-pen, which in turn, translates to an even more optimal recovery after the bull-pen, which in turn, allows for very productive work days (throwing/conditioning) leading up to the next start. In short, even though it’s “only” one extra day, it puts into motion what we call a Positive Cycle, whereby the arm gets healthier and stronger (or at least maintains) throughout the cycle, rather than gets taxed or depleted, or what we call a Negative Cycle. The bottom line is that this single extra day to Recover and Rebuild promotes an exponential amount of benefits.

Recommendation #4 – Adapt to and Empower each Pitcher

Though the ultimate goal is to have this be a total collaboration between player and organization, by giving pitchers the opportunity to maintain the 7 Day Cycle they were on prior to being drafted, it gives the organization an opportunity to learn about the player, rather than implementing their program for the pitcher to “adjust to pro ball”. This doesn’t mean that some pitchers don’t need a great deal of guidance and input – it’s just implying that, in a lot of cases, the organization may need to “adapt” to the pitcher, rather than the other way around. By having the pitcher come in under these pretenses, the pitcher can be himself, stay on the program that has been successful enough for him to be drafted, and put his mind at ease.

In Summary

The goal of all coaches is to put each player in the best position possible to succeed. Though in the past, amateur and professional baseball may seem like two different entities, they should actually be seen as interrelated. What a player does prior to signing and how that player transitions into professional baseball should be of the utmost importance to both parties. And when it comes to a pitchers history and transition, there simply may need to be a much more gradual transition period so that pitchers can not only avoid having their arms shocked, but also, so they have the time and space to maintain their routine that in many cases, were vital to their success prior to being drafted. This space allows for the player and organization time to collaborate and figure out what works best for the pitcher. This not only empowers the pitcher, but earns instant trust and credibility from the pitcher because he has been heard. And naturally, this opens the door for the pitcher to be receptive to the input from the organization as well.

At the end of the day, this really does come down to communication and collaboration between the player and the organization. For the MLB Organization, because everyone is so unique, a player’s individuality should be of primary importance. And based on the rich history and infrastructure that is seemingly in place with so many of today’s athletes, it seems that the onus may be more on the organization to adapt to the individual, rather than the other way around. And if a player feels that his pre-draft routine is not being taken into consideration, then it is essential that he communicate this to the organization.

Ultimately, it comes down to teamwork. Everyone is doing their best to insure that the athlete’s best interest is the main goal. Hopefully, this article has brought some awareness to both sides so that the athlete’s best interest is realized.

Side Bar: The Short & Long Term Benefits of a 6 Day Rotation

When it comes to the Health, Longevity and Growth of the arm, it would be hard to find two more important components than Recovery and Rebuild. These are the two areas that we focus on the most when it comes to optimizing any type of Progression or Cycle for a pitcher’s arm (you could probably argue that these two components are vital to optimize any form of training).

When a pitcher is on a 7 Day Cycle, one of the most important benefits is that there is a buffer day prior to the midweek bull-pen and after it (prior to the next start). Both of these buffer days are massively beneficial to optimize the Recovery and Rebuilding of the arm each Cycle. That’s because when a pitcher knows that after his start day, he has 4 full days to recover and rebuild prior to his midweek bull-pen, the pitcher can Recover and Rebuild without rushing anything. Because of this extra day prior to the midweek bull-pen, any effect on the arm after the mid-week bull-pen is significantly reduced. The effect of both “not being in a hurry to recover and rebuild” prior to the bull-pen, and the fact that the recovery from the bull-pen is optimized, the days leading up to the ensuing start day allow the arm to continue to recover and rebuild with plenty of cushion. The net effect of being so well prepared for the bull-pen day is that the start day can now be optimized because there are still 3 days left to recover and rebuild for the start day (see chart below).

Now once you go to a 6 Day Cycle, you do lose one of these buffer days on the front or back end of the bull-pen, but, there is still a massive amount of benefits compared to a 5 Day Cycle (see chart below). That’s because on a 5 Day Cycle, you only have 1 or 2 days to recover after your start (depending upon the organizational philosophy). Though it may not seem like that big of a deal, what happens is the loss of this one day on a 5 Day Cycle causes a massive chain reaction of diminishing returns. In either scenario (subtracting a day before or after the pen), the pitcher is put in a much more vulnerable position compared to a 6 Day Cycle because you no longer have the luxury to recover and rebuild at a more optimal pace. For example, if you choose the extra day prior to your bull-pen to recover and rebuild (which we strongly recommend), you do have 3 days to recover and rebuild from your previous start, but you are then going into your bull-pen knowing you only have one day after your bull-pen to recover and rebuild prior to your start day. So knowing that – consciously or subconsciously – effects how you navigate not only the bull-pen itself, but the days leading up to it. In short, there is a sense of “scaling down” or “de-loading” in order to insure you are as prepared and as fresh as possible on your start day. But this scaling down puts the pitcher in a position where he also may be de-conditioning his arm, simply because he is not engaging in the kind of work load that he would’ve wanted had he had a buffer day on both sides of the pen (7 Day Cycle), or at least one extra buffer day on either side of the bull-pen (6 Day Cycle).

In the second scenario, whereby the pitcher actually pens on the second day after his start (so he has an extra day after his bull-pen to recover and rebuild), we see this as putting the pitcher in an even weaker and more vulnerable position because the arm is technically still recovering on day 2 from the start (you tend to be more sore the second day after any type of high intent workload, not the day after). In that scenario, the pitcher is more likely to back off of his pen day throwing volume and intensity because he is so closely removed from his start. Naturally, if the bull-pen puts the pitcher in an even weaker position regarding recovery, then he’s going to have to be even more conservative with his throwing the 2 days after his bull-pen leading up to his start. This again is positioning the pitcher to back off throwing to insure his arm is as fresh as possible for his start.

In either scenario, the 5 Day Cycle is putting the pitcher in a position of diminished time to recover and rebuild, which in turn, is positioning the pitcher to throw and condition less. It’s as if the pitcher is in “protect mode” rather than “growth mode”. Gaining just that one extra day on a 6 Day Cycle, the entire physiology and psychology significantly shifts for the better. This extra day gives the pitcher the foresight to fully engage the conditioning of his arm knowing he has a buffer on both sides of his mound days. When you are afforded this extra day on both sides of your bull-pen day to condition the arm freely, your arm can then thrive on your pen day, which in turn, optimizes your recovery the day after your pen, which in turn, gives you two more days to recover and rebuild leading into your start, which in turn, allows you to thrive on your start day. When your arm is able to thrive from start to pen, and then pen to start, again, this is what we referred to earlier as a Positive Cycle, whereby the arm gets healthier and stronger because the arms’ Recovery and Rebuild is being optimized.

Examples of a 5, 6 & 7 Day Throwing Cycle

Note: Though the following Throwing Cycles are based on many years of experience, ultimately, your arm is in charge. Thus, “Listen To Your Arm” and let it dictate what it wants and needs each day based on your feel.

5 Day Cycle Chart (Based on approximately 300 feet Long Toss)

  • Day 1 (Start Day): Long Toss (~ Max Distance Stretch Out + Pull Down)
  • Day 2: 120-200 feet (Stretch Out Only)
  • Day 3: 200-300 feet (Stretch Out Mainly)
  • Day 4: Full Long Toss + Pen (Possibly Lighter Pull Downs/Pen Based On Previous Start Pitch Count/Stage Of Season )
  • Day 5: 60-150 feet (Stretch Out Only)
  • Day 6: Start Day

6 Day Cycle Chart (Based on approximately 300 Feet)

  • Day 1 (Start Day): Long Toss (~Max Distance Stretch + Pull Down)
  • Day 2: 120-200 feet (Stretch Out Only)
  • Day 3: 200-300 feet (Stretch Out Mainly)
  • Day 4: Full Long Toss + Pen
  • Day 5: 150-225 feet (Stretch Out Only)
  • Day 6: 60-180 (Stretch Out Only)
  • Day 7: Start Day

7 Day Cycle Chart (Based on approximately 300 feet Long Toss)

  • Day 1 (Start Day): Long Toss (~Max Distance Stretch + Pull Down)
  • Day 2: 120-200 feet (Stretch Out Only)
  • Day 3: 200-300 feet (Stretch Out Mainly)
  • Day 4: Full Long Toss + Pen
  • Day 5: 150-225 feet (Stretch Out Only)
  • Day 6: 200-300 feet (Stretch Mainly)
  • Day 7: 60-150 feet (Stretch Out Only)
  • Day 8: Start Day

Note: “Stretch Out Only” is suggesting that you only “stretch out the arm” by throwing with Arc, Freedom, Range of Motion and without high intent (pull downs). “Stretch Out Mainly” is suggesting the same as above, except that the distance may end up being much greater, and some light to medium pull down’s may be suitable as well. A lot of this is based on a pitcher’s mound workload from the previous pen or game.

Side Bar II: Relief Pitchers

Like Starting Pitcher’s, Relief Pitchers too have grown accustomed to a certain rhythm and workload throughout College (pitching on the weekend and maybe one other mid-week day) that may change dramatically because of the workload in professional baseball (games are played just about every day). However, a similar mentality could be adopted, whereby the first year for Relief Pitchers is used to keep them in a similar rhythm as they had in College. This way, they can maintain their throwing routine between outings and recover and rebuild in the same manner in which they are used to. Then, in the second year, they can begin to gradually transition into more of a pro schedule, and use the experience of the first year to help them adjust to the pro schedule, including game appearances and their throwing routine between outings. But again, the key is that this first year buys time to see how the Relief Pitcher trains throughout the week, which in turn keeps them in a comfort zone physically and mentally, and again, empowers them.

Note: Because of the rhythm of playing almost daily in the Minor Leagues, Relief Pitchers may find themselves cutting back on their pre-game throwing as to “save their arm for the game”. Please see the article below, “Relief Pitcher Protocols” for more information on how to navigate the gap between your pre-game throwing and your in-game appearance.

Ultimately, just as with Starting Pitchers, it comes down to a collaboration between the two parties. This is what allows the Relief Pitcher the best opportunity to thrive.

Relief Pitcher Protocols:

Side Bar III: Protecting Your Arm – “Piggy Backing And Starting Pitchers”

One of the popular trends that has seemed to pick up momentum over the past number of years is “Piggy Backing” Starting Pitchers. Piggy Backing is essentially having two Starting Pitchers throw back to back from the onset of the game (ie innings 1-4 and 5-8) so that in essence, you give each Starting Pitcher the type of workload they would need if they were in the normal rhythm of a 5 or 6 man rotation.

Whether it’s due to having more starting pitchers than allotted spots at a minor league affiliate, giving the bull-pen a break, or more recently, because of contraction in the minor leagues, some MLB Organizations are utilizing this concept to get more work for their starting pitchers.

Though it may sound good in theory, this again can easily fall into the category of “shocking the arm” because the starting pitcher that is coming in mid-game is unable to do his full warm up and throwing routine – unable to get in “what the mind and body is accustomed to doing” immediately prior to entering the bull-pen, and eventually, game mound.

For pitchers that have a great pre-game routine (Arm Care, Long Toss, etc), this is typically the most important aspect of a pitchers preparation, both physically and mentally, and the essential aspect of preparing the arm for high intent throwing. And, ironically, the better the starting pitchers pregame routine is, the more the arm will tend to feel the contrast of going from maximal to minimal preparation.

Now, in some cases, a pitcher may have access to a side field (Spring Training/Spring Training Affiliates) and thus, be able to get in your entire pre-game routine “mid-game”. But in most cases, pitchers won’t have this access, so again, it is crucial that they find a way to get their normal routine in despite the challenges.

Again, the bottom line is that if you feel that you are not able to get in what you know is your typical pre-start routine, it is crucial that you immediately communicate this to the coaches/organization.

The article below is entitled, “Relief Pitcher Protocols”, and will address a number of ways to best navigate this scenario so that you minimize the chances of shocking your arm when you get up in the bull-pen prior to entering the game, including, 1) The benefits of getting in a similar pre-game, Long Toss distance rather than not getting much throwing in because you think you should “save your arm for the game”, 2) Bridging the gap by keeping your arm warm with activities like band work and light throwing between your pre-game throwing and entering the game (or what we call, “incubating the arm”), and 3) Having a good ramp up just prior to beginning your bull-pen session. For more information about navigating this gap, please see the article below, “Relief Pitcher Protocols”.

Relief Pitcher Protocols:

Side Bar IV — Pro Off Season Throwing Manual (October-March):

For those of you who are going to be entering Professional Baseball, this may be the first time that you have found yourself with a 5 month gap between “seasons”. Below, you’ll find our Pro Off-Season Throwing Manual to help you navigate the gap between the end of the season (September/October) and Spring Training (February/March). Good Luck!

Alan Jaeger is the author of The Year Round Throwing Manual, The Pro Off-Season Throwing Manual and Getting Focused, Staying Focused and has consulted with several MLB Organizations, College and High School programs. For more information, feel free to visit, and @jaegersports (Twitter/Instagram).

Source: Jaeger Sports
July 2021
By: Alan Jaeger

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