The Paul Nyman interviewby Dave Studeman
April 11, 2008
Can you talk about your background and how you came to focus on pitching mechanics?
Sigmund Freud would be happy with my answer. It goes back to my "early childhood." When I was in junior high school I had great hopes of becoming a professional pitcher. Now remember, this was back in 1958-1959. I set a target in the backyard (an old carpet hanging from the front of a deck) and I spent hours each day during the summer throwing into that carpet.
There was an elementary school across the street from where we lived; in the elementary school was a branch of the public library. The first book I took out on pitching mechanics was by Bob Feller, published in 1946 (when I started SETPRO I got a copy of it). I learned how to throw curve from a mail-order book that was advertised the back of Popular Science or Popular Mechanics magazine—can't remember which one. It was written by a former professional catcher. So my interest in pitching AND mechanics goes quite a ways back.
As it turns out I was a pretty crummy pitcher. I could throw the ball pretty well but never knew where it was going. They called me "Headhunter." I was also very much into science and tinkering, and I experimented with a way to measure velocity by the impact of the ball on a target. So I've always been interested in the scientific and physical aspect of throwing a baseball.
Can you tell me more about your background? Did you immediately go into the baseball "business" and, if not, how did you get there?
The sum total of my playing career was two years in high school. In my senior year I was not good enough to make the varsity. And for lack of something better to do, I went out for track (I was always able to jump pretty high). Turns out in my very first track meet I broke the high school's 18-year-old high jump record. Thus began my track and field career, which carried me through college.
Thanks to track and field, I really learned what training is about. This was in the mid-to-late 1960s, when track and field was the one of the fields in which the U.S. and Russians fought their "Cold War." Russian training techniques fascinated me. I was an engineering-physics major and tried to apply my science and engineering background to how the body most effectively runs and jumps. I had dreams back then of developing training systems. The name of the company was going to be "Sports Training Systems" (STS).
Marriage and children sent me in the direction of the establishment, and for the next 25 years I held various positions ranging from engineer to VP of engineering. In 1989 the company I was working for relocated from Connecticut to Wisconsin and I was ready to say goodbye to the good life and strike out on my own. I consulted for the company for about five years while I looked around for something else to do. And that's when STS reemerged as Sports Engineering and Training Products (SETPRO).
My initial emphasis was strictly on training products to develop a player's abilities to swing and throw more effectively. I did not want to confuse the marketplace by attempting to produce information. But to develop the best training products, you have to know everything you can about the subject. That, combined with my technical background in engineering and physics and my background in track and field, not only allowed me to produce proprietary equipment, but SETPRO became known for producing the highest quality information regarding how the body swings and throws.
Thanks, Paul. So tell me what some of the key philosophies of SETPRO are.
"It must make sense" pretty much sums up the philosophy at SETPRO. But the problem is that what makes sense to me is not necessarily going to make sense to you. One of my favorite sayings is "we are only capable of seeing what we are capable of seeing." My life experiences and my accumulated knowledge are not the same as your life experiences and your accumulated knowledge.
I don't talk about pitching or hitting mechanics. What I talk about are swing and throw mechanics. Pitching is doing everything to defeat the batter and win the game. Hitting is doing everything to defeat the pitcher and win the game. I prefer the terms "throwing mechanics" and "swing mechanics."
My biggest breakthrough came when I started looking at the swing and throw as systems problems. And by systems problem, I mean that most discussions regarding swing mechanics and throwing mechanics are based upon a reductionist approach—if you break the swing or throw down into small enough pieces, then eventually you'll discover the secret of how the body swings and throws most effectively.
In my opinion, much of what is purported to be pitching or hitting mechanics is an inability to see the forest because of the trees, the trees being the treatment of symptoms of throwing or swinging as opposed to understanding the overall process.
A systems perspective is based more on the belief that the whole is greater than some of the parts ... that the body is composed of a large number of what might be called subsystems. And that the systems can be combined in a synergistic fashion to yield in optimum swing or throw performance. No better example of this synergy is in understanding that much of what the body does to swings or throws is based upon the principle of cracking the whip—that somehow the large, slow-moving body parts get transformed into very fast small moving body parts and, ultimately, the ball or the bat.
In terms of how the body swings a bat or throws a baseball, I see very little difference in terms of the physics and physiology. To throw a baseball 100 mph the same physics are applicable no matter who throws the baseball. The same physics that explain how an arm can throw a baseball 100 mph also explain why a hitter can swing a bat 100 mph. The bottom line is that there is that there is very little difference between swinging a bat and throwing a baseball when it comes to moving an object through time and space.
And my opinion is that the differentiation between hitting coaches and pitching coaches really only applies to how to get batters out or how to get base hits off pitchers. It has very little do with how the body swings and throws.
Last, but not least, is that the greatest opportunity for understanding how to develop high-level performance lies in a better understanding of how the body acquires and creates movement skills.
I don't want to use the word "science" to describe SETPRO's philosophies. Far too many people have attempted to differentiate themselves by using the word science or by implying science in their methodology. If anything, much of their science is pseudoscience and has done a great disservice to the word science and to those who are really trying to understand how the body optimally swings and throws.
Also critical to the SETPRO process is the ability to measure and quantify. This comes from my track and field background. The two sports most responsible for improvements and breakthroughs in training science are track and field and swimming, for one simple reason: You can, more than for any other sports, measure cause-and-effect. When you can measure fractions of an inch and hundreds of a second, you are better able to understand what works.
What type of equipment do you provide?
In terms of equipment one of the important philosophies is the ability to measure and quantify. And I left out the ability to simulate on-the-field conditions, typically batter versus pitcher.
For the swing and throw development, the ability to measure parameters such as bat speed, reaction time, anticipation time, swing quickness—and to simulate training conditions similar to what the player is going to face on the playing field—is what SETPRO's swing training equipment/systems does/do.
Overload/underload training is an integral part of this process. SETPRO's equipment has built into it training features such as the ability to do swing training sets analogous to what a player does in the weight room; i.e., sets and reps with varying resistance loads. One of the reasons why weight training produces benefits is the ability to always know what you've achieved in a previous workout and then the ability to set new goals in the next workout.
SETPRO's equipment can measure and keep track of your swing and throw training progress. The equipment also has proprietary training modes that I call Ballistic Overload Failure. In this mode you take only as many throws or swings as necessary to fail. Failures are when you cannot improve upon your best set average throws.
Again, much of this training expertise came out of my involvement with track and field.
Do you provide pitching and hitting instruction?
I have created nine instructional e-books on throwing and swing development. I do not provide instruction itself; i.e., I do not work with players. I used to, but that's not where I want to be.
It is very difficult for someone who does not have a "playing or coaching pedigree" to be taken seriously as a source of hitting or pitching instructional information. So SETPRO's mission was not to confuse the marketplace by attempting to sell information. At least it wasn't initially. After 15 years of developing equipment, I felt I had a wealth of instructional information to sell to the general public.
I know that former THT writer (and now a Diamondbacks minor league pitching coach) Carlos Gomez subscribes to your philosophies. Have you worked with other professional players?
A great source of my own personal frustration has been the inability to shine some light on what I view as the darkness of pitching and hitting mechanics instruction. To develop high-level swinging and throwing training systems you have to know everything there is about how the body swings and throws.
Several years ago I was fortunate enough to be invited to spring training by a very enlightened professional pitching coach. He still rues the day he met me because, as he said, "ignorance was bliss." Simply stated, major league baseball doesn't really want to know anything about how the body swings or throws. For two reasons: One, it's beyond their capabilities to understand. I'm not saying that coaches are dumb people. What I am trying to say is that they don't have the background and training to deal with something as complex as how the body swings and throws.
And second, they really don't need to understand how the body swings and throws. Major-league baseball gets the choice of absolute best players in the world who have already demonstrated their abilities to swing and throw. It's not within the scope of professional baseball to develop swing and throw capabilities.
Swing and throw capabilities are almost always developed from birth to 16 or 17 years of age. After that, it becomes almost impossible to make any significant changes to how players swing and throw. How many times have we heard the story of the player throwing 95 mph before the draft in two years after being drafted throwing 88 mph?
I have provided information to many players who have been drafted and have gone on to the major league level. Kevin Kouzmanoff of the San Diego Padres is a player who developed his swing using SETPRO's training equipment. He was going nowhere as a college freshman until a SETPRO customer in Colorado took him under his wing and introduced him to SETPRO training. He a perfect example of what can be done if you know what you're doing.
I like to use this quote in my marketing material:
"Paul Nyman has looked at throwing the the baseball like no other has. His unique way of looking at how the arm and body learn to throw from the most efficient way to how one learns to throw is truly remarkable. No one, and I repeat no one, has looked at more video, done more research and left no stone unturned in the quest of finding out about the throwing process than he has. Step aside and let you ego go for a moment and see what he has to offer. As a professional coach I did and it has opened up a whole new view for me. While I have gained, my pitchers have been the ones who have benefited and in essence isn't that our job as coaches."
—Brent Strom (former major league pitcher, major league pitching coach, pitching coordinator Montréal Expos/Washington Nationals, currently in charge of all minor-league pitching instruction, St. Louis Cardinals)
I will also say that the biggest fallacy that exists is that some coach or instructor was responsible for a specific player making it to the major leagues. Nothing could be further from the truth, in my opinion.
It is the player who gets himself to the major leagues. I figure that the people most responsible for helping a player are his parents. Getting to the major leagues is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year task. No coach or instructor is capable of making that happen. Unless, of course, the coach/instructor is the player's parent.
Dave was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Comments about this article can be sent to him through the miracle of e-mail.