It wasn’t that long ago that Ryan Buchter was a forgettable minor league trade piece for Rodrigo Lopez. The story generated little interest, because, well, neither pitcher was all that interesting. Buchter was throwing decently in High-A for Lynchburg, but at 24 years old—not exactly young for the level. Prior to that, he was struggling in the Nationals system and was giving up a lot of contact for a hard-throwing, left-handed reliever.
However, when Buchter got to the Atlanta Braves, things changed a bit, and while his short time in Triple-A with the Gwinnett Braves in 2012 didn’t go that well, he had put together a promising campaign in Double-A Mississippi that same year. Buchter was informed he’d be invited to big league camp in 2013, and he put in extra work in the offseason to prepare for it.
Buchter reached out to my company (Driveline Baseball) to ask about our weighted baseball training methods in our Elite Velocity Development program, and we worked out a program that integrated into his long-toss routine to help him build fastball velocity and arm strength.
Back in December, Ryan explained to me his approach to weight training in the offseason:
I have been playing now for eight years. I really have no book on how much I throw; it all goes on feel. I will say this, though. You can long toss, do drills, and try to add velocity—which can, in fact, help—but a lot has to do with a strength program.
All of that other stuff is icing on the cake; you first must build a foundation. I spend my offseason doing a lot of power and strength weight lifting, not building beach muscles but fast-twitch muscles. Not just fast-reacting muscles but reacting with power and strength behind them. When I started taking my weights seriously is when my velocity started to increase. Long toss helps the arm stay loose, like a whip, which adds back spin and life to the fastball.
Believe it or not, most clubs don’t have a comprehensive offseason workout plans for their guys unless they’re invited to instructional/winter ball. If they have no contact with the players, they just assume they’ll figure it out on their own. (There have been far too many pro baseball players talking about doing P90X in the offseason to get in shape, which is absolutely ridiculous.)
With his offseason plan in place, which included weighted baseball training, Ryan has had quite the interesting 2013 season at Gwinnett:
Among qualified relievers, Buchter is second in all of Triple-A in strikeout rate. While his walk rate is too high, Ryan’s K/BB ratio is still above 2.0, which is serviceable. Additionally, Ryan’s performance post-All-Star break has been significantly better than it was before. (Post-break numbers: 12 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 HR, 5 BB, 18 K, 1.50 ERA) While it’s a small sample size, Ryan says he has refined a few things in his delivery and feels much better about his command, scrapping what he said were “bad habits” on the mound.
Ryan is absolute hell on left-handed hitters with a 93-95 mph fastball that touches 96…
…and a wipeout slider that he throws to anyone…
… leading to some very respectable numbers against left-handed batters: 2.78 ERA, 22.2 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 1 HR, 14 BB, 38 K, .113 batting average against.
Ryan had this to say about a weighted baseball training program:
“The weighted ball program does so much more than add velocity; it’s a great opportunity to stretch out your arm and back of the shoulder. I notice a little extra life to my fastball, that little extra ride to miss a bat or even just miss a barrel. If we’re doing it at this level, everyone should slowly implement some sort of program, as well. I’m looking forward to the offseason for the chance to add more velocity for next year.”
Professional pitchers could see massive improvements by even marginally increasing their fastball velocity, like Scott Kazmir did with the Cleveland Indians this year. I took a look at what it would be worth to an organization to improve the fastball velocity of a journeyman pitcher by a few ticks, and, unsurprisingly, the answer is “a lot!”
Player development when it comes to pitchers lags behind performance analysis and sabermetrics. The next Moneyball revolution will be figuring out how to convert journeymen and “organizational players” into prospects. There’s a huge amount of surplus value to be had there.