By Matt Betts
Canadian Baseball Network
It’s the question many young pitchers are furiously looking for the answer to.
How do I throw harder?
Weighted ball programs? Long toss? Strength training? All of which are approaches and depending on who you ask, can work.
The Baseball Zone and the Ontario Terriers are turning to science. They have teamed up with Dr. Carmine Filice and The Performance Lab to try and unlock the secret to staying healthy and throwing the heater in what they are calling “The Smart Velo Project.”
“Dr. Carm Filice and the team at The Performance Lab, train athletes based on quantitative/scientific analysis,” Ryan Armstrong, Associate Head Coach and Program Pitching Coach at The Baseball Zone said. “Using technology that few people possess (no other in Canada), they can then break down athletic movements and design training programs. These programs help athletes to identify areas of strength and weakness and ‘get better faster’.”
Armstrong has been involved in the game for a long time, suiting up for Texarkana College and Texas State University during his college days. The Performance Lab’s scientific approach to training helps take a lot of the guess work out of trying to find answers to pitchers problems. The work Dr. Filice and his team does is something that is mostly seen at the higher levels of sport according to Armstrong
“Most people in the game take their best guess, this type of analysis takes a ton of guess work out of it,” he said. “Carm and I go over findings and that helps me to design throwing protocols. This type of training is unlike anything in this country and is most often seen in professional sports and Olympic training.”
Dr. Filice, a Toronto native, moved to Los Angeles after completing his undergraduate degree to go to chiropractic school. His passion for sports has led him in the direction of working with athletes and improving their games. After graduating he worked in a sports medical clinic in Italy before moving back to Los Angeles.
It was during a visit back home with his family he noticed how much improvement was needed in the field of sports science in Canada as compared to our neighbors to the south. He eventually ended up opening his own centre, The Performance Lab, a goal he had set out to achieve. Aside from trying to enhance performance, the lab strives to keep athletes healthy and on the field of play or ice.
The connection between Dr. Filice and the Terriers goes back quite a ways. It first began when Dr. Filice worked with Terriers owners Mike and Nicole Tevlin’s son Joe. Joe is currently heading into his sophomore season at Niagara University.
“Carm first worked with our son, Joe, during his big Little League year when the High Park team was on its quest (which they nearly made) to win the national title,” Mike Tevlin said. “Carm ensured that Joe's body was able stay healthy, strong and on the field that year. We were so impressed that we, as a family, started using Carm to help us with managing injuries, rehab and eventually strength training for both of our boys as they went on to compete at the D1 level of NCAA baseball.”
Tevlin believes Dr. Filice is ahead of the game compared to many others in the world of sports science. He points to his ability to stray from the norm and look at things from a different angle as what helps set Dr. Filice apart. For Tevlin, combining Dr. Filice and Armstrong is a great fit and benefits the players.
“Dr. Carm Filice is, in our opinion, light years ahead of most others in the world of Sports Science. His 3D motion capture video and force plate technology is a natural tool for use in the development of athletes of all types and it applies beautifully to pitchers looking to gain the strength needed to improve overall pitchability and velocity,” he said. “Ryan Armstrong and Carm are both of a same mind when it comes to development and they are not satisfied with simply doing things the same way they have always been done nor are they interested in 'quick fixes' like a pure heavy ball program. So when they put their minds together and took Army's pitching expertise and research oriented mind and put it together with Carm's cutting edge Sport Science platform, the result was The Smart Velo Project.”
Force plate technology is a way to measure ground reaction forces generated by a body standing or moving across them.
For the Terriers as a program it is about increasing their knowledge on strength and conditioning and taking care of their bodies. This, in turn, will allow them to make the necessary strides as players to gain the attention of scouts and recruiters at the next level.
“This is not a Terrier-specific program. Initially, Terriers will make up the majority of the candidates because they have an inside track as they train at The Baseball Zone and The Performance Lab (headed up by Dr. Carm Filice) helps them with the testing for their strength and conditioning programs,” Tevlin said. “In that sense, our players should gain yet another insight into the long term benefits of looking after themselves properly, while gaining the kind of results that the next level of coaches and scouts are after.”
Tevlin is thrilled to be able to provide this opportunity for his program. Even though it is still very much in the early stages, he is looking forward to seeing the strides that his players can make under the guidance of Dr. Filice and Armstrong.
“The program is just beginning but it's clear to everyone involved that the game of baseball has begun to embrace new methods of training that will allow players to maintain their bodies better and set the pace for the tremendous physicality of the game today,” Tevlin said. "It’s very exciting for us to say the least.”
As Tevlin pointed out, Dr. Filice is not about quick fixes or cutting corners simply for short-term gains. Simply googling “how to increase velocity” or “keys to staying healthy and on the field” may sound great and easy but it is unlikely to give players the results they want.
“At The Performance Lab we take a very scientific approach to pitching,” Dr. Filice said. “There are always new fads that come and go so our thought has always been to ask the question why. Why does this work or why does it not? We have read all the research regarding pitching and velocity.”
Asking why something works or doesn't work, combined with scientific expertise allows Dr. Filice’s team to get their athletes further ahead. Finding what an athlete does well and doesn't do well goes a long way to finding answers. This is something a lot of other programs or approaches lack according to Dr. Filice.
“Our focus continues to be on the diagnosis for the individual,” Dr. Filice said. “Many philosophies are poor on the diagnosis to determine the athlete's inefficiencies or why an athlete continues to injure themselves or can't increase their velo.”
Very important in this whole process is to not think every player is the same. Dr. Filice and his team recognizes every athlete is different, making each athlete's needs different. Being generic can be a product of a lack of knowledge about the subject.
“Most other philosophies, once they do have a theory implement a very generic protocol,” Dr. Filice said. “Every pitcher is different. Every athlete is different. To give generic cookie cutter programs to every pitcher or every athlete for that matter is an injustice to that athlete. At The Lab we diagnose. We analyze every pitcher using all of our systems and try to find out with precision what makes this pitcher great and what makes this same pitcher inefficient.”
Dr. Filice believes he has assembled a topnotch team that can really help athletes evolve.
“The Performance lab is a sports science center focused on performance and rehabilitation of athletes,” Dr. Filice said. “I brought on a biomechanist who leads our sports science department. Kait is one of the smartest people I have ever met. Mark is the head of strength training and has a significant knowledge base mixed in with years of experience in the gym. Kyle is our newest edition and a fantastic therapist, Laura a great young biomechanist and Jake our wiz kid who helps on every front. I'm proud of the team. We are outside the box thinkers which I believe is important when it comes to being on the cutting edge. We are research driven but we also like to push the boundaries to innovate. We have experience both in a laboratory setting and also in the field improving performance at the highest level of sport."
The process each athlete goes through is very complex and in depth using some of the best technological advances.
“We analyze every pitcher using all of our systems and try to find out with precision what makes this pitcher great and what makes this same pitcher inefficient,” Dr. Filice said. “At The Lab we diagnose. Every pitcher goes through initial testing with our algorithms. From there we do force plate testing. Finally we test them on the mound using our 3D motion capture and our new addition which is our official mound that has a force plate imbedded inside of it.”
Dr. Filice credits The Baseball Zone to being open to his team. He believes the facility is at the top of its class.
“I am hard pressed to think of another pitching facility that has true 3D (most other places run 2D systems or try to make 2D into 3D) and a force plate embedded mound,” Dr.Filice said. “Once we know what is wrong we can now formulate a plan. Our tag line is Better. Faster. For us it is all about efficiency and getting someone performance gains in a timely fashion.”
Not only does Dr. Filice see The Baseball Zone as a great facility, the Terrier program is also what has caught his attention.
“They are a fantastic organization with a progressive mindset and great values,” Dr. Filice said. “We were approached by other baseball organizations in Ontario but 'the Terrier Way' really stood out and aligned with our vision.”
Now, all of this is great, but it would got for naught without the players buying into the philosophies and approaches. With enough information to make your head spin, being open to something new can be tough. Combine that with trying to attain a scholarship and get drafted it can be a whirlwind. Dr. Filice and his team try to make the entire process as seamless as possible.
“The science can be intimidating so we try to make it as fun and relatable as possible for the young athletes,” Dr. Filice said. “Most think it is cool to dress up in a special suit like a video game and many have seen clips of MLB players getting the same testing so they are excited for it.”
It is important that the message is always one of improvement and getting better as an athlete.
“Our approach is always one of improvement. We explain to the athlete that we are going to find areas to work on that will make them a better player,” Dr. Filice said. “The athlete tends to see success very quickly so that is the biggest means to buy into the system. Once they see that their elbow doesn't hurt anymore or that their pitching is more efficient they love it."
Improving, however, is still largely on the shoulders of the athletes themselves.
“It is extremely important to have players buy in. We want them excited to train and get better,” Dr. Filice said. “The one thing we continue to emphasize to our athletes based on our experience is the importance of having a great work ethic. If the athlete doesn't believe in what you are presenting or doesn't enjoy the process they will not achieve the level of success desired.”
For Dr. Filice and The Performance Lab team, seeing their athletes succeed and become a better athlete makes it all worth it.
“I think the most rewarding part of our job is when an athlete comes back to visit after starting school with the feedback that they are playing well and have absolute confidence in the gym,” Dr. Filice said. “I would be lying if I didn't mention that it is also rewarding to see when some of the athletes who started off as high school players or draftees are now playing in the pros or winning Olympic medals.”