The closest thing biomechanically to elite MLB players

At 108 Performance, we have one specific kid in our program that stands out among the rest. This kid isn’t a big leaguer, college player, to even a starter on his high school varsity team. He’s only six years old. His name is Kellen. 

Now Kellen doesn’t really stand out physically. He’s about what you would expect from a six year old. When he inquired about training, we had obvious hesitations. Is he going to mix well with the guys? Will he be too shy? Will he work? Is he old enough and physical enough to handle the shop environment where college, pro, and high school kids can be training at the same exact time?

Pretty much all of those questions were answered when we watched him swing a bat:

Yeah, not bad for a six year old. 

Here’s the thing: When Kellen is in the shop with us, we don’t really tell him much anything. We don’t tell him where to hold his bat, where his back elbow should be, or what his back foot should do. The only thing we do is give him permission to do damage: Swing hard, hit heavy stuff, and have fun. 

Kellen doesn’t just have a pretty good swing. He has a swing most of our older kids wish they had. His biggest challenge going forward won’t be finding barrels.

It’ll be making sure he doesn’t get coached out of the things he already knows how to do really well.


Question: If you were to guess which population of baseball players most closely resembles big league athletes from a biomechanics standpoint, which do you think it is?

  • Elite college players
  • Elite high school players
  • Elite, uncoached youth players

If you guessed the third option – elite, uncoached youth players – you are correct. 

When we look at kids like Kellen, we see the same exact patterns from the best hitters in the game. They find the most amount of stability, stop their hips the fastest, and pound for pound get more energy transmitted into he strike than any other players that aren’t big leaguers. Rotation isn’t a foreign concept. It’s intuitive. From birth, we all know how to turn around our spine. Our first three landmark movements – rolling, crawling, walking – are all examples of reciprocal movement. So is rotation. 

The problem becomes when we coach kids out of these natural patterns. 

There’s a reason why kids are yelled at to “squish the bug.” It’s because none of them naturally do it, and neither do big leaguers…

We had a young kid come in for an evaluation the other day. He’s currently 11 years old and plays at a pretty high level. He started warming up by taking swings off the tee. There was a lot of good stuff going on in his swing. However, there was a slight disconnect.

It made a lot more sense when we saw his routine between pitches:

There was a reason why the word “uncoached” was included in the third option above. The reason why this kid was missing baseballs wasn’t because he intuitively decided to start spinning his back foot into impact. It’s because a coach told him it was important. He was given information that works against what our body naturally knows how to do. My good friend Lantz Wheeler says it best: “Most mechanical flaws are man made.” 

When you work with young kids, you’re not fighting against years where they’ve patterned a poor blueprint for how to move. You’re getting them as raw as they come. They don’t have a hardwired Central Nervous System (CNS). They’re not married to a bad drill routine their 10U travel coach told them to do. They just do what their body naturally knows how to do really well: Rotate and deliver a strike.

Not bad for a kid, huh?

While their size and physicality looks like a disadvantage from the outside, it actually creates a really powerful advantage. They can’t rely on muscles or independent segments to generate force. They have to use their entire body. They’re recruiting the entire system – not just individual parts of the system. This is efficiency. If we want to do more with less, we have to learn how to use more. You can’t disperse the work if you don’t have enough helping hands.

So if kids already do plenty well without our help, how do we actually help them in a way that continues to harness what God gave them?

That’s where it gets fun.

Let’s go back to Kellen’s swing from above. This swing was captured during one of our training sessions this summer. In this round, Kellen wasn’t just swinging. He was competing in a game. On the far end of the cage, Kellen’s opponent was bouncing him soccer balls. They were to bounce at least once before crossing the hitting zone, but did not have to cross home plate. Once the ball leaves his hand, the thrower turns into a soccer goalie. His objective is to prevent Kellen from hitting the soccer ball past him to the back part of the net. You get one point for a “goal” or a “save.” The first to five points wins.

From Kellen’s perspective, this doesn’t seem like work. This is fun! All he’s focused on is moving his feet, striking the ball, and trying to score a “goal.” If we think about this game from a training adaptation standpoint, it checks a ton of boxes:

  • Athleticism 

On every single pitch, the hitter has to move their feet to strike the soccer ball. This creates a number of adaptations: Hinging, moving sideways, staying centered, finding a strong landing position, getting to the front side. The simple task of shuffling to go get the ball checks a ton of boxes. Kellen isn’t thinking about any of this. All he’s trying to do is move his feet so he can make solid contact with the soccer ball. Kids don’t need to know what they’re accomplishing. You just need to design a drill that will accomplish a lot. Keeping it athletic is often a great solution. 

  • Striking, bracing, and contact quality

Soccer balls give us a ton of feedback about contact quality. At impact, we immediately get information about the angle of our bat, whether it was squared up or not, and whether we were moving to and through stable or unstable positions. The objective is simple: Hit the soccer ball high and hard. If you don’t do a lot of things well when trying to strike a soccer ball, you’re going to feel it. This is key. When you strike soccer balls instead of baseballs, you’re strategically enhancing feedback at impact. Subtle inefficiencies at impact all of a sudden become much louder. Errors are magnified. As a result, our feedback loops pitch to pitch improve. When the quality of your feedback improves, the quality of the adjustments you make also improves. 

  • Competition 

Competition is king when you’re working with kids. The focus, intensity, and attention to detail completely changes once you put something on the line. Use this to your advantage. Gamifying skills that scale creates game changing returns. It also makes the boring – but inevitable – part of training a little less boring.  

  • Variable practice

One of the best ways to challenge movement patterns is through the use of variable practice. Research shows that creating an unpredictable training environment – compared to a predictable one – has exceptional returns on skill acquisition and retention. When each rep is slightly different, kids can’t rely on one default movement solution. They have to constantly adapt and come up with slightly different solutions on the fly. This kind of improv is critical for creating transfer to unpredictable environments (i.e. games). As mentioned above, the soccer ball isn’t supposed to be tossed in one specific area. Every single rep is slightly different in terms of the location, bounce height, and point of contact. This creates a rich learning environment for ball striking. The longer you keep the learning systems engaged, the more likely you are to create a positive training adaptation. 

  • Minimal verbal feedback  

Checking a lot of boxes with not a lot of verbal feedback is often best for kids. Their movement solutions are more malleable. They’re not fighting previously hardwired patterns. If you design the right environment and give them an external objective (hit it high and hard), there’s a good chance they’re going to figure out how to do it. It won’t always work, but more times than not it’s better to refer to Bernstein’s Principle: “The body will organize itself in accordance with the overall goal of the activity.” The less hardwired the previous movement solutions are, the more effective this principle is. Words are semantics. They mean different things to different people, but they’re very easy to get married to. If you’re. Be strategic about what you say and when you say it. You don’t want to run the risk of arranging a bad marriage. 



When you work with kids, you don’t need to get granular. You need to build the right environment, alter it if it’s not creating desired adaptations, and use the right language at the right time to bring it to life. It’s not good enough to just tell them what to do. Treat it like a video game: Show them the arena, briefly outline the ground rules, and let them figure out the rest. 

Some questions to ponder:

  1. What kind of an environment are you creating for your kids? This includes space, layout, audio, visuals, people, and energy. 
  2. What kinds of verbiage and phrases do you find yourself referring to most often? What is the one thing you end up saying the most? 
  3. What strategies do you find are most effective for creating positive adaptations? This includes drills, games, tools, progressions and regressions.
  4. Which adaptations are the toughest to create? Why do you think that is?
  5. What is one area about your training environment that you think it most powerful?
  6. What is one area you think could improve?

Designing a plan to hit Dodgers ace Julio Urias

Below is a sample scouting plan I put together for hitters to attack Dodgers ace Julio Urias this past postseason. Inside includes notable statistics, patterns, and actionable strategies I thought would be beneficial for opposing teams.

All stats and video from Baseball Savant.


Notable Statistics

Pitch Distribution

  • 47.8% FB
  • 34.2% CB
  • 17.3% CH

Started throwing CB way more (6.1% in 2019), FB less (57.8% in 2019). Hitters are are performing at a career-high rate against FB in ’21 (.455 SLG against).

Run Value (RV)

RV CB 2021: -20

RV FB 2021: 1

2019 FB RV: -17 (big difference from ’21)


H break doubled on CB from 2019 (7.5” to 15.8” this year)

Seam shifted wake on all three pitches (45 deviation on CH, CB, -15 on FB, -30 on sinker)

Walking guys less (career-high 1.8 BB/9, 5.13 K/BB).

FB in zone 62% of the time, CB in zone 54% of the time, CH in zone 36% of the time. Won’t throw CH glove side, a lot of bad arm side misses.

BB has two different shapes (all classified as CB on savant). One shape kills V break, more H break (16+). Other shape has more V break (4-6 typically), less H break (under 14).

55.1% of pitches in K zone (above league average of 49.9%)

67.7% line drives or fly balls. Doesn’t really get hurt by long ball, however (hasn’t had a season where HR/9 exceeded 0.9). 

0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 3-1 courts throwing primarily FB. Counts most likely to get a CB are 0-0, 1-2. CB whiffs happen primarily outside K zone (more on this below).

Actionable Thoughts

I wouldn’t recommend an approach where you hunt breaking balls against Urias. His curveball is his most improved pitch since first debuting. It’s really good. It has two different shapes (depends on where you look, some are classified as sliders). One is a little flatter, other is a banger/CB shape. Throws it predominately 0-0 and 1-2. Impressive slash, .181 wOBA against. Throwing it at a career-high clip (34.2%). For reference, threw pitch at 6.1% clip in 2019.

H break on pitch is biggest noticeable difference (doubled from 7.5” in 2019 to 15.8” this year). Can run it up to 3,000 rpm, most are in 2,800 range. Much firmer (+5 mph from ’19). Good chance he decided to just start throwing the shit out of it and it got really nasty. Majority of whiffs are down and away, outside zone. Throws pitch in zone 54% of the time.

Toughest part is Urias has three pitches that get to three parts of the strike zone. Throws fastball up to disguise his CB well. Plus VB on pitch (seen anywhere from 17-20” VB). Mostly FB/CB pitcher (82%). Weird thing is he’s one of the few pitchers who have thrown their fastball less and it’s performing worse (will discuss more below). He’s never thrown his four seam below a 50% clip. More of a glove side distribution when it was really good in ’19. Now it’s more middle. 

If I were talking to an MLB hitting coach, I think your plan of attack has to be something along the lines of this:

  • Make him a two pitch pitcher. Change has pretty good slash, but it’s landing in the zone 36% of the time. Drops slot a hair, ton of uncompetitive arm side misses. I’d spit on that pitch pretty much all night. If you’re a lefty, you’re not going to see CH (5.0% of time). Throws pitch more against RHH (21.7%). 
  • FB is the pitch you hunt. I understand why it can be sneaky, but data doesn’t suggest it’s been effective for him this year. He can get crafty with this pitch (spin axis can deviate anywhere from 10:45 to 11:30, as low as 10:20, mostly in the 11:00 range). Has one where he really gets on top and one where he drops his slot a hair. Release height can vary anywhere from like 6’0 to 6’3.
  • While his FB in ’19 was really good (run value of -17), it’s not that good this year (run value +1, SLG .484, wOBA .348). Hard hit percentage (balls hit 95+) 38.1%. Works basically middle up with pitch. Not a ton of whiffs (21.1%). Gets hit when it’s middle. Throws it in the zone 62% of the time.
  • I think one of the biggest reasons why Urias having a better year is because he’s challenging guys more and walking guys less (BB/9 1.8, career best). You can see this with how he pitches to guys behind in the count. 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 3-1 he’s throwing damn near 75% heaters. Giants need to use this to their advantage. You’re going to get a good heater to hit if you get into a plus count. 
  • If you’re going to hunt the CB, see it up. The ones that are getting hit are in the zone. Might be worth playing with this approach for lefties. They’re seeing the pitch at a 44.3% clip. Need strategies to mitigate damage with this pitch. You’re not going to barrel it up a ton. 
  • Be aggressive early, cut the plate in half. He’s going to throw glove side heaters, breaking ball will get to glove side part of plate. Don’t get into counts where you’re forced to make decisions on pitches that break outside the strike zone (where he gets all of his whiffs on CB). 

Final Thought: Three times this year Urias has thrown more curveballs than fastballs. Two were against Giants, one was last outing against Brewers. If he follows pattern, hitters will continue to see less breaking balls – especially against lineups that hit fastballs hard. 

What shooting a gun can teach us about throwing a baseball

The other day I tried out a new skill. I went to the gun range. 

As with any new skill, there was a learning curve to get up to speed. I received as crash course on the fundamentals of how to shoot. Top hand positioning, grip, how to wrap the left hand, footwork, how to line up your shot – to name a few. Every time I picked up the gun, I went through a mental checklist. One by one, I made sure my grip and my base were good. I extended my arms, took a deep breath, and got locked in on my marker. If I didn’t feel calm, relaxed, and in control, I didn’t take the shot. 

If you’ve never shot a gun before, one of the most intimidating parts isn’t pulling the trigger. It’s bracing for what happens after you pull the trigger: The recoil. You can anticipate what it’s going to feel like, but you don’t really know what to expect until you take your first shot. As a result, you have to prepare accordingly. How you position your body to take the shot doesn’t just impact the shot. It impacts how you handle the residue from the shot.

This is where I drew a pretty cool parallel to baseball. 

To put yourself in a good position to handle the gun recoil, you want to turn your body into a giant shock absorber. The gun is going to find the point of least resistance. This is often where we are uneven, most tense, or too rigid. As a result, we need to release some tension in our set up. Both arms should be extended, but the elbows should have a slight bend. When they’re extended or flared up, there’s no room to absorb any kind of energy. The springs are too rigid.

The same logic applies to your knees. Instead of standing with your legs locked, the knees should have a slight bend and should be relaxed. If they’re too stiff, you’re going to lose your base after the shot. You don’t have any room for error to absorb the recoil. 

If you’re able to check both of these boxes in your set up, you should have a minimal recoil from the gun. The less your gun kicks up or down after release, the more consistent your shots are going to be. 

Going through this process made me think a lot about baseball. From a big picture perspective, we’re trying to do exactly what I was focused on when I took my first shot: We’re trying to turn our body into a giant shock absorber. If we want to put a lot of energy into the baseball, we need to be able to absorb that energy after release. This depends on where and when we create tension, the positions we move to and through, and how much of the system we’re able to recruit when it’s time to decelerate.

Just like shooting, stress is going to find the weak link in the chain. If we can’t decelerate our pelvis, pull out slack, or get to positions of leverage, that stress is going to migrate towards the most vulnerable parts of our body. Discomfort isn’t random. It’s our feedback on the areas of our body which are taking on the brunt of the load. If you don’t address the problem when it’s whispering, you’re going to have to deal with it when it starts barking.