422 saves, 16 years pitching in the MLB, 1,196 strikeouts… Billy Wagner shares video tips for how he runs his son’s high school baseball long toss program, including a warm up, proper throwing mechanics to increase velocity, and more.
What do you get when you take one of the best relievers to ever play the game and add youth baseball coaching experience?
Answer: An exceptional source of knowledge for a great baseball throwing program.
When Billy called me to put on an infield camp for his players, the Miller Mavericks, it gave me a chance to pick his brain a bit about how he runs his baseball throwing program, and he was generous enough to film some video for you guys. The videos are nothing fancy (I’m still learning).
But this is baseball. Who cares about fancy? It’s about learning from the best.
Following his 1,196th Major League strikeout, 7 time All-Star pitcher Billy Wagner retired to coach his son’s baseball team – first JV and now Varsity. Billy describes himself as a “fundamentals coach” and emphasizes development rather than winning.
Watch this video to see how Billy runs his son’s high school varsity long toss program, including tips for pitching mechanics and more. Full transcript is available below.
If you think about it, it makes sense that he would be a fundamentals coach.
Due to his small size, Wagner’s youth baseball and college coaches didn’t always believe he would make it as a pitcher in pro ball – where the average MLB pitcher is over 6’2″.
Billy was just 5’5 and 135 lbs as a high school senior. By the time he started pro ball, he had grown to staggering 5’10” and 170 lbs. Eventually, Billy’s weight rose to 215 lbs, and that’s when his fastball hit 100 mph. But his career would have been over before it started if he hadn’t managed to maximize his potential at that smaller size.
So how did he do that? Billy credits being a student of the game and sound pitching mechanics as critical elements of his success – both for effectiveness and for career longevity.
Also, recovering from several elbow surgeries has given Billy a very hands-on education at how to maintain a healthy body. Clearly, such a long career while his arm endured the high torque of a 100 mph fastball demonstrates his longevity and the importance of what he talked about with us – warm up, proper throwing mechanics during the long toss program, and some pitcher’s shoulder exercises.
Well, Billy must have been doing something right. After 16 years in the MLB, Billy has stats similar to [Yankees closer Mariano] Rivera in batting average against and strike outs per 9 innings (2), is 5th all time for saves, and is considered a potential Hall of Famer and one of the best relievers of all time.
“Hi I’m Billy Wagner, and I have three points I would like to talk to you about when I’m talking about a throwing program.
Long toss program – the warm up
It begins by using your whole body and starting at 60 feet, then moving yourself with your body momentum up to that 45 foot mark.
You’re not trying to throw the baseball at 100 percent. You are working your body into warm up mode and building up momentum. And over so many throws (eight to ten), I start to move myself (or the kid) back in five step increments.
So I throw two, three or four pitches and then I move them back. We work ourselves back depending on our positions. If we are outfielders we go out to about 180 feet. If we are infielders, we are looking at 150. If we are pitchers, we are looking at that 180 mark again.
As we get our body warmed up. Our arm gets warmed up. Our mechanics get warmed up. And the whole time, I’m not trying to see how hard I can throw the ball, but how I spin the baseball.
If I can spin the baseball, that creates the velocity. With that velocity, my mechanics have to be correct. So I have my arm and my body loose, now I can actually work myself back into my position.
If I’m a pitcher, I’m at 60 feet, 6 inches and I am working on my pitching mechanics. If I’m an infielder, I can work on different kinds of throws; side arm, three quarter… just to be active. I have worked my body into that situation so that it is warm and loose and I am not going to break anything down.
The normal tendencies for guys playing catch is to hurry up and get [baseball long toss, playing catch]done so I can move onto something different.
What my idea is, lets get our bodies warm so when we do build, we are building for that strength, the conditioning and the velocity. You don’t need to throw 100 throws to say you have played catch and thrown long toss at that long toss distance of 180-150 feet. You really only need ten to twelve throws, and it doesn’t need to be as hard as I can.
Once you have worked your body into that warm up and you are warm and loose, now you come back to your normal position at 120 or 90 feet to make those throws so that you make those functional throws. Now you can work on those functional throws, which will create and help your position.
[New frame. Billy is throwing now.]
So what I like to do to begin with, I start at about 60 feet. I start and get my body moving towards my partner… here (throws ball)… boom. I’m nice and under control. I’m in no hurry but I’m getting my body warm. Now as I get loose, my throws get to be firmer. I can take a few steps back and do the process again. Now the ball gets thrown back, I find myself moving further back and back.
Now, once I get all the way out to 180, I’m not trying to throw every throw on a line, I’m trying to throw with a nice arc. I’m not trying to throw a rainbow; I want it to have a nice arc that is either going to land one hop in front of him or that he can catch. I’m not trying to throw it over his head. I’m not trying to make him move, because I am working on a four seam spin.
I’m behind the ball creating that spin. My body is in control and everything’s got that nice behind the ball spin, and now I will get the carry I want.
Now once I work back in as a pitcher, then I can start working on my mechanics. I like to tell them, slow to fast. So once we get in here, I’m going to work slow, boom, to fast.
I’m going through my mechanical cues, with my head being on the target, my shoulders being square, the ball getting out of my glove, a nice pick up of my knee to my belly button and then I drive.
I’m not seeing to see how hard I can throw to this guy, because he’s not a catcher. I’m just trying to pick it up and boom. I’m hitting my target and creating that habit as I throw. I’m throwing it to the chest. So when I get it to the chest, then all it does is create that nice habit. So when I get to the game, I’ve already got that habit.
Now, what we talk about with our infielders is that when we get them back to 90 feet, now we’re going to play active baseball. We are going to act like we catch it here and drop it in, and make some throws right here and work on different arm angles; throws that I would use during the game. We are being active.
Then we work on quick hands. We move in and we are sitting here and we are just trying to be quick to it so they get used to the transfer. So everything in the warm up is an action and a function of what you are going to do in that day’s activities. It creates an active warm up. Your body gets loose with the ample amount of throwing without over-throwing.
The biggest problem you have is guys will go out and want to throw 100 throws in the day, when they really don’t need to be throwing 100 throws a day. If you throw 50 throws but you throw quality throws, you are getting the same build up and strengthening. If I throw 150 of those, they probably aren’t very good because I am tired.
The content posted by Pro Baseball Insider is offered only as a public service to the web community and does not health or fitness advice. This site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining a qualified, comprehensive fitness program with the appropriate oversight, and should never be used in place of consultation with a physician.
You should always consult a suitably qualified expert regarding any specific fitness or health problem. The comments and opinions expressed on this site are of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of Pro Baseball Insider or any individual contributor.
Pro Baseball Insider assumes no liability for the use of the information in posted images, videos or text.
Special thanks to Billy Wagner for taking the time to share with us some of his wisdom and experience as it relates to a baseball long toss program.
Those who know him can attest to his genuine concern for his players’ character development and future success in life, more even than developing them as baseball players.
Says who? About Billy Wagner.
Billy Wagner, a 7x All-Star pitcher, is one of only 5 MLB players with over 400 saves in their baseball career.
Wagner had his first major league appearance with the Houston Astros in 1995. He went on to play for the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox and retired from the Atlanta Braves in 2010. With a total 853 games pitched, he has 1,196 strike outs and a career ERA of 2.31.
Since his retirement, Billy Wagner has been investing his time into his four children and his charity back in his home town of Charllottesville, VA. He coaches his son’s high school baseball team at The Miller School.
Wagner’s charity, Second Chance Learning Center, has given over $85,000 in college scholarships. The program is geared towards middle and high school and offers tutoring, mentoring and counseling for under privileged or at risk kids.
Like what you read?
Click Here to Subscribe
More free baseball tips:
- Hitting Tips from the pros
- Pro recommendations for best baseball gear
- Tips for base running and stealing
- and more free baseball instruction for 1st base | 2nd base | shortstop | 3rd base | outfield | catchers.
- Book of hitting drills + video Baseball Hitting Drills for a Batting Tee