The Rick Peterson experience opens next month for New York Mets
pitchers. A few weeks before the start of spring training
Peterson, the pitching coach who signed a three-year contract
with the Mets in November after six seasons with the Oakland A's,
will shepherd many of his new charges into the American Sports
Medicine Institute (ASMI), a biomechanics lab in Birmingham.
Peterson will ask them to don unflattering spandex suits. He'll
attach computer sensors to various body parts. Then he'll tell
them to relax and go through their regular bullpen routines while
six high-tech cameras, each snapping 240 frames per second,
record every motion and muscle twitch.
"You look like the biggest idiot in town," says A's All-Star
righthander Tim Hudson, a veteran of several ASMI sessions. "But
if you go into it with an open mind, you'll learn a lot about
your delivery that you might never have known."
Peterson, 49, has been opening minds and eyes since the A's hired
him in 1998. He might be the prototypical 21st-century pitching
coach. He's an information junkie whose oft-repeated motto is, In
God we trust; all others must have data. But he balances that
obsession with New Age visualization techniques, yoga and sermons
about the importance of the mind-body union. "Any controlled
movement takes skill, physical conditioning, and mental and
emotional strength," says Peterson. "You need all three sides of
the triangle to succeed."
Peterson's program isn't for everyone--Oakland lefthander Mark
Mulder, for one, was less than enamored with some of the coach's
techniques--but it has proved effective. The A's had the American
League's lowest team ERA in each of the last two seasons and
didn't rank lower than third during Peterson's tenure. More
impressive is his track record for keeping pitchers healthy.
Under his watch no A's pitcher suffered a major elbow or shoulder
In 1989 Peterson, who studied psychology and art at Jacksonville
University, hooked up with ASMI while he was the pitching coach
for the Chicago White Sox' Double A affiliate in Birmingham. Dr.
James Andrews, the guru of rotator cuff and Tommy John surgery,
had just opened the institute to study methods of preventing
pitching injuries. Peterson immersed himself in the lab's
biomechanical analysis, which dissects the pitching motion and
identifies the various stresses on the elbow and shoulder.
By studying scores of pitchers over the years Peterson and ASMI
have, in theory, built the model of the perfect pitcher. They
calculated ideal ranges for more than 35 segments of a pitcher's
delivery. (For example, a major leaguer's hips rotate 500 to 700
degrees per second.) Peterson uses those measurements to identify
flaws in a pitcher's motion and to design "prehab" exercises to
ward off injury. "I laugh when people call this New Age," says
Peterson, "because we're just measuring what all great pitchers
have always done."
The Mets will find that information deprivation is also one of
Peterson's favorite training tools. He had the A's pitchers
regularly throwing in the bullpen with their eyes closed, making
them visualize their target and rely on muscle memory.
Peterson, who was eager to work for an East Coast team so he
could be closer to his wife and three sons in central New Jersey,
has his work cut out for him in New York. Last year the Mets
ranked 10th in the National League with a 4.48 ERA, and they
don't have the A's young, impressionable talent. But Peterson has
faith in his veterans: "I'm going to be learning from them as
much as they'll be learning from me."
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS DATA BANK Peterson parses the delivery into more than 35 segments.
COLOR PHOTO: AMERICAN SPORTS MEDICINE INSTITUTE (LEFT) [See caption above]
Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, who spent the past six seasons
with the A's, filters his study of biomechanics through training
methods steeped in Eastern philosophy and disciplines. Here are
the four basic principles he stresses to his pitchers.
1. Segment your movements. Think of your delivery as a chain of
discrete actions that flow together.
2. Practice those movements in slow motion. As in tai chi, this
contributes to refining each technical element of the delivery.
3. Deprive your senses. Active visualization--training with the
eyes closed--can improve your learning curve.
4. Learn your personal rhythm for each movement. Every pitcher
has his own timing for the step-back, the landing and the release,
the three major components of the delivery.