By Jack Margaros
SPRINGFIELD – Brian Johnson walked away from a scout day in August with one goal in mind before he started pitching his senior season for the Springfield College baseball team – break 90 miles per hour with his fastball.
During his August workout, he topped out at 87 mph, so adding three miles per hour wasn’t too tall of a task to accomplish before Opening Day in March.
Before the fall season started for the Pride in September, Johnson threw a bullpen and was tested with the radar gun for the first time since summer.
On the second pitch, he hit 90 mph.
“Damn,” he thought to himself.
By the second week of fall season, he was up to 92. By the time Springfield scrimmaged Elms at the end of October, Johnson pumped 94 miles per hour.
Seven miles per hour in just under three months.
“I just kept throwing and every week it went up,” Johnson said.
Although, there is much more to Johnson’s rapid increase than simply throwing a baseball.
In the months preceding that bullpen he worked with Dr. Josh Heenan, president of Advanced Therapy Performance. Heenan has developed a list of criteria — dubbed the 90 mph Formula— that, if completed, allows pitchers to reach that plateau, but more importantly protect their arm from any injury.
If the pitcher hits those metrics, he can throw 90 mph. If he can hit that speed but fails to reach the metrics, the odds of requiring Tommy John Surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) somewhere down the line are significantly increased.
Heenan created a healthy way for young pitchers to throw fast by giving specific data points they must reach. Johnson bought into this ideology.
In addition, he incorporated Driveline Baseball, the first ever data driven baseball training facility, founded in 2007 and utilized by Major League ball players. Although he was unable to travel to Kent, Wash. to get the full experience, he was able to accomplish a training program remotely that helps with mechanics.
“I really wanted to [travel west] in December over Winter Break,” Johnson said. “That’s something I want to do maybe summer of this year.”
Johnson purchased an array of training aides including plyo balls, weighted baseballs, a recovery trampoline and wrist weights.
“My bag is like 30 pounds,” Johnson said. “The guys make fun of me all the time because I got so much stuff.”
All of this for three months, and the radar gun soared past his expectations come fall season.
“Some guys they ask ‘how do you throw hard?’ Johnson said. “Sometimes you just have to say just throw hard. You have to get that intent…It’s a different mindset.”
That’s something Johnson has changed throughout his preparations for the spring – you need to throw with intent all the time, not just when you’re penciled in as the starting pitcher that day.
“You can’t just throw softly for a week then expect to throw 90,” he said. “In between starts [my whole career] I didn’t really throw as hard as a I can. Now on my side bullpens, I continue to throw as hard as I can every bullpen.”
Now that he’s in-season, Driveline has been limited, although he still uses it to supplement head coach Mark Simeone’s delivery-oriented prescription.
“How our program has helped him with his delivery allows some of the Driveline stuff to supplement what we’re doing,” Simeone said. “I always want these guys to talk to me about those types of things. Tell me what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and why they think it helps them. I feel good about endorsing it.”
Some other members of the team have hopped on board as well. Duncan Satterlee has been employing Driveline for a couple of seasons, while Dakota Aldrich and John Daley do the exercises how they see fit.
“You don’t have to follow it fully. Some of the drills I tell guys to do just because it cleans up your arm path and strengthens your shoulder,” Johnson said.
As a top thrower on Springfield’s pitching staff, Johnson hopes to stay healthy this season. The velocity increase has, in turn, increased the effectiveness of the rest of his repertoire.
“I’ve been using the two-seam a lot more this year because I’ve noticed it has a lot of tail on it,” Johnson said. “The changeup I’ve always worked on all four years and it’s become pretty much my best pitch now.”
In his season opener, Johnson had a strong first outing. The senior ace struck out 10 batters and allowed only one run through 4.2 innings against Western New England last Saturday.
“I always knew Johnson had talent,” Simeone said. “Brian has improved each and every year he’s been in the program. He’s a focused worker.”
Photo courtesy Springfield College Athletics