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November 2, 2012

BP Unfiltered

Selectively Sampled Players Say: Beware of Weights This Winter

by Ben Lindbergh

Every spring, some players show up in camp bragging about how much muscle they built over the offseason. Then, the following spring, some of those same players show up in camp bragging about how much of that muscle they lost. Five examples from 2012:

After spending the past two offseasons bulking up in workouts, Longoria is 10 to 15 pounds leaner and considerably looser, emphasizing flexibility over strength in an effort to avoid the muscle injuries (hamstring, quadriceps, oblique) that have sidelined him during the past two seasons.

…Instead of lifting weights, Longoria focused on plyometrics (muscle stretching and explosiveness) and movement prep, "more strengthening the smaller muscles in my body and not just doing biceps and bench and all the heavy stuff," he said. "It's just as intense of a workout. It's just a different workout than you're used to, a lot of core strengthening."—2/5/2012
 

Brian Wilson is down from 205 pounds to 195, but no lighter in the facial hair department. The beard looked lush and dark as ever.

Wilson said his injuries last season were a direct result of pushing hard down the playoff stretch in 2010, then refusing to dial back his usually rigorous offseason workouts. He’s doing a lot more baseball movement work, cardio and flexibility and less lifting for bulk.—2/3/2012
 

Left fielder Matt Diaz took a less-is-more approach this winter, slimming down after hitting no homers and slugging .323 in 251 at-bats for Pittsburgh and Atlanta in 2011.

He had seven homers and a .428 slugging percentage in 224 at-bats for the Braves in 2010, then bulked up after signing a two-year contract with Pittsburgh in December that year. He was traded back to the Braves on Aug. 31.

“I did more power lifting and that stuff because in my mind, [Pittsburgh] is a big field and I wanted to add some more pop,” Diaz said of his strategy a year ago, when he said he followed recommendations by a since-fired Pirates strength coach.

“But it just absolutely backfired. I wasn’t free and easy with my swing. I didn’t have hand speed, which leads to power. I was strong in the weight room, but had no bat speed. It disappeared. There’s a lot more than strength to hitting, and I know that.”—2/21/2012
 

[Mark] Reynolds said he might have done too much weightlifting work last offseason, leading to added pounds and bulk that kept him from moving as well as he could. So while he still did some lifting this winter, he also focused on plyometrics and cardio -- "lots of running," he said.—3/3/2012
 

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If it seems a bit odd that the Minnesota Twins' best relief pitcher doesn't touch a weight during the offseason, well. ...

That's because it is a bit odd, compared to his peers. But it seems to be working.

For the second straight offseason, the only weights Glen Perkins picked up -- aside from standard shoulder exercises and stretch bands -- were a case of racquetballs and a padlock for his locker at the pool.

"I wanted to be as ready as I could for baseball and not feel like I was in the weight room all winter," said Perkins, who recently signed a three-year, $10.3 million extension after emerging as the Twins' most reliable late-inning reliever.

Coming off shoulder discomfort in 2009, Perkins hired a noteworthy personal trainer to get him in top shape for 2010. That workout regimen consisted of full-body workouts in the gym multiple times per week, which Perkins said led to him being in the best shape of his life, physically.

But it didn't translate to being in top baseball shape.

"I wanted to come in and prove that I was healthy," Perkins said. "I got into great shape, but I was in horrible baseball shape. I really was. All that stuff, it really showed me that it's not how hard you work, or it's not how much you work, it's what you're doing."—3/14/2012

The message is clear: if you’re a baseball player preparing a winter workout plan, don’t overdo it with the weights. Except, well, how did the season go for those five guys?

  • Wilson: Pitched two innings.
  • Longoria: Missed 85 games with a hamstring strain.
  • Diaz: Failed to hit again.
  • Reynolds: Better defensively, worse offensively—lowest SLG/ISO of career.
  • Perkins: Success!

And then, of course, there all the players for whom lifting lots of weight seems to work very well. Different plans work well for different players, and maybe even for the same player at different points, so it's hard to make many generalizations about which regimen works best. (Often, the answer turns out to be "both.") And there’s probably plenty of post hoc, ergo propter hoc here—if you work out in a different way over the winter and have a down year, you might be more inclined to find fault with your personal trainer even if you struggled for some other reason. As Perkins said, “It’s kind of the thing where you have a bad year you change things, you have a good year you do the same thing.”

In other words, lift as much weight as you want, unless you’re about to have a bad year. In that case, you’ll wish you hadn't.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

Related Content:  Offseason,  Workout,  Exercise,  Training,  Lifting

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Overthinking It: What ... (11/02)
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BP Unfiltered: Do the ... (10/30)
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