On Tuesday, Tarleton State head coach Bryan Conger announced he was leaving the Division-II program located in Stephensville, Texas to become a coach in the Texas Rangers organization.
Just a few days before the announcement was made, Conger spoke at the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) convention. As the head coach at a Division II school, Conger discussed ways coaches without big budgets could still use technology effectively.
It was an interesting talk — one that has a lot of utility for pitching coaches at the high school and college level — but it also gave some insights into why Conger has been plucked out of college baseball and is now headed to pro ball.
Despite its success, Tarleton State, like many Division II programs, has limited resources when it comes to staff or technology. But Conger had figured out ways to raise enough money to acquire a Rapsodo and Motus Throw sleeve. The Rapsodo is a unit that allowed the team to measure its pitchers’ spin rates, location, velocity and many other measures. The Motus sleeve allowed the team to measure stress rates on the elbow for pitchers.
With the Rapsodo bullpen report, the Texans were able to tweak Conner Fletcher’s pitches and his approach to allow the righthanded side-armer to transition from a bullpen role to become a member of the weekend rotation. Normally, side-armers get pigeon-holed as relievers who are only able to get out same-side hitters, but Fletcher was effective enough against lefties to work seven or more innings in five consecutive late-season starts, including one complete game and another outing when he struck out 12 in seven innings.
Even more interesting was the way Tarleton State used its Motus sleeves. There’s been a never-ending debate revolving around how far is too far when it comes to distance and throwing long toss for pitchers in between starts. On the ultra-conservative side, there are programs that limit pitchers to 120 feet. On the other end of the spectrum, there are programs that have allowed pitchers to go as far as they can throw.
What Conger and Tarleton State tried to do was use data to guide them. Each pitcher on the staff was fitted with the Motus Sleeve during an outing on the mound throwing 100 percent in a game-type situation. That established a baseline of how much stress their elbows normally face when pitching.
Then, each pitcher was measured while long tossing at a variety of distances ranging from 30 feet to 300 feet. Using the Motus Sleeve, Tarleton State was able to see at what distance the pitcher’s long tossing met or exceeded the stress they faced when pitching. That allowed the team to set limits for each pitcher’s long-toss distance and keep them below that threshold. For some pitchers, the Texans found that their long tossing never reached the stress they generated while pitching, so they were allowed to long toss from any distance. Others were limited to 120 or 200 feet, based on the Motus Sleeve data.
Individualization has been a key part of Conger’s approach. Each pitcher at Tarleton State had an individualized throwing program designed specifically for that pitcher. Conger viewed it as his job to use data as much as possible to help customize everything they did for each pitcher. They also used the Motus Sleeve to help customize pitching workloads during the season.
In his talk, Conger explained that having limited resources is not a reason to throw up one’s hands. It just required work to figure out how to acquire the tools his program needed. Most importantly, as a coach, he said he believes it is his job to continue to develop. It was a mantra handed down from a coach he worked for.
“If you don’t grow, you’ve got to go,” Conger said.