Todd Carroll has served as the pitching coach at MIT since 2010, and his pitching staffs are routinely amongst the best in Division III baseball. In 2017, he coached David Hesslink, who graduated as the Engineers’ all-time winningest pitcher and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners.
Prior to MIT, Carroll helped UMass Boston to its first winning record in school history, and was also an assistant at Harvard, where his pitchers led the Ivy League in ERA by nearly a full run in 2007. He’s also served as an assistant coach on the summer circuit, in the NECBL from 2002-05, in the Cape Cod League in 2007 and in the New York Collegiate League in 2008. He has presented at clinics at Boston College, Harvard and the University of Arizona, and 65 of his former players have signed professional contracts.
Inside Pitch: How did you get involved with coaching?
I grew up just outside Boston in Burlington, Mass. I played and coached at UMass Boston and served as the volunteer at Harvard under Joe Walsh. Andy Barlow, our head coach at MIT, was an assistant there at the time. I worked with Andy and with Chip Parks in summer ball for a few years as well. That's kind of my coaching tree, so to speak.
IP: What is it like coaching really smart kids?
It's great. The best part of our jobs at MIT is the kids that we get to work with. They are different from really anywhere else. Our place is a lot more about where you're going as opposed to where you came from. Our players are intellectually curious about almost everything. What we've been able to do in our time here is find baseball players that are MIT-caliber students. When you find good players with individuals that are interested in this type of challenge academically, it’s special, and we've coached a ton of really special kids.
IP: Speaking of that intellectually curious mindset, how did you get into biomechanics?
Baseball Think Tank spawned it, I think. I have been to Lantz Wheeler’s Pitchapalooza, and I've always been intrigued by people who just think different. We know pitching is hard, and keeping pitchers healthy is really hard. So anything I can do to help along those lines, I'm attracted to intellectually and I want to learn more about.
From there, I started diving in through the ABCA Conventions and listening to some great guys talk; Rob Childress was tremendous, I remember when Rich Hill said he wanted to recruit people that he could be in a fight with at 2:00AM in the Gaslamp district, and also date his sister. He said that line, I loved it! That got me all sorts of fired up.
And then the technology piece has really come along, obviously, so at a place like at MIT, we're doing ourselves a disservice if we don't try to take advantage of it.
IP: How did that all come about at MIT, specifically?
It was mid-pandemic and Praneeth Samburi, who was a post doc at MIT, reached out to me and said, "Are you interested in, for lack of a better phrase, coming over and playing with some of our toys? We have this nano immersion lab…” and I have a history degree from a state school, so I had no idea what he was talking about. But I went over there.
The first thing he showed me were the force plates, so we knew instantly that we could determine what the body is doing exactly when our foot detaches from the mound, because that’s when you lose shoulder stability.
We also had the sensors, so we put some on the bottom of the foot –
we've always done some barefoot work with our pitchers to build proprioception –
but now we could measure the exact moment when the foot peels off, and just how much the shoulder de-stabilizes.
IP: Is that the main thing you’re looking at in the lab?
I've always been a big front side guy as a pitcher, ‘you have to have a strong front side.’ Being able to measure that is huge; we can see how long the glove side is staying strong and holding its position. We also have access to high-speed cameras in the lab, so we're able to see how every ‘cause’ on one side of the body ‘effects’ the other side of the body.
A lot of it is not that different from what people were teaching years and years ago. We can just see it and quantify it now, it’s something we can show our student-athletes instead of just telling them about it. Some of our players are visual learners, some need verbal cues, but whatever way we can use to reach them, we're going to try it.
IP: How often are you getting those guys in there to capture that data?
That's evolving. We didn't get to play in the [Spring of 2021] with the pandemic. If things get back to normal, I'm thinking we're going to try to do a ‘pre-screening’ of sorts with our freshmen, bring them in, look at their measurables, and go from there. Then we would measure again at the end of the fall practice period. If we have some deficits there, that's going to help us build the plan in the weight room.
IP: And this is another advantage that you have with recruiting, right?
Every single recruit we've talked to recently has asked about it, especially on the pitching side. They are kids that are into that sort of stuff anyway, right? We've even had a couple MLB organizations reach out to talk about how we can trade some ideas. I really think the ceiling is limitless on what we can do with it.
IP: How do you draw the line between capturing all the data and making the adjustments you need to make mechanically and getting out there and competing?
That's the eternal question, right? I think John Casey at Tufts does a really good job of this. You have to have an active determination of when you're in a development mode versus compete mode. Our players know that when they get to practice, there are some days where they’re going to stretch, do our mechanics drills, throwing programs, et cetera. That's a development day. When we get on the mound and we're throwing from 60 feet, six inches, we want that to be a compete day.
Now, we can also have development days on the rubber, ‘I don't care where the ball goes, try doing this with your body, your grip, your intent.' I've always tried to draw that line. I don't want them thinking about technology while they're pitching. Our schedule is too good, and we play really good teams and they're going to kick our butts if we're worried about which sensor is going wrong. If I had to put a finger on that cutoff in terms of the calendar, it would be February 1, when we're three weeks away from the season and we're just going to want to get in compete mode. At that point, I don't think the data is going to change that much anyway.
So if that’s our guide, we can plan our summer, the next fall and the winter from a strength and conditioning standpoint, from a throwing and volume standpoint. And then let's go compete and try to win baseball games in the spring.
IP: For all the coaches out there that say, "Hey, this is great, but I'm not at MIT and I don't have access to a million dollar lab with actual scientists." Is there anything out there you've seen on the market that they could utilize to access any resources that you use to learn about?
I think the big thing that I would suggest to other coaches is there are people on your campus that might be able to help. They may not have all the toys that we do, I understand how fortunate we are at MIT, but making connections across your campus is the first step. For us, it’s literally right down the street –
Massachusetts Avenue cuts right through the heart of MIT's campus. Most colleges have a science department, and most faculty want to help out the sports teams. So reach out, make those connections across campus.
IP: How has the marriage between old school and new school gone within the baseball environment, in your opinion?
We have to keep working on breaking down those walls between the bowtie folks and the baseball people, right? At the end of the day, we need to realize we’re on the same side –
we’re all trying to help our players. For us it was Praneeth reaching out and offering access to his lab during a pandemic. I'm just a baseball coach that had time on my hands. Our collaboration produced something that obviously interests a lot of people.
Everybody's going to have varying degrees of technology. It could be a YouTube video, that’s still technology!