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Mark Prior Inverted WThe Inverted W, which I define as more than 90 degrees of shoulder abduction, with the Pitching Arm Side (PAS) elbow above the level of the shoulders (aka Hyperabduction), combined with 15 or more degrees of shoulder horizontal adduction (PAS elbow behind the shoulders), is one of the most problematic baseball pitching arm actions.

That's because the Inverted W tends to create Timing problems in baseball pitchers.

Despite what Jeff Passan says about the Inverted W in his book The Arm, the Inverted W ended the careers of...

  • Mark Prior
  • Anthony Reyes
  • Jeremy Bonderman

...among others.

And, if you don't know who to believe, I'd refer you to what Eric Cressey, now of the New York Yankees, said about the Inverted W way back in 2012...

The Inverted W theory is incredibly sound; Chris O'Leary did a tremendous job of making his case – and we certainly work to coach throwers out of this flaw...

I've moved this essay around a few times as I've reorganized my site, so here's its original home.

If you doubt what I said when, click here to see the various versions of this essay using the Wayback Machine.

Death to the Inverted W

February 6, 2007

As you may know, I have a huge problem with a pitching cue that is referred to as the "Inverted W" or...

  • The M
  • Upside-Down W
  • Breaking the Hands with the Elbows

I believe pitchers who make the Inverted W are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing shoulder (and in some cases also elbow) problems.

In the interests of accuracy in journalism, I have been holding off on publishing this essay because I wasn't sure if pitchers were actually being taught to do this or if they were simply figuring this out on their own (and being praised for it).

However, just the other day I had a "conversation" with a pitching guru named Paul Nyman in one of the forums on Steven Ellis' Lets Talk Pitching web site and he indicated that the "Inverted W" is indeed something something that he advocates (and teaches).

I can point to literally hundreds of players who have benefited significantly using the exact same methods (inverted W, scapula loading, pelvic loading, etc.) that you THINK are a problem or what you THINK causes problems.

Reasons I Don't Like the Inverted W

Let me explain all of the reasons why I don't like the "Inverted W".

It's NOT What Great Pitchers Do

If you look at the motions of great pitchers (and by great I mean pitchers who had long, successful, and relatively injury-free careers) like...

  • Roger Clemens
  • Bob Gibson
  • Tom Glavine
  • Sandy Koufax
  • Greg Maddux
  • Nolan Ryan
  • Tom Seaver

...you will see that none of them make the Inverted W.

Instead, while you could say that all of these pitchers employed Scapular Loading, I would argue that the critical difference is that they make the Horizontal W (and just to be completely clear, "horizontal" is the key word), with their elbows below the level of their shoulders, rather than the Inverted W, with their elbows above and behind the level of their shoulders.
I believe that the Horizontal W is a safe way to scap load while the Inverted W is not.

Frequently-Injured Pitchers Do It

If you look at the mechanics of pitchers who have had injury-plagued careers, then you will almost always see the "Inverted W". Their Pitching Arm Side (aka PAS) elbow is both above and behind their shoulders in what I call a state of Hyperabduction.

  • Mark Prior
  • Billy Wagner

You will also see this pattern bear out if you go back into the history books and look at the careers of guys like Don Drysdale. He made the Inverted W and ended up retiring due to shoulder problems.

If I am correct about this, then I believe a number of young pitchers will experience problems as a result of making the Inverted W (especially if they are moved into, or continue to pitch in, the starting rotation).

  • Jeremy Bonderman
  • Anthony Reyes
  • Joel Zumaya

Similarly, pitchers like Roy Oswalt should not experience nearly as many problems because they do not make the Inverted W.

Technical/Anatomical Reason

If you are interested in a technical, anatomically-based explanation of why I think this is a problem, then here goes. The supraspinatus muscle, which is the muscle that is initially responsible for abducting the upper arm, is the one that is most frequently injured by pitchers. I don't think it's a coincidence that I have found that a state of Hyperabduction (which is achieved using the Supraspinatus) is very often related to rotator cuff problems. I am not sure what the exact mechanism is, but I believe that it could be related to impingement of the superior portion (top) of the Supraspinatus on the inferior portion (undersurface) of the Acromion.

Eliminating The Inverted W

In terms of improving the mechanics of a pitcher who makes the Inverted W, the problem is that pitchers who do this tend to break their hands with their elbows and try to take their PAS elbow as high as they can. They may also try to keep their PAS elbow above the level of their PAS hand (with their PAS forearm hanging down vertically) as long as possible. Some of this can also be due to trying to keep their fingers on top of the ball as long as possible (which I also think is a dangerous cue).

What I have my pitchers do is, ala Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan, and Roger Clemens, break their hands with their hands (not their elbows) and keep their PAS hand more level with, if not slightly above, the level of their PAS elbow. I also have them show the ball to 3B relatively soon after breaking their hands as this helps to keep the PAS hand above the level of the PAS elbow.

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