The Pitching Mechanic
Real-Time Illustrations and Analyses of
Proper and Improper Pitching Mechanics
Mechanic - May 2008
The Evil Slider?
It turns out that my little piece (below) on the return of
Francisco Liriano and his new mechanics caught the attention of
a number of people, including
Will Carroll over at Baseball Prospectus. I wanted to
respond to a few points Will makes in his piece.
There’s a problem in “fixing” a pitcher’s mechanics. In
making them safer, you might make them ineffective.
This may be true to a degree. However, I would say that the
greater risk is making a pitcher's mechanics "less" effective
rather than making them "ineffective". I can give you tons of
examples of pitchers who, as they got older, continued to
succeed despite the fact that they lost their primary pitch or
had to modify their mechanics. Greg Maddux and Sandy Koufax are
two examples of pitchers who had to back off their fastballs by
a number of MPH in order to increase their effectiveness.
Given how many great pitchers used mainstream mechanics
in the past, and how pitchers like Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens
seemed to move toward mainstream mechanics as they got older,
I'm not convinced that some people have to use the
Inverted L or the
Inverted W to be effective. If you look at the pitchers in
the Hall Of Fame, the only pitcher with obviously problematic
mechanics is Don Drysdale, who made the Inverted L and whose
career was cut short by shoulder problems. Pretty much every
other pitcher in the Hall Of Fame used mechanics that I would
not have a problem teaching to a young pitcher.
At the end of the day, I think the idea that some
people have to throw with dangerous mechanics to be effective is
at least wrong and in many cases is simple fear-mongering.
I know of only three teams that do everything
from baseline MRIs, in-season objective monitoring, and motion
analysis that allows us to get to the really important
information - joint loads.
As I have said before, all the fancy-schmancy technology in
the world isn't going to increase your understanding of a
pitcher's mechanics if teams and others insist on comparing
pitchers like Mark Prior to themselves rather than to other
pitchers. Garbage in, garbage out.
Without that information, the best we can do is discuss, not
educate. If there’s any lesson from Pitch FX, it’s that we
should be using our lying eyes as a secondary source, not the
I'm sorry, but I would not trust any analysis that relied on
Pitch FX data. I have watched a number of games on both my TV
and my computer and I have seen the Pitch FX system repeatedly
mis-classify and mis-characterize pitches. This ranges from
calling a sinker a splitter to more serious sins like
mis-judging the break of a fastball.
Moreover, I’m going to quibble with O’Leary’s assertion that
the slider is a harder pitch on the elbow. Studies have shown
that, thrown properly, the “cost” of a slider is not
significantly higher than a fastball. (You can check for
this link. I’m sure you’ll recognize a couple of the names
involved, attesting to the quality of the study.) The big caveat
is “thrown properly,” which allows any pitch to turn into a
potential injury, not to mention anything of in-game or seasonal
There are a couple of problems with this argument.
First, this isn't the greatest study to rely on. The
slider was pretty much an afterthought in this study, with the
number of subjects studied being much smaller (N=6 for the
slider rather than N=21 for the fastball). As a result, it's
questionable whether any of the results for the slider are
actually statistically significant.
Second, anecdotal evidence suggests that the slider and
the cut fastball may in fact be more dangerous. For one thing,
there's the case of Mariano Rivera. He has had a number of elbow
problems despite having excellent mechanics. I don't think it's
a coincidence that his primary pitch is the cut fastball.
There's also the case of Kerry Wood. In the year before he blew
out his elbow in 1999, Kerry Wood was absolutely living on his
slider and appears to have thrown it far more than any other
pitch. I also think that the fact that pitchers like Greg Maddux
and Roger Clemens do not throw the slider is significant.
Third, I will admit that the cases of Steve Carlton
and Randy Johnson, who are widely known for their sliders, cloud
the issue. Their experiences may suggest that there may be a
good way and a bad way to throw a slider or that lefties throw
their sliders differently than do righties. Also, the fact
that there may be a good way to throw a slider doesn't mean that
there isn't also a bad way to throw a slider. It could be that
Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson actually threw very different
pitches than did Kerry Wood and Francisco Liriano. For instance,
Carlton describes how to throw his slider on his web site,
and what he describes is different than what many people teach.
In sum, the slider is a
subject that should be studied thoroughly in a dedicated and
properly-designed study, not something that should be blown off
by citing a weak study that flirts with the boundaries of
Francisco Liriano's Pitching Mechanics: Before & After
I've been following with some interest the return to baseball
of Francisco Liriano. He was putting up historic number before
he went down with a torn UCL.
The folks over at
Baseball Intellect recently did a comparison of Francisco
Liriano's pitching mechanics before and after his Tommy John surgery, and I thought people would find it
interesting if I piggybacked on their analysis.
Above is a before clip of Francisco Liriano's pitching mechanics. The thing to notice is how high his Pitching Arm Side (PAS) elbow
gets after he breaks his hands.
Francisco Liriano's high PAS elbow is highlighted in the frame above.
Here is an after view of Francisco Liriano's pitching mechanics. In my
opinion, his mechanics have improved from the standpoint of
The key thing to notice is how his PAS elbow stays lower.
This should reduce the strain on both his elbow and his
shoulder. Liriano also seems to be breaking his hands slightly
earlier, which I like but the Baseball Intellect guys do not.
However, the key thing here is the arm action. Liriano showed
off an earlier hand break on Sunday, which isn't a good thing.
The biggest arm action difference is the scap load.
I like an early hand break because it reduces the likelihood
that a pitcher will have a timing problem by giving
their PAS forearm more time to get up into the high-cocked
position. I also don't think breaking the hands early is
necessary to throwing either hard or well.
Before I close, I should mention that I think that a
major cause of Francisco Liriano's elbow problems was his
reliance on his hard slider. Combine the slider, which is
probably the worst pitch for the elbow due to the forceful
supination, with questionable pitching mechanics and you have a recipe
for disaster. It seems like Francisco Liriano has started to
address his mechanical problems, but it's still an open issue
whether he is addressing the other issues that contributed to
his elbow problems.
Proper Elbow Height and Hyperabduction
I recently received this e-mail from a reader...
I have been reading more medical journals and information
about shoulder injuries and ran across this:
It mentions that the elbow below the shoulder causes increased
risk of injury in the supraspinatus. Any insight?
I don't think this article
contradicts anything I have said. It is referring to problems
related to exercise technique rather than pitching and does so
in a fairly confusing if not contradictory manner.
I am aware of shoulder problems that can crop up if
poor technique is used when exercising. For example, when doing
bench presses you do not want to bring the bar to the chest
because this causes the elbows to go behind the shoulders and
puts the muscles of the shoulder in a mechanically weak
position. For the same reason, when doing push-ups you do not
want to bring the chest all the way to the floor.
In terms of pitchers, I think that high elbows (e.g.
Inverted W and
Hyperabduction) are a much bigger problem than low elbows.
That is because the PAS elbows of Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson
stay quite low during their throws. You do see a low PAS elbow in pitchers like Mark Mulder. However, his
PAS elbow is lower than Randy Johnson or Greg Maddux's. It's
also hard to say whether this is the cause or the effect of his
It could be that Mark Mulder has come to throw like this
because it places less stress on his shoulder.
A New Writing Gig
I wanted to let you know that I have started writing a weekly
column, and providing instant injury and mechanics analyses, for
Baseball Digest Daily.
My first piece for BDD is an examination of the
pitching mechanics of Francisco Rodriguez (aka K-Rod). I
look at how his coaches are changing his mechanics to try to
reduce the strain on his left (GS) ankle.
In the future, I may do more writing over there and
link to it from my web site. However, I will still be posting at
my blog about things that don't apply to BDD.
Mechanic - March 2008