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The Pitching Mechanic
April 2008

Real-Time Illustrations and Analyses of
Proper and Improper Pitching Mechanics


The Pitching 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 primary.

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 yourself at 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 fatigue issues.

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, Steve 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 statistical insignificance.



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.

Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano

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

Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano's high PAS elbow is highlighted in the frame above.

Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano

Here is an after view of Francisco Liriano's pitching mechanics. In my opinion, his mechanics have improved from the standpoint of injury prevention.

Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano

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 shoulder problems.

Mark Mulder

Mark Mulder

Mark Mulder

Mark Mulder

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.


The Pitching Mechanic - March 2008

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