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The Pitching Mechanic

April 2007

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


Short(er) Pitchers

While some scouts would never look at a pitcher under 6'5", because taller pitchers are supposedly (and I do mean supposedly) more durable, the fact is that there have been many great, long-lived pitchers who have been relatively short.

- Mike Marshall 5'8"
- Pedro Martinez 5'11"
- Bob Feller 6'0"
- Greg Maddux 6'0"
- Juan Marichal 6'0"
- Jamie Moyer 6'0"
- Warren Spahn 6'0"
- Bob Gibson 6'1"
- Tom Glavine 6'1"
- Tom Seaver 6'1"
- Don Sutton 6'1"
- Sandy Koufax 6'2"
- Nolan Ryan 6'2"
- Johnny Sain 6'2"

So, if you are on a pitcher but are on the short side, don't give up on your dreams.



Will Carroll and Mark Prior's Shoulder

I think Will Carroll is a great, extremely intelligent guy, but I think he is completely wrong in the conclusions that he reaches in this column about Mark Prior's future prospects. Will apparently buys Tom House's contention that Mark Prior has perfect pitching mechanics and that the root cause of Mark Prior's problems is the overuse that he experienced at the hands of Dusty Baker.
     I think that's a bunch of hooey.
     I believe that Mark Prior has absolutely miserable pitching mechanics and that those miserable pitching mechanics -- and in particular the fact that he makes the Inverted W -- are the root cause of the problems that Mark Prior has experienced.

Mark Prior

Mark Prior

Because the pitching mechanics of Anthony Reyes are very similar, if not worse, I believe that Anthony Reyes will experience a similar fate.

Anthony Reyes

Anthony Reyes

I believe that if Mark Prior does not address the root cause of his problems, which is his terrible pitching mechanics, then the odds are only 50/50 that Mark Prior will ever pitch again in the major leagues. If Mark Prior does pitch again in the major leagues, then I believe that he will only last 1 or 2 years before his shoulder (and/or his elbow) starts acting up again.
     Unless and until Mark Prior addresses his very serious mechanical problems, he will never be able to live up to his promise. And no amount of tweaking by Dave Duncan, Jim Hickey, Rick Peterson, or even Leo Mazzone will change that.



The NYC Metal Bat Ban

While I am generally a big fan of safety-related things, I am against this ban for economic, safety, and practical reasons.
     Wood bats break.
     The problem isn't with metal bats per se. The problem is with HIGH PERFORMANCE metal bats.
     It is possible to engineer metal bats that combine the best of both worlds; the durability of metal and the lower (and thus safer) performance of wood. The golf industry does this all the time (by rule, golf clubs can only hit the ball so far).
     In many softball leagues, high performance (e.g. Miken) bats with a high BPF rating are banned. I think the same thing should be done when it comes to baseball.
     Just limit the BPF of metal bats.



Felix Hernandez Update

It turns out that Felix Hernandez's elbow problem isn't as bad as it initially seemed.
     Rather than being a UCL problem as I was initially led to believe, it is instead reported to be just a strain of his Pronator Teres muscle.
     Muscle strains heal much sooner than do ligament injuries, which is good for King Felix and the Mariners.
     Of course, this incident makes the case that baseball pitchers must take care to properly condition their pitching arms (and their entire body). Pitching is a very stressful activity, and the body must be ready to handle the stress.
     It isn't a coincidence that many long-lived pitchers (e.g. Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver) were complete freaks about conditioning and wrote about their conditioning routines in their books.



Felix Hernandez's Elbow

No sooner did I review Felix Hernandez's mechanics than he experienced a problem with his elbow. As I said below, I mostly like Felix Hernandez's mechanics, especially in terms of his PAS shoulder. However, I expressed concern about his elbow...

The only thing that bothers me about this photo is that his forearm is pronated slightly, which may require him to supinate his forearm through the release point and increase the load on his UCL.

I believe that King Felix's problems are likely related to the problem identified above with his premature pronation (aka showing the ball to CF/2B). His problems could also be related to the Power Curve he throws. This is basically a curveball thrown with a lot of force and at a high speed. While nasty, I believe that this pitch can put a lot of strain on the elbow.



USSSA Pitching "Limitations"

I believe that tournaments are a primary contributor to the rise in youth elbow and shoulder injuries.
     Tournaments allow coaches to overuse pitchers by pitching them at least multiple times in a weekend and in some cases multiple times in a day. For example, here is a link to the USSSA Pitching Limitations. Some of the more damning quotes are...

In the 10U division, a pitcher may throw up to 4 innings in 1 day and throw again the next day...In the 10U age division a pitcher may throw a maximum of 6 innings in 1 day...In the 10U age division, a pitcher may throw a maximum of 8 innings in 2 consecutive days. This means that a pitcher would be able to throw any combination of innings that equals 8 as long as the first day does not equal more than 4 innings due to Column A requirements.

There are multiple problems with these guidelines.
     First, you've got kids pitching at too young of an age. Second, they count innings and not pitches. Third, you could conceivably pitch a kid in 3 games in two days (2 innings in day 1 game 1, 2 innings in day 1 game 2, and 4 innings in day 2 game 1).
     This is why my teams absolutely do not play travel ball and generally do not play in tournaments.



Thinking About BJ Ryan's Elbow

BJ Ryan just went on the DL with elbow problems, and since I still don't think I have a good handle in terms of exactly what patterns point to potential elbow problems, I thought I should take a look at some of the pictures of him that I have collected over the years.

The first thing that struck me about BJ Ryan's pitching mechanics was the picture above. The thing to notice is that his GS knee is locked before the release point. This is something that Sandy Koufax also did, and Koufax also had elbow problems. My theory about how this could be related to elbow problems is that this either lets the hips rotate too quickly, placing too much strain on the elbow, and/or that is causes too much shock to be transmitted up to the elbow.

The second photo that struck me about BJ Ryan was the photo above. Notice how his PAS elbow is at the level of his shoulders, his PAS elbow is bent 90 degrees, his PAS forearm is hanging down vertically, and his PAS forearm is pronated.

You can see basically the same thing in the photo above of BJ Ryan.

You can also see the same thing in the photo above of BJ Ryan.

Interestingly, you can also see the same thing in the photo above of Chris Carpenter. Again, notice the PAS elbow at or just above the level of the shoulders, the PAS elbow bent 90 degrees, and the PAS forearm hanging down vertically.

You can see the same thing in the photo above of Chris Carpenter.
     So why is this bad?
     My theory is that this is bad because it increase the distance over which the PAS upper arm externally rotates as the shoulders start to turn. Rather than being the typical 90 degrees, if a pitcher does this then their PAS upper arm will externally rotate 180 or more degrees. If you do this while the elbow is bent 90 degrees (as it is in the case of both BJ Ryan and Chris Carpenter) then you will place a significant and sustained load on the UCL.
     This is one more reason for me to hate the Inverted W.



Tim Lincecum: Analysis Analysis

One of my readers recently wrote...

I love your blog and your breakdown of pitcher's mechanics.  I've played baseball in some shape or form my entire life and find the insight you bring to the table fascinating.  I turned a couple of friends of mine onto you (fantasy baseball guys who are looking for any piece of information they can get their hands on) and one of them sent me this link:

- Controlled Fury: Tim Lincecum

I was curious to see what you thought about Lincecum's mechanics.  I'm a Dodgers fan, but more importantly I'm a fan of good baseball and this looked interesting.  The quality is a little rough and the guy does seem to be overly gushy about a subject when he should be objective if he's offering hard scouting analysis.  If you've got the time, it would be great to see a breakdown.  Thanks a lot.

By the way, I hate that a player got injured, but good call on Carpenter.  Every friend I have that read your site avoided him in fantasy baseball drafts and they were thanking me profusely for potentially saving their seasons.

I have seen the side clip of Tim Lincecum before, but not the front view...

Felix Hernandez

In general, I don't have a very high opinion of this analyst because he is a proponent of arm action and things like the Inverted W that I think are both dangerous and unnecessary. In general, our views are diametrically opposed when it comes to arm action. For example, he says...

He "loads his shoulder" well. His elbow "picks up" the ball. What's not to like? There is one thing I don't like that I missed in my draft review. He breaks his hands earlyish, which I personally don't like because it makes the arm slow down to wait for the body.

I happen to hate it when guys break their hands with their elbows and use their elbows to pick up the ball. I think that this increases the risk of shoulder (and in some cases elbow) problems. I also like it when guys break their hands earlier because I believe that reduces the load on the shoulder.
     He does get it right when he points out Tim Lincecum's large hip/shoulder separation in frame 4 of the clip below...

Felix Hernandez

Large Hip/Shoulder Separation

Notice how in Frame 4 Tim Lincecum's belt buckle is pointing at Home Plate while his shoulders are still mostly closed. That gives him a differential approaching 90 degrees, which is outstanding.
    In terms of my opinion of Tim Lincecum and his pitching mechanics, I mostly like him. He is a max effort guy, which in my opinion increases his overall risk and also makes him more vulnerable to control problems (his stride is a little too Rick Ankiel for my taste). However, his arm action isn't too bad (his PAS elbow doesn't get too high and is relatively low when his shoulders start to turn), his timing looks good, and he certainly knows how to throw with his entire body and not just his arm.



David Wells: Arm Action Analysis

In the entry above, I talk about how people who advocate the Inverted W drive me crazy. This is because, while you see the Inverted W in some -- usually often-injured -- pitchers like Billy Wagner, you don't see it in the arm actions of guys like Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, and Nolan Ryan. That means that the Inverted W isn't necessary to pitching either well or hard.

I just stumbled across the above photo of David Wells, and it makes my point for me.
     David Wells is a 21-year career guy with 230 (and counting) wins who, to my knowledge, hasn't had a serious arm problem and who doesn't make the Inverted W.
     Notice how low David Wells' elbow is in the photo above; how instead of breaking his hands with his elbows, David Wells instead breaks his hands with his hands.

To prove that I'm not taking this photo out of context, the photo above is from a slightly later moment in time. Notice how his PAS elbow is still low as he swings his PAS hand out and up through the high cocked position. If David Wells was breaking his hands with his elbows, then his PAS elbow would be much higher at this point, and not at roughly the same height as his PAS hand.

As his PAS forearm passes through the high cocked position, David Wells' PAS elbow is still relatively low. While he is scapular loading, his PAS elbow is just below the level of his shoulders. Also, notice that at this point David Wells is showing the ball to 1B rather than CF/2B.



So What About King Felix?

Everybody's been talking about Felix Hernandez lately (I saw him while trying to get some video of Daisuke Matsuzaka). A while ago I expressed a low opinion of King Felix's mechanics, but after taking another, more detailed, look at him I'm not so sure that that low opinion is entirely warranted. Like Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez is a max effort guy, which always increases the risk, but his mechanics look mostly good to me.

Felix Hernandez

The photo above is a side view of Felix Hernandez just after his Glove Side foot has planted. His hips are starting to open while his shoulders are still closed. His PAS elbow is below the level of his shoulders. In other words, like great pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Felix Hernandez makes the Horizontal W rather than the Inverted W. Also, his PAS forearm is pretty much vertical before his shoulders start turning.

Felix Hernandez

The photo above shows Felix Hernandez at pretty much the same moment but from a slightly different angle. Again, you can see the scapular loading, but with the PAS elbow below the level of the shoulders. Notice that his GS toe is pointing pretty much directly at the target.

Felix Hernandez

Here is a third view of Felix Hernandez at pretty much the same moment in time as the two above. Again notice that his PAS elbow is just below the level of his shoulders. In this photo, it looks like Hernandez is going to throw a change-up. The only thing that bothers me about this photo is that his forearm is pronated slightly, which may require him to supinate his forearm through the release point and increase the load on his UCL.

Felix Hernandez

The photo above of Felix Hernandez is from just a moment later. Notice that his shoulders have only rotated slightly but his hips are now fairly open. I'd say his hips rotate roughly 60 degrees ahead of his shoulders. Again, notice that his GS toe points pretty much directly at the target. It does look like Felix Hernandez lands slightly closed and throws across his body somewhat.

Felix Hernandez

The photo above of Felix Hernandez is from the same moment in time but from a slightly different angle. In it, you can see that his PAS elbow is just below the level of his shoulders.

Felix Hernandez

The photo above of Felix Hernandez is from the same moment in time as the two photos above, but from the side. Again, notice how his hips are rotating well ahead of his shoulders and how his PAS elbow is just below the level of his shoulders.

Felix Hernandez

In the photo above of Felix Hernandez, his shoulders have started turning and his PAS forearm is starting to bounce or lay back as his PAS upper arm externally rotates.

Felix Hernandez

This final photo of Felix Hernandez shows his just before the Release Point. His elbow has extended 90 degrees and his PAS upper arm is starting to internally rotate. In the photo above, he looks like he is throwing a 2-Seamer.
     The only thing I don't like about this photo is some suggestions of head jerking, This can lead to control problems, but obviously isn't a problem for him at the moment.



Goodbye Mark Prior?

It looks like Mark Prior's career (or at least this phase of it) may be coming to an end. He's evidently having (more) shoulder problems down in the minor leagues. As I have said before, this is due to his far from perfect mechanics.
     I take no joy in this. I think it's a tragedy. I also think the same fate is in store for Anthony Reyes.
     The only way that Mark Prior is going to be able to survive as a pitcher is to rebuild his mechanics from the ground up.



A Tribute To Kurt Vonnegut

To mark the passing of Kurt Vonnegut, and to honor his memory, I wanted to point you to Harrison Bergeron, one of my favorite short stories.



Daisuke Matsuzaka's Pitching Mechanics

Everybody seems to be interested in Daisuke Matsuzaka's pitching mechanics. I recently found the sequence of photos below of Dice-K pitching that was shot from the front.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

I thought that people would be interested if I broke this sequence down frame by frame and that it would be interesting to compare it to the breakdown that I did previously of the pitching motion and mechanics of Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Frame One
This frame shows Daisuke Matsuzaka just starting his leg lift after planting his Pitching Arm Side (aka PAS) foot.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Frame Two
In this frame, Daisuke Matsuzaka is at the top of his leg lift and is just about to start striding toward the plate. Notice that his hips are significantly reverse-rotated, but his shoulders are not as reverse-rotated.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Frame Three
This frame shows Daisuke Matsuzaka just after breaking his hands. Notice how he is taking the ball back toward 2B and has dropped his PAS hand back by his PAS pocket. This will help to hide the ball from the batter, which is one thing that helps to make a pitcher sneaky fast. His Glove Side (aka GS) foot is sweeping out toward 3B as he strides and he is leading his stride with the heel and side of his GS foot. I call this striding sideways to the target. Dice-K is pointing his glove just to the 3B side of the plate.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Frame Four
This frame shows Daisuke Matsuzaka in what some call the Power Position. His GS foot has just planted and his shoulders are just starting to rotate. His hips are fairly open (45 to 60 degrees) while his shoulders are still closed. He is still hiding the ball from the batter. He landed with his GS foot pretty much in line with Home Plate but with his GS toe pointing just slightly to the 3B side of Home Plate.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Frame Five
This frame shows Daisuke Matsuzaka just after the Release Point. You can see that Dice-K throws from a 3/4 arm slot. His glove is in the vicinity of his GS pec. His PAS foot is still on the ground.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Frame Six
In this frame, Daisuke Matsuzaka's PAS foot has just come up off the ground as his hips have continued to turn.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Frame Seven
In this frame, Daisuke Matsuzaka's arm has pretty much decelerated. His PAS foot has kept coming forward which helps his hips to keep turning which helps his arm to smoothly decelerate. One thing to notice is that Dice-K never locks his GS knee. Some people think this is important to throwing at high velocity. It's pictures like these that make me question that notion.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Frame Eight
The thing that strikes me in this frame is that Daisuke Matsuzaka finishes in a solid fielding position. He is square to the batter, his eyes are locked on the target, and his glove is near his GS pec. This will help him field his position better than average (and help to protect him from come-backers).



Cause, Effect, and Pitching Velocity

When it comes to pitching instruction, my nemesis is one of the big name gurus named Paul Nyman. I have the honor of being named his #1 Wannabe Baseball Instruction Guru.
     It was an honor just to be nominated, much less to actually win the award.
     Paul Nyman, who coined the term "Scapular Loading", is a big believer in arm action and as a result advocates things like the Inverted W. As you know, I think that the Inverted W...

- Is unnecessary to throwing well or hard.
- Destroys pitchers' arms.

I used to think that Paul had a basic understanding of how people throw the ball, but in a conversation in Steven Ellis' discussion board, Paul said this to a poster on the board who was complaining about his low velocity...

Your problem is that you have virtually no arm action as defined by developing external rotation of the shoulder. It appears that your action rotation is at best 120. High-level throws approach 180. A big part of your problem is you're doing exactly what Chris O'Leary advocates, using your body to throw the baseball. Contrary to popular belief you have to learn how to throw with your arm first before the body can do its thing.
     The pitcher on your team that I think you are referring to develops almost 180 of external rotation of the shoulder which results in his ability to whip the ball as opposed to what you are doing which is pushing the ball.

The problem with this statement is that it makes it clear that Paul Nyman doesn't understand cause and effect when it comes to pitching velocity.

Billy Wagner

Paul appears to believe that external rotation (which is what Billy Wagner is exhibiting in the photo above) is the CAUSE of velocity. That is the equivalent of crediting the tires with a car's velocity and ignoring the role of that thing under the hood (aka the engine).
     In contrast, I believe that large degrees of external rotation (of the PAS upper arm) is the EFFECT of throwing hard, not the CAUSE of throwing hard.
     I believe that throwing hard is the result of learning how to throw with the entire body and not just the arm. That means rotating the hips ahead of the shoulders, as Casey Fossum is doing in this photo...

Casey Fossum that the large muscles of the lower torso powerfully pull the shoulders around (which causes the external rotation).
    I would hope that Paul Nyman, who I believe is an engineer, would have a decent understanding of something as basic as the difference between cause and effect.



Honda SUX

I know this is off-topic, but I thought I should warn y'all about a problem that I am having and that you should be aware of.
     Several years ago I bought a 2000 Honda Odyssey with the intention of driving it 200,000 miles, because that is what everyone told me I could expect.
     "It's a Honda" and all that crap.
     As it turns out, the transmission on the vehicle was under-engineered, and it burned up at 75,000 miles. Honda replaced it that time for free, but now at 135,000 miles that second transmission just burned up and Honda is refusing to help me out.
     So I'm stuck having to drop $2,500 into a vehicle that has basically no resale value, that has been one problem after another, and that will no doubt burn up this transmission just when I'm getting around to selling the vehicle.
     I bought a Honda because I didn't want to deal this kind of garbage. I certainly wouldn't have pay a $5,000 premium over a Chrysler if I had known then what I know now.
     From now on, I'm a Toyota man.



Rotational Hitting

As long as I'm going off-topic, I wanted to let you know about an article I just finished that describes my take on Rotational Hitting. I think that Rotational Hitting describes what the best hitters do, and it's what I teaching to all of the kids that I coach.



Chris Carpenter's Elbow

I hate it when I'm right.
     Just a couple of days ago, I said that I was nervous about the likely health of the Cardinals' pitching staff. The only guys whose mechanics that I even sort of like, and would recommend to a young pitcher, are Kip Wells and Braden Looper. I said that I was nervous about Anthony Reyes, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright because I felt that their poor mechanics increased the likelihood that they would have injury problems.
     Well, yesterday it was reported that Chris Carpenter was having elbow problems.
     While this wasn't exactly what I expected -- I thought Carpenter's shoulder problems would flame up again first -- I am not at all surprised. As I said back in January in my analysis of Chris Carpenter's pitching mechanics, I do not like Chris Carpenter's arm action.
     He breaks his hands with his elbows, making something of an Inverted W, and his PAS elbow ends up quite high. Combine this with the fact that Carpenter has a problem with habitual rushing, and you end up with a guy who puts a tremendous amount of strain on both his shoulder and his elbow. While you can manage this to a degree by ensuring that the shoulder is well-conditioned, it is hard to do much of anything about what this does to his elbow.


The Pitching Mechanic - March 2007

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