The Inverted W
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Interest in the Inverted W has exploded since Stephen Strasburg
went down with an elbow problem. As a result, many people are
talking about the Inverted W and its impact on Stephen Strasburg
and others like Mark Prior and Anthony Reyes.
Unfortunately, a lot of what they are saying is wrong. So I have
put this piece together to address some of things that are being
said about the Inverted W and to clear some things up.
I didn't coin the term, the "Inverted W." Instead, I believe the
term Inverted W was coined by Paul Nyman.
I'm just sticking with
his terminology since it's already out there.
In fact, when I first started noticing the pattern, and before
I knew that Paul Nyman called it the Inverted W, I just
called it "The M". In fact, here's a thread in which
Paul Nyman and I (aka justthefacts) discuss the Inverted W, which
at the time I called the "M"...
As to why Paul Nyman called it the Inverted W and not just the
M, I assume it's due to the slight difference in the outer strokes
of the letter that represent the pitcher's forearms. The forearms
of pitchers who make the Inverted W don't hang vertically down
from the elbows. Rather, they angle outwards.
What Evidence do you have that the Inverted W is harmful?
Part of my
Inverted W webbook is a piece that explains
the scientific basis behind the theory that the Inverted W is
The problem with the Inverted W is that it can (and I mean can
and not always does) create a timing problem (aka
rushing) and cause the arm to be late. That increases the
distance, and thus the force, of the external rotation of the
Pitching Arm Side (PAS) upper arm. That in turn increases the
momentum that occurs during the external rotation of the PAS upper
arm which increases the load on the elbow and the shoulder.
I don't recall exactly when I first picked up on the Inverted W
and started to realize that it was bad, but it was probably
in late 2005 or early 2006.
If you are
really interested in this you can find my posts on the
baseball-fever web site...
...by Googling "baseball-fever scapular
loading". I post under my own name.
At the time
the idea of scapular loading (aka scapula loading or
just scap loading) was all
the rage and I was trying to decide whether it was something I
should teach my pitchers or not. Dr. Mike Marshall, whose ideas I
was researching at the time, thought scap loading was universally a bad idea
I initially agreed with him. However, as I started looking at
pictures of pitchers and putting together
my early photographic pitching mechanics analyses, I started to
notice a very obvious pattern, one that was so obvious that I was
surprised nobody had noticed it before; great pitchers
do scap load, but they do so
with their elbows well below their
shoulders. In contrast, trainwrecks like Mark Prior scap load with their elbows well
above their shoulders.
At the same time, the father of one of my son's friends, who is a
union sheet metal worker, had surgery on the rotator cuff of his
right arm. It turns out that sheet metal workers, plumbers,
pipefitters, and others who work with their elbows above their
shoulders for extended periods of time are vulnerable to rotator
cuff problems. That clued me in to the idea that the rotator cuff
was sensitive to the position of the elbows.
What I then started doing was Googling terms like "pitcher
injury," "pitcher labrum," and "pitcher rotator cuff" and looking
at the images that came up in response to those queries. I was
looking for common patterns in the arm actions of pitchers with
common problems, and started to see them immediately.
I then came across a piece that talked about Robb Nen's unusual
stride and how it was an attempt to deal with a problem with
rushing and how Nen retired due to problems with his labrum. That
planted the seed for a possible link between rushing and labrum
In early 2006, I started posting about the Inverted W at the
Baseball Fever discussion board and
here at LetsTalkPitching.com in February of 2006 (coachxj is
Paul Nyman). Most of those posts are still accessible.
It took me a
few months to convince myself that I was really on to something
and that the Inverted W was something that people were being
taught -- or at least encouraged -- to do and not just something
that they were coming up with on their own. However,
in July of 2006 I started blogging about the dangers of the
Inverted W using Anthony Reyes as my example of a pitcher whose
career was jeopardized by his use of the Inverted W.
What made you realize that the
Inverted W was important due
the impact on a pitcher's timing?
The pitcher who made me suspect that the Inverted W, and the
other inverted arm actions, could be problematic because of its
impact on a pitcher's timing was Robb Nen. I remember reading a
piece that discussed his odd delivery and how he used an unusual
stride to try to deal with a problem with
rushing. That planted the seed in my head that there might be a link between
rushing and other timing problems and injuries.
Isn't this all Just Monday Morning Quarterbacking?
No. In addition to first writing about the Inverted W in 2006,
I first expressed concern about
Stephen Strasburg's pitching mechanics in August 2008.
Didn't Dr. Mike Marshall First Figure
This Pattern Out?
Aren't you just
ripping off his discovery?
No. Dr. Mike Marshall thinks that
scapular loading is universally
bad. As a result, he never thought to look for a difference
between good scap loading and bad scap loading.
Isn't Mark Prior a Bad Example to use
Because of his other
I don't think so.
However, if you don't think
Mark Prior's Inverted W caused his problems, then I can just
as easily say that
Inverted W caused his problems.
Anthony Reyes' Inverted W
Anthony Reyes has the same flawed arm action as
Mark Prior and Stephen Strasburg and has a very similar injury
history. That's not a coincidence. It also makes the case that Tom
House played a role in crafting
supposedly perfect pitching mechanics.
Wasn't Stephen Strasburg's Elbow Killed by a Single
Incorrectly Thrown Pitch?
No. The phrase, "The straw that broke the camel's back," was
invented for just this type of situation.
The thing that killed
Stephen Strasburg's elbow wasn't a single incorrectly throw pitch,
it was all the pitches before that pitch that degraded his UCl to
the breaking point.
That last pitch just
finished the job.
Isn't this all the Nationals' Fault?
They probably should have shut Strasburg down
when his shoulder started barking, and probably shouldn't have had
him pitch in the major leagues this year, but the real damage was
done years ago when Strasburg developed his arm action.
Was Strasburg Taught to make the Inverted W?
Maybe. Maybe not. Strasburg came of age at a time when Mark
Prior was still seen as one of the best pitchers out there and
someone to study and copy because of his
perfect pitching mechanics. In fact, I know of, and have done
some talking to, one major leaguer who is having arm problems due
to his Inverted W and who copied Mark Prior because it seemed like
a good idea at the time. it wouldn't surprise me if Strasburg also
tried to emulate Mark Prior.
Are There Any Pitchers Who Have
Survived the Inverted W?
There are a few exceptions that I know of and they point out
subtleties in the idea.
had a borderline Inverted W and was healthy. However, he was a
soft tosser, didn't have a timing problem, and was a product of a
Braves system that stressed conditioned. That makes the case that
the Inverted W is a bigger problem in harder throwers (92-93+) and
when it causes timing problems. It also makes the case that
conditioning may be important to tolerating borderline arm
It may be that the Braves'
conditioning program also enabled John Smoltz to tolerate his
borderline Inverted W better than most. However, Smoltz also had
major elbow and shoulder problems, so he was hardly clean.
Drysdale pitched for 14 seasons with an Inverted L. However, his
timing wasn't as bad as some. His career was also cut short by
Pedro Martinez pitched for 13 highly effective seasons
with a borderline Inverted W. His career was cut short by shoulder
problems. I don't think it's a coincidence that Pedro Martinez
changed his arm action, and got rid of his Inverted W and improved
his timing, during the come-backs at the end of his career.
pitched well with a borderline Inverted W. However, he missed most of the 1982 season due to elbow problems and had
effectiveness problems in 1981 and 1983.
Bob Feller was a plus plus velocity guy with a borderline Inverted W.
I would like to say that he makes the case for the primacy of timing
over arm action as the key determinant of injury risk because his
timing was good. However, Bob Feller missed 4 full baseball seasons in
the middle of his career due to WWII. That could have given his arm time to
heal from any underlying injuries. Due to the hole in his career, I view Bob
Feller as a confounded example and don't think he says anything
about the Inverted W either way.
Mickey Lolich is a pitcher who I am currently
researching because he did have an Inverted V in his arm action
and, like Don Drysdale, he only pitched well for 14 years. However, I haven't seen any video of him to know what his timing
was like. I also don't know anything about how hard he threw.
 A good paper that studies the forces on the elbow is
Relationship between throwing mechanics and elbow
valgus in professional baseball pitchers.