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Evaluation of the Pitching Mechanics of SI.com's Baseball's Top 20 Young Pitchers For 2008

3/9/2008

A couple days ago SI.com put together a photo essay entitled Baseball's Top 20 Young Pitchers. I thought my readers would be interested in my going through these photos and commenting upon them.

20. Ubaldo Jimenez: Nice photo just after he's released the ball. The ball was probably some sort of fastball. Notice the index and middle fingers have just come off the ball. Mechanics are kind of mixed. I like that his front leg is bent rather than being locked. I like that his glove is in front of his Glove Side (GS) pec rather than flying out to the side. I don't like that he is leaving his Pitching Arm Side (PAS) foot behind on the rubber, because that limits his hip rotation some.

19. Tom Gorzelanny: The Pirates have a number of nice lefties, and Gorzelanny may be my favorite. This photo shows a combination of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Notice his PAS elbow just below the level of his shoulders. Notice how he's showing the ball to First Base. Notice the nice hip/shoulder separation. Notice the shoulders mostly level and the eyes locked on the target. Notice the 2-Seam fastball grip. The only thing is that I wish his elbow wasn't bent right at 90 degrees.

P.S. How can the Pirates have so much solid young pitching and still suck so consistently? Maybe that's changing, but I'm not holding my breath.

18. Matt Cain: Not a great angle, but shows some interesting things. I like the significant pronation of his PAS forearm (e.g. thumb down), the fact that his GS knee is still bent rather than being locked, the bend in his PAS knee, the fact that his GS toe is pointing pretty much directly at the target, and the position of his glove.

17. Yovani Gallardo: Nice photo of him at the release point of his 4-Seam fastball. Notice how his (high) arm slot is determined by the (large) tilt of his shoulders, not the bend of his elbow. His elbow is fully extended due to the rotation of his shoulders. He leaves his PAS foot behind on the rubber a bit and doesn't have much bend in his GS knee at this point. Good glove position.

16. Matt Garza: Not a great photo in terms of talking about his mechanics. It does show great hip/shoulder separation. Notice how his shoulders are still closed but his hips have opened maybe 60 degrees and his belt buckle is close to facing the target. Pitch is a 2-seamer.

15. Chad Billingsley: Shows the contortions a pitcher's arm goes through. His shoulder is at maximum external rotation (just 180 degrees, which is good) and his elbow is still bent 90 degrees and in the lag position, which means his shoulders haven't yet started to decelerate. The load is focused on his UCL at this moment. I like the bend in both his GS and PAS knees and his glove position.

14. Clay Buchholz: I don't understand how -- or why -- pitchers pitch with all of that crap around their necks. I could never concentrate. I wouldn't be surprised if that stuff has caused control problems for at least one pitcher.
     Of course, I have ADD.
     Anyway, Buchholz throws from a high arm slot, and he's in the process of tilting his shoulders to get his hand up there. His forearm is quite pronated at this point, which is interesting (and potentially good for his elbow). Compare Buchholz's degree of pronation (palm up) with the lesser pronation in the photo above of Billingsley. I like the bend in both his GS and PAS knees and his glove position. I despise the Red Sox (remember 2004!), but have to admire their taste in Buchholz.

13. Jeremy Bonderman: Fugly. That's the word that pops into my mind when I look at this picture. First, you've got significant Hyperabduction which is preceded and/or facilitated by Inverted W (which you don't see in this photo). Second, he's scap loading, but his PAS elbow is well above and behind his shoulders. Third, he's showing the ball to Center Field more than I like. He's got good hip/shoulder separation, and lower body action, but that's just increasing the load on his shoulder (and elbow). Pity.

12. Homer Bailey: Sorry, but I can't do much with this picture. It's too late in the process. He does seem to stride quite closed, which makes me nervous. I sure hope he gets his glove up and protects himself in the case of a come-backer. Something about this photo makes me wonder if he tips his pitches.

11. Phil Hughes: Change-up on the way. Strides a little closed. His timing seems decent. His shoulders don't seem to have started rotating yet and his PAS arm is almost up and in the high-cocked position. Nice hip/shoulder separation.

10. Jon Lester: I live the guy's spirit, but not his arm action. He's not a classic Inverted W, but his PAS elbow gets a little high and his arm seems a little late as a result. I need to find some side film of him and see if his PAS drops before his shoulders start rotating. His hips are just starting to open underneath his still-closed shoulders. Pitch may be a curve.

9. Tim Lincecum: The poster child for good hip/shoulder separation. That's got to be close to 90 degrees. That's why a guy as small as he is throws as hard as he does. The pitch looks like a 2-seamer, although I'm not completely sure since he's holding it quite off-center (which would make it move/tail a lot). Let's hope his borderline Inverted L doesn't catch up with him. People worry about Lincecum's back, but I don't really. He never gets to the jackknife position that Chad Bradford or Mark Worrell do.

8. Jered Weaver: I will always love his brother Jeff for 2006, and Jered seems to have a better head. The Weaver boys' mechanics are a little funky. See this high speed film of Jeff Weaver. They are long-armers with a slightly funky arm action. This photo, which was taken a millisecond after the release point, doesn't show that. Notice how his arm slot is driven primarily by his shoulder tilt. Seems to be throwing back across his body quite a lot. Pitch is a 4-seam fastball.

7. Joba Chamberlain: I can't say for sure, but I think the pitch is a cutter or slider (which I don't like). Notice how the rotation is half way between a 2-seamer and a 4-seamer. Notice the steeper should tilt driving the higher arm slot (3/4 to high 3/4). I like that his PAS knee is bent at the release point, and I don't care that his foot is way up in the air at the release point, but I don't like that it looks like his GS knee is locked to locking. I like his glove position.

6. Francisco Liriano: Oh the humanity! Such incredible, historic statistics. Such crappy mechanics. He's also one reason why I hate the slider.
     Back to the photo.
     This is a very generic view that tells us little to nothing about the root cause of his elbow problems.
     Looks like he's throwing a change-up. Notice the 3 fingers + thumb on the ball. The only thing that's a little funky about this photo is how he seems to be falling off to the Third Base side at the release point. That may be due to the tremendous horizontal forces he generates due to his (really bad) arm action. By the time this photo has been taken, most of the really bad stuff has already happened. I give him a year before his arm rips apart at the shoulder.
     Such a waste.

5. Felix Hernandez: Kind of a pointless photo. I like King Felix, but I really can't explain why using this photo. A couple of things to notice are that he strides pretty much directly at the target and gets good shoulder rotation. Also, his falling off toward First Base is more good than bad.

4. Scott Kazmir: I have to admit that Scott Kazmir baffles me. Every other year he breaks down and I look at him, don't see anything major, and scratch my head. He may be the thing that converts me over to the concept of PAP and the Year After Effect, although it's not like he went straight from college to the bigs the same year. He did have some ramp-up.
     Does his conditioning program suck?
     In terms of the photo, his hips are fully open and are pulling his shoulders around. His PAS upper arm is externally rotating, and his PAS forearm is laying back, but not too bad. His forearm also seems fairly pronated at this moment, which would make sense given that the pitch looks like a 2-seamer.

3. Cole Hamels: I'm not a fan of Cole Hamels, but not because of anything I see or don't in this pretty much useless photo (although I will say that Hamels is SOL if Albert sends that pitch back up the middle). As I have said before, Cole Hamels has a problem with Hyperabduction, which has contributed to his elbow and shoulder problems. Adam Wainwright and Freddy Garcia have the same basic problem.

2. Fausto Carmona: Carmona's a gangly guy whose mechanics are a bit hard to read as a result (which always makes me cautious). I like the hip/shoulder separation. However, he's showing the ball to Center Field (which is bad for the elbow), his PAS elbow is a little high, and his timing is a bit suspect. Notice how his GS foot is about to plant but his PAS arm isn't vertical. My gut won't let me be very positive about such a flailing, gangly guy. Yes, Bob Gibson flailed around, but after he release the ball.

1. Justin Verlander: So we finish on an up note. As much as I'm NOT a fan of Jeremy Bonderman, I am a fan of Justin Verlander. As I have said before, Justin Verlander's mechanics are solid. I wish his elbow wasn't bent 90 degrees at the high-cocked position, but that's about it in terms of the negatives (and I'm not sure that's a negative).
     When it comes to the photo, notice how his shoulder tilt is driving his arm slot (which is low 3/4). I wish he didn't lock his GS knee, but I like the 90 degree bend in his PAS knee because that implies good hip rotation. I like the position of his glove at his GS pec and how he seems to stride pretty much directly at the target. Looks like the pitch was a change-up.

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