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Death To The Inverted L

8/17/2007

One day I was Googling around and stumbled across this article about Greg Maddux. While I thought the article was generally pretty good, the paragraph below drove me crazy...

What distinguishes him from other pitchers is his arm swing -- the motion of his arm from the moment he separates the ball from his glove until he releases it.

Maddux takes the ball out of his glove with a bent elbow and his hands on top of the ball. Sports Illustrated described the action correctly as an "Inverted L." He maintains this "L" position as the hand comes above the shoulder into a regular "L" position.

Whoever wrote this has either never seen Greg Maddux pitch or is pushing their own interpretation of proper pitching mechanics and is trying (inaccurately) to use Greg Maddux to prove their point.

In truth, the Inverted L -- or Inverted Goalpost -- is illustrated by the photos below of Chris Carpenter, Ian Kennedy, Scott Williamson, A.J. Burnett, and Cliff Politte.

Chris Carpenter's Inverted L

Chris Carpenter's Inverted L

Scott Williamson's Inverted L

Scott Williamson's Inverted L

Cliff Politte's Inverted L

Cliff Politte's Inverted L

AJ Burnett's Inverted L

AJ Burnett's Inverted L

In each case, the thing to notice is how their Pitching Arm Side (PAS) elbow is at or above the level of their shoulders and their PAS forearm is hanging down vertically beneath it. I think the fact that these pitchers make (or made) the Inverted L is related to their arm problems.

BJ Ryan's Inverted L

BJ Ryan's Inverted L

BJ Ryan's pitching mechanics also include a major Inverted L. I believe this is the root cause of his elbow problems and believe it will lead to Rotator Cuff and Labrum problems over the next few years.

Barry Zito's Inverted L

Barry Zito's Inverted L

You can also see the Inverted L in the pitching mechanics of Barry Zito, which makes me nervous about the health of both his elbow and shoulder. I think the fact that he makes the Inverted L may have something to do with the velocity problems Barry Zito has had over the last couple of seasons.

The Inverted L Defined

For those of you with medical or other scientific backgrounds, let me give you a more technical definition of the Inverted L. I define the Inverted L as being 90 degrees of shoulder abduction (PAS elbow at the level of the shoulders) combined with 90 degrees of shoulder internal rotation (PAS forearm pointed vertically downward) and 90 degrees of elbow flexion (elbow bent 90 degrees).

The Problem With The Inverted L

Like the Inverted W, the Inverted L isn't (that) bad in and of itself. Rather, the problem with the Inverted L is that it can create timing problems which can increase the distance, and thus the force, with which the PAS upper arm externally rotates. This can increase the stress on both the elbow and the shoulder.

Bj Ryan's Inverted L

BJ Ryan's Inverted L

This is very clearly illustrated in the clip above of BJ Ryan. The thing to notice is how, due to his significant Inverted L, his shoulders start rotating well before his Glove Side (GS) foot plants and his PAS forearm is in the vertical, high-cocked position. This additional, especially forceful, external rotation increases the load on both the elbow and shoulder joints.

Pitchers Who Make The Inverted L

There are a number of major league pitchers who have had arm problems, I believe in part to the fact that they make the Inverted L...

   - AJ Burnett
   - Chris Carpenter
   - BJ Ryan
   - Scott Williamson

The following pitchers have some Inverted L in their arm actions, which makes me wonder about the long-term health of their elbows and shoulders...

   - Aaron Crow
   - Ian Kennedy
   - Tim Lincecum
   - Barry Zito

Kerry Wood also has some Inverted L in his arm action, but it is borderline, which I think explains why he has been able to resurrect his career (to date).

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