Pitching Motion Analysis

Pitchers get injured. That is no news flash as throwing a baseball at 90-100 MPH is an unnatural act which stresses the body to its physical limits and sometimes its breaking point.  With that understood, there are ways to prevent injuries to pitchers, and it all comes down to physics & bio-mechanics.

A MLB pitcher must have correct mechanics to maintain a healthy and sustained career.  This is true for relievers as well as starters.  In this article, the proper motion for pitching a baseball will be illustrated & described.  Anyone with an interest can learn and apply these correct techniques to their own motion. Pitching coaches must know everything described below, or else their efforts with kids are of no value, or even worse– destructive.

will-carroll_saving-the-pitcher

Let’s start with proper mechanics. The most critical position for a pitcher to maintain throughout the loading part of his wind-up is the “Flex-T” position.  Both shoulders need to be locked into this straight-line posture, in order to avoid excessive strain on the shoulder capsule and the elbow.  From there both forearms are flexed, which minimizes strain throughout the kinetic chain. Below is Nolan Ryan, one of the greatest & most durable power pitchers of all-time (late in his career), locked into the Flex-T:

nolan-ryan-at-flex-t-position

Fatigue is the enemy that cripples pitchers with correct mechanics. The photo below is an illustration of the most common mechanical flaw in pitching, which is over-rotation of the upper arm/shoulder. This is the proverbial, “reaching back for something extra” doesn’t really help, in fact it’s damaging.  If the shoulders are not held into a straight-line posture, the excessive strain will lead to shoulder/elbow breakdown, unless immediately corrected with a strong Flex-T posture:

Analyzing a pitching motion can be difficult, as many things are happening in the <2 seconds it takes a hurler to deliver the ball to home plate. While reviewing video, it is helpful to pause and scroll it forward manually– frame by frame. Using this method, we will evaluate some of the best pitching motions in the game, as well as some problematic ones.

The hardest thrower in MLB is Aroldis Chapman, who just signed a 5-year/$86M deal with the NY Yankees.  Focus your attention at 21-22 seconds into the video, which is the best view of his motion in this clip:

Aroldis Chapman has fluid & flawless mechanics, which is what creates all his power. He over-rotates his hip turn, but still holds everything together throughout his motion because he’s such a great athlete. This reduces his injury risk considerably (although not absolutely), which is what Yankee GM Brian Cashman needs on a 5-year deal for a power pitcher. The key to longevity will be for Chapman to remain strong & flexible in the hips & core.  Here’s more science on what make Chapman so extraordinary:

Chapman disagrees with how Cubs used him in postseason  12-16-16  [1]
If I was Aroldis Chapman, I’d be upset with Joe Maddon too, as he was abused– by any rational definition of pitcher handling. No one appreciates being abused. Yes, it won the Cubs a WS, and yes he’s well-paid, and that’s why they play em’, and flags fly forever, etc…, but Chapman (at least) should have been informed by his manager that he was planning on using him extensively in both games 6 & 7– and clearly he’s saying he wasn’t. It’s his career (and a lot of $$) at risk, pitching fatigued, so he had a few parting words out the door. Anyone who can’t understand that is a hypocrite and/or has never competed. I would love to hear Joe Maddon’s thoughts on all this.
BTW, Yankee fans should be ecstatic, as Brian Cashman has done the impossible which is to replace Mariano Rivera.

mariano_rivera

One of the most durable and effective starting pitchers of this era is Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers.  Not surprisingly his motion is extremely compact & efficient.  Note the beautiful balance throughout his delivery:

Not heeding the principles of sound mechanics & thermodynamics has catastrophic consequences for pitchers, as well as teams trying to build & maintain a staff.  Here’s Tyson Ross, whom the San Diego Padres just released, despite being one of the best pitchers in the NL from 2013-15. Ross over-rotates his shoulders, and doesn’t use enough hips in his delivery, which has led to his shoulder problems:

Below is Steven Strasburg, the celebrated #1 overall pick by the Nationals in 2009, whose MLB career has been one injury issue after another. It’s not hard to see why, as the right shoulder severely flies out, creating all kinds of stress on the rotator cuff & ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). This is the game which he was taken out of last season, before being shut down. Note that Strasburg has pitched 200+ innings only once in his 7-season career:

Below is a really poor motion, that deserves scrutiny.  RHP Zach Lee is from Texas, listed as 6’4″, 227 lbs– age 25.  Scouts would project this kid to be sitting at 95-96 MPH and touching 98 with his fastball, with a 92-93 MPH wipe-out slider. The slider in the video rolls in at 88 MPH, and is a “hanger.”   The Seattle Mariners just released him for fear of what Mike Trout does to pitches like that.  Everything describes hereafter happens at 3-4 seconds:

Look for Lee’s forearm being nearly vertical as he starts his rotation towards home plate. This leads to the eventual “forearm fly-out,” seen clearly at mid-rotation. This severely stress the UCL, causing velocity/control loss and eventually leads to TJ surgery. Lee also doesn’t pronate at the finish, another major mechanical flaw which leads to velocity loss and eventually soft-tissue breakdown of the elbow and/or shoulder.  Lastly, his drive-line ends up towards the lefty batter’s box, instead of straight home.  His push-off the rubber could also be improved, and his hips are sluggish– which is really the root of all his problems.

The most likely reason Zack Lee stinks is because he’s hurt– due to faulty mechanics.  The Padres just claimed Lee off waivers, and if he is ever going to pitch effectively for them, he needs an immediate MRI of the right elbow & shoulder along with both hips– as there is major damage in there.

Injuries must be evaluated & diagnosed first, followed by a treatment plan for full recovery & rehabilitation. Next, the pitching mechanics must be corrected. It needs to be a total commitment by everyone from the player, to the coaching & medical staff, or else it fails. It’s a lot of science, but it’s also that simple.

Addendum 1-4-17: The San Diego Padres are considering a 6-man rotation in 2017. The traditional & sabermetric argument against 5-man rotations (vs. 4-man rotations) is that the ace gets less starts. The Padres don’t really have that problem, as they don’t have a true ace. Luis Perdomo is probably their opening day starter, and the Padres have high hopes for him, but no one claims he can match up consistently with Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner– who are true aces. The issue the Padres have is keeping their arms healthy, which means limiting their innings. A 5-man rotation asks for 32.4 starts per pitcher, meaning #1 & #2 get 33 starts over 162 games. A 6-man rotation asks for 27 starts per pitcher. Since the drop-off in quality isn’t as much of an issue as limiting fatigue and preventing elbow & shoulder blowouts, the benefits are clear in this case. Even with an injury, the fall-back is #7 starter, or a 5-man rotation until the pitcher has healed. This is a good year for the Padres to experiment, as they have nothing to lose on the field.

One last point on a 6-man rotation is that it doesn’t limit innings on a pitcher who is effective and can handle the workload. If a starter averages 7 IP in 27 starts, then he will pitch 189 innings. 7.1 IP/start is 198 innings, etc… It’s about economizing and going deeper into games, when they’re ready. A 6-man set-up will allow teams the flexibility to stretch some guys out, while protecting others.

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Friar Musings

San Diego Padres are 7-15, last in the NL West as of this publication.  Everything below was originally posted here, content has been edited slightly.

Padres shut-out by Dodgers in 3-game series 4-6-16
You gotta admit: 1) this is now must-see inept baseball, & 2) A.J. Preller really keeps it interesting. It’s helps to have a sense of humor. Life (like baseball) is mostly about dealing with losing.

Tyson Ross

Tyson Ross lands on DL with shoulder inflammation 4-9-16
Good to be cautious, as he’s too valuable to risk damaging. Get a diagnosis ASAP. Shoulders are the most serious pitching injuries and hardest from which to recover. MRI needed.

Padres lose 2-1 to Phillies 4-13-16
That was a great defensive play by 1B Wil Myers to C Christian Bethancourt who showed nice athleticism with the tag, to erase two errors (Rosales & Amarista) and prevent a run– to end the inning.
I watch a limited number of games and from what I’ve seen, their defense is fundamentally better but still not sound. Checking their box scores routinely, they’re turning a lot of double plays, as they had 3 more tonite in their 2-1 loss to the Phillies. Defense is a difficult & underrated team skill that takes time to gel– but is worth it. Teams can no longer win a WS without good defense.

Christian-Bethancourt--ATL

Padres reaping benefits of increase in shifts 4-13-16
Here’s another stat for y’all: the Padres have a much better winning percentage when they don’t get shut-out.
Padres early are getting decent individual performances, but don’t put things together as a team. There’s talent here but not enough, so expect more of this for awhile. Andy Green is already an excellent manager, but GM A.J. Preller needs another year or two to draft & develop the players & pitchers he needs to win.

AJ Preller & Andy Green

What’s good for Padres fans, is that we know early. Padres fans have been deceived (and strung along) in the past. Preller now knows he needs to move the contracts, ASAP. Many Padres fans foresaw this scenario, proving Preller had a clear plan for the worst contingency. Fans can see and understand the process, which isn’t as good as winning but at least inspires some real hope for this franchise.

Preller is lined up for both summer drafts, which are his areas of expertise. This could be a HUGE shot in the arm for the organization & their fans. As long as ownership is willing to maintain payroll and draft slot commitments, good things can happen quicker than expected. Remember it’s only baseball, and be thankful it’s here everyday for 6 months.

LHP Drew Pomeranz

Drew Pomeranz notches 8 K’s in shut-out loss to Phils 4-14-16
Once again, at least the fans & AJ Preller know early. I love Matt Kemp but he needs to go, as OF’s Jabari Blash & Travis Jankowski need at least 350-400 PAs for Green & Preller to know if either are a player. Same for Wil Myers & Cory Spangenberg who need 500+ PA’s, and reps at their positions to improve defensively. Off to ARZ in search of a win, or at least a run.

Padres shut out in 5 of their first 10 games, including a MLB-record 30 innings to start the 2016 season 4-15-16
Padres…to…win…must…score…runs

Padres threaten in ninth but fall to D-backs 4-16-16
I have to admit it’s easier to follow this team on the east coast, as I can just go to sleep with justification that I’m not going to torture myself by staying up late for this. It’s much easier to review the videos, wrap-ups & box scores; and catch an occasional game– somehow. When a franchise is rebuilding, fans need to step back and relax– otherwise it’s maddening. A few fans posted the other day about going to a game of their minor league affiliates, which is a great idea for any baseball fan. Win or lose it’s always interesting to follow, and the minors are where fans can get a good look at an organization’s future, and decide for themselves if they’re on the right track.

AAA Padres

Slow-recovering Ross sent for MRI 4-20-16
What a brilliant idea. For the record, I recommended this as soon as his start was to be skipped. That was April 9th. Wait longer, and it costs you more.

Padres place Robbie Erlin on DL with left elbow strain 4-21-16
Padres have to get healthy while doing a better job at preventing injuries. That’s a huge inefficiency in MLB, which smaller market teams must exploit, as they can’t compete dollar-for-dollar with high-payroll behemoths. Padres will continue to lose if they don’t figure this out.

Robbie Erlin LHP

Tyson Ross will not require surgery on shoulder 4-22-16
It’s good to read the Padres got a MRI on Cory Spangenberg too. They now know the exact extent of his quad injury, and can plan and monitor his rehab accordingly. The fans now know too, so they won’t be getting frustrated with him being on the DL, or accusing him of being ‘soft.’ Padres fans will also be interested to hear the exact diagnosis on the right shoulder of Tyson Ross for all the same reasons.
When MLB teams ignore or postpone necessary medical imaging & science, they are reduced to voodoo doctoring.

Cardinals take two out of three @ Petco 4-24-16
I agree with die-hards that the Padres need have brown in their team colors, as their name means ‘friars’ in English. They looked best (IMO) in brown & orange, late Tony Gwynn era (1996-98). These were also their best teams. Coincidence?

Bossman_Jr

Vintage Upton on display this season in SD 4-29-16
No one loves BJ more than me. He’s in his age 31 season, with a .243/.329/.378 line in LF, which is below average for the position. His defense is superior, proving he still should be a CF, where his batting line plays a lot better. He has a cannon for an arm, and kills many rallies with an ease & grace that ignites a crowd & dugout– instantly. His 6 SB w/ 3 CS is a wash, proving he needs to be more selective on steals. His biggest negative is that he doesn’t walk enough, and that’s just who he is. He’s not a superstar, but a bunch of really good teams would love to have him. Only a year-and-change left on his contract and he’s a championship-level CF.

Matt Kemp & BJ

With that said, 1B Wil Myers is clearly the Padres best player. Bossman Jr & Matt Kemp are valuable veteran parts– soon-to-be traded. All the other younger guys have something to prove, before they can be called real players. Solarte (health), Spangenberg (health & consistency), Norris (consistency), and Jay (consistency). Blash is intriguing and needs to play, but he’s blocked by Matt Kemp. Kemp has shown other teams his value already, and he’s on pace for another solid year at the plate. Plenty of AL teams in need are looking at him now and the Padres are definitely for sale– if not now, soon. Preller will be first to market, which is how you get the best return.

Wil Myers 1B Padres

As for the pitching, Shields is still a horse, and a bunch of good teams are coveting his services. His opt-out will not be waived (BOS already asked), which actually hurts his trade value. Big-market teams consider his 3-years remaining (if opt-out is declined) a bargain. Young pitchers are always about stuff & staying healthy. Ross (health) and Cashner (consistency) each have their issues, but are highly prized around MLB. Pomeranz, Rea & Erlin all show promise, but the later two are shut down with injuries at present, proving that pitching prospects are always the toughest to project, due to health.

james-shields

That is why injury prevention is the most important inefficiency in modern MLB. It’s the new OBP & defensive metrics. Despite the conventional wisdom you may hear, injuries don’t “just happen.” True, they are sometimes random accidents, other times they are misfortune or malicious intention; but they always have causes– and most injuries are preventable. This is particularly true for repeatable-motion injuries in pitching. Pitching overhanded generates more velocity, but is an unnatural & destructive motion as compared to throwing sidearm or submarine. Mechanics have to be perfect throughout the kinetic chain, otherwise disabling tears eventually occur in the elbow or shoulder, requiring surgical intervention. The prognosis for pitching again is much better for Tommy John (elbow) as compared to labrum (rotator cuff) surgery, so preventing shoulder breakdowns is of critical importance.

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Pay-off pitch to A.J. Preller late March, 2016
Injuries now cost MLB franchises hundreds of millions of dollars/year in lost player value. While some injuries are inevitable, most of this loss is due to inefficient management and outdated science, which can be corrected with elite baseball brains putting proper injury risk-assessment & prevention systems in place. I can help integrate the advanced metrics, with the physiology and high-performance bio-mechanics. Warning: no illicit PED use acceptable for me, and will be quickly detected if deception is attempted. I do realize you’ve already hired new personnel across the board, including new medical staff. I’d love to work with them (and you), to help this organization win. My posts in this forum demonstrate my baseball expertise, eye for action, management skills and medical knowledge. I’m pretty sure my efforts have helped the off-season Padres in many areas, including advertising & ticket sales. I live a busy life in Florida, so contact me through my site or Facebook message, if interested. Thank you, RS
PS_ I’m still a Padres fan, even if refused or ignored at this time; I just think it would be fun to consult for MLB. How’s that for cojones?

Note: I never received a response, so the above offer is now open to all MLB teams. Until retained, I’ll simply be a Padres fan.

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