Ask the pitching mechanics man.
Doug Thorburn: Thanks for joining me for some Friday chattin'. Powered by the Yu Darvish anthem, "I got 99 problems but a pitch ain't one," on to the questions!
brukru (Pittsford): Been attending a lot of high school games and have noticed almost all the pitchers using some form of a slide step with runners on, unfortunately all of them have poor mechanics with it, elbow drags, front shoulders flying open, and varied release points. Do you think this could be a reason we are seeing more and more arm ailments?
Doug Thorburn: The slide step is extremely popular in high school, and the tendency for teams to run wild - especially against pitchers with regular leg lifts - only makes the issue more problematic. The problem is that you are asking young players who are still maturing physically to learn multiple timing patterns, and their best attempts to control the running game can be easily thwarted by a catcher who lacks the pop times to adequately support it. HS pitchers should really be left to figure out a single timing pattern, as there are so many elements out of their control and the slide step can stunt development.
I don't necessarily think that this is connected to the sudden rash of injuries, but the fog of high school coaching is thick with unintended consequences.
On the jukebox: Iron Maiden, "Alexander the Great"
Based (Pasadena): Hey Doug,
Do you believe it is beneficial to transition a starting prospect into the majors by first placing him in a long relief role? I know this was Earl Weavers philosophy but I wanted to get your take on this in regards to injury, mechanics etc. Any teams you know employ this method heavily? Players who were successful with this method? Thanks for your time, love the chat!
Doug Thorburn: It really depends, but on a case-by-case basis it can certainly have its benefits. The questions boil down to the player's skill set and repertoire, whether he is ready to face an MLB lineup three times through, and the team's needs on the mound. I really like the strategy for a pitcher who is honed mechanically but might be cleaning up his third pitch (ie the change up).
Scott (AZ): Any concerns with Julio Urias's slow start?
Doug Thorburn: Urias has nothing but time on his hands, and the fact that he is still growing means that he will fall out of his delivery on occasion as his physical profile continues to change. I'm not concerned at all.
Felix (Sea): What does history say about my injury risk based on IP? Randy Johnson pitched over 4100 innings and he didn't suffer any serious issues. Should I shake off the haters in dynasty leagues not trading for me or what?
Doug Thorburn: There are a truckload of risk factors and workloads are just part of the injury equation. There is an argument to be made that pitching is a war of attrition and the survivors are those who have the physical fortitude, mechanical efficiency, and stamina to withstand the rigors of the job. Randy Johnson was a rather unique specimen who is a rough comp for anyone, but your track record suggests that you have the profile to survive large workloads. That said, many injuries are the result of long-term use, and there is no telling when a specific player's joints will begin to show signs of wear.
Cal Guy (Cal): Hi Doug, If it's a worst case scenario and Archie Bradley requires TJ surgery, who do you think goes on to have the better career, Bundy or Bradley, based on mechanics, rebound of stuff, and any historical comps with similar TJ survivors?
Doug Thorburn: The Worst Case Scenario game is a bit of a downer, but give me Bundy in that case. I like Bundy's delivery and repertoire better than that of Bradley.
On the jukebox: Red Hot Chili Peppers, "My Lovely Man"
Ezra (DC): What do you make of Jesse Chavez? Can he hold up for a full season? Do teams figure him out now that they've seen him pitch a few times?
Doug Thorburn: His repertoire is varied and the individual pitches are enough to keep confusing batters through summer. His sinker has good down-um on it and his change up features late fade, while his curve has earned some confused looks from opposing hitters. Throw in the cutter and basically everything he throws has a tendency to dip, dart, duck, dive, and dodge. He is certain to regress a bit and the A's might be careful with his workloads as Chavez transitions from the bullpen, but the talent is legit.
On the jukebox: Green Day, "When I Come Around"
The Dude (Office): Is there anything more to the fact that most of the pitchers undergoing TJS are US-born, other than the fact that the majority of pitching staffs are made up of US-born players? Could something like the AAU teams and National Showcase Tourneys be somewhat responsible? I'm not very familiar with how local leagues are run in Latin America, but I guess I'm asking if young American pitchers throw significantly more innings than young Latin American pitchers at the same age, and if that may have an effect on the number of Tommy John surgeries for US-born pitchers?
Doug Thorburn: The queue is loaded with injury questions today, and I'd just like to reiterate that there exists a plethora of variables that enter the injury equation. We are all searching for that simple answer so that we can point fingers, but the reality of injury prevention is murky at best.
Dr.'s James Andrews and Glenn Fleisig are proponents of the idea that showcases and year-round baseball are contributing to pitcher injuries as the youngsters have so little down time, and I trust the speculation of the docs. When comparing the players from different countries there are more factors at play, including conditioning at a young age as they develop. There could be a multitude of reasons for a difference between US-born pitchers and players from Latin America, if such a difference exists.
seabass77 (Milwaukee): Hey Doug, Greg Holland and Kenley Jansen are putting up incredible K rates with high velocity (Jansen is on pace for 150 Ks as a reliever!) Do you see either keeping up this kind of pace over the rest of the season?
Doug Thorburn: Both pitchers have posted ridiculous K rates in the past, and though it is tempting to assume that there will be some regression (Jansen just has to regress, right?), the fact that the game is trending more and more toward high strikeout numbers suggests that they could maintain eye-popping numbers.
On the jukebox: Sepultura, "Troops of Doom"
Dan Rozenson (Washington, DC): Aside from the countless elbow injuries, a few guys (Darvish, Pineda, Cobb, e.g.) are dealing with oblique/lat strains. Are those typically fluke injuries, or are they often signs of something pitchers can improve on in their preparation/performance?
Doug Thorburn: Great question, Dan. I don't see oblique/lat strains as a fluke, given the heavy responsibility on a pitcher's core in generating torque on every pitch. The root cause of an oblique strain can stem from conditioning, mechanics, workloads, genetics, etc - but conditioning and preparation are definitely at the top of that list.
Phil (NYC): Billy Butler's only 28. How do you all of sudden become an extreme ground ball hitter?
Doug Thorburn: There are likely multiple factors contributing to this trend, but part of the equation is that pitchers are throwing him more and more change-ups and sinkers under the zone, and Butler has an increasing tendency to swing at those pitches and rollover on them. The league has adjusted to him and he needs to re-adjust - a factor which impact players of all ages but is most glaring for rookies and sophomores.
On the jukebox: Audioslave, "Your Time Has Come"
tsweber (Reno): As a Reno-ite, I'd like to know your take on Archie's flexor muscle strain. Indicator of TJ coming up? Or, just a normal strain that will go away with rest/therapy?
Also, what do you make of Tyler Glasnow's disappointing start?
Doug Thorburn: The TJ epidemic is certainly fueling the paranoia that any arm-related injury will put a player under the knife, and while that tendency has been more prevailing this season, we really don't know until we see how the player responds to rest and therapy.
Glasnow is a very intriguing case, with one of the deepest release points in the minor leagues, but he is still developing his delivery and speed bumps in the road to the show should be expected. His delivery was inconsistent last season, and the pieces require a lot of coordination in order to line up the gears, so I expect him to deal with bouts of poor command. All in all, it's just 7 innings and mostly the result of one really bad day at the office (7 BB in 2 IP) - merely a blip on his prospect radar.
On the jukebox: Aerosmith, "Dream On"
ravenight (Boston): What's your take on Matt Cain? SSS blip, or is there something to worry about mechanically?
Doug Thorburn: His velo is fine and his baseline mechanics look solid. Like most struggling pitchers, Cain's issues boil down to timing. He has had bouts of alternating over- and under-rotation that has kept him from commanding the strike zone with his usual aplomb, and though he has a very slow delivery that sometimes opens a pitcher up to such timing issues, I expect Cain to get back on track in short order.
Ace (PA): Could you please describe the difference between good arm action and bad arm action? Maybe some examples would help me understand. Thank you!
Doug Thorburn: Ah, the million dollar question - and from "Ace" no less! There are so many definitions of arm action, with some scouts and coaches looking for very different things - some look at everything the pitcher's arm does from the moment the hand leaves the glove to the follow-through while others focus on a specific portion of that sequence. Some evaluators have certain pet peeves or things they like to see in a pitcher's arm action, but there is very little consistency. Often times a "funky" delivery gets labeled with bad arm action for no reason other than the lack of orthodoxy, and other times we see the "good arm action" label on a pitcher whose delivery looks otherwise smooth and "effortless." And other times the "good/bad arm action" label is just a way to justify an evaluator's bias in a player.
I wish that I could give you a more consistent definition, but one doesn't exist, and the subjective interpretation is often left to the eye of the beholder.
On the jukebox: Rage Against the Machine, "Testify"
Drifter (Long Branch ): Hi Doug: Can you evaluate the relative strengths/weaknesses of the Astro three of Jarred Cosart, Dallas Keuchel, and Collin McHugh. My general take is that Cosart has stuff, but control issues limit his upside, Keuchel seems to have harnessed something to start the 2014 season and from what I've read has his share of supporters at BP, and then McHugh I realize has small sample size, but does he have a chance to sustain some amount of the success of his first two starts or is he reversion waiting to happen. I saw that the Astros pitching coach said that he wasn't the same pitcher in late April that he was in spring trainer. Your thoughts on the three and whether any of them are long-term starters (or bullpen or minor-league bound) are appreciated. Thanks.
Doug Thorburn: I really like Cosart's baseline mechanics, with average or better grades in every category except for Repetition. But there's the rub, because repetition is by far the most important grade on the mechanics report card, and he won't approach ceiling until he can find consistency with his delivery. He is also a 2-pitch guy, essentially, and though he throws very hard, he will need to refine the cambio if he hopes to find sustained success in the rotation.
Keuchel is an example of a pitcher who is very well-balanced but who utilizes a very slow delivery as part of that approach. The pedestrian pace opens up the chance to mistime his delivery and necessitates a different timing pattern from the stretch. Command is key for a pitcher with a 90-mph fastball, and Keuchel has the underpinnings of a pitcher who will struggle with that element at times.
I have not yet had the chance to watch McHugh, but I'm looking forward to seeing him in action.
Shawnykid23 (CT): Are concerned with Madison Bumgarner at all?
Doug Thorburn: Hi think that he'll be fine. Bummer's situation is actually a lot like his teammate Cain - velo is fine, baseline mechanics are solid, but his timing has been off a bit resulting in a lot more pitches that catch too much plate. Bumgarner is usually adept at avoiding the middle of the zone (#5 on the strike zone key pad) but lately he has allowed pitches to finish in the hitters' wheelhouse. Again like Cain, Bummer has a slow delivery that can take a bit longer to coordinate, but I expect that he will iron things out in short order.
On the jukebox: System of a Down, "Deer Dance"
John (CT): Obvious question, did Chris Sale's mechanics contribute to his injury/strain?
Doug Thorburn: Impossible to know for sure, though it would be easy to say "yes" based on the premise that his motion puts additional stress on the joints. But given the multitude of factors that contribute to injury, I refuse to pin his injury on his delivery alone. It's ugly, and it definitely poses some risk factors, but it's worth noting that Sale finishes with excellent mechanics at release point - it's the vulture arm action and the imbalance during his stride phase that frightens the children.
Ndub (Somewhere, #dark): Next arm to get the call besides thor?
Doug Thorburn: I think that Stroman could be up very soon. The Jays have lined up his starts to coincide with McGowan, which is plan rather than coincidence.
Frank (BK): what do expect out of Bauer and Stroman when they come up? what improvements have they made this year?
Doug Thorburn: Bauer has made huge improvements, especially to his balance and posture. I have not yet seen Stroman in 2014, but I expect that we'll get a big-league look very soon.
On the jukebox: Metallica, "No Remorse"
Jake (Dallas): does Martin Perez's mechanics look any better this year? whats his outlook for this year/future?
Doug Thorburn: He does look better, with marked improvements to both his balance and posture. He joins Bauer as part of a cadre of young arms that have made big improvements to their balance (both lateral and vertical) and posture at release point since 2013, a list that includes Yordano Ventura and Tyler Skaggs.
mattstupp (NYC): Jean Segura finishes with a ___/___/___ triple slash
Doug Thorburn: Put him down for a .280/.315/.410
NightmareRec0n (Boston): Simple question: Did PEDs and Steroids help prevent pitcher injury? If so, how?
Doug Thorburn: That is certainly not a simple question, specially the "how." It certainly created the possibility for further injury by fostering strength imbalances, especially for those pitchers who favored beach muscles over functional strength. But PED's are also credited with keeping players on the field. It's a loaded question with a lot of potential answers.
On the jukebox: Offspring, "No Brakes"
Jesse (Los Angeles): Jennry Mejia: Any noticeable differences this year? I know you're not a fan, but as a desperate Mets fan in awe of his amazing stuff, I'd love to hear some hope for his future, especially as a starter.
Doug Thorburn: Mejia looks very similar to last season, with the same strengths (power grades, momentum and torque) and the same weaknesses (stability grades, balance and posture). I think the key to his success is workload management, as he just does not look like he can hold up under a normal starter's workload, even in today's world of 6-inning expectations. I think that he is a 50-60 pitch guy rather than the traditional 30 or 100, and he may not fit into today's definitions of pitching roles, so I think that the Mets should get creative with their handling of Mejia.
On the jukebox: Incubus, "Echo"
Rob (Baltimore): Any you concerned with Taiwan Walker? Have heard the shortening of his stride has really messed with his curveball
Doug Thorburn: Taijuan Walker's baseline mechanics are solid, receiving 60's for balance, torque, and posture. His momentum already leaves something to be desired, so shortening a pitcher's stride is typically a detriment rather than a boost to his success. The action on his curve suggests that he might be manipulating the pitch with a wrist-twist rather than using supination, elements which add to his injury risk while also telegraphing the pitch to advanced hitters. There is a lot to like there but his shoulder woes are a reason to be concerned.
On the jukebox: Thrice, "Red Sky"
Jason (STL): What do you make of Shelby Miller this year?
Doug Thorburn: A couple of questions on Shelbias T. Miller today. Miller's biggest issue is balance, with a big drop in his center of gravity after max lift, and the problem has leaked into his delivery after foot strike this season. His foundation does not look as stable as it was last season, with a tendency to drop even further after foot strike due to extra flex in the knees, and he has been exaggerating his spine flexion to further complicate his release point. The net result is a lower, inconsistent release point, and it appears that he needs to work on conditioning his lower half in order to get back into form.
On the jukebox: Guns n' Roses, "My Michelle"
Chris Moore (Columbia, MO): I'd be interested to hear if you've taken a look at Shelby Miller recently. He's not missing bats and not looking comfortable on the mound. Hidden injury? What's changed since his dominant 1st half last year? Or is the lack of a well-developed 2nd pitch and the league is catching up? any input on Shelby would be appreciated. Oh, and thank Bret for talking me into dealing Miller for Rendon via Bat Signal. Love it.
Doug Thorburn: See previous response, but I'm glad that you mentioned the repertoire. I do think that he needs to refine his change-up in order to reach ceiling, as his current 2-pitch approach is easy for MLB batters to exploit once they've seen what he brings to the table.
... and the Bat Signal is awesome. The BP fantasy team is absolutely shoving it this year.
Adam (FL): If you had to pick one guy out of these prospects who is going to underwhelm throughout his career, who would it be? Giolito, Bundy, Walker, Gausman, Syndergaard, Zimmer or Stephenson
Doug Thorburn: Forcing me to take the cynical side, eh? This is actually a really intriguing question, as the focus on prospects tends to resemble a dream state, but it is just as pertinent to ask who will fail to develop. We actually have a really strong corps of young pitchers coming up through the ranks right now, and I am relatively optimistic on all of these guys.
These guys fit a couple of categories - you have TJ survivors, a currently disabled arm, a pitcher who has been bitten in his first exposure to the show, etc. If I had to pick one to underwhelm, I guess it would have to be Giolito, but that is mostly because his perceived ceiling has grown to astronomical proportions and he will probably underwhelm unless he becomes Sandy Koufax.
On the jukebox: Pantera, "Becoming"
The Dude (Office): What is meant by "elbow drag." What is the easiest way to notice it?
Doug Thorburn: Great question, the Dude.
Elbow drag occurs when the pitcher's arm is late in the kinetic chain, such that the elbow drags behind the shoulder line during the high-energy phases of rotation (specifically, when the arm lays back in maximum external rotation, just before firing forward). Elbow drag can be caused by an scapular loading, hyperabduction of the shoulders (ie "Inverted W"), and/or an excessive delay of trunk rotation. Some pitchers only experience elbow drag on certain pitches, especially when they get fatigued (ie the Strasburg issue).
It is very difficult to pick up on a standard TV feed, both because of the limit frame rates and the CF camera angle, but you can see it in extreme cases by pausing the feed just as the throwing arm lays back and prepares to fire.
At least I'm house broken.
BeplerP (NYC): is there a possibility that, based on this year to date, R.A. Dickey is done? Or that his decline phase is accelerating?
Doug Thorburn: Well, I think that it is more likely that his incline phase was a one-year blip on the radar, as knuckelallers are prone to such wild fluctuations. I wouldn't say that he's done, because knucklers can float forever, but I don't think that we'll ever see his 2012 again ... but that was always the case.
Tom (St Louis): Is Yordano Ventura a future Cy Young Winner?
Doug Thorburn: There are too many variables to the CY to possibly predict such things, especially given the link to team performance, but he has that upside. Problem is that he also has significant downside given his big power/low stability delivery, but I do like that he has made improvements to his B&P (balance and posture) since last season. That is the key to his enduring the workloads and finding the consistency necessary to win a CY.
On the jukebox: Zamfir, "The Lonely Shepherd"
cracker73 (Florida): What are your thoughts on Robbie Erlin? Does he have much upside?
Doug Thorburn: I think that the upside is limited, but southpaws who command the zone can have a long shelf life in the back half of a big-league rotation.
Snake Odorizzi (Arizona): I've noticed that several of the Rays starters pitch from what looks like a modified version of the stretch (David Price, Alex Cobb, etc.) Is this an org. thing and do you agree with teaching it? #teamstretch
Doug Thorburn: I definitely like the idea of having a windup that is much more similar to the stretch, requiring the pitcher to master a single delivery rather than two (or more). Staying with the Rays, Jeremy Hellickson is an interesting case example, as he was much better in 2012 when he typically used a regular leg lift from the stretch (his stretch delivery was actually better than his windup), but then he started using the slide step all the time with runners on base last season. It will be interesting to see what Tampa does with Helix when he returns, as he is an excellent candidate to throw from his regular stretch (ie no slide step) at all times, regardless of the baserunner situation.
On the jukebox: The Clash, "London's Burning"
Cris E (St Paul, MN): Alex Meyer is crediting a new changeup grip that he's added since Opening Day with the recent improvement in his fortunes. (In his last two starts he's got 22K in 12.1 IP and he's throwing the change quite a bit.) How often is a simple alteration that effective this suddenly?
Doug Thorburn: Major changes to stuff can make a huge difference in short order, especially when it comes to off-speed stuff. Meyer has an 8 fastball, a plus slider, and unfair biological advantages - tack on a change-up that batters struggle to identify from his deep release point and you have the recipe for a high-impact pitcher.
Elite pitchers do this at the big-league level, as well, especially to compensate for deteriorating velocity.
Roger Clemens went from a FB-CB guy in his 20's to a FB-Split guy in his late 30's and 40's, King Felix has developed the CH to be his most lethal weapon, etc. For Meyer, the change greatly elevates his already vaulted ceiling as a prospect.
On the jukebox: Van Halen, "You Really Got Me"
Cleon (Queens): Is Trevor Bauer fixed?
Doug Thorburn: There is never an endpoint to "fixed" - pitchers are constantly evolving. But his alterations since last season are a giant step in the right direction, and once he has mastered this simplified delivery then I think that he that can revisit the more complicated aspects of his approach.
Gary (Olympia): Verlander's days as a #1 type over?
Doug Thorburn: Well, #1 is a loosely defined term, but I consider Verlander to still be one of the 15 best arms in baseball. His K rate might be down a bit so far, but he has already proven that he can make adjustments in-season and I have faith in his ability to continue to make refinements.
On the jukebox: Stone Temple Pilots, "Sex Type Thing"
Jonah (Redwood): From what you've seen thus far in 2014, which pitchers have made the biggest strides in improving their mechanics since last season (or last time you saw them)? The biggest regression(s)?
Doug Thorburn: Biggest gains are the guys that I mentioned earlier, but it's worth repeating: Bauer, Ventura, Skaggs. All three have really stabilized the delivery compared to last season, though each still has plenty of room for improvement and I am very interested to see their individual progress this season.
The biggest downslide that I have seen so far is Danny Salazar, though there were glimpses of improvement in his last start. I wrote about it today for BP: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=23470
On the jukebox: Bad Religion, "A Walk"
nictaclacta (Phoenix): Twilight Zone question: Because Bubba Starling is already hitting like a pitcher, any thoughts about putting that arm on the mound?
Doug Thorburn: It's easier to transition from the field to the mound than it is to do the reverse, so the Royals can afford to be patient with Starling while keeping that idea in the back of their minds. It's a cool idea, though, and I dig the prospect of traveling to another dimension - a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind.
Bill (New Mexico): Accepting your answer to Ace and the fact that there's a subjective component to seeing "good" and "bad" arm action, I still wonder: how young can a pitcher be when you look at him, and you still say "Aha! this one has the good arm action, he has a chance" or "Oops, this one is never going to work out"? Little League is probably pushing it too far, but can a potential big arm be recognized well in advance of the last (or even next to last) year of high school before it's draft-eligible?
Doug Thorburn: You raise a good point, because arm action is largely a component of pitcher signature and is thus ingrained at a young age, making it very difficult to work against. You can see arm action signature in high school, and though some pitchers have a capacity to make changes, many of them are wired to throw a certain way. Whether that will work or not depends on a bunch of factors, and it's where the personal preferences of "good" and "bad" enter the equation. This is why many evaluators lean on "clean" arm action that looks closer to typical, because they've seen that work before, while funk is often frowned upon.
Speaking of Rays (Tampa): Why are Rays pitchers so slow? In 2013-2004, Price,Hellickson,Cobb, and Archer all have league leading slow paces. Is it because their focus on balance? Because Molina is moving around so much setting up?
Doug Thorburn: I do think that it is tied to the organizational emphasis on B&P. It's a good move in a vacuum, because balance is a more critical variable than momentum when taken in isolation, but momentum is also tied to the integral category of timing and repetition. I think that the key is to find that sweet spot where a pitcher can maintain balance while ratcheting up the momentum to find his ideal timing pattern, and in this sense many pitchers are going too slow IMO. This includes many of the Rays, and someone like David Price does better when allowed to have a more rapid pace to the plate. Overall, the Rays are one of the best in the biz when it comes to pitcher development, so I expect that they will continue to refine the organizational philosophy to get the most out of their arms.
On the jukebox: Motorhead, "damage Case"
Silverback38 (VA): Pitching "mechanics" question:
What are your thoughts of Robbie Ray? Does he have the consistent stuff to control a 3-spot in the rotation?
Doug Thorburn: I haven't watched Ray yet, but I look forward to evaluating his MLB performance. Rain check?
Silverback38 (VA): Not a pitching mechanics question:
Has Joey Gallo figured it and become a decent enough hitter that his power and prospect status has improved?
Doug Thorburn: I will defer to the awesome BP Prospect crew when it comes to Gallo: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=23420
JohnnyFive (Seattle): Eric Hosmer: what's with all the ground balls? Is it similar to what you were saying earlier about Billy Butler or something completely different?
Doug Thorburn: It's actually very similar, in that pitchers have been giving Hosmer a fatter diet of sinkers and change-ups down and under the zone so far this season. Hosmer has had groundball tendencies in the past, so his situation probably has more to do with his approach at the plate an what he is looking to elevate, but pitchers are doing a better job of forcing the issue.
On the jukebox: Krokus, "Screaming in the Night"
Scott (AZ): Does Dee Gordon keep the second base job or is he just on a hot streak?
Doug Thorburn: I think that Alexander Guerrero could force himself into the starting lineup if his defense improves to a passable state, but that could take awhile, by which time I expect that Gordon will have turned back into a pumpkin.
RatedRookie (Atlanta): Give Alex Wood's mechanics a compliment sandwich (compliment-criticism-compliment).
Doug Thorburn: How about a compliment haiku?
Solid posture grade
Downright atrocious balance
Somehow repeats well
Brian (Wis): in off-season I traded Matt Moore and Rendon for Beltre partly because I'm in win now mode and partly because all the negativity surrounding Moore was scaring me. Now I don't know whether to be happy I did the deal since even thought Moore's down, Rendon is tearing the cover off the ball and Beltre is doing bupkis.
Doug Thorburn: Depends on whether you are in a keeper league. If a single-season swap then I like it on your end, but Rendon could be a keeper-league monster.
John (CT): Tanaka of the Yanks appears to be even better than anticipated. He has the demeanor of an ace, great stuff and a smooth delivery. What your take on his talent, and future?
Doug Thorburn: Tanaka is yet another one of those guys who has pleasantly surprised me with his improvements to B&P since last season. The drop in his drive is not as bad as it was last season, though it is still exaggerated from the stretch, and his posture has been stronger than anticipated. Best of all, he has essentially axed the NPB pause from his delivery - it was quite pronounced at the WBC last year, had tamed a bit by the Japan Series in November, and has nearly evaporated in 2014. That change along bodes very well for both his current repetition and his ability to make future adjustments.
Rex Little (Big Bear CA): Jarred Cosart had a sub-2.00 ERA last year, but walked more than he struck out. He never had a season in the minors with a K/W ratio of 2/1 or better. Based on that, was his 5.52 ERA this year entirely predictable?
Doug Thorburn: It is within reason, especially with his struggles to repeat the delivery. Last year's low ERA was a clear outlier, but I also think that he is a bit better than the 5.52 ERA. I just think that it could take awhile for him to hone his stuff and his delivery, as right now he profiles best as a bullpen arm and he will need to make adjustments to be viable in the rotation.
On the jukebox: Dredg, "Gathering Pebbles"
Shawnykid23 (CT): If you were the Astros who would you select 1:1? Have you studied the mechanics at all of any of the 1:1 candidates to have a strong opinion on any of them?
Doug Thorburn: Haven't done a deep-dive on the '14 draft class yet, so tough to say, but I have really liked what I have seen from Carlos Rodon.
Fred (Milwaukee): When Tyler Thornburg releases the baseball, MY shoulder twinges by sheer mental imposition. Is his long-term risk for injury as bad as I assume it is, or are their any redeeming qualities in his delivery?
Doug Thorburn: His risk for shoulder injury is certainly up there, and his poor B&P will likely catch up to him with respect to pitch command. The over-the-top motion can lead to some deceiving stats, because mistimed deliveries tend to miss high or low with minimal lateral variation, and high/low pitches can generate strikes much more easily than those that are inside/outside. In this sense, the fact that the Brewer rotation is full of extreme over-the-top guys is a key ingredient behind their catchers' excellent marks in the framing metrics, since the low pitch is the easiest to get called a strike even when it misses the zone.
Redeeming qualities? Um, he has big torque, so there's that.
Gila Monster (Boston): Are MLB teams going to be more hesitant to draft college pitchers? Seemingly the extra polish isn't worth the innings on the arm/ not devolping in your system, especially with players peaking earlier. It seems like dealing with an injured Dylan Bundy is better than dealing with an injuried Danny Hulzten,who will be 26 before he is pitching again.
Doug Thorburn: There are different school of thought on that, as it could be said that college pitchers have shown more of an ability to survive the gauntlet (the college assumes the injury risk rather than the team), and it is easier to get information on their pitch counts in college than it is in high school. It really boils down to the organization's player development, but I can certainly get behind the idea that teams will want to get these young arms in their system sooner rather than later.
Shawnykid23 (CT): No question- just use this space to gush over Big Fern:
Doug Thorburn: There is not enough space in this chat room to contain my gush for Big Fern. I do hope that he chills out on the Defector frequency, though.
Chris (KC): Doug, a follow-up on Jesse Chavez please:
Do you know if he changed something in his mechanics, his repertoire, or both? Because wow, he used to be a guy who fooled virtually nobody. Pitchers don't often break out at 30 years old.
Doug Thorburn: His repertoire was expansive in the past, much more so than your typical reliever, with four legit pitches on display and a fastball that is never straight. He has upped the ante on his change this season and the pitch has been unhittable, and I think that the advancement of el cambio takes much of the credit for his success in 2014.
On the jukebox: Black Sabbath, "Electric Funeral"
Scott (AZ): So in other words sell high on Dee Gordon?
Doug Thorburn: I would. Guerrero has a .305/.379/.576 in AAA, though its Albuquerque - where Miguel Olivo has an 1100 OPS.
Bill (Bozeman): How is good or poor P&B identifiable to the naked eye, especially by novices?
Doug Thorburn: Balance - look at the head position relative to the center-of-mass (approximated by the belt buckle). The head will lower significantly after leg lift if there is a big drop-n-drive. A pitcher with poor lateral balance will either lean to the back-side or hunch over the front side during the stride phase. Other pitchers will keep the head/weight back with a lean toward 2B during the stride phase, which is another detriment to balance.
Posture - it's all about spine-tilt from foot strike to release point. A pitcher with strong posture will keep the head stabilized over the body with a near-90-degree spine angle. Those with weak posture will tilt heavily to the glove side, with the head situated outside of the front foot at release point.
Scott (AZ): Does David Price still get traded by the trade deadline and to who?
Doug Thorburn: I think the Rays have very little incentive to deal Price, especially with the injuries to their rotation and their position in the hyper-competitive AL East. If they deal Price then I expect it to be over the off-season.
Scott (AZ): Is there anyway the D-backs can trade Cahill or is he so bad that no one will take him because he sucks and he is owned to much money?
Doug Thorburn: The D-Backs love to trade guys when their perceived value is at an all-time low, so that would be right up their alley, but I would suggest that they wait to see if he can re-establish his value before thinking about a swap. They would get very little in return for him right now.
On the jukebox: Ratt, "Lay it Down"
Shawn (Cubicle): Still very early, but will the Ks (and full-breakout)come this year for Geritt Cole?
Doug Thorburn: I think that his rapid ascension last year has thrown off some of the projections for Cole. The full breakout might take take a bit longer than what he teased at the end of 2013, but the skills are such that he could take another giant leap forward in short order. His usage of the CH and SINK have really gone down so far this year, so he might still be trying to get the feel for pre-set pronation on those pitches. Expect his K rate to rise when he begins to incorporate those pitches with greater frequency.
On the jukebox: Carlos Santana, "Samba Pa Ti"
Shawnykid23 (CT): I agree with you that teams should get creative and look to use guys for 50-60 or 3-4 innings rather than either 6 or 1. You mentioned Mejia, I think guys like Salazar and Odorizzi could also benefit from this. What type of recovery would these guys be looking at? What's the difference on the arm between a guy throwing 100 pitches 1 day then resting the next 4 days, and a guy throwing 100 over 2-3 days, then resting the next 2-3?
Doug Thorburn: Salazar and Odorizzi are other solid candidates, and I could see it work for other guys like Jacob Turner and Kyle Gibson - young pitchers who have struggled to hold velocity past 60 pitches.
The adjustment of rest would be a key component of this strategy, and once again I think that the answer is to be more fluid/dynamic with the approach. The easy suggestion is a tag-team approach, with two 3-4 inning starters paired up every five days, but we don't know that those two pitchers have similar recovery rates. Typical starters have a throw day halfway between starts, and I think that the ideal scenario would be to pair guys up so that (for example) they throw ~50-60 pitches on their start days and ~20-30 pitches on their throw days. So rather than a 6-inning expectation, one would go with pitcher A and pitcher B such that they got 3-4 innings from A and ~2 innings from B one day, and then flip the script on A's throw day.
RatedRookie (Atlanta): Rondon, Hawkins, or Frieri the best add to pick up saves for ROS?
Doug Thorburn: I still like Frieri of that group, despite his recent struggles.
Eric (MD): Gausman injury a concern? I usually assume not elbow and not shoulder equals good but have heard that obliques and intercostals can be problematic too. Thanks for all the great work that you do!
Doug Thorburn: I'm not too concerned, but it's all about how he recovers, avoiding the risk of cascade injury due to compensatory mechanics - that is the biggest issue with oblique problems. The O's will want to make sure that his mechanics are sound before letting go of the reigns, though nothing can perfectly simulate game conditions so there will always be an element of doubt.
On the jukebox: Primus, "John the Fisherman"
Cris E (St Paul, MN): When a guy loses effectiveness and it doesn't come back for a long time, how do you identify the point where you suspect injury rather than just keep grinding away?
Doug Thorburn: It depends on the other factors involved. Has he lost velocity? Do his secondaries have the same bite? How is the command profile? How is he holding up over the course of innings and games? And most of all, are there mechanical indicators that support the poor performance? The answers to those questions will help to uncover the player's prognosis.
Cris E (St Paul, MN): Talk about foreign substances: how widespread is the practice, what about sticky vs slippery, and what your thoughts on allowing pitchers the use of grip enhancers.
Doug Thorburn: I'm not a fan of foreign substances - I see why pitchers use them to try and get an advantage, but excuses of "just trying to get a grip" are obscuring the reality that they are going outside the rules. Pitchers have a rosin bag available at all times, and if they can't get enough tack with the bag then they should just have to deal with the weather conditions.
NightmareRec0n (Boston): Could you seem Gerrit Cole heading down the Jordan Zimmermann career path? Where the stuff could generate more Ks, but control/weak contract take the front seat?
Doug Thorburn: Sure, I could see that, especially with the similarities in repertoire. Of course, Zimmermann has missed the memo so far this year, with a 25% K rate that beats each of the past 3 seasons by 6 percentage points.
The Dude (Office): Time to adjsut the ceiling on Michael Wacha? Can he be a right-handed Cole Hamels with the FB-CH combo? Plus the CB looks better this year.
Doug Thorburn: Wacha has been stellar this year, and though his FB-CH setup brings up the Hamels comp, they are very different mechanical specimens. I'm not the biggest fan of Wacha's late posture change, but the elevated arm angle does good things for his CH trajectory so it is hard to quibble with the results. Every other element of his delivery is above-average mechanically and the Cards are an excellent organization for pitcher development, so I trust their judgment on the best path for his progression.
brian (ma): regarding your write up on salazar, how common is it for a pitcher's mechanics to vary so wildly from one year to the next? is it a potential indicator of injury? And what do you believe his baseline is, 2013 or 2014?
Doug Thorburn: More common than one might think, while recognizing that "wild" variation is somewhat subjective. Salazar has looked very different to me from start to start and even within game, so he is a more extreme case when looking at the pool of MLB pitchers, but the trend is relatively common in the minors. While the volatility could be an indicator of injury, it is more likely that he is just not in the same physical form that he was in last season and is still rounding into shape. That said, a volatile delivery can open up the risk for injury as a pitcher coordinates disparate muscle groups with various levels of stress.
This might be an easy answer, but his baseline is somewhere between the extremes of 2013 and '14. I can't consider his 50-inning cameo of last year to be a baseline, as it may have been peak Salazar or it may have just been a part of his trajectory, and he has been all over the place this year such that a baseline for 2014 does not exist.
On the jukebox: Modest Mouse, "Doin' the Cockroach"
Scott (AZ): Would Metallica have been even bigger if Mustaine never left and Burton never died?
Doug Thorburn: Tough to get bigger, but the songs may have been even more nuanced with Burton at the helm. I don't think that Mustaine was the best fit from a musical standpoint, especially considering the different directions that Metallica and Megadeth took in the late '80s. Mustaine talent was almost as big as his ego, and the combination was not the best fit for a band that was already oozing talent.
brucegilsen (Washington, DC): Travis Wood struck out more hitters than innings in 2 starts in 2013 yet in 2014 he's got 37/7 K/W in 37 2/3 IP. Kyle Lohse also has big increase in K rate so far. Are they doing something different, or is it just a small sample fluke?
Doug Thorburn: Gimme SSS for now, combined with the fact that K rates are escalating throughout baseball. but call back in a month and we'll see if there is something more there.
Bill (Bozeman): What are your thoughts about KC's keeping Kyle Zimmer under wraps in extended spring until late May, when he'll make his season debut at AA? The org's stated goal is to use him in the majors late in the season.
Doug Thorburn: It really depends on their reasons for holding him back. The key to Zimmer's success is maintaining his signature pattern of big momentum to realize the functional advantages as well as to line up the timing of his delivery. Last year he struggled out of the gate with a slower pace that threw a wrench into his kinetic chain. I don't know whether that was due to his physical form or a coaching adjustment from the org, but the hope is that he is establishing that trademark momentum and timing.
Matt (Austin): Would you use Salazar against the White Sox tonight or bench him in fantasy?
Doug Thorburn: I would let him ride the pine. The Sox have been on fire from an offensive standpoint, and though Salazar looked better in his last start, I would like to see him do it twice in a row before he regains the trust.
RatedRookie (Atlanta): All rock, all the time for you?
Doug Thorburn: Pretty much - as a drummer I prefer fast and heavy, else I get bored behind my kit. But the occasional Vivaldi will sneak onto the jukebox, along with a handful of "classic rap" songs (is that a term yet?).
On the jukebox: Ozzy Osbourne, "Mr. Crowley"
michaelmcduffe (ottawa): Hi Doug. Thoroughly enjoyed today's article. With reference to Salazar shouldn't the Cleveland pitching coach--who has received recognition for contributing to last season's improvements by Kazmir and Ubaldo--be able to 'fix' the mechanical backsliding that you noted? Do you know if that same coach did any work with Salazar before his emergence last year? Thanks.
Doug Thorburn: So much of the responsibility falls on the player here - Mickey Callaway could be saying all of the right things, but it will only go as far as the pitcher can carry it. Often times there is a physical underpinning to mechanical woes, and not necessarily injury - a pitcher who lacks functional strength or flexibility will have a very hard time maximizing his mechanical efficiency. It is most common to see these functional issues early in the season, as not every pitcher builds at the same rate to be ready for Opening Day.
... and don't get me started on Ubaldo!
Doug Thorburn: Another round of killer questions - thanks to everyone for spurring a fun afternoon of pitching discussion. I'll catch ya the next time around, and in the meantime be on the lookout for TINSTAAPP episode 22 (Harang vs Eovaldi), coming soon.