Will Carroll writes "Under the Knife" for Baseball Prospectus. He's got pitching mechanics on his mind today.
Will Carroll: I had really hoped to have some video up discussing a couple pitching concepts, but YouTube is being slow on the upload. Once it's available, I'll give you a link to it, but today, I'd like to focus on pitching mechanics as much as possible, with the occasional diversion. It's much easier to show these things with video than description, but with rights issues, I can't put video up at BP. I realize mechanics aren't a mainstream thing, but as we shift to things like PitchFX, I'm convinced that we'll see more work done on mechanics. There's already some hint of that with Tom Verducci's recent article on Tim Lincecum, one that hints that baseball insiders are readying a video analysis system. A similar system is already in use by at least one team and Glenn Flesig has had one in Birmingham for a while. Mainstream is still a ways off, I think, but we like being ahead of the curve at BP. So with a half-full pot of coffee and a half-full glass of optimism, let's get to your questions ...
John (Cambridge): Is there ANY hope at all for Adam Loewen? What's the recovery scenario for him to ever pitch again?
Will Carroll: Someday, if there's a BP television show, the promo will have me screaming like Ron Silver: "He has a SCREW in his ELBOW!" Loewen's continued problem with the stress fractures show that there's much more going on in there and that even fixated, the process is ongoing. There's really nothing to go off of here. There's hope, but there's much more uncertainty. The O's need to shut Loewen down until they're as sure as they can be that his elbow is healed up, then hope that it holds up.
Speaking of Ron Silver, is his conversion into political pundit more surprising than Nate Silver's similar career shift?
Jimmy (StL): What pro pitcher has had the worst mechanics you've ever seen? Craig House maybe?
Will Carroll: I just saw some video on a kid in Houston's system and I have no idea how to even describe it. It's against the laws of biomechanics and perhaps physics. I'll look for his name. Kyle Peterson's "marionette" mechanics come to mind -- he had a pause at the top of his delivery where it seemed like someone had cut his strings or he had narcolepsy, killing all his momentum and putting all the pressure on his shoulder. BJ Ryan's are just hideous, but the results are pretty good.
Jason (New York): There seem to be philosophical differences among pitching instructors on whether a player should "drift" through his release point, or be a "tall-and-fall" pitcher.
From a biomechanical standpoint, what are the pros and cons of these differening philosophies? It seems "drifting" would be more advantageous based on the SI article on Tim Lincecum, who generates a lot of forward momentum by "flowing" and not pausing in his delivery.
Will Carroll: There's always going to be disagreements on issues like this, but I tend to agree with you. I don't like to see any slowing or stopping in a delivery. My philosophy of pitching is that there's no one "correct" delivery, but that there is a mechanical ideal based on functional anatomy and joint loads. Getting a pitcher as close to that while maintaining effectiveness is my ideal. I recently worked with a HS pitcher who's arm action is terrible and simply cant pronate without hurting his shoulder. He's got a great fastball, so after consulting with his coach, he was converted to a "starting closer." He'd start games, but was limited to two innings. (It's something that's actually been discussed by the Brewers and given their bullpen, I wish they'd do more than discuss it!) Due to Indiana's rules, he could start every game if he wished and it worked for the team.
Mike W (Chicago): Given your support of the Lincecum SI article, does this mean you've changed your opinion on 'correct' mechanics? I understand there might not be one exactly correct way to throw a ball, but his opinion on Prior, for one, seems to be at odds with many (including your) previous opinions on his motion.
Will Carroll: My opinion hasn't so much changed as we've learned more. If we're not willing to look at new evidence and change our beliefs, we're not going to get anywhere. The implication that Prior's mechanics were the cause of his problem don't sit well with me. I've looked back at tape and still don't see what could have been changed and at the time, I thought Prior's mechanics were as good if not better than everyone. His mechanics didn't hold up to his workload and after his Achilles strain, his arm started to fly out more. The thing to remember is that the pitching Jeremiah's out there were saying that Prior was headed for Tommy John surgery, not the shoulder problems he's had. I wish Chris Lincecum had a couple more kids to work with; I honestly think the specific delivery Tim uses is so specific that even the slightest change would be devastating. When I did a video for MLB.com last year on Lincecum, I pointed to the back arch as my biggest concern and continue to worry about it. It's the one part of the delivery that doesn't seem to need to be there.
rawagman (TO): Would it be possible to get a short description of "scap loading" and what it means for pitchers? Thanks
Will Carroll: Scapular loading is pretty simple to demonstate. Stand up and put your arms out to each side. Cock your arm (left or right, depending on you) as if you're about to pitch, keeping the front (glove) arm forward. Now bend the glove arm up, similar to the throwing arm. Without moving your body, pull the arms directly back without moving your chest. In other words, pull your shoulder blades together. A pitcher that does that action, either on one or both sides, is scap loading. CC Sabathia does this very clearly.
Argh, YouTube stripped the sound from my video on stepover ... I'll have to fix that later.
Mountain Dew Rep (Here): Back to coffee? No Amp?
Will Carroll: I'm actually out of Amp. Even with Amp, I tend to drink coffee in the mornings, just as habit more than anything else.
Dr. Mysterio (Chicago): Will, Could you refresh us as to why you consider Felix's mechanics to be so bad? I know the Mariners handle him very carefully, but there have been no significant injuries that I'm aware of. Encouraging, no?
Will Carroll: Wha? Wha? The elbow problems aren't "significant" to you? Hernandez's mechanics are unbelieveably bad. Poor balance, poor pronation, throws his hips open, and is inconsistent. He's been better this year, which I think is a function of his improved physical condition, but the balance -- seeing his head throw to the side and his fall to first base -- is Mitch Williams - level bad. The Mariners have handled him well, but unless he's someone like Frankie Rodriguez, who can just pitch through bad mechanics season after season, he's going to have problems. That said, I wouldn't change him. He's too good when on.
Mike W (Chicago): Good answer, Will, thanks. Chris Lincecum seemed very dogmatic to me, reminding me of Mike Marshall a bit, though the latter's ideas are much more heterodox, of course. Do you feel that there is a particularly high amount of rigid thinking in and around the biomechanics area - clearly there is too much, but do you think it somehow lends itself to individual orthodoxies? Given the amount of scientific or semi-scientific inputs within the field, I would expect a moe circumspect attitude in general (like yours).
Will Carroll: Yeah, I agree. No one has the right answers, but Chris Lincecum at least has one major leaguer he can point to and say "see, my stuff works." I owe so much of what I know to Tom House, who took time out of his busy schedule to help someone like me when I knew next to nothing, that it will always form the base of what I know. But Tom changes when he learns something new and I think I learned that as well. I think what Ron Wolforth does might be the closest to what I teach, though he's far more concerned with velocity than I am. I'm always willing to listen and learn. Mike Marshall has a lot of solid science behind what he does and as I wrote in my book, I think certain parts of his motion can be used, especially the simple driveline.
Rick (Chicago): Will, in your opinion, who are the top 3 pitching coaches in the game today (or employed recently)? Briefly, why?
Will Carroll: Do you mean in the game or guys like House, Wolforth, etc? I'll take this as in the game and say that if I were GM, the guys I'd want to interview to be my pitching coach would be Jim Rooney, Brent Strom, and Leo Mazzone. (Mike Maddux and Dave Duncan have jobs, so I don't think they'd be available.)
Mike (Chicago): Are the problems Rich Harden has had due to some mechanical flaw, or just his makeup? What chance would you give him of being able to pitch from now through october without a DL break?
Will Carroll: Harden made some mechanical changes in the off-season and has had a much better result. I have to think that indicates that at least part of the problem was mechanical. As for his chances, well, that's tougher to say. He's made it this far with only one minor injury. If he gave the Cubs the same second half he gave to the A's in the first -- which includes a DL stint -- would that be bad? I'd like to see the Cubs more cautious with Harden than they have been with Carlos Zambrano, because they're two entirely different pitchers.
patrickc (NYC): Would you talk about the importance of tempo? Could you describe an instance where a pitcher would want to get to release point more quickly? Less quickly?
Will Carroll: Tempo is Carlos Gomez's big thing and just basically means - in my interpretation - getting things moving as fast as you can while maintaining control. All things equal, faster is better. I don't like any pauses or balance points in the delivery since they interrupt the generation of force and the transfer through the kinetic chain. Joe Blanton to me is a bit slow, but it's not something I pay a lot of attention to.
Mike (Utica,NY): Which pitcher in the minor leagues has the best mechanics?
Will Carroll: I haven't seen most, so I can't even begin to answer this question. I saw video on Neftali Feliz recently and I really like how easy he makes high-90's heat look.
John (Cambridge): What % of organizations do you think are using pitch fx - do any do it with all their minor leaugers?
Will Carroll: Using Pitch FX ... I have three or four questions like this and I'm not sure what any of you mean.
Minor leaguers? No, the system isn't in place in any minor league parks that I'm aware of. It just got into all 30 major league parks this season.
H.E. Pennypacker (NYC): If Pat Venditte were to injure his arm how much of a risk would it be for him to continue to pitch solely with his other arm until healed?
Will Carroll: That's a great question. I'd think no more than normal, but he's *not* normal. No idea honestly but I'm going to be thinking about this all day now.
Milby (San Francisco): "It's the one part of the delivery that doesn't seem to need to be there." Part of me thinks that since it IS there, it DOES need to be there, given the results.
Will Carroll: Agree. I worded that poorly. What I mean is in the construction of that delivery, everything seems to have a purpose and little wasted motion. The back arch doesn't seem to have any purpose, so I'm not sure why it's there. It is now, so I sure wouldn't change it and in fact, I think watching that might be the guy to how durable he is. If he can remain flexible and strong enough to keep making that motion, I think he'll be fine.
John (Live Nation): Who has better mechanics, Tim Lincecum or Jeff Gordon?
Will Carroll: I'm just taking the opportunity to say Live Nation sucks.
Eddie (Ohio): Is it just me, or are the Tigers completely botching this whole Dontrelle Willis knee recovery?
Will Carroll: I'm not really seeing what they could do differently. Sending him all the way back to Single-A seems extreme, but would he be better served to be in Toledo? What I'm not sure of (and hope the Tigers are) is the chicken & egg nature of the knee problem and his complete loss of control.
TheRedsMan (Chicago): "Using Pitch FX" -- as in, utilizing the data gathered by the Pitch FX system to inform instruction and other decisions. As opposed to observation, radar guns, pitching charts, and video.
Will Carroll: Oh almost none, I'd say. I'm sure some are taking glances but it's so new that I doubt there's any real hard work being done. I'm sure every team is reading the work out there like Dan Fox, Eric Seidman, or Josh Kalk, but I don't think a majority of teams do much video mechanical work, let alone moving forward to motion capture. I think we'll start to see more use of PFX over the next couple years, especially in scouting.
Johnny (Boston): Do you believe that a pitcher with the 'inverted w' or 'inverted L' has destiny with arm injury?
Will Carroll: Hoo boy. These are two Chris O'Leary terms referring to arm action before release and in bringing the ball up to the ready position. I'm an oddball here in that while I'm not sure these are as bad (and certainly not as consistent) as O'Leary states, I'm not a fan. In fact, I have a much more extreme position on it. I don't see a need at all for either to be in place, nor the "pendulum swing" that others like. I don't even like bringing the ball down and around, as is standard. Unless it's a timing issue, I'd rather see the pitcher bring the ball directly back from the glove at break to the ready position. The rest is timing and wasted motion, but again, I'm not going to change things absent a proven need. My biggest problem with the "inverted W" (besides it being so much easier to call it "M") is that there's little if any joint load at those points in the delivery. I really need to see some motion capture studies before I'll make any judgements.
DanLong (cubicle): simple question: how can mechanics affect the velocity and movement of pitches, especially breaking balls?
Will Carroll: Better mechanics should lead to more efficient and healthy pitchers. That won't always translate into better velocity (in fact, it can be the opposite) and should have little or no effect on spin.
cidawkins (Watertown, MA): When clearing the front shoulder during the acceleration phase, do you feel it is more advantageous to keep the arm extended or flexed (say less than 90 degrees)in order to counterbalance the throwing arm? Also, have you found one to be more prone to being related to injuries than the other?
Will Carroll: I prefer flexed because players tend to have an easier time controlling the glove. The issue is balance and not "pulling the glove" back to the body. I use a number of teaching drills where the arm is extended, but those are drills and I don't have any pitchers that go to that extreme in competition. With smaller, younger kids, the problem is mostly one of balance - keeping a bigger glove and a smaller ball "balanced" is tough for them, which is why I always have pitchers find the smallest possible glove. I designed a pitcher specific glove that weight around 6 ozs, which was the closest we could get to the ball's weight. The other important point is that the gloveside arm is not a counterbalance, but a pivot point. I teach that the glove and the front foot are "connected" and that as the pitcher comes through, they need to move through those two points along the driveline.
dwiest12 (NoVa): As Japanese pitchers continue to succeed in the big leagues, do you think more American kids will begin to emulate their mechanics?
Will Carroll: The biggest difference is that Japanese pitchers tend to be very circular and have the exaggerated windups. To me, that's a bit of deception and a bit of comfort. I don't teach a windup. However a pitcher wants to get to the ready position, either from the windup or the stretch, is fine with me. I think we can learn more from Japanese conditioning than we can from their mechanics, though the ideas behind double-spin mechanics have started to seep in. Jim Rooney, who I mentioned earlier, teaches a third spin. Funny thing is, I teach a very linear motion.
Joe (Washington, DC): Hi Will. In theory, how much could better mechanics improve velocity? If a pitcher is throwing 80 with poor mechanics, can an alteration to proper mechanics bump that up to 85? I guess my question is: how much improvement can mechanical tinkering make in terms of raw "stuff"?
Will Carroll: Velocity is like a car's speed. There's horsepower, drag, and rolling resistance, to vastly oversimplify things. If a pitcher makes the arm stronger or gives it more stamina, he's likely in absence of other changes to create more force, but the arm now has to dissipate that force and handle the joint loads. If you make him more efficient, the force should move through the kinetic chain with less "drag" or lost energy. These are the guys you see "throwing easy". Kazmir's one of these guys; it just doesn't look like he's throwing hard until you see the ball go by you.
dianagramr (NYC): As much as people talk about how much more difficult it is for tall pitchers (easy for their mechanics to get fouled up), can't it be said that the "relation" of limb lengths is of equal importance.
I mean, a guy can be of "average pitcher" height, and that height could be "all legs" or "all torso".
Furthermore, I would think the ratio of forearm to upper arm length and ratio of upper to lower leg length would also play parts in the determination of the various forces placed on ligaments, tendons and such.
In other words, its not just about height. Right?
Will Carroll: Great concept and one I don't know has ever been looked at. Quick, D, get to the lab! It makes sense on the surface. You'll also have to consider the variance in the strength of connective tissue and the biomechanical "correctness" of individual structures.
ekanenh (a desk): More of a philosophical mechanics question. Using Craig Hansen as an example. when he came up, his motion seemed doomed to injury. Someone (the Sox or BorasCo.) had him change it to a more normal release, which made him even less effective. Now, he has returned to the short-arming that looks opretty bad, but has yielded slightly better, although inconsistent results.
In your view, does a team have any "obligation" (for lack of a better word) to get a pitcher away from a "dangerous, but effective" motion, if such a motion means only short term success (a year or two), before an injury which even the team thinks is inevitable?
Will Carroll: Great question. Hanson's not the best example here, but BJ Ryan is. From the time he was drafted, everyone knew he had terrible mechanics. The Reds rushed him up, traded him as quickly as they could for good value, and expected his arm to explode. Eventually it did but much later than everyone expected and with just a year off, he's back to his bad mechanics and good results. Should he have been changed? His accountant doesn't think so. There's a balance between effectiveness and health, but it's one that's difficult to read. I think the team is obliged to get the most value out of a player as they can. That might be running a guy out there like Torre did with Scott Proctor. Had the Twins kept Johan Santana, I would have wanted them to run him out there for as many innings as possible. Heck, I'd have sent the bullpen home on days he pitched. It's not very compassionate, but you know what, there's wins and losses, not style points.
Brian (Pittsburgh): No illusions of grander here...but at what age should I allow my son to start pitching? I threw as hard at 16 (with a lot more pain) as I did at 12, and I'm pretty certain it had something to do with the 200+ pitches I would throw on an average summer day between organized and sand lot games. Is there any solid research on pitching and kids? I want to be cautious but at the same time I want my kid to have fun.
Will Carroll: Oversimplifying here, but throw more, pitch less. Playing catch, long toss, or even a submaximal bullpen session is a way to build arm strength, work on mechanics, and develop control and command. Pitching is a max effort activity that tends to stress the joints in ways that are destructive, especially at younger ages. I'd take a hard look at the Alabama studies done by ASMI on pitching injuries in youth baseball and use common sense. You already seem ahead of the game. I got an email yesterday from someone in Florida saying that a kid went 201 pitches in a seven inning game. LITTLE LEAGUE game.
Mark (Baltimore): Can you explain how submariners like Chad Bradford are able to generate so much velocity? Is it really still a "whip" action, but flipped over? When I try it for fun, it just doesn't flow.
Will Carroll: First, Bradford isn't a sidearm or submariner pitcher. He's a standard "classic" pitcher.
I wrote about this for Boston Dirt Dogs a couple years ago: http://bostondirtdogs.boston.com/Headline_Archives/2005/07/special_deliver.html
Jason (New York): If a team has a choice between two amateur pitchers, one with "bad" mechanics but a history of success, or one with "good" mechanics but without that history, which player should it go with?
I guess I just wonder how closely a pitcher's mechanics arre tied not just to previous successes, but also his projection? It it possible to project a player while envisioning him using different mechanics?
Will Carroll: My questions would be:
1) Does my organization have a history of success making mechanical changes to pitchers?
2) Does the "bad" pitcher have something that is easily changeable with minor coaching
2a) Does the "bad" pitcher have good makeup, especially relating to coachability?
3) Does the "good" pitcher have projection or is this as good as he gets?
4) What do my doctors say about his physical condition and medical history?
In the abstract, I'd probably lean to the bad mechanics, as odd as that seems.
Robert (Washington): Quick question, I used to frequent BP a while back, and really enjoyed the work of Chris Kahrl. Just wondering if he still writes for you guys, I couldn't seem to find him on the site.
Will Carroll: Does anyone watch "Wipeout?" Does this question remind you of the girl last night who couldn't see the pole?
Chris is still here and still writes regularly, as well as functioning as Editor and resident military historian.
Chris (Chicago): Will, if a pitcher wanted to develop or work on a new pitch, how would they go about doing so? Do they just throw it more? Are there certain arm exercises they do?
Will Carroll: This is a really broad question. I always say I can teach someone to throw a new pitch in about ten minutes. Patrick Hruby proved that to be something of an exaggeration when he watched me teach a group of kids the gyroball for an ESPN article. Took me about half an hour. To MASTER a pitch takes a lot longer. I'm relatively sure that it was Tom House that said it takes 1000 pitches in practice to master a pitch. Then again, some guys will never get a pitch for various reasons. I killed myself to teach a kid a breaking ball, but then I noticed something in his delivery, tried teaching him a screwball, and it worked like that.
Chris (Chicago): To follow up Jason's question; if the pitcher with good mechanics is not succeeding then what could you alter to make him better? The bad mechanics pitcher could be changed, or you could leave him alone and run him out there like F Hernandez and still get good results despite the delivery.
Will Carroll: First, I'd get a biomechanical study to see if what I'm calling "bad" is in fact creating unsustainable joint loads. If it is, then I start working on changing him in a very gradual manner. Using Felix as an example here, I'd want to see if I could get his head moving forward and staying more stable.
JKiersky (Memphis): Mike Pelphrey- Just getting it, was tipping his pitches and now is not or Dan Warthen has cleaned up the delivery because the curve and slider looked decent to good last night. I always thought his mechanics were "clean" and repeatable. And of course the hot chicks show up after I leave...
Will Carroll: I've heard from too many people that he was tipping, as was Pedro Martinez. Hmm. I like the very little I've seen of Warthen. And let this be a lesson ... never leave my party early!
Grasspike (NC): What's the difference in a splitter and a forkball? Is the forkball just an exaggerated version of the splitter grip?
Will Carroll: Pretty much - the fingers are further apart on a fork. There's something of a continuum between them. Jose Contreras throws a forkball, but calls it a splitter, which calls into question why we care what we call it if the result works.
Steve (Clearwater, FL): Is this the Houston farmhand to whom you were referring?
From today's Future Shock: "Also garnering some attention on the Hooks’ roster is Dominican reliever Samuel Gervacio, who has struck out 54 in 46 innings. Gervacio’s unique mechanics almost have to be seen to be believed. He starts out with what looks like a very standard over-the-top delivery, before dropping his arm slot at the last possible moment to throw at a true sidearm angle with his arm parallel to the ground."
Will Carroll: Holy synergy, KG. .. while I don't know the pitchers name, that description sure matches up with what I saw. I can't believer there would be two of them.
dianagramr (NYC): I know there have been instances of players suing their former teams over supposed mishandling of their injuries, but (hypothetically), if Josh Johnson never throws another pitch, could he sue the Marlins and/or Joe Girardi for negligence for sending him back out to pitch after a 1-hour rain delay given his young and fragile arm?
Will Carroll: It's never been tested at the pro level on that specifically. There have been some pointed malpractice cases (most recently Greg Harris) but nothing that specific. We have seen some at the HS level.
Jonathan (Oakland): Will, have you seen any video of Michael Inoa? Do you have an opinion on his mechanics? Since he is just 16 and doesn't have a long pitching history, should the A's be working extensively to alter his mechanics to bring them closer tot he ideal?
Will Carroll: I have not. Still waiting on the YouTubes ...
BJ (PA): Ever since I spent the worst 45 minutes of my life in a closed MRI, I've often wondered if it is ever an issue for players to have a test done if they are claustrophobic. Have you ever heard of this being a problem? I asked the technician who performed mine and he said he has people walk out everyday because they can't get through the test.
Will Carroll: Oh yeah, happens a lot. That's why they invented the Open Sided MRI.
Grasspike (NC): Should pitchers ice, heat, or leave their shoulders alone after outings? Or does it matter?
Will Carroll: There's research that goes both ways. I think it's an individual decision.
tfierst (MN): How are joint loads measured? Especially during the act of pitching?
Will Carroll: Magic.
No, its calculations based on calculated forces done in the motion capture. I'm sure there's a better explanation for it, but that's how it was explained to me. I'm not a technical guy.
bill (nj): not really a mechanics question, but when does overuse of a pitcher generally show up?
Will Carroll: Massive variance. Glenn Fleisig compares pitcher overuse to smoking. Some people get lung cancer, some don't, but you still don't give a pack of smokes to a 12 year old.
Henry (Lincoln Park): How did Luis Tiant survive to have the career he did with his motion? I know he said something along the lines of "Delivery don't hurt my arm. No runs hurts my arm."
Will Carroll: Here's the problem ... we remember the exceptions. He actually isn't that much of an exception ... I'd be curious to see some sort of era-adjustment on his innings and he never went over 200 until he was well past the nexus. Still, you remember Tiant but not Roger Moret or Dick Drago or Reggie Cleveland, guys that had much more typical patterns. I mean, I had to look those guys up. Did they have injury problems? How many pitchers had one good year, Mark Prior-style, during the time that Bob Feller calls the good ol' days?
John (Cambridge): A follow- up on the confusing pitch f/x question - Can't a team install such a system wherever it wanted to? Wouldn't it behoove a team to get that kind of information on its own prospects and those of its competitors? Even if it's not the official system used in MLB, a computerized pitch tracking system seems like the kind of thing every progressive organization would setup at spring training sites and their minor league affiliates. Is it cost prohibitive in a leauge of $20 million dollar contracts and constant pitching injuries?
Will Carroll: Let's get all the teams to understand concepts like PAP before they go trying that. I'm sorry, as Louis Armstrong as that wonderful world would be, I can't see this happening in the next 10 years. There's NOT ONE TEAM that does motion capture on all its pitchers. ONE TEAM owns its own system (maybe two now) and fewer than ten send their players to another facility, such as ASMI.
Will Carroll: Two hours of just pitching mechanics? You have to love that. Thanks for all the great questions. I hope we can do something like this again soon and I'm still working on ways to show more video.