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Travis Burten

Steven Strasburg SP WAS

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Chris, here is what I want to know.

Most pitchers grow up learning what is comfortable for them. Very few seem to be able to switch mechanics successfully.

Liriano is the most recent case of a team trying to change a guys mechanics and it didn't take. Is the inverted W the "natural" body mechanics of some of these kids? It just seems like there hasn't been ANY success in trying to change them. And it seems like every time there is an attempt to, that guys loses stuff and velocity like Liriano did. Are they doomed to fail by their own body mechanics?

To stay on topic and in short, if Strasburg were to alter his mechanics, would he lose that "stuff" that makes him special?

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Chris, here is what I want to know.

Most pitchers grow up learning what is comfortable for them. Very few seem to be able to switch mechanics successfully.

Liriano is the most recent case of a team trying to change a guys mechanics and it didn't take. Is the inverted W the "natural" body mechanics of some of these kids? It just seems like there hasn't been ANY success in trying to change them. And it seems like every time there is an attempt to, that guys loses stuff and velocity like Liriano did. Are they doomed to fail by their own body mechanics?

To stay on topic and in short, if Strasburg were to alter his mechanics, would he lose that "stuff" that makes him special?

GREAT question ...

I would like to hear some thoughts on that too! Can a pitcher at that level change and still be successful?

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I know that these questions were not directed at me but pitchers throw at near maximum effort on every pitch nowadays IMO. A starter's job was to complete the game he starts whereas now it is more specialized. So pitchers used to focus more on pitching a 9 inning game versus today's pitchers who focus more on giving all they have for 100~ pitches per outing.

I also believe that we only hear about the successful pitchers from the old days who enjoyed long careers. I'm sure the failure rate due to injuries was just as high if not higher but maybe someone has a more definitive answer.

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Hmmm ... Chris, although I agree with much of your analysis and I am very much in favor of teaching young players to avoid things that have proven to be physically damaging (a brief footnote here, I was a DOMINATING LL pitcher at age 10-11 because I was already 6' tall, had all kinds of velocity, and could break off a curve that was like nothing kids that age had ever seen - by the time I was in HS I had elbow problems and I was pretty much done ... back in those days, the "coaches" didn't know any better) I might be hard pressed to list more than a handful of pitchers who meet that criteria which would make it very difficult to apply to a typical Roto league. It would be hard to only draft pitchers over age 35 with no injury history LOL

I might be willing to drop it down to 7 years, but it's nice that this roto thing is somewhat academic to me.

Anyway, Chris, if you could share your thoughts, I have seriously watched baseball for many years and way back when it was not that unusual for pitchers to throw 300+ innings and even though they didn't officially keep pitch counts I know they likely hit or exceeded 200 in some outings yet the serious arm injuries were far less prevalent. Is the inverted W (and other mechanical flaws) something that has just come about in the past 10,15 or 20 years?

Some things that I think have changed...

1. Lower body mechanics have gotten worse over the years. We've moved from efficient, big leg kicks and sweeping, rotational lower body mechanics to inefficient, linear lower body mechanics. I like Lincecum because he is a throwback to these more efficient lower body mechanics (which is why a small guy can throw so freakin hard).

2. More pitching instruction. 90+ percent of kids have decent natural arm actions. You generally have to be taught the bad stuff, and more people are teaching the bad stuff (because the bad stuff does work, but at a cost of longevity). That includes showing the ball to CF and keeping the fingers on top of the ball (which lead to elbow problems) and breaking the hands with the elbows and other ways of created inverted arm actions. The ONLY old school guy whose arm action I don't like is Don Drysdale. It isn't until Billy Wagner or so that you start seeing lots of inverted arm actions.

3. MUCH more competitive ball at younger and younger ages. I would bet that a majority of our best young arms are fried by the end of high school (if not grade school).

It is very difficult (as I believe has been mentioned here) to evaluate mechanics without high quality video that allows frame by frame viewing from the appropriate angles and while over the years I have clearly seen major changes in stride (Lincecum is sooo old school - and rare - in that respect), release timing and foot strike, etc. I cannot point to a date or a point on a timeline and say that is where pitching mechanics began to deteriorate and pitchers became significantly more fragile - if that is even an accurate statement.

I think this is a recent phenomenon. Really in the last 10 to 15 years. It's not a coincidence that that's when you really started hearing about pitching instructors and gurus.

I think most of the gurus very quickly went of the rails in search of ways to get more velocity out of pitchers (because that was what sold).

The problem is that things like the Inverted W DO work, but they are the moral equivalent of running a car past the red line.

It works.

For a while.

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Just because a guy had Tommy John surgery and the inverted W, doesn't mean that it is the end of the world. They can go on to lengthy, quality careers.

This is true from a short-term, roto perspective.

I'm thinking more from a club, player development, and maybe dynasty perspective where it sucks to sign a guy to a 5 year deal and only get 1 year of value of of him.

Roto guys can make money off of that, but that scenario sucks in the real world.

Not everyone goes the way of Wood and Prior and it isn't a career ender. Smoltz and Burnett are guys that seem to be just as good post surgery. Jury is still out on so many though like Liriano. Neither guy has a clean history, but both have had good careers.

I'm just saying that just because Strasburg throws that way doesn't mean he won't have a good career.

I'm still trying to find an inverted W guy that hasn't needed TJ and pitched for an extended period though.

That's true, but it's going to drive a guy's risk way up because you never know when he's going to fall apart. As a result, you can't count on him to be a 1, 2, or 3 guy.

Chris Carpenter is the perfect example of this. He's a prototypical #1 starter but practically he's so flaky that he's no better than a #4 guy. Yes, when he's on he's the best #4 guy in baseball, but that's maybe just 2 years in 4.

I think Verducci had a piece recently that said that consistency of production is more important to winning it all than peak production.

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I know that these questions were not directed at me but pitchers throw at near maximum effort on every pitch nowadays IMO. A starter's job was to complete the game he starts whereas now it is more specialized. So pitchers used to focus more on pitching a 9 inning game versus today's pitchers who focus more on giving all they have for 100~ pitches per outing.

This is true.

For example, most guys could throw their #1 fastball at two or three different speeds.

Most of the time they would throw it at 9 or 10. They would only take it to 11 a couple of times a game.

Now, many pitchers seem to throw their 11 every time.

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Most pitchers grow up learning what is comfortable for them. Very few seem to be able to switch mechanics successfully.

Due to muscle memory, it's basically impossible, without major motivation and effort (and maybe injury) to change a pitcher's mechanics after they have been throwing that way for maybe 5 years. I have a 13U whose arm action I hate (Inverted V) but who I can't change despite the fact that he is motivated to change due to control problems.

Liriano is the most recent case of a team trying to change a guys mechanics and it didn't take. Is the inverted W the "natural" body mechanics of some of these kids? It just seems like there hasn't been ANY success in trying to change them. And it seems like every time there is an attempt to, that guys loses stuff and velocity like Liriano did. Are they doomed to fail by their own body mechanics?

This is a tough question.

I think it is natural for some, but not for as many as use it.

I don't know if my Inverted V guy was taught to do that, but I know that he was complimented for it, and encouraged to do it, over the years.

To stay on topic and in short, if Strasburg were to alter his mechanics, would he lose that "stuff" that makes him special?

At this point yes.

That's why I think big league teams should avoid people like him rather than try to change him.

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I would like to hear some thoughts on that too! Can a pitcher at that level change and still be successful?

90 to 99 times out of 100, no.

The muscle memory is too burned in.

That's why the idea of major league pitching coaches is kind of silly (or at least misunderstood). They may be able to help a guy with minor things like timing and can absolutely can help a guy with their approach and individual pitches, but they really can't change any fundamental aspects of their mechanics (e.g. their arm action).

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That's why I think big league teams should avoid people like him rather than try to change him.

From a utopian point of view this might be true ... but since every pitcher with questionable mechanics and the ability to pitch at the pinnacle of the profession does not breakdown, teams are not going to pass on those higher risk, high ceiling guys and hand the ball to some mediocre or less hurler with a textbook delivery. 

While I totally agree that teaching proper motion and mechanics is the right thing to do before the bad habits are ingrained, it is not going to happen overnight. The stakes are too high for pro teams to significantly downgrade their pitching - with so many teams its incredibly thin as it is - just to break the pattern of questionable instruction for kids. Can you imagine what the typical MLB rotation would look like if they were all limited to the most mechanically correct pitchers?

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This is true.

For example, most guys could throw their #1 fastball at two or three different speeds.

Most of the time they would throw it at 9 or 10. They would only take it to 11 a couple of times a game.

Now, many pitchers seem to throw their 11 every time.

Excellent discussion btw.

I think that part gets ignored a lot as well - to me, "max effort" guys seem more likely to break down or encounter problems if they have to go to 11 *all* the time - I think that combined with bad mechanics, leads to a higher risk of problems.

Agreed, or disagree? Not a sports doc, so am always interested to read more hypotheses. And to answer the studies question, the science of sports medicine is so early in its development, and the #'s so small for each sport from a data standpoint (not every injury is the same), very few areas have enough #'s to validate scientifically. TJ surgery might be one of the few examples, but even then the #'s are small per year - a guy who got TJ in 90's not the same as a guy in the last 3 years - the technical improvements don't make them the same people.

Hope that adds something, and as I mentioned, great discussion.

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Excellent discussion btw.

I think that part gets ignored a lot as well - to me, "max effort" guys seem more likely to break down or encounter problems if they have to go to 11 *all* the time - I think that combined with bad mechanics, leads to a higher risk of problems.

Agreed, or disagree? Not a sports doc, so am always interested to read more hypotheses. And to answer the studies question, the science of sports medicine is so early in its development, and the #'s so small for each sport from a data standpoint (not every injury is the same), very few areas have enough #'s to validate scientifically. TJ surgery might be one of the few examples, but even then the #'s are small per year - a guy who got TJ in 90's not the same as a guy in the last 3 years - the technical improvements don't make them the same people.

Hope that adds something, and as I mentioned, great discussion.

The hardest part of evaluating "max effort" is how easily some pitchers pull that off. A couple of years ago Justin Verlander could touch 100 and look like he was playing long toss. Was that max effort? If they made them all grunt really loud when they threw a max effort pitch it would be so much easier to tell hehehe ... but your point is well taken.

I guess my only semi-technical eye sees a smooth, repeatable, fluid motion with some stride, a good arm slot, and an appropriate follow-through in real time and wants to assume less than max effort and reasonably sound mechanics. Its when you start breaking it down a frame at a time that you realize that equation doesn't always hold true.

And I agree, Mr. Strasburg has provided an excellent point of discussion!

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How far away are we from a 6 man rotation or even more specialization in pitching? If contraction were to happen (a real possibility), MLBPA would almost definitely call for a roster expansion, allowing teams to carry more pitchers.

Also, as far as pitchers changing mechanics, doesn't this happen pretty regularly? I'm not sure if changing an arm slot would require a complete overhaul but I see pitchers go through this all the time. Clay Buchholz in 08 comes to mind immediately as the Sox wanted him to change his arm slot to try and get more movement on his fastball.

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From a utopian point of view this might be true ... but since every pitcher with questionable mechanics and the ability to pitch at the pinnacle of the profession does not breakdown, teams are not going to pass on those higher risk, high ceiling guys and hand the ball to some mediocre or less hurler with a textbook delivery.

While I totally agree that teaching proper motion and mechanics is the right thing to do before the bad habits are ingrained, it is not going to happen overnight. The stakes are too high for pro teams to significantly downgrade their pitching - with so many teams its incredibly thin as it is - just to break the pattern of questionable instruction for kids. Can you imagine what the typical MLB rotation would look like if they were all limited to the most mechanically correct pitchers?

I live in the real world, so I get this.

At this point, all teams can do is understand the risk and the exposure they face and try to manage and plan around it.

In the case of the Cardinals, I would suggest that that means treating Carp like at most a number 3 or 4 guy and finding a true number 1 (and maybe number 2).

Long term they need to start drafting for guys with cleaner mechanics (which is what the Cardinals at least are doing). Maybe you draft a higher risk guy every once in a while, but you need to understand what you are getting and plan accordingly.

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Excellent discussion btw.

I think that part gets ignored a lot as well - to me, "max effort" guys seem more likely to break down or encounter problems if they have to go to 11 *all* the time - I think that combined with bad mechanics, leads to a higher risk of problems.

Agreed, or disagree? Not a sports doc, so am always interested to read more hypotheses. And to answer the studies question, the science of sports medicine is so early in its development, and the #'s so small for each sport from a data standpoint (not every injury is the same), very few areas have enough #'s to validate scientifically. TJ surgery might be one of the few examples, but even then the #'s are small per year - a guy who got TJ in 90's not the same as a guy in the last 3 years - the technical improvements don't make them the same people.

I'm still getting my arms around this, but I think an 11 is most often a max effort pitch. As a result, and as you say, a max effort guy is a guy who throws his 11 most of the time. A smoother guy will tend to be a guy who throws at just 9 or 10.

Remember that Maddux could throw 93 when he came up but lived at 90ish (and as the years went by less).

It strikes me that a possibly interesting way of judging a pitcher's level of effort, and maybe getting a sense of their level of risk, would be to look at the delta between a pitcher's peak speed and their cruising speed. Many guys, like Maddux out of HS, can hit 93 but tend to live at 90 or 91 because they are most effective there due to things like improved control. A guy with a small or 0 delta would be a max effort, 11 guy while a guy with a larger delta (2-4 MPH) would be a smoother guy who lives at 9 or 10.

I wonder if Pitch f/x would have this kind of data?

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Also, as far as pitchers changing mechanics, doesn't this happen pretty regularly? I'm not sure if changing an arm slot would require a complete overhaul but I see pitchers go through this all the time. Clay Buchholz in 08 comes to mind immediately as the Sox wanted him to change his arm slot to try and get more movement on his fastball.

Changing a pitcher's arm slot 10 or so degrees isn't that big of a deal, because it's just a question of changing one's shoulder tilt.

Once you know how to do it, you can vary your arm slot pretty much at will from overhand to submarine (albeit with some velocity implications). I can also vary my arm slot from 3/4 to sidearm with no velocity loss (and maybe some velocity gain along with movement gain).

It's a MUCH bigger, and maybe practically impossible, deal to change a pitcher's arm action (e.g. from Inverted W to Standard W).

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Changing a pitcher's arm slot 10 or so degrees isn't that big of a deal, because it's just a question of changing one's shoulder tilt.

Once you know how to do it, you can vary your arm slot pretty much at will from overhand to submarine (albeit with some velocity implications). I can also vary my arm slot from 3/4 to sidearm with no velocity loss (and maybe some velocity gain along with movement gain).

It's a MUCH bigger, and maybe practically impossible, deal to change a pitcher's arm action (e.g. from Inverted W to Standard W).

Although I am not sure of the physical implications, it has been my experience that pitchers who throw over the top or high 3/4's tend to stay on top of the ball more and they tend to generate more movement while low 3/4's and sidearm throwers are a bit more inconsistent with repeatable motion and delivery. Of course there are plenty of exceptions and this is a general, not an exact, observation. That said, I have seen pitchers from just about every arm angle display the inverted W and any of the other timing problems that can be so problematic.

Is there a "preferred" arm slot for minimizing wear and tear on the arm as long as everything else is mechanically sound?

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Although I am not sure of the physical implications, it has been my experience that pitchers who throw over the top or high 3/4's tend to stay on top of the ball more and they tend to generate more movement while low 3/4's and sidearm throwers are a bit more inconsistent with repeatable motion and delivery. Of course there are plenty of exceptions and this is a general, not an exact, observation. That said, I have seen pitchers from just about every arm angle display the inverted W and any of the other timing problems that can be so problematic.

I have talked about this at some length with Carlos Gomez. We agree that lower arm slot guys will tend to have more natural tail (horizontal movement) due to how the ball comes off the hand (it tends to come off spinning on a more vertical axis).

Higher arm slot guys will tend to have more vertical movement (think 12-6 CV and Sinker) due to the fact that the the ball comes off the hand spinning on a more horizontal axis.

Tail doesn't imply much of significance for a low arm slot guy but it implies significant pronation for a higher arm slot guy (which may be why Maddux's elbow has held up as well as it has).

Is there a "preferred" arm slot for minimizing wear and tear on the arm as long as everything else is mechanically sound?

I don't think so.

I really don't think arm slot matters that much when it comes to wear and tear on the arm.

The only arm slot related patterns that I (think) I can see are...

1. A greater tendency for head jerks and thus control/consistency problems with very high arm slot guys (think Hideki Okajima).

2. A greater tendency for lower back problems from submarine guys due to simultaneous flexion and rotation of the lower spine (think Chad Bradford).

I think that's why most guys fall in the range from sidearm to 3/4 (with the mean probably being high sidearm or low 3/4).

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That's not true at all. He'd be a very good prospect, but he has done his pitching against some pretty weak college teams. The Mountain West Conference isn't anything special. It's not like he's done this is the SEC or the Big12 etc. I definitely don't think he's a lock for the #1 pick in '09 yet. No clear 3rd pitch yet to go along with the fastball and killer slider. He'll probably go #1 (definitely top 3), but it's a little early.

I'm not saying he isn't a GREAT prospect, but he wouldn't just jump into MiLB and be the #1 pitching prospect (lack of track record mostly).

wtf are you talking about? The conference he pitches in has a shatload of hitting talent.

He is 100% the number 1 pick going to the Nationals. Scouts are calling him one of the best pitching prospects EVER.

His mechanics are bad - will probably need a major shoulder surgery at some point.

eta: I just noticed you posted this in June 08. Still, not much has changed in terms of his scouting report.

check this out: food for thought

http://www.drivelinemechanics.com/2008/11/...stephen-strasbu

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I traded two big prospects to get the opp to draft strasburg, and I decided that if he gives me two years equivalent to priors best (18 wins, 250 K, 2.6 ERA, 1.1 WHIP) then it woul dbe worth it. if he blows up after that so be it, its a risk with any pitcher

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Micro analysis of pitching delivery is great for chit chat, but I don't see any proof it amounts to a hill of beans. Are all of the pitching injuries we've seen in the past ten years due to everyone having a horrible delivery? Where were all the epidemic arm injuries in past eras of baseball? If it's all about delivery, why aren't organization micro-managing their young pitchers' delivery habits?

I think the problem with one player vs. another comes down to genetic makeup and adolescent workload. Prior may have had a problematic delivery, but so what? Prior could have had a perfect delivery and still been a chronic injury case if his arm simply isn't built to throw hard from junior high through college. Randy Johnson could probably go up and throw shotputs at 90 mph with one shoe on and never sustain a major arm injury. For every fan of Lincecum's delivery, I can show you another one who thinks his arm is going to fall off during his next appearance beacause of his delivery. He may NEVER have a major injury. And the same goes for Strasburg. If he has the genetic build that can withstand the wear and tear of pitching, he's going to be fine. If not, there's nothing anyone can do - it will happen whether he has a funky delivery or a "great" delivery. So everyone just needs to chill out and enjoy what this incredible talent is capable of.

P.S. I feel the same way about PECOTA, which has reached mythical levels of credibility and a cult-like following. (Really - has anyone done a study on the accuracy of PECOTA?).

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Micro analysis of pitching delivery is great for chit chat, but I don't see any proof it amounts to a hill of beans. Are all of the pitching injuries we've seen in the past ten years due to everyone having a horrible delivery? Where were all the epidemic arm injuries in past eras of baseball? If it's all about delivery, why aren't organization micro-managing their young pitchers' delivery habits?

I think the problem with one player vs. another comes down to genetic makeup and adolescent workload. Prior may have had a problematic delivery, but so what? Prior could have had a perfect delivery and still been a chronic injury case if his arm simply isn't built to throw hard from junior high through college. Randy Johnson could probably go up and throw shotputs at 90 mph with one shoe on and never sustain a major arm injury. For every fan of Lincecum's delivery, I can show you another one who thinks his arm is going to fall off during his next appearance beacause of his delivery. He may NEVER have a major injury. And the same goes for Strasburg. If he has the genetic build that can withstand the wear and tear of pitching, he's going to be fine. If not, there's nothing anyone can do - it will happen whether he has a funky delivery or a "great" delivery. So everyone just needs to chill out and enjoy what this incredible talent is capable of.

P.S. I feel the same way about PECOTA, which has reached mythical levels of credibility and a cult-like following. (Really - has anyone done a study on the accuracy of PECOTA?).

Here is the problem. Strasburg features something called the inverted W in his delivery. I don't know if you are familiar with this or not. Pretty much every inverted W guy has needed Tommy John surgery recently. Much more alarming than just "chit-chat."

Some have still had great careers like Smoltz, but he also need TJ and recently broke down again.

I have asked people on this board to provide one guy that featured and inverted W in their delivery AND didn't need TJ in a lengthy career and so far, I have gotten no replies.

So, I consider it much more than "chit-chat." We can look up inverted W guys and lots of names come up: Prior, Liriano, Smoltz, Burnett, Marcum, Bonderman, etc.

When somebody if featuring it as pronounced as Strasburg's, it's a HUGE cause for concern.

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And Teams ARE trying to micromanage their young guys' deliveries. The problem is that it often doesn't take or produce the same results.

The Red Sox messed the Buchholz last year and he struggled mightily. I think he is back to his old delivery. I don't think he is a W guy, but they still changed his mechanics nonetheless.

The Twins tried to change Liriano and he lost velocity. He didn't return to being dominant again until he went back to the old delivery.

Teams know about this stuff, but changing it is a different story.

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Man, if I have that #1 pick, and hole at SS.... I think I'd go Grant Green over him to be honest. Polished kid out of USC, who should be able to stick at the position. The errors might look bad, but he has a good arm and good range, so the rest are fundamentals and can be worked on. I know mechanics aren't an exact science, but I've seen enough to be frightened by Strasburg and do with maybe the most important position on the field. Not only that, but Green won't take long to make it to the Bigs either with his college time.

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