April 25, 2007

THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS AN ARM DUSTY CAN'T DESTROY:

Move Over, Moneyball: Stat nerds are out! Biomechanics nerds are in! (Seth Stevenson, April 24, 2007, Slate)

You could view the mechanics obsession as just another evolution in fan identity. We've always been armchair managers, second-guessing our team's decisions to bunt, or hit and run, or leave a pitcher out on the mound (damn you, Grady Little). Since the advent of fantasy baseball, we've identified more closely with the GMs—analyzing stats, weighing different roster constructions, and calculating salary-to-production ratios. Now, with the mechanics movement, we're all amateur scouts.

There are some inherent frustrations in this approach to baseball fandom. With reams of statistics now available to anyone who cares, the average fan can make his own judgments with regards to the numbers. But when it comes to mechanics, it still feels like we're in the Dark Ages. There's a clear thirst out there for this kind of stuff, but it's hard to tell which (if any) of these message-board guys knows what he's talking about. Mechanics analysis is so subjective, and such an esoteric niche right now, that the fan has little recourse but to put his faith in guys who claim to have some expertise.

As with any trend, the mechanics movement has its emerging gurus. At the Hardball Times, someone named Carlos Gomez (a self-described "retired pro baseball player" and "mechanics geek") has written a series of columns on pitching mechanics. His essay on Matsuzaka's motion praised Dice-K's "aggressive" leg swing and "elbowy" arm action. Sounds legit, but I have no way of knowing for sure.

Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll has also positioned himself as a mechanics expert. Carroll (who at times seems ickily comfortable with self-promotion) makes confident predictions about which pitchers are injury risks due to flawed form and which boast deliveries so smooth as to make injuries unlikely. Again, I just have to take him at his word. Carroll's analysis of Matsuzaka—a featured video clip at MLB.com—throws up side-by-side video of Dice-K and Roger Clemens, noting how similar the deliveries look. But it's my feeling that at least half the hard-throwing right-handers in baseball would look nearly identical to an untrained eye.

Also consider that in late 2003, Carroll (and co-author Nate Silver) wrote that Cubs pitcher Mark Prior

might be a special case, not because of his numbers, but because of his mechanics. What does a biomechanist see when Prior takes the mound? There are five major principles of proper delivery that can be summarized as balance, posture, anatomical position, rotation, and release. Prior is textbook with all five.

Prior is also now an injury-ridden mess. Carroll blames this on the heavy usage Prior has endured in his young career. But you'd think "textbook" mechanics would let him handle a heavy workload without major problems. Other pitchers have done that.


It also matters though what a young pitcher does with those mechanics--he needs to be efficient or be limited by management.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 25, 2007 7:49 AM
Comments

One thing that folks seem to agree on is that relying on a slider causes a lot of stress on the arm, especially the elbow. Kerry Woods' troubles have been blamed for that -- tho no doubt Dusty leaving him out for 130 pitches contributed to this.

Supposedly Phil Hughes had what scouts call a plus-plus slider in high school but the Yankees refused to allow him to throw it his first 2-3 years in the minors, teaching him the curve which puts less stress on the arm. I think they're allowing him to throw the slider again, but its way down the chain behind fastball, curve, and change.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 25, 2007 12:34 PM

The Astros took away Daryl Kile's slider and taught him a curve too.

Mark Prior had a 7 game stretch in '03 where he averaged 130 pitches a start. It would hardly have been more effective for Dusty to close his arm in a car door repeatedly.

Posted by: oj at April 25, 2007 5:10 PM
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