It’s a common problem in pitching to see pitchers experience difficulty due to improper arms slot. Either they never had a very good one or something is happening earlier in the motion to throw their arm slot off. Poor arm slot is generally indicitive of a poor mechanical process elsewhere. Poor mechanics lead to rushing which not only throws a pitch off, it can hurt a pitcher as well.
For today’s little tutorial we are going to look at a single game from Justin Verlanders 2011 MVP/Cy Young/Better Than You Could Hope To Be season. Our data set will come from his May 7th start against the Toronto Blue Jays. (hint: It was a really good game.)
So first off, lets decipher what we are looking at. In the charts key we see indicated JV’s pitch types. On the X and Y axis we see distances from the catchers perspective (in feet). The box in the center of the graph denotes a generic strikezone. Strike zones by definition can vary from batter to batter so the one shown is more or less just an average and should only be used to create a perspective, not a truth.
There is something about how this data is gathered that is very important to note. It is not gathered at actual release. It is gathered at the 50ft. from home plate. This is important to note because looking at actual release points (aka video) can tell us so much more than any pitch f/x chart ever could. However, given the absence of solid video sometimes the release point chart serves as an integral part of my work.
What we want to see when we look at these charts is consistency. In determining consistency, you must first determine someplace to work around. There is generally going to be at least one good sized clump on the chart. The center of that clump is going to be where you determine the consistency of the release from. Deviation from that main point is the determing factor here. The more pitches that deviate and how far they deviate from the main point, the worse the release is.
Looking at JV, I’d pick (-1.75, 6.25) as his general release point. All his pitches are being picked up within approximately a foot of that point. Given the nature of the data collection, magnus effect (pitch movement), and any other immeasurable factor I’d say that this a very good release. It’s very deceptive to come around with so many different pitches, but have them all fly at you from the exact same spot.
For general purposes I’d have to say that falling within that 1ft deviation is very good. The rating gets worse the larger that number gets and by the time you hit 2ft, you should probably be hitting up the minor leagues for some mechanics work in my opinion.
So when I see a bad release point, I know that there is a larger mechanical issue at stake here. It’s at this point that I hope to find some video so I can play amateur pitching coach and tell the Big Leaguer what exactly he’s doing wrong. All from the comfort of my couch of course.
It is normal when evaluating a pitchers mechanics to take a video, slow it down, freeze it, and dissect the nuances of the motion. Personally, I’ll look for positioning of the limbs, rotation of the hip, stride length, arm movement, etc. It’s basically the most effective way to truly evaluate a pitcher. Unfortunately, I don’t always have video to use. I either don’t have access to it or I just have poor video to work with. However, there is still a way for me to make strong guesses into how a pitcher is acting.
Pitch F/X are a very useful tool and are essentially the best tool for seeing just how well a pitcher is actually pitching. They describe everything from how the ball locates and how fast it is thrown to how the ball spins and moves through the air. These are things that are sometimes difficult to pick up in a video and are things that anybody can use to reinforce an opinion in attempt to establish new fact.
However, they can be tricky because the charts do not work how our brain wants them too. There are things in the charts that must be understood before reading them and hopefully reinforcing ourselves.
So to help teach myself as well as my faithful readers, we’ll follow the best of the 2011 MLB season: Justin Verlander. To begin the tutorials we are going to look at the Pitch Virtualization charts at Texas Leaguers.
First to describe the basic information on the charts.
The box on the right side are the pitch types. It shows JV featuring five different pitches.
- FF: Four Seam Fastball. This is a standard straight moving fastball that generally features greater velocity.
- FT: Two Seam Fastball. A very popular pitch because it mixes a fastball’s velocity with some movement.
- SL: Slider. A pitch that breaks laterally and down with a moderate velocity.
- CU: Curveball. A pitch that dives downward as it approaches the plate.
- CH: Changeup. Essentially a slow fastball.
I know many of my readers didn’t need me to tell you how these pitches act, but it’ll prove a useful resource when we actually start looking at the data. In need of less explanation are the X and Y axis on the chart. The X describes horizontal distance in feet (from release to glove) and the Y denotes height in feet (from release to glove).
So based off all that information everybody here has a bit of a grasp as to what those charts mean and what they describe. In a nut shell they show how a pitch moves from release to the catchers glove and when the stages of movement happen over a distance. One important piece of information to remember though are the charts titles. Each contains a very key word: Virtualization. Virtualizations aren’t always representative of what actually happens. In these charts they tend to represent what should happen.
So where does the virtualization come from? The answer is data. At the top of Texas Leaguers Pitch F/X pages you can find the averages for their collected data. Vertical and horizontal positioning, spin rates, spin angles, velocities, and pitch usage are all available averages for you to look at. From this information a virtualization can be created showing us how the pitch should act.
Now maybe you’re asking a new question: What good does it do us if it isn’t showing exactly what’s happening? Simple answer is comparison. What should happen is useful data when compared to what is actually happening. But, I’m not gonna write a ten page paper at 11:30 at night (save that for my college professors). You’ll just have to learn more in one of the upcoming segments where I will further describe some of the information that those data sets infer.
Many moons ago, I wrote a piece on the kinetic chain. It’s an integral system to baseball, describing the flow of energy from the very tip of a pitcher’s toe to the baseball he wishes to hurl toward home plate. Without it there is no velocity on the ball. The ball would merely go from the pitcher’s hand straight to the ground while merely attempting to reach terminal velocity.
With a pitcher it is easy to see that the arm does plenty of work to get the ball to the plate. But the truth of the matter is that the arm, shoulder, hand, wrist, elbow…are more there for providing control to the ball. The curve on a curve ball, giving some chin music, jamming a hitter inside. That’s what the arm does.
The lower half of the body however, gives the pitcher velocity and basically all of it too. Moving the pitchers weight forward, rotating the body through the pitch–those are all more valuable towards creating velocity then any muscle the arm could ever provide.
Now I’ve had to fight this point with people. I don’t get why. Yes you can make your arm throw a ball pretty hard while flat footed, your arm is just gonna start to hurt pretty darn quick. Plus I guarantee you are throwing well below 50mph regardless. MLB pitchers prefer to reach 90mph at least. So whenever I am presented with this argument I whip out my evidence. Today we have Phil Coke.
Phil Coke when healthy can get a velocity on his pitch from anywhere from 92-94mph. Not bad for a lefty. Recently enough Phil Coke suffered an ankle injury. What’s his velocity now? As of the 2011 season he is averaging about 91.7mph. I’m assuming that the average is closing in on normal because he is recovering as evidenced by his August average of about 94mph. Now I shouldn’t have to say more at this point. Phil Coke hurts Phil Coke so there for Phil Coke can’t pitch like Phil Coke. But my transgressors would at this point say something along the lines of “something is mechanically wrong.” No duh.
Ok, so now a more descriptive explanation. It is a bit of a human instinct to avoid pain. We avoid getting hurt and avoid making things hurt that are already hurt. It’s the big reason why we created pain medication. Hurting isn’t good. Suffice to say that if Phil Coke has a hurt ankle, he’s not gonna wanna have to feel his hurt ankle. But his job involves him using his feet to effectively make non hittable strikes. So to do his but still avoid feeling his source of discomfort, Phil will subconciously decide to use other muscle groups to try and accomplish what he was able to do before using his now injured body parts.
These new muscle groups are not accustomed to generating the velocity he needs to be the same old effective Phil Coke. They are for one not conditioned for doing so. His other muscles have had years of training to throw a baseball 93mph. The others have not. Secondly, they may have no chance in hell of ever being able to throw that velocity. Some muscles just have very little to do with pitching and more resemble a “passing through” point with the kinetic chain. So where the legs now lack in generating velocity, now a pitcher will try to compensate with the ever popular “arm.”
Like I said above, the arm holding the ball is more or less there to give the ball accuracy and movement. Not velocity. Yes it gives some, but it can only handle so much of a workload before you start to affect other things (such as how long your elbow will stay together). Without accuracy all the velocity in the world wouldn’t matter. I’d rather see a 91mph fastball get placed accurately than see a 94mph one get thrown way too high.
In the world of baseball, pitching injuries are the worst thing. From blisters to a hangnail the very facets of a pitchers of ability can be greatly affected. Something like a bone bruise could really throw off a pitchers game simply because he cannot transfer energy effectively through his body. So yes, while you may give a position player a few days of rest and some DH time to recover from something simple–go ahead and just throw your pitchers on the DL.
Ahhhhh…the new fun pitcher to watch. A new man who loves to strike them out. And ever since Zumaya’s arm ‘sploded Tigers fans needed someone fun to watch.
But Al Al isn’t without err. He walks way to many. A problem of many guys who like to see how far above 95mph they can throw. At some point these guys prefer to throw the ball really hard instead of try to get the out. With all that said Al likes to keep the damage to the minimum. He has an LOB% of nearly 80% and in 33 innings he has yet to give up a home run. That HR stat, it’s quite impressive for a man who only uses two pitches.
Now for the pitches. Mr. Al has two that he likes to use. He has a fastball (of both the two and four seam varieties) that he throws at 95+mph. He also has a slider that he absolutely loves and clocks it at around 85mph. Now normally for a relief pitcher two pitches are fine and I’d classify the breaking pitch (slider) as basically his “change-up” but in the case of Al Al I’m just gonna go ahead and say that the fastball is his “change-up.”
Why would I say that? Well, Al throws his slider more than 50% of the time meaning it’s the fastballs that keep the hitter off balance instead of the breaking ball. It’s a strange setup because normally a pitcher establishes the fastball and then moves on to the other pitches. But Al Al seems to be a bit of a hipster when it comes to pitching tradition.
Now on to a chart or two.
What a strange release point. Straight over the center of the plate. Why? Off to the video…
Yep. Just as I thought. The only thing touching that pitching mound is his big toe. Nothing wrong with that. Other than that it’s a pretty low release that stays pretty consistent.
Mechanically Alburquerque is very smooth. He gets from point A to Point B with very little effort–no extra motions, no stupid little stops–and seems to naturally generate quite a bit of velocity. He may use the slider too much but as long as it’s effective and he keeps locating it the way he does it’s not a big issue for a relief pitcher. He keeps his release generally consistent and a solid mechanics keep him deceptive as well. Overall I’d have to say that the Tigers have a very solid pitcher in Al Alburquerque.
So I went to Mariners game and what started off good, got pretty bad when relief pitching started to come in. So to keep myself entertained I tuned myself in to the man pitching the 9th and watched his mechanics as best as I could from a bit of a distance (but from behind home plate).
So to start off lets look at Adams bare stats, so far he’s pitched in 3 games for the Tigers and features a 4.05 ERA with a 5.81 FIP and currently has an incredibly lucky .200 BABIP. He features an upper 80′s fastball with a slider to break up the monotony.
Enough boring numbers…lets talk about the interesting stuff.
So I was sitting there and what caught my was how the GS leg planted after it kicked. It was basically landing way off toward the first base line. Well, that’s really letting his body fly open and his release has to be a bit later to get that ball to go back over the plate and really late to get it inside on a righty hitter. He’s basically a side-arm pitcher so, just in my mind that makes it a bit more difficult to release correctly.
So I started watching closer, if I see one thing I’ll probably see another so I started to pay attention to his arms. And I saw what something a lot of pitchers do wrong and something a bit more unique. I saw him swing his arm into the cocked position all wrong, very herky jerky and incredibly rushed. Wilk’s is rushed in a special way, it’s rushed to where when he decides to load his shoulder blades, he only has time to bring one back and then cock the arm. Overall none of that is good for his shoulder/elbow because the loading rate is putting extreme stress on his joints, but also the awkward position he’s putting his arm in is doing him no good either.
Did I mention none of this is good for his control either? Might have something to do with those extra runs he gave up to the Mariners. Maybe I’m just bitter still after having gone to my first Tigers loss. But at any rate, it’s something for him to work on.
That’s a good way to start this analysis off. The stupid leg kick of Bronson Arroyo. Question is: Does it make the rest of his mechanics stupid? And does the stupid equal wrong? These are the questions I set out to answer.
Watch the video above. Aint that goofy? Sooooooooooo weird.
So he kicks his leg out straight in front of him. I know it’s weird. But it’s not necessarily bad. Potential problem yes. But as long as the ball is doing what it’s supposed to than there really isn’t anything to worry about.
Strangely enough, after such a weird beginning, Arroyo does a lot right. So really Bronson Arroyo is a bit of a poster boy for good mechanics, minus that beginning glitch.
I’ll just checklist the good stuff.
- Aside from the goofiness of the beginning of the kick, he gets the knee nice and high. I like this because it makes it easier to get good timing with the next thing.
- The break of the hands comes at the moment the body begins to move forward. This is essential to setting things up the rest of the wind up and delivery.
- The arm is swung behind the body versus dropped and brought up. This controls loading rate and maintains proper timing toward delivery.
- Nice long stride with the GS leg that lands on a bent knee versus a straight knee. A straight knee kills the kinetic chain and of course puts unnecessary stress on the knee.
- The elbow goes through a nice smooth loading stage.
- I can draw a straight line from the finger tips in one arm to the finger tips in the other as the PAS arm travels through the arm slot.
- The GS leg is re-straightened at the point of delivery allowing all the energy generated to be transfered to the ball.
Arroyo doesn’t do much wrong. But there are a couple of minor problems.
- When the shoulders are loaded he brings the elbow of his PAS arm above shoulder level. Since he has a pretty smooth loading rate and doesn’t over load this isn’t a huge issue.
- The glove doesn’t end up in a proper position. Not a mechanical issue, but I don’t like my pitchers to end up with a liner in the face.
While weird mechanics are in fact…weird. It doesn’t mean that they are necessarily bad. Every delivery has small dangers but mechanically speaking, Arroyo’s aren’t anything to be particularly worried about.
Ok finally I’ve gotten around to finishing my Jose report. Some notes that I didn’t cover in my last post: Jose had elbow tendinitis which is an inflammation of the a tendon in the elbow. So that means the problem was physical, but my work shall not be fruitless. Maybe I can find what caused or led to the tendinitis.
First step in the process is to find the video. Off to the webz.
Found one. No he’s not in his Tiger uniform. But that’s not important. We need video of him not only pitching successfully, but healthy. Now really I’m assuming both because for all I know that pitch was out of the strike zone and he was pitching hurt while doing it, but I have to assume right now.
Doing the good stuff is kinda boring but ill do it anyway.
- Nice high leg kick. Establishes the timing strongly.
- I can draw a straight line through his shoulders from the cocked position on to release.
Watch the end of the video. It’s full of things that can hurt a pitcher, mostly in the “he looks like he’s gonna start hitting himself” kinda way.
Here’s the fun stuff.
This is a big problem. Look at the right arm. It is separated from the glove hand before the body has started moving forward. So right now the arm is ahead of the body. In order to create proper timing Valverde must now either go incredibly slow with his arm or add a pause. Now I’ve had small arguments in the past about over compensation of other joints, more particularly when it comes to fire ballers, but I believe it to be true of all pitchers when the do either something mechanically wrong or have an inhibitive injury in another part of the body. The joint I see most often getting over compensated is of course the elbow because most pitching mechanics out there have some sort of timing error. Some are minor, others are pretty severe. Jose’s is severe. Now his over compensation probably comes in spurts. Those innings where he just can’t find the strike zone are the biggest culprit.
More then likely in those moments Valverde’s arm is lagging behind his body messing up his release point. In order to adjust on the fly he probably increases the loading rate on his elbow. This increase in loading rate leads to an increase of stress on the joint itself. Keep up the stress on the joint for long enough, pain in some form for some reason shall ensue. In the case of Jose Valverde, it was right elbow tendinitis.
I’m not really saying that Tigers fans should be particularly worried about Jose. For most of the season Jose should be fine. But it’s those last couple months that this type injury has the strongest potential of sneaking up on a him just because of the shear length of an MLB season. The likelihood of late season breakdowns only increases as he gets older as well. Good news is that this type of injury can be prevented. Watching his pitch count is key. Especially when he’s having trouble finding the strike zone. Doing this will significantly cut down on the wear and tear on his body. Personally I’d give him 30 – 35 pitches on a good night (enough to pitch 2 innings if necessary) and 20 if he just isn’t finding the strike zone.