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January 23, 2015

Raising Aces

Best and Worst Mechanics: NL East

by Doug Thorburn

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After running through five divisions of the best and worst mechanics in the game, we arrive at the start of our final journey. The NL East is saturated with intrigue, including close competition for the best marks in each category, as well as some of the more odd deliveries in the sport (unfortunately, the hop-stride of Jordan Walden did not finish among the leaders). Let's deep-dive the mechanics of the NL East while appreciating that this list could look very different a year from now, especially if Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez are able to return to former levels of efficiency.

Balance

Best: Aaron Harang, 70 grade

Yes, that Aaron Harang. He may not stand out on a performance scale, and his walk rate is not exactly indicative of plus-plus stability, but Harang has exceptional balance that comes close to a perfect 80 on the grading scale. His delivery is slow but simple, maintaining his head over the center of mass in the X- and Z-planes and sustaining a consistent balance-height in the Y-plane. There were a few other pitchers in the NL East that deserve recognition for their balance as well, including Jordan Zimmermann, Kyle Kendrick, and Henderson Alvarez.

Worst: Alex Wood, 20 grade

If you pause Wood's delivery at just the right moment during his stride, he appears to be doing his best Neo impersonation as he dodges bullets in the Matrix. Wood has egregious imbalance with a forward-bend at the waist that puts his upper-half nearly parallel with the ground. He rights the ship by release point, finishing with above-average posture, putting him into a category with many submarine pitchers but without the ultra-low release point that typically accompanies the strategy. Craziest of all is that Wood has legit command, hitting his spots with regularity despite the bottom-scraping balance. The delivery of Alex Wood is a spectacle to behold.

Honorable Mention: Carlos Marmol, 20 grade

He didn't pitch enough innings to qualify for the title, but I wanted to give a nod to Marmol, who might just have the worst balance of our generation. Such things deserve recognition, particularly when his MLB career is on life support and we may not get to enjoy his antics much longer.

Momentum

Best: Jordan Zimmermann, 70 grade

Zimmermann has a very efficient delivery, and his blend of intimidating power and athletic stability earns one of the highest mechanical grades in the sport. His momentum stands out among the plethora of plus-plus grades on his report card, with a burst to the plate that is both fast and efficient. Zimmermann does a good job of leading with the hip during the lift phase, and he shifts into second gear after the top of his delivery with rocket propulsion into foot strike. His open stride can give the impression that his momentum is off-line, but the position is part of his signature and does not interfere with his maintaining a line to the target. Zimmermann almost won the hardware for division's best balance, and such stability is even more impressive when considering that he has the best momentum in the division.

Worst: Kyle Kendrick, 30 grade

The competition for best momentum in the division was stiff, but there weren't a whole lot of candidates in the NL East for the weak side of the momentum scale. His motion is slow throughout, and though he features quick leg movements during the lift phase of his delivery, Kendrick makes very little forward progress. The leg movements slow down as he down-shifts into second gear, and he utilizes a pedestrian speed to the plate on his way into foot strike. Kendrick's delivery is an extreme example of ditching power in favor of stability, and the momentum actually stands as the better of his two power grades.

Torque

Best: Zach Wheeler, 70 grade

The NL East is just loaded with torque. There is a laundry list of players who were in contention for this award, including Craig Kimbrel, Stephen Strasburg, Jose Fernandez, Gio Gonzalez and Zimmermann (I don't think it's a coincidence that there are so many Nats on the list). Wheeler may not throw quite as hard as Kimbrel or Strasburg, but his hip-shoulder separation tops them all. The right-hander utilizes a big load with the upper-half in conjunction to a heavy delay of trunk rotation, and though he sometimes battles inconsistency such that his elite-level torque can be hit or miss, the top end was good enough to take home the hardware for the best in the division.

Worst: Kendrick, 20 grade

As alluded to earlier, Kendrick exemplifies one of the least-powerful motions in the Major Leagues, and his modest combination of momentum and torque were individually low enough to rank as the weakest marks in the division. His torque scores the lower of the two subjects, achieving the rare 20-grade in an increasingly select category, given the modern emphasis on pitch velocity and the direct connection between velo and torque. The right-hander has virtually no separation with his upper-half before rotation kicks into gear, and his hips and shoulders are virtually locked together once he pulls the trigger.

Posture

Best: Nathan Eovaldi, 80 grade

Eovaldi has been a common sleeper pick for the past few seasons, with optimism fueled by his top-end velocity and efficient delivery. His blend of power and stability is incredible, and he culminates the functional part of his motion with absolutely perfect posture. There is no spine-tilt whatsoever on the majority of his pitches, and even when things are out of whack he is able to score in the 65-70 range with his posture. This was probably the most difficult category to win given the stiff competition from a dozen or so candidates in the NL East (half of whom pitch for the Phillies), and now that Eovaldi has transferred to another division, he could have a much easier time taking home next year's prize.

Worst: Jenrry Mejia, 35

The NL East is just a strong division when it comes to mechanical efficiency, with long lines of players in contention for each of the “Best” categories yet slim pickings on the opposite end of the spectrum. There wasn't a whole lot to choose from on the bad end of the posture scale, but Mejia stood out among his cohorts due to a general lack of balance that rippled into poor posture at release point. His power-heavy approach is very light on stability, a factor that didn't change much with his move to the bullpen and which likely played a role with his shift to relief in the first place. He was right on the cusp of earning a 30 grade for posture, but Mejia's typical release point would qualify as 35-grade spine-tilt.

Overall

Best: Zimmermann, A grade

The Nats' right-hander was in the running for virtually every mechanical category under the microscope, and he is on the short list for most efficient delivery in baseball. He earns plus marks in every subject, including those that were not covered in this series, such as release distance (65-grade) and repetition (an insane 80 grade). He has the best momentum in the division, a balance score that is just as impressive (especially when the two marks are considered together), big torque and solid posture. Some might say that Zimmermann broke out statistically last season, but the mechanical underpinnings for such performance have been present for years. It's easy to get lost among the star-studded names in the Nats' rotation, but Zimmermann deserves the spotlight no matter where he is pitching.

Doug Thorburn is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Doug's other articles. You can contact Doug by clicking here

Related Content:  Scouting; Mechanics

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