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November 6, 2015

Raising Aces

Position Players Pitching, Part 1

by Doug Thorburn

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There were an incredible number of position players who took to the mound in 2015, totaling 24 players by my count. It was suggested that I jump in on the mechanics of this intriguing subset of players, a homework assignment that I was stoked to receive. The group of players is so big that I had to split them up, so for round one we'll tackle players who are at least semi-regular starters on the diamond, as most of the position-player-turned-pitchers are part-time players near the bottom of the roster. The following group of seven players each had at least 250 plate appearances in 2015, and each faced at least three batters in his stint from the stripe.

A note before we get started: all of the Repetition grades would receive an N/A due to the limited sample, so for each of these players we will forgo the formality and stick with a four-pronged Mechanics Report Card. Each player's letter grades will be based mostly on the four baselines, with an adjustment made for peripheral aspects that are not on the card, but the overall grade that's assigned to each pitcher is largely of his Repetition.

Going in chronological order, here are the regulars and semi-regulars who faced at least three batters this past season:

Clint Robinson

May 12th, vs. ARI

1.0 IP, 4 batters faced, 0 R, 0 H, 1 K, 0 BB

Max Velocity: 82.1 mph

Somewhat miraculously, Robinson shut down the Arizona offense for one inning, armed with nothing but an 82 mph fastball and a flat curve.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

65

Momentum

40

Torque

20

Posture

55

Overall

D+

For an explanation on the grading system for pitching mechanics, please consult this pair of articles.

Robinson's great score for balance has much to do with his shallow stride and very brief motion, as his head doesn't have much time to fall off course. The balance is strong in all three planes up through foot strike, but he kicks in some tilt to the third base side as the throwing arm accelerates into release point. The lefty gets credit for having a simple delivery, though that simplicity comes with very low power, including a bottom-feeding 20 for torque due to hips and shoulders that fire in unison.

Jeff Francoeur

June 16th, at BAL

2.0 IP, faced 11 batters, 2 ER, 1 H (1 HR), 3 BB, 1 K

Max Velocity: 89.9 mph

Francoeur was a pitcher in high school and has been on a pro mound as recently as 2014, where he pitched eight games for El Paso in the Pacific Coast League. The Phillies let him go for a whopping 47 pitches over two frames of work, 44 of which were fastballs (the other three were sliders).

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

60

Momentum

50

Torque

45

Posture

50

Overall

C

Don't be deceived by Francoeur's follow-through, which gives the impression of heavy momentum, as his pace to the plate is modest and he makes little to no forward movement during the lift phase of his motion. He does have power but most of it comes from his actions after foot strike, including a heavy dose of hip rotation combined with heavy flexion of the spine (at its best, his hooligan head-butt is reminiscent of Max Scherzer's). His stuff was nasty, including a hard fastball with movement and a breaking ball that left Nolan Reimold scratching his head. Francoeur's balance is very strong though the head can go off the reservation as he invokes the flexion, often leaving him imbalanced on the front side near release point, but he stays on track toward the target on his best pitches. He has a naturally open stride that ups the torque, but there is not much time between his trigger and foot strike, leaving him with spikes of average torque of an MLB pitcher.

David Murphy

June 17th, vs. CHC

0.1 IP, 6 batters faced, 5 R, 0 ER, 2 H (1 HR), 0 K, 1 BB, 1 HBP

Max Velocity: 81.8 mph

While still with the Indians, Murphy relieved Ryan Raburn in this game against the Cubs, coming in with two outs and two runners on base. It looked like he was going to get away with it on one pitch, too, but Francisco Lindor lost the ball in the lights, followed by a parade of missed pitches resulted in a five-spot for the Cubs, and the two-out error meant that all of the tallies were unearned. Cubs batters were treated to a low-80s pitch that Murphy threw on 18 of his 19 pitches on the day.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

50

Momentum

35

Torque

20

Posture

45

Overall

F

Murphy starts tall and stays tall throughout, straightening up near release point such that his center of gravity might just be higher at the end of his pitch cycle than the beginning of it. This bodes well for his balance in the Y plane (vertical), but his X-plane balance is disrupted by a lean toward third base that starts early in the kinetic chain, while his Z-plane balanced is harmed by his tendency to keep his weight shifted over his back leg. He has a very shallow release point, one that is shortened by his weak momentum, short stride, and poor posture. His hip-shoulder separation is virtually nonexistent, and his upper and lower half rotate as if connected by wooden boards.

Adam LaRoche

July 31st, vs. NYY

1.0 IP, 3 batters faced, 0 R, 0 H, 1 K, 0 BB

Max Velocity: 85.1 mph

LaRoche had “to pitch in a big-league game” on his bucket list, and on Deadline Day the White Sox made it possible to cross that item off of his list. LaRoche responded with a clean inning, three up and three down, including this big strikeout.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

60

Momentum

45

Torque

35

Posture

60

Overall

C-

Slow and steady. That is the common tie that binds the mechanics of most of the ballplayers on this list. We see low power in terms of momentum and torque yet solid grades in the stability categories as they focus on maintaining balance and hitting targets. LaRoche follows the same blueprint, with a low torque grade due to hips and shoulders that are essentially wired together, generating minimal separation. He lacks speed down the bump, but LaRoche has directs all of his momentum toward the target right from first movement, and he picks up the pace a bit during the second gear of his stride.

Jonny Gomes

August 28th, vs. NYY

1.0 IP, 6 batters faced, 2 ER, 3 H (1 HR), 0 BB, 1 K

Max Velocity: 77.0 mph

Gomes may have spiked 77 mph on the gun, but the majority of his pitches were floaters thrown in the mid-60s, with an average of 69.4 mph on the 20 fastballs that he threw on the day (he didn't throw anything else). The first three batters just teed off on the batting practice offerings, including a leadoff homer by Chris Young immediately followed by back-to-back doubles.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

80

Momentum

20

Torque

20

Posture

60

Overall

D-

Gomes pitched from the stretch even with the bases empty, possibly in an effort to further simplify an already-basic delivery. It really doesn't get much simpler than this: pick up the leg, put it down, throw, then repeat. It appears that he could be just as effective by keeping his feet glued to the ground and just shot-putting the baseball across the plate. Gomes takes the slow-and-steady approach to an extreme, with worthless “momentum” and torque so low that it could crash through the 20-grade floor. But hey, his balance is basically perfect, not that it means much when the power has been drained completely from the system.

Alexei Ramirez

September 15th, vs. OAK

1.0 IP, 5 batters faced, 0 R, 1 H, 1 HBP, 0 K, 0 BB

Max Velocity: 91.5 mph

Ramirez had legit stuff in his mid-September appearance, and though he was cracking smiles out there he also took the job seriously enough to shake off catcher Geovany Soto on at least one occasion. He also had a four-pitch repertoire that included a fastball (averaging 89.0 mph), a changeup, a slider and a curve.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

45

Momentum

55

Torque

55

Posture

50

Overall

C

Unsurprisingly, the hard-throwing Ramirez is also the one player that we've come across with solid scores in the power categories. His momentum is impressive, with a combination of a plus burst and an efficient route to the plate that helps to maximize his distance at release point. His torque is actually above the MLB average, thanks to a generous upper-body load combined with a delayed trigger that allows the hips to open despite a closed stride. It is naturally tougher to harness the higher levels of power and Ramirez's scores in the stability categories suffer accordingly. His balance is strong in the X plane (side-to-side) for much of the delivery but finishes with volatility, and he can also be inconsistent in the Y plane (vertical). His head bails out as the arm comes through near release point, exemplifying the give-and-take that exists between power and stability.

Ichiro Suzuki

October 4th, at PHI

1.0 IP, 5 batters faced, 1 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 0 K

Max Velocity: 88.5 mph

Ichiro fulfilled a lifelong dream, taking the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning with the bottom three batters of the Phillies due up. He blazed ten fastballs, snapped off six sliders, and chugged a pair of changeups to demonstrate a solid arsenal, with legit velocity for any 41-year old (let alone a non-pitcher), and now he's added one more piece of intrigue to the incredible tale of Ichiro Suzuki's career.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

40

Momentum

45

Torque

50

Posture

70

Overall

C+

The balance is weak due to a lean to the first-base side in addition to Ichiro's tendency to keep his weight far back during the lift and stride portions of his delivery, but he finishes with near-perfect posture, exeplifying a rare blend of early instability and a stoic finish. He starts with excellent momentum, leading with the hip to get his forward energy going early and with some oomph, but Ichiro goes against convention and slows down during the second gear of his stride, approaching foot strike with a very deliberate pace to the plate. His torque is volatile, but at peak he shows a good delay in addition to some loading with the upper half, contributing to the impressive velocity. At the end of the day, Ichiro has the best mechanical efficiency of the regular position players who tried their hand on the bump this season. Imagine what grades he would have received in his prime.

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

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