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October 22, 2002

Prospectus Q&A

Dr. Mike Marshall (Part Two)

by Jonah Keri

Continuing from Part I of the discussion...

Baseball Prospectus: We talked about younger kids. What are some of the training techniques you teach at your clinic for more advanced pitchers?

Dr. Mike Marshall: We throw 144 throws a day, every day. That's 48 throws minimum with a wrist weight on. We also throw 6-, 8-, 10-pound shot puts every day 48 times. Then we throw 48 baseballs a day. We do this every day, and there's no stiffness or soreness because we're doing it the right way. We increase bone density and matrix by over 50%.

BP: You mentioned the Maxline fastball earlier. What are some of the other pitches pitchers are throwing during this training?

MM: We have what's called a Torque fastball. It's a force application technique where you drive the ball to the pitcher's glove side of home plate, it's the complement to the Maxline fastball.

We also have the Pronation curveball. Most people teach the curve where you have to supinate the curveball, meaning turning your palm outward, instead of inward for pronation. Supination causes unnecessary stress on the inside of elbow, or you lock the elbow out and lose your range of motion and extension. With pronation, you can throw pitch after pitch, there's no unnecessary stress, better movement, better spin axis and velocity. I've taught it to about half a dozen guys who can do it really well.

Then we have a True screwball. You want the ball moving at a horizontal spin axis, so that if you put a stick through it, the stick would be horizontal. The only pitcher I've seen who's been really good at it is Jeff Sparks. Others throw more of a vertical axis screwball.

BP: How do pitchers take to your instruction? Do you see a big improvement every time?

MM: Of a group of 12 kids that were here recently, 10 of them got college scholarship offers, just by showing up for tryouts.

But when someone comes in, I don't know how good a motor learner he is. I explain the intellectual basis for what I'm doing, then we train every single day as part of a 280-day program. I have one kid who's here, he's not even finished with his first training cycle and he already has better spin axis on his curveball than anyone I've seen. Sixty days into the 280, and he's already getting his screwball into an almost horizontal spin axis.

Should I get credit for that? Hell no, because I'd have to take the blame for others who don't pick it up. Ultimately the kids are responsible for learning, I just give them a program to work with.

BP: You mentioned Jeff Sparks as a graduate of your clinic. What kind of pitchers do you get at your clinic in general?

MM: I usually get the kid who throws a fastball in the 80s, who's got a bad elbow and can't get a college scholarship. Jeff Sparks was like that. He came in with an 83 mile-an-hour fastball and a little breaking ball, and we made him into a guy who could pitch up to 96, with a high quality screwball and curveball.

Even when I was my own research project I didn't have much to work with. I was 5'8"-5'9" with a bad back and I became a Cy Young Award winner. I'd still love to work with more raw talent.

BP: Why don't Kerry Wood-type prospects come to you?

MM: I'm sure when Kerry Wood pitched high school games, there were people there that told him, 'you're going to sign for millions of dollars, you're fabulous.' So why would he want to pay me $10 a day to pitch a different way? Guys like that get information from people that offer money. The guys I get are guys that don't get those kinds of offers.

BP: Do you think people in major-league baseball know about the work you're doing?

MM: Chuck LaMar's the only one that's come down to watch. He came about six years ago. He'd see pitchers throwing six-pound shot puts, throwing with wrist weights on, and he just kept asking 'doesn't that hurt?' Meanwhile I've got guys throwing 93 miles an hour who could barely get over 80 before.

So one day LaMar signed this kid, and he gets up to the majors. And he doesn't realize he'd seen the kid before. The first 12 games he throws, he's got an ERA of (1.53). This was Jeff Sparks. Then articles and comments start coming out about how he trained with me. All of a sudden, the next (three) times he comes in to pitch, they put him in bad spots, pitch him only once a week, he gets wild and stops pitching well. They ended up sending him all the way down to A-ball.

BP: Why all the resistance to what you do?

MM: Here's another story. An assistant coach of mine in the clinic is the pitching coach at St. Mary's (University) in San Antonio. The team went from NAIA to Division II, won the NCAA Division II championship. I had trained four of their pitchers in my pitching center. So a major-league organization called my assistant coach and said, 'we'd like to use your training program, your team led the league in ERA, you had no injuries, talk to us.' So John Maley, the coach at St. Mary's, says no problem, the person who designed this program was Mike Marshall, call him. I never heard from them.

I knew someone in that organization who was a friend of mine. I asked him what had happened. He said they didn't want me anywhere around their pitchers, because they were scared that what I was teaching was so different, and what might happen if what I taught them worked. He said if the owner found out I was only one who knew what he was doing, they'd all lose their jobs.

BP: Aside from the way they teach the pitching motion, what other changes would you like to see made by major-league teams? Would you want to see different usage patterns? A four-man rotation instead of a five-man?

MM: Assuming they're appropriately trained and not using the traditional method, which will get them hurt, there's absolutely no reason why teams shouldn't have four-man rotations.

BP: How would you manage them to keep their arms fresh all year? Would you use pitch counts?

MM: I would never use a pitch count, pitch counts are irrelevant. What is relevant is how many times the batter has seen him. I would not ask my pitchers to face a batter a fourth time in a game. I train pitchers to throw the best pitch possible in a situation. We'd work on pitch sequences, when to throw the fastball, curveball, screwball, depending on the type of hitter they're facing. I did research on this for myself in 1975. You've got four types of hitters, right-handed, left-handed, full and spray hitters. You find out what works with each individual hitter, mix it up three times through the lineup, then take a seat.

BP: You talk about times through the order, but isn't that basically the same thing as pitch counts, restricting how long the pitcher can go in a game?

MM: No, because the number of pitches can change a lot for three times in the order, depending on the hitters. When I coached in college, I would challenge my team to get 45 pitches out of the pitcher the first time through the lineup. You just have to give yourself up a bit, take the first pitch, work the count to your favor, the way Joe Torre does it with the Yankees.

BP: Are there any teams or coaches out there teaching pitching in a way you like?

MM: There's only one really great manager of pitching that I've seen thus far in the time I've followed baseball, that knows the pitcher should be removed after the third time through the lineup, except in rare circumstances. That's Greg Maddux. He's the greatest manager of pitchers around. Darn if his hamstring doesn't tighten up or something after three times through the order. He never gives up any cheap two or three-run innings in the 8th and 9th. Managers are never that smart, they'd rather take a pitcher out an inning too late than an inning too early.

BP: So you're saying Greg Maddux is faking it when he takes himself out of games with injuries?

MM: It's never a serious problem with his hamstring, he just doesn't feel he should go on. And if you're going to use a four-man rotation and start 40 times a year, you've got to keep yourself going for the future. If I had been smart, which I never claimed to be, would I choose to pitch in 106 games a year or 33? It's pretty stupid to want to pitch in 106 games when you can make more money with 33. Go out there, pitch three times through the order, pull a hamstring, it's a walk in the park (laughs).

BP: What's your ideal scenario then? You'd like to see things change, but you sound bitter that teams won't hire you. Is that what you're looking for, a job in major-league baseball?

MM: I have no personal ambitions. The first line of my obit is not going to be about what I do now, it's what I've already done years ago. Nothing I do now is going to change that first line. But I love baseball, and I think there's a unique opportunity here. I have knowledge others don't and I think I can help.

No more pitching injuries is my ideal scenario.

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

Related Content:  Pitching,  Injuries,  Mike Marshall

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