December 21, 2012
Making the Grade, Part Two
Scouting grades evolve in conjunction with player development, and pitching mechanics in particular can change drastically over time. This is especially true of young players in the minor leagues, who are specifically targeting weak links in their deliveries to address before ascending to the majors. The grades that appear in my mechanics report cards are typically a snapshot of a pitcher's skills, and though some elements can be more pervasive, a player's delivery can also morph throughout the season.
Part One of “Making the Grade” dealt with the first half of the mechanics report card, using visual representations of the 20-80 grades on the scouting scale. The subjects on the report card are arranged in chronological order, following the kinetic chain from the pitcher's first movement through pitch release, and the trio of topics on today's agenda covers the final stages of a pitcher's delivery.
When evaluating a pitcher's mechanics, it is important to note that the grades do not carry equal weight. In part one, we established that balance aids repetition, that momentum adds kinetic energy and extends release distance, and that timing is the one ring to rule them all. The stratification of the grades is also worth addressing, as the 20-80 scouting scale has statistical underpinnings that provide the basis for the theoretical construct of the system, yet reality follows a different curve than the normal distribution.
For starters, the player population at the major-league level is anything but normally distributed, as we are dealing with athletes whose skills place them on the extreme tail of the talent curve. The result is an extreme scarcity of 20 grades on the mechanics report cards, as such deficiencies act as a barrier to entry at the highest level. Meanwhile, 80 grades are more common than one would assume based on the strict definition of three-sigma, due to the fact that some of the categories have an absolute ceiling, yet there is at least one subject one the report card for which an 80 grade is so elusive as to completely escape the current player pool.
What to watch: A pitcher's posture is strongly related to balance, as indicated by the position of the head relative to the player's center-of-mass. More specifically, posture refers to the position of a pitcher's spine from the point of foot strike through release point, and efficient pitchers will stabilize the head over the body with minimal tilt of the spine as the arm goes through the rotational stages. A pitcher with stable posture and minimal spine-tilt will reap the advantages at release point, aiding pitch repetition and further extending release point. We had a saying at the National Pitching Association: “one inch of inappropriate head movement will cost two inches at release point.”