March 15, 2013
Trending: Over the Top
I wrote an article last September in which I detailed the surprising pitching of the Oakland Athletics. The piece included a breakdown of four different A's pitchers, and I noted that many of the players shared specific similarities which reflected an organizational trend toward mechanical efficiency. The A's have a long history of successful pitching development, and the team's mechanical points of emphasis were apparent by looking at the tendencies of the players whom they had developed and/or acquired over the years.
I spent much of the offseason poring over pitcher mechanics and preparing over 100 mechanical report cards for the pitchers in the 2013 Starting Pitcher Guide in my first year working with Paul Sporer on his annual project. I had already watched the majority of these pitchers in the past, spread out over months or sometimes years, but the examination of so many pitchers over such a short timeframe revealed a number of other patterns that cropped up with pitchers from certain organizations.
It’s not always possible to assess whether a mechanical trend represents an actual point of instruction or just a quirk of small sample size, but some team-specific tendencies are so pervasive that Occam's Razor would conclude that the pitchers are following similar directions. The situation is similar to the one I experienced while researching last week's article on pitchers “Under the Gun,” in which I realized that the population of pitchers who have exhibited sustained velocity loss over the past two years also has a glaring tendency toward poor posture. I had already known that there was a theoretical connection between poor posture and long-term velocity loss, but the anecdotal evidence I uncovered implied a much stronger connection than I had imagined.
Posture is one of the easiest elements to see from a standard television feed, and a quick trigger finger can pause video of a pitcher at release point in order to ascertain how his posture compares to that of his peers. A pitcher with strong postural stability will have an upright spine at release point (with the head centered above the pitcher's center of mass), but a player with poor posture will exhibit severe spine-tilt near release point, with the head veering off center toward the glove side in the effort to generate an over-the-top arm slot. The velocity-dropping pitchers in “Under the Gun” included a plethora of players with excessive spine-tilt, as I demonstrated through a handful of side-by-side pictures.
One of those spine-tilting pitchers was Yovani Gallardo, the Milwaukee right-hander who received a 20 score for posture in the SP Guide thanks to a blatant manipulation in the effort to achieve a high arm slot.
The other pitchers in the Brewers starting rotation didn’t fare much better. Breakout starter Mike Fiers appears to be a Gallardo clone in training, with spine-tilt that triggers early in the delivery.