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December 5, 2014

Raising Aces

Best and Worst Mechanics: AL West

by Doug Thorburn

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The advent of the two-wild-card system has sucked a bit of the life out of divisional bragging rights, particularly in a year where the World Series was fought between two teams that failed to win their own divisions. So allow me to inject an extra dose of intrigue with some division-specific awards by highlighting the pitchers in each division who fall on the extreme ends of the mechanical spectrum.

The awards cover each of the baseline categories on the mechanics report card, including balance, momentum, torque, and posture. We will turn our attention away from repetition temporarily, though consistency of mechanical timing will play a role in the final crowning of the pitcher with the division's best mechanics.

We start the series on the left coast with the American League West, and will transfer over to the senior circuit before heading east.

Balance

Best: Hisashi Iwakuma, 70 grade

Iwakuma has one of the more efficient deliveries in the game, and at the core of his motion is double-plus balance that forms the foundation of his mechanics. His balance is strong in all three planes, with minimal drop to his center of gravity and a stable head position that stays above his center of mass throughout the motion. There is almost no lateral head movement from leg kick through release point, culminating in near-perfect posture. The Seattle right-hander beat out a couple of his teammates, Felix Hernandez and Erasmo Ramirez, as well as Oakland's Jeff Samardzija and Houston's Collin McHugh for top honors in the balance category for the AL West.

Worst: Kevin Jepsen, 35 grade

Jepsen loses balance in every direction. He starts with a big drop after max leg lift, lowering his center of gravity during the stride phase. He loses lateral balance in both directions, hunching over to the third-base side during his stride and then redirecting his imbalance to the first-base side as he approaches foot strike through release point. Jepsen also has below-average balance in the Z-plane, with a head that trails his center of mass during the stride. He actually finishes with strong posture, which is surprising when considering all of the obstacles to stability, though his lack of balance often manifests as poor repetition and shaky pitch command.

Momentum

Best: Tony Sipp, 65 grade

Sipp rockets through the stride phase of his delivery, and though his flailing limbs give the impression that he is out of control, the southpaw actually does a good job of keeping an efficient line to the plate. There are plenty of other issues with his mechanics, from a general lack of balance to untethered arm action, but the momentum is the one feather in Sipp's cap. With 70-grade speed and a 60-grade route of efficiency, Sipp earns a 65-grade overall in the momentum category for his division, besting starters such as Hector Santiago, Sonny Gray, and Yu Darvish.

Worst: Nick Martinez, 30 grade

Martinez has an extremely short stride, even when pitching from the windup, as his naturally-low leg kick and pedestrian pace to the plate conspire to limit his forward progress from rubber to target. A pitcher can be deceptively slow when he has quick leg movements, but there is nothing deceptive about Martinez's momentum, and he slows down just before foot strike to further dampen his score in the category. The only thing keeping Martinez from an even lower grade is the fact that his first move is directed toward the plate.

Torque

Best: Felix Hernandez, 65 grade

There is a very strong connection between torque and pitch velocity, so the highest grades for hip-shoulder separation are typically tied to the hardest throwers in the game. In the case of the King, however, the high-level torque allows him to sustain plus velocity with an efficient use of the kinetic chain. His torque is equally strong whether he is throwing a fastball or a changeup, allowing him to mimic the arm action and add to the deception of el cambio. He utilizes some loading of the upper-half to augment separation, but the key to the King's torque is a heavy delay of trunk rotation that allows his hips to rotate prior to pulling his trigger.

Worst: Colby Lewis, 30 grade

Lewis has a delivery that has been completely drained of power. His momentum is very low, putting him in the running with Martinez for worst in the division, and the torque grade scrapes the bottom of the barrel. He has little to no upper-body twist, while his hips and shoulders are nearly wired together to produce the separation of a knuckleballer. He doesn't throw especially hard, but it's somewhat surprising that Lewis can hit 90 mph considering his soft-torqued delivery.

Posture

Best: Yu Darvish, 80 grade

Darvish doesn't always have perfect posture, occasionally slipping to a 70-grade, but he has the ability to scrape the top of the scale even when pitching at high intensity. He sustains a spine angle that is nearly 90 degrees to the ground, although his relatively-high angle of shoulder abduction distorts his jersey to enhance the perceived tilt. The Texas right-hander has elite posture regardless of which of his 17 pitches he is throwing, including the sub-60-mph eephus that he has been known to uncork on occasion. Iwakuma ran a close campaign in the AL West to finish in second place in this category.

Worst: Jered Weaver, 30 grade

Weaver has one of the more odd deliveries in the game. He strides extremely closed, stepping outside the rubber as if he is aiming at the third-base dugout. Weaver then contorts his spine to come back toward the plate, resulting in a deceptive trajectory but a shallow release point; the combination of the tight-angled stride and the severe spine-tilt act to extend the flight path of every pitch he throws due to the stunted release. Weaver's posture takes the division's low score due not just to the severity of glove-side tilt, but also the early initiation of his cock-eyed lean.

Overall

Best: Yu Darvish, A- grade

There was a close race for the best delivery in the AL West, with Darvish and Iwakuma both among the select group of pitchers who clear the A-grade threshold. The stability components are elite for both pitchers, and each features a report card that is saturated with plus grades. In the end, Darvish earns the nod for the division's top mechanics due to his integration of plus power without sacrificing stability, as well as a mechanics report card that earns a 60 grade or higher in every subject. His ability to repeat the delivery is much better than his walk rate suggests, as the extreme movement on the right-hander's pitches add a heavy degree of difficulty in locating every pitch that he throws. Add it all up, and this hired gun has the trustiest steel in the AL West.

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:  Al West

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