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May 11, 2007

Under The Knife

Marshall's Law

by Will Carroll

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From the looks of my inbox, you've all read Jeff Passan's piece on Dr. Mike Marshall. While I respect Dr. Marshall's professional experience, scientific credentials, and some of his findings, he doesn't have the one thing I look for in his work with pitchers, and that's results. There's a lot of good things in his message, but I won't agree that no one other than him knows anything. Pronation? Great. Keeping kids from throwing too many pitches? Great. Jeff Sparks is the most skilled pitcher in the world? Umm, I'm not going to go that far--give me Daisuke Matsuzaka for the win. If Dr. Marshall would let someone get some high-speed analysis to see the stresses placed on the pitcher in his motion as compared to the "standard" delivery, that would be a start.

Tom House, someone I consider a friend, doesn't have the best reputation inside the game either, but there's no discrimination against his pitchers. I don't buy that he only gets the damaged or untalented, because he's had hundreds of kids through his program. In contrast, Marshall has only Sparks to show at any level. Isn't there a kid dominating college or high school somewhere that's spent time with him in Florida? I'm not saying that Marshall is wrong or that his methods don't work. I'm simply saying that the scientist isn't giving us enough information to know, and that we have neither experiment nor result to work with to determine the efficacy. I've disagreed with Dr. Marshall on occasions, usually about Mark Prior--who you'll note did not end up blowing out his elbow as Marshall predicted--but you should also note that I used some of his findings in Saving The Pitcher.

After years of research and talking with hundreds of pitching coaches, I'm convinced that there's no one true way to throw a baseball. I am convinced that there are certain basic principles that have to be included or removed to maintain a healthy or effective arm--and yes, those two are different. Marshall's motion fits in many ways, but I believe the extreme change isn't necessary. As always, we need more data. I just think it's great that we've got more and more information available, and that national writers on the level of a Jeff Passan are writing about biomechanics and pitching theory. Maybe the next generation's Mark Prior won't have to deal with the problems this one had to.

Powered by hope, on to the injuries:

  • So now we know why J.P. Ricciardi fessed up. He knew that the information was going to come out surrounding B.J. Ryan once he had the surgery. The full story came out with all the visits and the full timeline for how Ryan finally ended up on an operating table. For years, everyone from scouts to fans to fantasy players would see Ryan's motion and think his arm would fall off someday, but Ryan just kept pitching and doing so effectively, up until now. The Jays are saying that Ryan will be back for spring training, an aggressive timeline, but possible. The question for Ryan now is whether he will go back to using his same motion, and if--like many TJs--he has problems somewhere else on the kinetic chain. We also see plenty of relievers fall apart, more quickly than many would expect, as Joe Sheehan discussed in his column about Scot Shields and Dustin Moseley. Like Eric Gagne, Ryan has had the normal run of effectiveness, so even beyond the injury, there's cause for concern.

    I would like to point out a couple things here. First, risk does not carry certainty. The bomb might go off at any point; you might roll seven on the next roll, or not for a hundred rolls, and theoretically you may never. You just don't bet on that. Second, it's often smart to accept risk if there's a sufficient payoff. If you're a normal driver, your deductible is probably set too low since you're more likely to have the savings of your regular payment payoff (in terms of dollars in pocket) than you are in paying a bit more out of said pocket when you do have the accident. Baseball teams, for the most part, don't understand or demonstrate that they understand this, and tend to act on the extremes.

  • I get a lot of email questions about Jason Schmidt, asking whether fantasy owners should cut bait on him and when he might be back. We all got a surprise when Schmidt's rehab accelerated and he threw off a mound. The Dodgers medical staff (and yes, I originally typed Giants there) is being very careful and very measured with Schmidt, hoping to get him back in a sustainable state. The Dodgers have enough options for their rotation that rushing him shouldn't be a concern, but none of those options is Jason Schmidt, either. Given the diagnosis and prognosis we have publicly, everything matches up for Schmidt to be back in the rotation sometime later this month. Instead of sending him to Las Vegas for a rehab, I'd suggest that the Dodgers try to get whatever they can out of Schmidt at the major league level. Putting him on a strict pitch limit early in the season and having a solid long guy behind him like Hong-Chi Kuo or Chad Billingsley would be the more aggressive play, one that they'll need in a tight division. Given the success that Brad Penny is having despite similar stamina concerns, that type of adjusted rotation could make a lot of sense in the longer term as well.
  • Later this month, the Yankees rotation should be "fixed," in the sense that Roger Clemens and Philip Hughes will be slipped in behind Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and Chien-Ming Wang, which I'm convinced was the plan for the second half rotation all along. Once that problem is "settled," the Yankees can begin to work on their outfield. Of all the things I think they'll do at or near the trade deadline, getting some depth in the outfield is one of them. Johnny Damon is continuing to have calf problems, a recurrent cramping that's turning him into a late-career Bernie Williams much sooner than anyone expected. Getting a three-position value like Eric Byrnes or a match-ups slugger like Kevin Mench --not that either will be available--would be a boon. With Jason Giambi dealing with a foot problem, the roster shuffle might work. Giambi appears to have some heel spurs; if he's forced to the DL, Damon could move to DH temporarily in hopes that his calf problems clear up. It's not ideal and it's certainly never a "good time" to have injuries.
  • Some things just don't work out. Eric Milton has never lived up to the contract he was given in Cincinnati, so seeing him end up injured is just one more bitter pill to swallow. Milton has been shut down for ten days with a mild sprain of his elbow, but the DL move paired with a tight schedule in the upcoming weeks means that Milton will miss at least three starts. The Reds appear to be leaning towards bringing up Homer Bailey to replace Milton in the interim. While Bailey's numbers have been solid at Triple-A and he does appear to be the best option, I got a chance to see him throw on the side a couple weeks ago and I came away unimpressed. He's good, but I still don't see what everyone else seems to. I'd also like to know how David Dewitt Bailey got the nickname Homer.
  • There hasn't been much in the way of Nick Johnson reports because there hasn't been much progress. Nick Johnson is finally progressing beyond the weight room, and getting to baseball activities like fielding. He's still quite a ways off from returning, a move that could do nothing but help the struggling Nats. Since spring training, Johnson's had no setbacks, which is a positive we can hold up against his slow recovery. I'm not suggesting this isn't an appropriate recovery--that was a devastating hit he took--but with each slow, positive step back, we're getting more indications that he will be in a uniform someday soon. The Nats are hoping he can begin hitting at some point this month, which would put his return roughly somewhere before the All-Star Break.
  • Reports coming out of Oakland have Milton Bradley coming back this weekend after recovering from both a hamstring strain and a problem with his wrist. While there's no solid diagnosis available on what happened with his wrist, the timetable matches up with his having had a cortisone injection (when the doctor told him to take two days off) and coming back well from it. It was a decisioin that also gave the hamstring a little extra healing time, never a bad thing. Bradley's always going to be an injury risk, flawed green light aside, but his production when healthy has never been in question. The A's should get Travis Buck back this weekend after he missed much of the week with a wrist sprain, while Chris Snelling should also be available at some point this weekend after banging his knee. The A's are doing their normal creative management of the roster between all the injured outfielders, the shuffling of pitchers, and the use of "playing one short" rather than overusing the DL.
  • I mentioned last week that one of my pitcher friends saw something in Jonathan Papelbon's recent motions. The Red Sox responded in Thursday's Boston Globe, not so much saying that our report was wrong, but that what was seen was illusory. I have never had any doubts that Papelbon was being watched and monitored closely. The note on having his strength tested daily is most interesting.;I'd love to know how the Sox were doing this. I asked Steve Palazollo to respond: "Based on John Farrell's comments, it would appear that he is in agreement with me that Papelbon was suffering from some mechanical issues. As I mentioned a couple days ago: 'Against the Twins on Friday night he was flying open with his front shoulder, causing the lower slot and hindering his deception.' This is the exact problem Farrell said has been the focus of extra attention in Papelbon's side sessions. The ferris wheel/carousel analogy is an excellent one with regards to the multiple forces applied during the piching motion. The ferris wheel refers more to the north and south forces of shoulder rotation, and the carousel refers more to the rotational forces of hip rotation, all of this occurring as the body moves forward toward the plate. Papelbon is at his best when his hip rotation is separated from his shoulder rotation, meaning his hips are moving east and west, but his shoulders are moving north and south. It's been obvious in a couple games that his glove side has caused more east and west action out of his shoulders, leading to the lower arm slot. The more I've watched him, however, the more convinced I am that it's more of a mechanical problem on certain pitches rather than an injury problem. As I said before, his velocity has been consistent and even when he flies open and his arm drops on a certain pitch, he's been able to make an adjustment on the next pitch to throw more downhill." By the way, Sox readers, Steve's in the Boston area.

Quick Cuts: Joel Zumaya had surgery on his finger. We won't know anything more for more than a month ... Jeremy Bonderman may miss a start due to a blister. This isn't a Josh Beckett situation, so one start is the likely total cost, and given Bonderman's workload last year, a little bit of rest isn't a bad thing ... Akinori Iwamura is ahead of schedule in his recovery from an oblique strain. He'll likely need a quick rehab stint before returning to the Rays ... Dave Roberts heads to the DL with bone chips and spurs in his elbow. A visit to Dr. Lewis Yocum will determine if he'll have surgery.

Related Content:  Work,  Rotation,  Mike Marshall,  Dr. Mike Marshall

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