January 10, 2014
Classic Deliveries: Hall of Fame Inductees of 1990-94
Pitchers naturally draw most of my attention when looking at the Hall of Fame, and the voting trends of the Baseball Writers Association of America reveal some interesting tendencies when one studies the historical record. For example, there have been a total of 35 pitchers voted into the Hall by the BBWAA across the 78-year span of the voting process, yet from 1956 to 1971, Bob Feller was the only moundsman to pass through the gauntlet. There were only three pitchers enshrined during the first 11 years of the 21st century, and all three were relievers: Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Dennis Eckersley. But now we stand on the precipice of the Hall's floodgates being opened to pitchers, from the recent selections of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine to next year's shoo-ins such as Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson.
With a nod of recognition to these great pitchers of our generation, I’d like to reflect on some of the Hall of Famers of the past, setting the time circuits to 20 years ago. Thanks to the footage at MLB.com, we have the opportunity to sofa-scout these legends of the game. What follows is a list of mechanical report cards for every pitcher who was voted into the Hall by the BBWAA from 1990-94.
It is the first installment in a series that will go through previous decades of Hall of Fame inductions, but before we begin, there are a couple of caveats:
1) There will be no grades offered for repetition. For starters, repetition is extremely volatile and dynamic over time, and to place a repetition grade on a pitcher's entire career would be nearly impossible.
2) There will be no half-grades, i.e. those ending in -5. There's just not enough footage available for me to confidently make such fine-grained determinations, particularly given that the data is taken from such a wide swath of time periods.
3) The grades listed will represent the pitcher's peak mechanics. The grades will all come from a singular point in the pitcher's career, even if individual grades may have spiked higher at various times, and the report card is based on the best overall delivery that each pitcher had on display.
With that out of the way, let's get on to the Men in Plaques.
Mechanics Report Card
Carlton had a solid delivery, but the report card is underwhelming when one considers his elite performance as well as the mechanical profiles of some of the top-end hurlers who followed him. The only demerit that he receives is for balance, with a pronounced tendency to lean back in his delivery; his balance tilted toward third base as he approached maximum leg lift, and the stride phase of his delivery featured a lean back toward second base. Carlton utilized a very high leg-lift, but his stability during the lift phase was less than ideal, and the end result of the imbalance was merely average posture into release point, with a fair degree of spine-tilt.
Even at peak, Carlton's torque was merely average, and the grade diminished (along with his velocity) later in his career. The southpaw had plenty of upper-body twist, but his timing was such that his hips did not have much opportunity to increase his hip-shoulder separation after foot strike; the hips and shoulders fired within too narrow a time window. Velocity was not Carlton's calling card, but his ability to spin a breaking ball was the stuff of legend, with an exploding slider that terrorized batters in their sleep and at the plate, a pitch that he rode to 4136 career strikeouts. In his own words, “nobody hit the slider” (1:14 into this video).
Carlton had outstanding momentum in his early years with the Cardinals, a likely 70 grade based on the above clip, but his imbalance was even more exaggerated during his time in St. Louis (the grades on the report card reflect a time when the whole delivery was at its peak). There is a real trade-off between balance and momentum for most pitchers, making it more difficult to stabilize the delivery at higher levels of kinetic energy. This trade-off is apparent when taking a step back to look at this generation of pitchers and their mechanical tendencies, a factor that will become more clear as we progress through the Hall of Fame inductees of the early 1990s.
Mechanics Report Card
The tale of Seaver's balance is a story unto itself. He dealt with various balance issues throughout his career, but the imbalance took on different forms over time. Seaver had a big “rock-n-roll” pattern in his early Mets days, in which he rocked back toward second base with his upper body during the stride phase, and he had a severe drop-and-drive when pitching with the Reds. Tom Terrific also had some lateral lean near the end of his career, veering to the glove side during the stride phase in his time with the White Sox. At his peak, though, Seaver had plus balance and a stable delivery despite high levels of kinetic energy. His peak posture also earns a plus grade, though Seaver dealt with inconsistencies with spine tilt over the course of his 20-year career.
Seaver went to college at USC, where he played under legendary coach Rod Dedeaux and was on the same pitching staff as my former boss, Tom House. According to old stories, Dedeaux used to say that, “Seaver misses behind the bat, House misses in front of the bat,” in reference to their perches on opposite ends of the pitch-velocity spectrum. Seaver used elite velocity as his weapon of choice, and the foundation for his radar-gun readings were high marks in both of the power categories. He had plus-plus torque, which resulted from a combination of extra upper-body twist and great delay of trunk rotation. Seaver also took advantage of outstanding momentum, generating tremendous force in the first gear of his delivery and continuing to accelerate his pace to the plate on his way into foot strike. The net result was a powerful delivery that brought him closer to the plate and took advantage of his lower half to augment his pitch speeds.
Mechanics Report Card
It is common for relievers to suffer from less efficient mechanics, as their lesser exposure and lower workloads diminish the impact of low-efficiency deliveries. That said, Fingers had an excellent mechanical profile, with average-to-plus grades in every category. His greatest strength was in the stability grades, earning a 70 for both balance and posture. He maintained a stable head position through his delivery, with very little drop with his center-of-gravity. Readers should not be distracted by the spin-off that occurs after release point, as he kept his balance in check during the critical time period between first movement and pitch release, but his high-end arm speed combined with a near-sidearm slot (which was related to his elite posture) to derail Fingers a bit after release point.
Fingers carved a straight line to the plate with solid momentum that would be considered above-average when held up against the average pitcher of today, though his burst to the plate was not nearly as impressive as those of the hurlers who preceded him on this list. His torque was plus, with equal contributions from his upper and lower half in creating hip-shoulder separation. With a relatively simple delivery, Fingers' success was derived more from his mechanical consistency and stellar breaking ball than his raw velocity, and the only limitation of his approach was his modest stride and average extension at release point.
Mechanics Report Card
Jenkins had an incredibly simple motion, one that makes Fingers' delivery look almost complicated in comparison. Canada's first Hall of Famer, Jenkins utilized his quick, efficient delivery to repeat his release point at will, a trait that was reflected in his walk rates. He had the lowest rate of walk-per-nine-innings in his league five times, including a nine-year string in which his free-pass frequency was lower than 2.0 walks-per-nine. Not surprisingly, given Jenkins’ smooth delivery, his balance and posture receive top-shelf grades on the report card.
Jenkins’ momentum was plus at peak, particularly when pitching from the windup, while his path to the plate was straight and to the point. Jenkins' hip-shoulder separation was the only flaw in his game, with very late rotation of the hips that minimized his torque, though he did incorporate some additional loading with his upper-half. The 6'5” right-hander was particularly adept at finding his ideal release point, typically achieving full extension to make the most of his physical gifts, thereby adding deception to his arsenal of pitches. Though his report card lacks a score for repetition, I’m confident that Jenkins would earn a 70 grade in that category if there was enough footage to validate it. The slow-motion video is impressive to watch nonetheless.
Mechanics Report Card
Perry's delivery morphed during his time with the Giants. The above video was taken from his no-hitter against the Cardinals on September 17, 1968, a game in which he bested the great Bob Gibson (fun fact: Cardinal pitcher Ray Washburn returned the favor and no-hit the Giants the following day). Perry's delivery was very clean in this game, featuring solid grades across the board, and the above report card reflects his mechanics from this time period. After pitching with the Giants for several years, however, his pitching motion began to look more like that of his rotation-mate and fellow Hall of Famer, Juan Marichal.
The extreme lean-back and exaggerated leg-kick that trademarked Marichal's motion had infiltrated Perry’s delivery, and the technique carried into the next decade of his career. The method was rooted in imbalance, but it did add deception to his delivery, and Perry was able to generate more momentum with the renewed emphasis on his powerful leg kick. His grades were completely different after the mechanical alteration, with 30-grade balance along with posture that slipped a notch, while his new momentum may have earned a 70 on the mechanics scale and his release distance also received a boost. The components of each report card were much different, yet the overall sum of the parts were fairly close. In the end, I prefer stability over deception, but the stats show that Perry was equally effective before and after the transition.
Perry is best known for his doctorate in tainting baseballs, and he had a method to employ his sneaky strategy. He had a ritual before every pitch in which he would touch various parts of his face, cap, and jersey, as if he was a third-base coach relaying signs to a hitter. The method gave him ample opportunity to put any multitude of substances on his throwing hand.
Mechanics Report Card
Palmer was another advocate of the rear-back-and-throw strategy, and though he utilized the exaggerated rock-n-roll to some extent throughout his career, it never reached Marichal levels (as we will see next week). The above grades reflect his peak mechanics, which involved less severe patterns of imbalance than what can be seen in the above clip, but Palmer also found success with the 30-grade balance that is evident in the video. He also featured extreme spine-tilt in his motion during parts of his career, sacrificing posture toward his glove-side long before reaching foot strike, which would garner another 30 grade if looking solely at this point in time. He did have massive torque, due to an immense upper-body load in addition to a delay of rotation after foot strike. The overall technique upped the ante of injury risk as well as raised the barriers to repetition, and the following video in ultra-slow motion paints moving pictures that are worth an entire article's worth of words:
Palmer had an interesting technique with lift and stride; he had a relatively calm delivery into maximum lift, but his balance would sell out with lean-back after he initiated his second gear of momentum. This Marichal mimicry did wonders for his deception, as Palmer hid the ball from the batter's view until the last moment, when his throwing arm came through the hitter's visual window. His stuff was undeniable, but the statistics tell the story of a pitcher who did not stand out with respect to tallying strikeouts or avoiding walks, but who was extremely difficult to hit and rarely gave up the long ball. Most impressively, Palmer enjoyed a long career despite his mechanical obstacles, though it should be noted that he is the only starting pitcher on this list to miss significant chunks of multiple seasons due to ailments with his pitching arm, with his right elbow and shoulder costing him portions of the 1968, '74, '79, and '83 seasons.
In next week's episode of Classic Deliveries, we will take a look at the Hall of Fame class of 1980-89.