CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  

Chat: Doug Thorburn

Chat Home

Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday March 01, 2013 1:00 PM ET chat session with Doug Thorburn.

Printer-
friendly

BP's mechanics guru is back to take your questions about pitchers (and position players, too).

Doug Thorburn: Birds are chirping, Carl Crawford is hurting, and all week the 2013 BP annual has been appearing in stores and on doorsteps ... it must be spring! Put aside that fantasy mock draft and let's talk some baseball.

Bryant (Oceanside, CA): It's commonly accepted that control is the last thing to return for TJS pitchers, but is there any evidence to support this? For example, possible changes in grip and/or arm path causing a possible variance in rotation on the baseball.

Doug Thorburn: The mechanical evidence is based on the kinetic chain as well as anecdotal observations with pitchers. With shoulder injuries velocity is typically the sticking point, as the front-side shoulder muscles play a role in accelerating the arm and the back-side shoulder muscles act to decelerate the throwing arm after release point. The elbow is further down the kinetic chain of events to throw a baseball, and plays a major role in the delivery after trunk rotation kicks in. Timing of trunk rotation is perhaps the largest single determinant of pitch command, but an unstable elbow joint will dilute the process of finding an ideal release point.

Donnie (Bowling Alley): How long do you think Xander Bogaerts can stay at shortstop? Boston would love him to stick since his likely destination (3B) is already occupied by a talented youngster. Is his D good enough to remain a SS adequate enough to keep him there for 5 years? 10?

Doug Thorburn: I think that the Bogaerts situation has as much to do with his expected physical development as it does his glove-work at short. The guy is a 6'3", 175-lb teenager with a power profile that suggest he will add weight as he matures, and his tool kit suggests that he will be an effective third baseman when/if he needs to be moved off of SS. But the Red Sox are wise to keep Bogaerts at SS until it is necessary to slide him down the defensive spectrum.

On the jukebox: Misfits, "Some Kinda Hate"

Matt Trueblood (Fridley, MN): PECOTA pega Matt Moore for 182 K and 86 BB in 168 innings this year. What do you think? He's obviously the biggest X-factor in the Rays' playoff hopes. Do you see anything to lead to the conclusion that he will take the next step in 2013?

Doug Thorburn: I think that both his K rate and his walk rate will be lower than that, but his stat-line will largely be dictated by his ability to iron out his mechanical timing. His overall mechanics are excellent, and repetition of timing is often the last thing to come around for a young pitcher, so I expect him to make steady improvements this season. His biggest challenge is to start using his top-end velocity to own the inside edge against right-handed hitters, but he has thus far shown a tendency to stay away from opposite-sided bats.

On the jukebox: Rolling Stones, "Under My Thumb"

Alex (Anaheim): Is there a mechanical adjustment Ivan Nova needs to make?

Doug Thorburn: I think that Nova's delivery is pretty solid, and though every pitcher could make some sort of mechanical improvements, his baseline mechanics are a point in his favor. He could use some more timing consistency, but so could every pitcher, and Nova is at the age where a lot of hurlers begin to harness their repertoire with better timing and command. If he can follow that pattern, then Nova will take the appropriate steps forward this season.

On the jukebox: Sublime, "40 oz to Freedom"

dhorrell1956 (Winston-Salem, NC): Hey Doug, enjoy your work. Who do you consider having the greater upside; Jackie Bradley, Addison Russell or Mike Zunino

Doug Thorburn: I think that Russell has the highest offensive ceiling of the group, and he has some of the greatest upside in the game if he can stick at SS. That said, the low offensive demands of catcher are such that Zunino could have the greatest impact on a future roster, especially given his defensive chops behind the dish.

On the jukebox: The Yardbirds, "Smokestack Lightning"

Max (LA): How many starts until Chris Sale explodes (in a bad way)?

Doug Thorburn: It's impossible to tell. His delivery is full of injury red flags, but there are player-specific variables when it comes to conditioning and genetics that ultimately play a bigger role than is often acknowledged. Perhaps he has the structural stability to support his motion for years, though I would hedge my bets. But then again, I never thought that Jake Peavy's elbow would survive as long as it did, but his structural integrity in the joint allowed him to pitch for years, and when his arm did give out it was actually his shoulder that broke down (indicating a weakness relative to the elbow).

On the jukebox: Anthrax, "Only"

Henry (bar): Do you think Tommy Hanson's mechanics are finally what made the Braves dump him? Do you think he can rebound with the Angels?

Doug Thorburn: I think that the Braves were worried about Hanson's shoulder, though it is also curious that he entered last season with a bunch of talk about mechanical changes to kill the hitch in his momentum, but the alterations never materialized once the season started. So it is possible that he was not responding the instruction, and his high level of shoulder abduction is another potential red flag in his mechanical profile, and the combination of factors probably made it easier for the Braves to pull the trigger on a deal. But I'm not expecting him to rediscover his previous level of performance.

On the jukebox: Tool, "Schism"

Ashitaka1110 (Houston, TX): George Springer hit a pair of bombs yesterday. What kinds of adjustments does he still need to make to be a consistent hitter at the next level?

Doug Thorburn: For Springer, the key is getting in reps against advanced pitching so that he can hone his pitch recognition skills. An aggressive approach is easily exploited at the higher levels, and he needs more on-the-job training to better understand the chess match between pitcher and hitter. The raw tools are there, but baseball requires a very unique cognitive skill-set to play the game at the highest level.

On the jukebox: Iron Maiden, "The Trooper"

Bryant (Oceanside, CA): Last year, Casey Kelly sped up his delivery and moved to the 1B side of the rubber for reportedly purposes of "deception" & control. To me, they seem more like cosmetic changes. Are moves like this designed more for an adjustment in a pitcher's mindset, or to possibly alter a scouting report? Is there data that says location on the rubber alters the ability to hit certain spots or is this sort of thing merely determined on a case-by-case basis? Thanks.

Doug Thorburn: I am a big proponent of increasing momentum to add kinetic energy and to achieve a deeper release point, and pitchers with a slower motion leave a larger window of opportunity for timing to fall off track. The set-up position on the rubber is also a significant factor, though it is pitcher-specific. I don't believe in strict rules governing where a pitcher sets up, but it is critical to adjust the starting position on the rubber so that the pitcher can find his ideal release point. I believe that release point efficiency and consistency is far more important than creating angle on hitters (ie favoring control instead of deception), and every pitcher has a unique signature that dictates his optimal set-up position.

On the jukebox: Thrice, "Unquestioned Answers"

Matt Trueblood (Fridley, MN): Chris Carpenter's arm seems to officially be a casualty of the war for the 2011 World Series championship. The Cardinals rode him harder than any pitcher had been ridden since Randy Johnson in 2001, with predictable results. Even though the White Sox didn't get nearly as far last season, I look at Jake Peavy's handling and injury history, and I go, "Yikes." What do you foresee for him? Were there mechanical or usage reasons to believe he was less injury-prone in 2012, or will be going forward? Or are the Sox doomed to lose the guy who racked up the second-most PAP (admittedly a flawed stat) in baseball last year? I see PECOTA trusts him for 30 starts and 201 innings.

Doug Thorburn: As I alluded to with the Sale question, Peavy has a serious precursor to elbow injury that is woven into his mechanics. Specifically, he suffers from considerable elbow-drag, as a combination of heavy scapular load and a big delay of trunk rotation that causes the throwing arm to lag behind the body, such that the elbow is behind the shoulder axis when the arm begins the phase of internal rotation. He does seem to have other-worldly strength and stability within the joint, but the workloads are also a concern.

On the plus side, Peavy has eased off the gas pedal with respect to momentum and the rotational elements, with improved balance when compared to his Padre days. This has lessened the kinetic toll of every pitch, so he has made some mechanical adjustments to improve his prognosis. His delivery is actually very efficient, aside from the elbow drag, and I like his chances to have a good year in 2013. But I would keep a safe distance when drafting a keeper league.

On the jukebox: Jimi Hendrix, "Pail Gap"

GBSimons (Heading home, at last)): Doug, I posed this question to Daniel Rathman a few days ago as I confused two BP authors who have first names beginning with "D," so I'll try again. Why is the "inverted W" call that instead of "M?" Daniel mentioned it implies additional information, but I still don't get it. An inverted W is still an M, so I don't get the context that makes it mean more than that. The term seems like an attempt to sound smarter than the crowd.

Doug Thorburn: Good question, as I have seen this mentioned in multiple circles with the same implication. That said, there is a distinction that makes the "W" terminology appropriate. A capital "M" begins and ends with vertical lines, and a pitcher with an "M" pattern to his arms would essentially raise his elbows but point the hands straight downward, and I have never seen a pitcher who actually displays that pattern. Pitchers who raise the elbows above the shoulder-line will typically form a slanted angle from their forearms to their elbows, like an upside-down "W," which is where the terminology comes from.

But yeah, I think it's a truism in baseball that anybody who has an opinion about the game thinks that he is smarter than the crowd.

On the jukebox: Dredg, "Whoa is Me"

timothyj (Denver): I coach high baseball.I would be interested on your take on the long toss controversy. I use very little of the workout, maybe only 120 or 90 feet at the most.

Doug Thorburn: I think it depends on how the drill is executed. Long toss can build arm strength, but I believe that is critical to maintain mound mechanics when playing long-toss. I mean maintaining the angle of the shoulder axis - a lot of pitcher will tilt the shoulder axis to throw the ball further, like a cannon taking aim at a further target, and the result is a parabolic flight path rather than a low line-drive. The problem with the cannon technique is that it recruits some different muscle groups than when throwing 50-60 feet, and the extra force used to throw the ball a longer distance can potentially compound the risk on those associated muscle groups.

Matt Trueblood (Fridley, MN): Yovani Gallardo sped up his delivery and moved to the first-base side of the rubber back in May, 2010. The changes were more in where than how he pitched from then on, though. He seemed to be more comfortable targeting the inside/outside corner to righties/lefties after making the switch. You can see it in heat maps and Pitch F/X data. So maybe Kelly's adjustment is similarly designed to make him feel more natural going at either side of the plate?

Doug Thorburn: I think that you are exactly right. A pitcher who is positioned correctly will be able to line up his release point, enabling him to hit both sides of the plate. A pitcher who is off-line will often struggle to hit a particular side, as the directional energy of the arm is battling battling that of the body.

On the jukebox: Led Zeppelin, "Hey Hey What Can I Do"

CyMature (just a little outside): Always enjoy your discussions of pitching. Thanks. Taijuan Walker and Enny Romero: two young starters with good (great?) arms and problems with all the C's: control, curve, consistency. Who has a better chance of reaching his potential and why?

Doug Thorburn: I think that Walker's upside is ridiculous. His size, strength, stuff, and mechanics are way ahead of the standard age curve. He struggles to repeat his delivery, with a ways to go before realizing his potential, but timing and consistency is typically the last thing to come around for a young pitcher. His baseline mechanics are incredibly advanced, and he appears to have the frame to handle heavy workloads when he matures. So yeah, give me Walker in that scenario.

Arizona settling for Prado/Delgado instead of the Mariners package could turn out to be the biggest plot twist of the off-season.

SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): Hi Doug, Thanks for doing the chat. Any pointers you would give Ubaldo Jimenez on fixing his mechanics?

Doug Thorburn: Oh boy, where to begin? His mechanics of devolved from his 2010 peak, with worse balance, posture, and torque. His timing is an absolute mess, and his saloon-door stride pattern is completely erratic. His signature might demand an open stride, but his inability to repeat his lower-body movements just unravels the rest of his kinetic chain. When fixing a pitcher, we always start at the beginning, so first I would address his balance, then his stride, followed by torque, and finally posture. He was never the model of mechanical efficiency, but Ubaldo is a long way from being what he once was.

On the jukebox: Beatles, "Eleanor Rigby"

Matt (SD, CA): Did you read Eric Knott's article? What are your thoughts? Do his anecdotal stories of the effects of steroids match anything you have heard, regarding velocity, ability, strain, wear and tear, etc.? Thanks.

Doug Thorburn: I thoroughly enjoyed Eric's honest and insightful description of PED life in the minors. For anyone who missed it, check it out: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=19717

His descriptions are right on, especially the trade-off between performance and health risk. A player who is able to increase muscle and ramp up the energy within the system is naturally putting his joints at risk, and since most players do no focus on joint integrity in their workouts, elbows and shoulders can easily become the weak links in the chain for PED users. The increased kinetic toll is why harder throwers are naturally at an elevated risk for injury, and proper conditioning requires a balance between strength and flexibility throughout the body in order to ensure smooth function.

Matt Trueblood (Fridley, MN): I came upon a note in Jason's Top 10 Prospects list for the Cubs system, that Duane Underwood's "arm works well, but low pickup and drag force it to go a long way." Those words weren't yours, but I'm wondering if you have any insight on them. I feel the same way when watching a number of current big-leaguers (if I'm reading this right), where they have fast and loose arms, but waste motion on the back side of their delivery and seem to lengthen their arm action in doing so. Does this pose any added risk of injury, ineffectiveness, or inconsistency?

Doug Thorburn: I am not as bothered by “long” arm action, other than the potential to complicate the timing sequence. It is the high-speed portion of rotation that places the most stress on the arm, so I care more about the arm path once the rotational elements kick into gear. It's kinda like worrying about a hitter's hands before he gets into the loaded position – just because it looks funny doesn't mean that it's dysfunctional.

On the jukebox: Colin Hay, "Overkill"

Henry (bar): Why do you think Carlos Santana struggled for so long last season?

Doug Thorburn: I know it was his second year since his ACL tear, but I worry about any catcher with knee problems. The knees are involved in the early phases of swing mechanics, and a weak foundation can have a ripple effect on the rest of the swing sequence. It could be that he took longer than usual to find his physical peak, and it probably didn't help that the Indians rode him hard in April. Santana started 18 of the team's first 20 games, 17 of which were behind the plate (he had one start at DH, in game #4). The team mixed in more days at 1B and DH from that point forward, about 7-8 times per month from May through July, and then he was relieved of receiving duties for 25 of his last 54 games. Careful management of his workload behind the plate could be key to his offensive performance in 2013.

On the jukebox: Guns and Roses, "Night Train"

Matt (SD, CA): Following up on steroids, can you envision a steroid regimen coupled with a conditioning program that actually reduced injury risk? Thanks.

Doug Thorburn: Absolutely. If a player intelligently configured his intake volume with a balanced conditioning regimen, then he could see huge benefits with respect to injury risk. Known users like Ken Caminiti and Mark McGwire credited steroids with keeping them on the field, moreso than actually hitting home runs. The benefit of feeling 100% every day during the long-haul of a season is a tremendous benefit that should not be underestimated.

Henry (bar): What would be your walk-up music if you played in MLB?

Doug Thorburn: "Deadbolt," by Thrice.

On the jukebox: Thrice, "Deadbolt"

{I am vulnerable to suggestion)

Steve (Bayshore): Anthrax, Tool, Iron Maiden, The Beatles, Colin Hay, Misfits, Sublime...that jukebox has goine haywire...or, Colin Hay-wire... Do you expect Jeff Samardzija repeat his success from last year? He seems pretty fluid in his delivery but I don't have a great eye for that sort of thing. Just hoping he's not a one trick pony.

Doug Thorburn: My musical tastes do that, and I tend to be the type who finds something that he likes and sticks with it. I am always slow to come around, like the old curmudgeon who constantly berates modern music. Hence why my jukebox is filled with music that is at least 10 years old.

Shawnykid23 (CT): Thoughts on Jeff Samardzija this year? Do you see the breakout coming that everyone else seems to?

Doug Thorburn: I am a huge fan of Jeff Samardzija, and I believe that he actually broke out last season. He had two terrible starts in June that are skewing his ERA, including the start on June 27th where he was cruising along just fine until the 4th inning, when lost it for a stretch of 11 batters, 8 of which crossed the plate. Outside of that horrid stretch, Samardzija was lights out from May through September.

His mechanics are awesome, with a great blend of power and balance that he repeats very well. His velocity has improved each of the last 2 seasons, though not enough to crack the requirements for today's article on velocity gainers. His is only a sleeper in the sense that his performance was not on the national radar - I can only hope that my fantasy league-mates were not paying attention to his performance down the stretch, and that they are likewise ignoring this chat.

On the jukebox: Drist, "The Scalpel"

cal guy (cal): Do you see any of the top pitching prospects a future injury risks, specifically Walker, Cole, Fernandez, Wheeler and Bundy?

Doug Thorburn: We are fortunate to be witnessing a renaissance of young talent on the mound. I typically have many reservations about the mechanics of young pitchers, but the mechanical profile of every pitcher that you mentioned is incredibly advanced for his age. There are a couple of risky guys out there - Tyler Skaggs stands out as an inefficient pitcher - but the majority of the other top prospects are well ahead of the standard development curve. I haven't been able to say that for years, but beyond the five that you mentioned, I have also been impressed by Shelby Miller and Kyle Zimmer, among others.

My pet player is Jose (J.O.) Berrios. He had the best mechanics in the 2012 draft, in my opinion, and the #32 overall pick exemplifies the change of approach that we are seeing in Minnesota. I am very high on his future, and would buy Berrios stock if he were a publicly-traded commodity.

On the jukebox: Pink Floyd, "Sheep"

Shawn (CT): Piggybacking off the "inverted W" questions- maybe you could do a future article with pictures, showing this compared to a pitcher with a more textbook delivery (if you haven't already)

Doug Thorburn: I addressed the inverted W, among other elements of injury risk, in this article from last May.

Henry (bar): What players do you think could breakout this season?

Doug Thorburn: In addition to Samardzija, I think that Jordan Zimmermann is on the verge of great things. I also think that Jarrod Parker will continue to take steps forward as he gets further away from TJS and hones his command. Parker gained velocity throughout the season last year, which is a positive indicator for his 2013 performance.

SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): There was a study done at FG. http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/how-much-better-could-justin-masterson-be/ Where is discussed how many more strikes Masterson could be getting if he had catchers with an average framing skill or better. Surely the Indians recognize this issue, but how do they convince their pitcher that he needs to work on his mechanics to improve his control, when in essence a better defensive catcher would improve his performance x amount.

Doug Thorburn: Masterson's baseline mechanics are solid, particularly with the dimensions of balance and posture. His timing does waver, which hurts his pitch command, and the team will want to isolate the timing factors when ironing out his mechanics. But the positive aspects of his delivery help to support pitch repetition, and he should keep his focus on those elements that are within his control.

cal guy (cal): At least one of the writers on Fangraphs thinks MadBum is an injury waiting to happen due to his mechanics. What is your take?

Doug Thorburn: I respectfully disagree. His mechanics are very efficient, and though his big upper-body twist can be visually off-putting, the strategy takes stress off of his arm. Bum did tire near the end of last season, resulting in timing issues with respect to his torque, but he made the necessary adjustments to realign his delivery. The Giants will want to respect the development process and avoid over-taxing his arm, but I think that Bumgarner's mechanics are a major point in his favor, not against.

On the jukebox: Soundgarden, "Rusty Cage"

justarobert (Santa Clara): Bradley Ankrom mentioned that he's hearing more industry sources who like Taillon even more than Cole. Would you agree with that assessment? How does his developing changeup look to you?

Doug Thorburn: I think that they are very close, but I do prefer Taillon's mechanics over Cole's based on what they demonstrated last season. Taillon has uncanny efficiency, with a killer mix of power and stability, though he does carry the risk of elbow drag due to heavy scapular loading and an inverted-W. So it will be critical for the Pirates to monitor his timing patterns and to avoid his pitching while fatigued.

I think that Cole has more theoretical upside, with a solid mechanical baseline that has more room to improve along with right-now stuff that is electric, but he has a ways to go before realizing his potential. Give me Taillon for the next 3 years, and then Cole from 2016 - '18.

Alan (Helena MT): Of Myers (TB)and Taveras (STL), which is more likely to make an impact in 2013? Or is there a third OF prospect?

Doug Thorburn: I think that those are the big two, and my guess is that Myers has the more immediate impact due to his advanced track record and a clearer path to playing time. Of course, don't expect to see Myers in Tampa before June due to contract shenanigans. I think that Taveras is the better prospect long-term, but is a bit further from making an impact.

On the jukebox: Offspring, "Something to Believe in"

Matt Trueblood (Fridley, MN): If batters never, ever swung, and pitchers knew they would never swing, and guys either walked or struck out looking in every PA, how often would anyone get on base> Ever? 10 % of the time? 20 % ?

Doug Thorburn: Well, if pitchers knew that batters wouldn't swing, then they would just throw 80-mph meatballs down the heart of the plate. But if a team decided to rest their bats on their shoulders for an entire game, theoretically without the pitcher cluing in on the strategy, then the percentage would likely be disturbingly high. The vast majority of pitchers miss the majority of their targets.

Ernie (Dallas): Doug, Going to need to draft some pitching later on in an AL League and was wondering how you would rank Dempster, Guthrie & Hammel ? Thanks

Doug Thorburn: For fantasy purposes, I would likely go Dempster, Hammel, Guthrie in a one-year league.

I think that Dempster is likely to get the most K's and has the clearest path to W's. I like Hammel's development from last season, though I expect him to give back some of his statistical gains this year. I'm afraid that Guthrie is a potential grenade to blow up your pitching ratios, and somebody already pulled the pin.

G Money (Hotlanta): Do you think that J. Peavy and B. Anderson can make 32 starts this year? Their injury history suggest no, but could this be there year and if so, can they become top 25 arms?

Doug Thorburn: And there's the rub. IF they can make 32 starts, then they both have top 25 upside, but I agree that the odds of either pitcher escaping the season unscathed is relatively low. I really like what Anderson brings to the table, including his mechanics and his approach, but the question remains whether his body can withstand the kinetic toll of pitching every 5th day.

On the jukebox: Metallica, "Motorbreath"

Matt Trueblood (Fridley, MN): Loved thr article on velocity risers. You mention creating hip-shoulder separation as a key element to doing it, and single out the possibility of delaying trunk rotation. Justin Verlander seems to do that really well. Are there specific pitchers you think could find an extra tick or two by just rotating earlier with their lower half, headed into a new season?

Doug Thorburn: Great question and awesome observation on Verlander. His torque is incredible, with a killer combination of upper-body load, delayed trunk rotation, and mechanical repetition.

There are a umber of pitchers who tend to rotate the hips very late, choosing to fire hips and shoulders together, though this technique places the kinetic responsibility lower on the chain. Some of the pitchers who use this "hip whip," and who would likely benefit from greater hip-shoulder separation include: Mike Fiers, Mike Minor, Matt Harrison, and Clayton Kershaw.

Kershaw's strategy is more than likely tied to his hip problems, and he is the #1 pitcher that I would like to see find a more efficient method for generating torque. The problem is that he has recently found his ideal timing, after years of struggling with repetition, and making such an adjustment could set him back for a stretch while he coordinated the new mechanics. So it's hard to fault the team for not making an adjustment.

On the jukebox: Pantera, "Cemetery Gates"

Bill (New Mexico): How much of learning pitching mechanics hinges on ability to learn? Any guess as to what fraction of promising young arms never develop fully because they're simply not able to take instruction?

Doug Thorburn: Another excellent question. A player's learning curve is the greatest variable in player development, and his motivation and willingness to improve and adapt is the key ingredient to #want. There have been countless arms who flamed out, either because they were unable or unwilling to make the necessary adjustments, or because they received instruction that created a barrier to development. In many cases it is not the player's fault, as the conventional wisdom that has guided decades of coaching techniques is often lacking in practical application.

Henry (bar): Which players mechanics worry you the most?

Doug Thorburn: The easy answer is Chris Sale, and it's a legitimate concern. I also worry about Tyler Skaggs, Wily Peralta, and Mike Fiers for various reasons.

Mounting Point (Fantasyland): Hi Doug, thanks for the chat. You mentioned Jordan Zimmermann and Jarrod Parker as the breakout candidates. What do you think of Matt Harvey and Kris Medlen? Their 2012 season primed in the second half, do you see sustainable success? Please also include Homer Bailey in the conversation if you can.

Doug Thorburn: Huge fan of Harvey. His mechanics are very advanced, with solid grades across the board, and his stuff is beyond legit. I probably should have mentioned him among the breakout guys.

Medlen has a strong delivery that he repeats exceedingly well, though I can't call him a breakout candidate, for the simple reason that I can't imagine him doing better in 2013 than what he showed us while he was on the mound in 2012. He does have some minor inefficiencies with torque and posture that could be improved, but he just has to regress, right?

jimcal (Seattle): Thanks for the chat Doug! I'm a big fan and look forward to the SP guide with your input. I would like to know if you look for specific mechanic flaws for pitchers post TJ or other surgery. i.e. John Lamb or Danny Duffy.

Doug Thorburn: When looking at post-surgery pitchers, what I pay attention to differs based on the conditions of their injury. If the guy had solid mechanics before getting hurt - but fell due to workloads, structural integrity, or other conditions - then I just look to see how far away he is from regaining his previous delivery. But if there was an underlying mechanical flaw, then I look to see if any adjustments have been made to correct the problem.

Stephen Strasburg is a good example. I loved his mechanics before the injury, though he did have the trifecta of inverted-W + heavy scapular load + delayed trunk rotation that leads to elbow drag (particularly when fatigued). I am a big fan of his delivery now, but in my opinion he is still just 90-95% of the way back to his pre-injury levels. But the Nats were smart to shut him down last season, given the risk factors inherent in his motion plus the additional risk when he gets fatigued.

On the jukebox: Audioslave, "Like a Stone"

nc (SF): If you could teach your son to be a pitcher or a catcher, which would you choose? Assume he'll be as good either way - I'm asking about general health risks...

Doug Thorburn: A catcher, definitely, and I would teach him to hit left-handed. Lefty-leaning backstops can carve out long careers in the majors, and I think that a well-rounded catcher is the most valuable player on the diamond. There are certainly health risks, but not nearly so significant as those imposed on pitchers, and the path for catchers is challenged mostly by the multiple responsibilities that are required of the position. I think that there is more learning involved to become a catcher than any other spot on the diamond, by far, and my favorite part of the game is the learning process of player development.

On the jukebox: Lagwagon, "Bury the Hatchet"

Bryant (Oceanside, CA): What's the most understudied or understated aspect of a pitcher's mechanics that may indicate future injury?

Doug Thorburn: I'll give two answers here: 1) Postural stability, 2) Repetition of timing

The emphasis on "over-the-top" arm slots and downhill plane has probably injured more pitchers than any other piece of instruction. Besides that, the functional utility of downhill plane is largely misunderstood.

There are many pitchers who are mechanically efficient some of the time, but the injury risk is volatile pitch-to-pitch due to inconsistencies. This is what I was referring to with Strasburg - he doesn't exhibit elbow drag all the time, but he has a greater tendency towards elbow drag as he becomes fatigued, and Stras is generally very consistent with his delivery. There are many pitchers in the bigs who are fine for a 3-pitch sequence, but then their timing and positioning fall off track, creating mechanical inefficiencies that can lead to injury.

Bill Compton (Bon Temps): Who do you take for a dynasty league, Jose Fernandez or Matt Harvey?

Doug Thorburn: Harvey, because he is already doing it in the majors. Too much can happen between what Fernandez is now and what he will be when he is making an impact on your team's bottom line. But I admit that I think that dynasty leaguers tend to over-rate very young players who are years from knowing whether their skills can translate to the majors.

On the jukebox: Rage Against the Machine, "Ashes in the Fall"

Guillermo (Montevideo, Uruguay): so, according to your jukebox you are answering one question every 3/4 minutes? dude, this is even slower than the replay system. Pun aside, I applaud your exchange of velocity for neatly worded responses. You want a question? Tell me (I'm a Yankees fan) how much do their pitching prospects' deliveries suck. I mean, they must, right?

Doug Thorburn: I admit that I have a slow delivery, but I hope that the pitch quality rewards the reader's patience.

I think that there is a huge difference between Banuelos and Betances, and I'm not talking about Betances 9-inches height advantage. Banuelos has a very clean delivery, though his high levels of kinetic energy place a heavy kinetic toll on his slight frame. Betances is a mess, suffering from terrible posture instability ("spine tilt") as well as maddening inconsistency with his timing - the two major issues that I mentioned earlier with respect to injuries. I am optimistic that Banuelos can come back from his TJS to be a successful big-league pitcher, but I have serious doubts about the future of Betances.

Shawnykid23 (CT): How did you enjoy working with Paul on the SP Guide. Can't wait to dig into it next week!

Doug Thorburn: I have had a blast with the SP Guide. Paul and I can riff on pitching ad nauseum, and he has an awesome perspective and in-depth knowledge of the game. I am excited to unveil the mechanical reports, as I have spent the vast majority of my time for the past two months analyzing the mechanics of over 100 pitchers, using my own single-blind strategy for quality assurance of the grades on the report cards. I can't wait for the big reveal of the final product!

Doug Thorburn: Thanks to everyone for all of the thought-provoking questions. I'm off to put the final seal of approval on the material for the SP Guide, but we'll have to get together for another chat real soon. And to all you fantasy fanatics out there: Happy drafting this month, and may all your pitchers stay healthy and productive!


Baseball Prospectus Home  |  Terms of Service  |  Privacy Policy  |  Customer Service  |  Newsletter  |  Masthead  |  Contact Us

Copyright © 1996-2014 Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC.