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Chat: Doug Thorburn

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday August 12, 2013 2:00 PM ET chat session with Doug Thorburn.

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BP's pitching guru takes your questions.

Doug Thorburn: I'm eagerly anticipating my trip to Boston this weekend, where I will be speaking at the Sabermetrics, Scouting, and Science seminar. Let's warm up for the event with some baseball chatter!

ttt (Manhattan): Every time I watch Clayton Kershaw, I'm struck by how odd his mechanics are to watch. Don't reams often try to change pitchers who look that odd, or is Kershaw so dominant that the Dodgers wouldn't want to tinker?

Doug Thorburn: It really depends, as different organization have widely disparate philosophies when it comes to pitcher development, especially mechanics. But when you have a top-end guy who explodes on the scene with continual improvement, then you have to credit the organization for identifying the player as well as getting him in a position to succeed. And if it ain't broke ...

Kersh is an interesting case, but his delivery seems to improve every season. He has that oddball pattern with his momentum, which is sort of a go-stop-go with 3 different gears, and the complicated motion was behind many of the command problems earlier in his career. But he has mastered it, meanwhile improving other facets of his game (most notably balance and posture), so I am inclined to let him keep going on his current path.

On the jukebox: Led Zeppelin, "Going to California"

eddiegaedel (LA): Will Trevor Bauer see the major's again this season or are the Indians just hoping he can figure it out by next season?

Doug Thorburn: The Indians have a lot riding on this season, and they can't afford to have Bauer take his lumps while learning on the job. Danny Salazar gives them a safer option with plenty of upside. Bauer tends to overcomplicate the task of pitching, in terms of mechanics, stuff, and approach; he is best served by staying in the minors to simplify things. Once he has mastered the basics, then he can move on to advanced courses.

The rise of Danny Salazar has lessened the pressure on the Cleveland staff, as well.

Steve (Lombard, IL): Have you noticed anything different about Lincecum recently that has led to better results?

Doug Thorburn: With Lincecum, it all comes down to momentum. He has the ultra-rare grade of 80 momentum when he is at his best, but for the last couple of seasons he has struggled to find his ideal burst to the plate, creating havoc on his release point - it is difficult to consistently generate so much power within a tight timeframe. He has rediscovered it at times this season, which has allowed him to post some excellent starts (including the no-no), but inconsistency still reigns on a start-to-start basis.

On the jukebox: Ennio Morricone, "Ecstacy of Gold"

Larry (New York): What do you think of Sonny Gray, both for this year and beyond?

Doug Thorburn: I like what I see with Gray, and he stands out among Oakland pitchers with his high-end power grades (momentum, torque). He also stands out because he is weaker with balance and posture, traits that nearly all Oakland starters possess. The combination bodes well for Gray's future, as he is in a great organization to mold the balance factors, thus improving his biggest weakness. He could have some hiccups this season, but I think that the A's made a wise choice in promoting him into the #5 slot while Milone works on his game in the minors.

eddie gaedel (LA): I cancelled my ESPN Insider account and signed up for BP this morning! What type of line do you see Yasiel Puig putting up next season?

Doug Thorburn: Puig is such a fascinating case, a player who is riding an insanely steep climb up the development curve. The player whom everyone assumed would be exploited due to lack of patience/walks now has 16 UIBB's in his last 18 games. He already has nearly as many walks in 10 August games (11 BB) as he did the previous 50 contests (12 BB), and his slash line for the month is a goofy .441/.587/.706. Honestly, I have no idea how to project this guy beyond "stud". I mean, if I say .300/.350/.525 it feels like a disappointing line - but that would be insane for a player of his limited pro experience. I'll go with that and enjoy the ride.

On the jukebox: Prodigy, "Breathe"

Dave (Tampa): Should the Cubs absolutely extend Samardzija? You've said in the past that you like his mechanics, but is he a #1 or 2 ceiling guy?

Doug Thorburn: I would, and I would extend him soon (preferably while he is taking his lumps, might save them a few shekels, but they know his talent). It's tough to put a #1 ceiling on anybody, but he already shows #2 skills for weeks at a time with his now-skills. A rare combination of elite velo with plus off-speed stuff, Samardzija also has the mechanical baseline to foretell greatness, but his struggles with timing have doomed his last 6 weeks or so. But the Cubs can afford to watch him go through the growing pains now. Signing him long-term could also increase his value on the trade market if the Cubs are able to strike a reasonable deal.

On the jukebox: Metallica, "Seek and Destroy"

Lucas Punkari (Airdrie, Alberta): Ricky Romero. Is the jam done? Or is any hope left?

Doug Thorburn: He has a lot of underlying mechanical issues that create a steep uphill climb for Romero to find a consistent release point. There is always hope with pitchers, but it only extends as far as they can make the adjustments necessary to succeed.

MKPJ (Chicago): Was wondering if you had any opinions, thoughts, things you've heard or seen regarding Cubs prospect, CJ Edwards? He whiffed 8 in 3.2 innings the other night.I'm excited.

Doug Thorburn: I have heard great things from the BP prospect staff - Zach Mortimer profiled Edwards debut with the Cubs org here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=21371 .

I like to root for smaller guys who throw hard (Edwards is listed at 155 pounds), and the numbers jump off the page. But I have yet to see him throw, so I can't put my personal stamp of approval on Edwards quite yet.

On the jukebox: Lagwagon, "Tragic Vision"

Cal Guy (Cali): Hi Doug, using your powers of projection, please rank the following prospects for careers: T. Walker, A. Bradley, Stephenson, and C. Rodon

Doug Thorburn: I like that order, actually. I am an unabashed Walker fanatic - he has it all: size, velo, a killer mix of plus pitches, and excellent mechanics on his good days. He still lacks consistency, but timing is often the last thing to come around, and I consider TW to be the top pitching prospect in the minors.

Bradley is awesome, and ranking him #2 has much more to do with Walker's strengths than any weaknesses on Bradley's part - I have been especially impressed with Bradley's mechanical improvements as a pro. Stephenson certainly has the stuff (including the command profile) to be in the conversation, but he trails the other two on the developmental ladder.

I have only seen a small amount of footage on Rodon, and though I love the velo from the left side, he has also struggled with his timing in the footage that I have seen - he was constantly missing targets to the arm-side, as he struggled to reach full extension at release point. He also battled balance and posture, especially during the hi-energy phases of rotation - but SSS caveats abound. He can survive in college based on raw stuff, but his pro career will be defined by how well he can make adjustments.

On the jukebox: Kyuss, "Mudfly"

jharrison3 (Illinois): Does Clayton Kershaw have bad mechanics? I noticed he dips really badly with his back leg, but that leads to his deception. So, I didn't know if he was considered to have poor mechanics or just quirky.

Doug Thorburn: A little bit of column A, a little bit of column B. He is definitely quirky, but there is also inefficiency in there. On the bright side, Kersh seems to have figured out most of the quirks, and his efficiency gets better every season. Oh, and he might just have the best combo of pitches in the majors in terms of quantity + quality ... bringing it from the left side is just unfair.

1738679 (California): Why do you think the braves continue to play Danny Uggla and BJ Upton nearly everyday even though their batting averages are well below the Mendoza line?

Doug Thorburn: BJ and Uggla are the two highest paid players on the roster this season at more than $13M apiece, and neither contract is going away (Uggla signed through 2015, B-Up through '17). Swing-and-miss has always been a part of the package for these guys, and sitting on the bench isn't likely to help solve their issues with pitch recognition. I think that the Braves have to stick with their guns and hope that the U's wake up in time for the post-season (in addition to Heyward), and the 14.5-game lead in the NL East gives them the breathing room to have such patience.

On the jukebox: Temple of the Dog, "Call Me a Dog"

Jake (St. Louis ): Not sure if there are more of them this year, but it sure seems like a lot of pitchers are having neck injuries this year (Parnell, Lee, Zimmerman) off the top of my head. What would the typical causes be?

Doug Thorburn: Interesting observation, but unfortunately I don't have much of an answer. It could be a fluke, and the mechanics of those three players are so different that I can't even venture a guess as to a potential physical tie. An under-studied element that I will have to pay more attention to in the future, so thanks for raising the awareness!

On the jukebox: Rage Against the Ozzy Osbourne, "Bark at the Moon"

andwoo (DC): Hi Doug, what do you think of Mejia's mechanics? It's long been assumed that he can't withstand 200ip per year. Do you agree?

Doug Thorburn: There is probably some size-related bias in there, but Mejia is also a relief candidate based on his mechanical baselines. He brings the power with plus momentum and huge torque, but he does so with an unstable foundation - poor balance and especially posture. The combination of high kinetic energy in an inefficient system creates a larger risk for injury, such that they would want to limit his workloads until he was able to make adjustments. The rumblings that he has started down-tuning his velocity in order to protect his arm are not a good sign for his future in the rotation.

The minor league guy (Illinois): What's up with Michael Pineda?? When will he be called up??

Doug Thorburn: The Yankees just activated Pineda from the DL a month ago after the guy was shelved for 18 months, so it could take awhile. Pitchers can be very slow coming back from shoulder injuries, especially with respect to velocity and regaining strength around the joint. The Yanks need help, but the last thing they want to do is rush Pineda back and risk re-injury. At least Montero has been a flop in Seattle, in the challenge trade that broke hearts on both sides.

On the jukebox: Aerosmith, "Dream On"

GrinnellSteve (Iowa): How do you feel about the futures of Quintana and Santiago with the Sox? Are they credible mid-rotation starters going forward? Also, how do you see Danks' recovery from surgery? To my untrained eye he looks stronger with each start, but he's still giving up too many homers. Bottom line question, is this a rotation that can seriously speed up the rebuilding? Or are these just guys who happen to pitch in the major leagues?

Doug Thorburn: I like Quintana and Santiago as mid-rotation arms, and the two lefties have complementary skill sets. Danks is a bigger concern (man, they have a ton of southpaw SP's), and his extreme over-the-top delivery leaves him vulnerable to elevated pitches whenever his timing is off, so the HR's may very well continue. I think the best way for these guys to speed up the rebuilding is for the ChiSox to flip 2 of them (Danks as one) for bats that can help to buffer one of the worst minor-league systems in the game.

On the jukebox: Snot, "Tecato"

GoneTroutFishin (Germantown, TN): Thanks for chatting with us, Doug! Could you go into a little more detail on the mechanics behind the timing issue Jeff Samardzija's been battling? How long does it usually take pitchers with a similar timing issue to iron the problem out? Thanks, I appreciate your work!

Doug Thorburn: Lots of Shark questions in the queue!

Samardzija has been struggling to hit targets due to his issues with timing, a fine-grained element that comes down to hundredths of a second. Fixing it can take a matter of minutes or a span of months, depending on the player, but the fix is often fleeting as pitchers can lose their timing within an inning only to get it back again. Timing is simultaneously the most important and the most difficult mechanical element to perfect.

When a pitcher consistently struggles with timing, it tends to boil down to two elements that are intertwined: A) the pitcher's momentum from leg lift through foot strike, and B) the timing of trunk rotation, relative to foot strike. If a pitcher is too quick into foot strike, then the trigger of trunk rotation (and thus the arm) will be late in relation. In Samardzija's case, it looks like his momentum is the key factor in his timing issues, including his initiation of momentum as well as his gear-change at maximum leg lift. So he has some work to do to get right, but it could happen quickly.

On the jukebox: Dredg, "Spitshine"

Charlie (Bethesda): I love Rage Against the Ozzy. My favorite song by them is probably "Mama I'm On Parade". What do you think of Taylor Jordan? He's had his ups and his downs but seems to me like a credible 5th starter for next on a team that hopes to be a contender, even though he didn't make much prospect noise in the minors.

Doug Thorburn: HA! Great call - I'm a fan of "Bomb Pigs". The jukebox switched songs on me while I was typing, and I ended up with a blend.

I like what Jordan brings to the table, especially that heavy sinker. His mechanics are good not great, lots of average grades on his mechanics report card, and I would prefer if there was more velo separation on his change-up and breaking ball. He is in a great organization when it comes to pitcher development, and I think that your 5th starter assessment is a good one.

nubber (tx): What do you credit for Scott Kazmir's resurgence this season?

Doug Thorburn: It took five years, but he has rediscovered his old delivery. It's not a very efficient motion, but it is far better than what he has shown since he was last effective. He is actually throwing harder this year than he was in '08 (avg 93 mph now), which is a significant jump from where he was the last several years. He has had both elbow and shoulder issues in the past, and as I mentioned with Pineda, shoulder injuries can take awhile to recover (the shoulder flared up in 2010).

Josh (Seattle): Does the Giants pitching staff get back to being a strength? Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong - they can all be better than this, can't they?

Doug Thorburn: I think that it can. There's nothing wrong with Bummer, who would be getting more pub for the CY consideration if not for those Kershaw and Harvey guys. Lincecum has not been able to maintain his physical prowess of his peak, but the Giants staff is doing well considering the potential for Timmy's motion to combust. Cain is not off by much, as it's just a subtle timing issue that has led to some disaster innings that have wrecked his stat-line. Vogey will always be a credit to the staff, regardless of whether he rediscovers his previous skills.

The Giants have displayed an affinity for working with pitchers of many different styles and profiles, and I think that they can continue to get solid returns from their arms in the future.

On the jukebox: Vivaldi, "Winter"

Cal Guy (cali): Doug, again using your powers of projection, five years down the road, when TJ is behind him, who is the better pitcher, Bundy or Bradley, and who is #1 in the O's rotation, Bundy or Gausman?

Doug Thorburn: Unfortunately, my powers cannot project what Bundy will look like following TJS. Not all pitchers come back the same, but if he can make a 100% recovery then I like him above both Bradley and Gausman. Gausman might have the biggest ceiling of all of them, though, especially with that ridiculous change-up, and he has also shown the ability to make adjustments throughout his amateur and pro career. If I had to bet on one of them 5 years from now, I will go with the upside that hasn't undergone surgery - gimme Gausman.

Joe (Oregon): Mark Prior was always said to have perfect mechanics. Would you agree?

Doug Thorburn: I don't think that "perfect mechanics" have ever existed, but Prior's were elite. He would receive a straight "A" on his mechanics report card.

It is crazy that his mechanics take so much blame for his injuries, when virtually every other variable in the injury equation is lighting up the screen. He endured some of the heaviest workloads in the game while at a very young age (within the confines of the injury nexus), and he did so during seasons in which he incurred injury. His 2 biggest injuries had nothing to do with throwing a baseball - it was a 105-mph line drive off the bat of Brad Hawpe that caused a compression fracture in his elbow (he missed 3 wks, came back, and was top 3 in PAP that year); and it was a collision with Marcus Giles on the base paths that tore up his shoulder, with an injury to the teres minor as well as a tear in the AC joint that went undiscovered for a couple years - and yet he still came back weeks later and was among the top PAP pitchers once again.

Given all that, to blame his mechanics seems egregious.

Dennis (LA): Kyle Gibson and Tyler Skaggs have been a little underwhelming results-wise this year, though, of course, they are still in the infancy stages of their MLB careers. Which do you like better, and what do you see their respective floors/upsides to be? Thank you for your great work!

Doug Thorburn: I definitely prefer Gibson, largely because I just can't stand Skaggs' delivery. Skaggs has a very closed stride and an extreme over-the-top delivery, as if he is trying to reach for the top-left corner of the hitter's visual window. It might be deceptive with respect to angles and downhill plane, but he makes major sacrifices to pitch repetition and depth at release point. Batters get a long look at his pitches despite the deception, and he doesn't throw hard enough to get away with such poor command.

Gibson has some red flags in his delivery as well, including a posture change that is not nearly as dire as that of Skaggs. I also prefer Gibson's pitch mix, but he has some room for growth, given that he has a stable delivery early in the sequence that loses efficiency after foot strike.

On the jukebox: Beatles, "Wait"

Lucas Punkari (Airdrie, Alberta): Of the games you have watched with Paul for the podcast, which ones have you enjoyed watching the most? Also, which ones have left you pulling your hair out?

Doug Thorburn: Such an awesome question, Lucas! My favorite game of TINSTAAPP so far was actually one of the games from last episode (Ep 12): Jose Fernandez vs Ubaldo Jimenez. These guys offered one of the greatest contrasts that I can imagine: a rookie with the mechanics of a veteran vs the veteran with the mechanics of an uncoached amateur. Paul and I gush about Fernandez, and then just marvel at the ridiculous saloon-door stride of Ubaldo, which swings open and lands in a different spot on every pitch. That game was simultaneously the most enjoyable and the most frustrating to watch.

On the jukebox: Pink Floyd, "Comfortably Numb"

nubber (tx): Do you think Yovani Gallardo's mechanics are partly to blame for his lackluster season?

Doug Thorburn: His mechanics have always been an issue, but this season he has lacked the stuff to get away with it.

nubber (tx): Which of the crop of under 25 pitchers impress you most by their mechanics?

Doug Thorburn: Big Fern, hands down.

sitdancer (DC): Do you see the Dodgers moving Urias quickly through the minors given his early success and them being in win now mode or do you think the voices predicting him as the next teenager in the majors are premature?

Doug Thorburn: The Dodgers are a smart organization when it comes to player development, and I trust that Logan White will pace the youngster's progression based on his continued growth. The ascension of pitchers up the minor-league ladder has many different demands than that of a hitter, and his rise will likely be determined by his physical development in addition to his on-field success.

Donald Loria (Milwaukee): Teach me about L Giolito. Upside, mechanics, progression since injury... I'm invested, what's the future hold?

Doug Thorburn: I haven't seen him pitch since the injury, so I can only speak to his baselines beforehand. He had slow momentum early in the delivery but finished with a solid burst to the plate. He had all of his energy flowing toward the plate after release point, as well. He also had a high arm slot, but did so with shoulder abduction rather than spine tilt - the lack of tilt is good for efficiency/repeatability, but the extra abduction could be potentially dangerous. There is a lot to like there, but he also had some considerable room for physical development. He has the vaulted ceiling, but I have not seen enough to guess as to how high he will rise.

On the jukebox: Ozzy Against the Machine, "Bullet in the Mountain"

(That one's for you, Charlie)

Ashitaka (Houston): Given what you just said about Mark Prior, I take it you don't buy into the theory about the "Inverted W" and improper scapular loading and such as being a problem, that many people point to with guys like Prior, Stephen Strasburg and others?

Doug Thorburn: I do buy into the Inverted W and scapular loading, to the extent that it contributes to elbow drag, but I don't think that those isolated factors can be solely to blame for injury. That said, elbow drag is a major injury precursor and is the result of multiple indicators; these include the I-W, scap loading, and excessive delay of trunk rotation (late arm). Prior actually had all 3, so the potential for elbow drag was definitely there, but his efficiency and repetition of timing was so incredible that he rarely created elbow drag. I know this because he was an NPA guy, and I have spent countless hours studying his delivery with high-speed motion capture (prepare to throw barbs of bias!), and I have observed how hard he has worked to maintain his physical prowess.

In his case, there are just way too many other variables staring us in the face to blame an inverted W for his problems, and the population of baseball enthusiasts have gone backwards in the understanding of mechanics because of the insistence that Prior was mechanically flawed.

On the jukebox: Thrice, "The Artist in the Ambulance"

Brady Childs (Aunt's house in Louisiana): How much do starting pitchers save up in velocity? I look at guys like Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey and they just air it out and I wonder how they can throw 7 innings like that.

Doug Thorburn: It really depends on the pitcher. Some "save" it for specific situations, and others build strength throughout the game. Fernandez and Harvey rarely lose their mechanics in the effort to light up radar guns, and they each have excellent mechanical efficiency that takes the kinetic toll off of their throwing arms. The high velo has less to do with them airing it out and more to do with the ease with which they can create velo.

redguy12588 (Pittsburgh): It seems like Taillon always strikes out a lot of guys right when he moves up a level, but then later on, he'll have a lower K rate (and much lower BB/9 and H/9) as well. Is this a factor of him pitching more to contact or a general lack of deception?

Doug Thorburn: I don't think that deception (or lack thereof) is necessarily the issue, as he generates a deep release point that should allow his stuff to play up a notch. I do think that pitch efficiency is on his developmental To Do list in the minor leagues, and though I can only venture a guess as to the methodologies that the Pirates are using, I do find Cole's progression to the majors to be very interesting. I don't remember reports of his hitting 102-mph with movement in the minors, and while it is easy to quibble with Cole's K rate, his BB rate is better than at any point in the minor leagues. The Pirates may just be choosing to focus on pitch repetition and command with Taillon, as minor league performance is more about skill development than numbers on the stat sheet.

On the jukebox: Misfits, "I wanna be a NY Ranger"

Doug Thorburn: There are some great questions still in the queue, but unfortunately my time is up. Feel free to follow up on Twitter @doug_thorburn or email TINSTAAPP at pitchingpod@gmail.com. I hope to see some you next weekend in Boston!


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