The pitching mechanics expert is in.
Doug Thorburn: It's dumping buckets outside, which is a welcome respite from our California drought and creates the perfect chatting ambiance. It's also a reminder that Spring is here. There are some awesome questions in the hopper, so let's get started!
shakyhands (NJ): Thoughts on Trevor Bauer's "new" mechanics on wednesday?
Doug Thorburn: With the caveats of spring and the SSS of a single inning, I was impressed. He had quieted the drop in his drive and his stability looked much stronger than the past, which gains weight given how early we are in the training phase of Spring Training. He was slower to the plate during his first gear of momentum, and he struggled to get his timing down with most of his pitches featuring a late arm, but that is to be expected as he adjusts to the nuances of his new motion. He also had an interested triple-deke in his setup from the stretch, which was quirky though not any type of concern.
On the jukebox: Led Zeppelin, "The Rain Song"
Defensive (Maryland): What are your thoughts on Jameson Taillon for 2014? Is there reason to think he will continue to develop his control?
Doug Thorburn: I am big on Taillon this year, with a nod toward the Pirates development patterns which emphasize fastball command over stats at the minor league level. His delivery has all of the hallmarks of strong command, and he just needs to refine the timing element. He was addressing this last year with a slightly slower speed to the plate, and he still needs to find just the right pace, but the improvements in balance are good indicators of his positive development.
Colby Rogers (Chicago): I've read that ECU's Jeff Hoffman throws his changeup from a lower arm slot than his fastball. If true, is this something that must be changed in the pros? Is it a concern for its future usefulness? I assume a change would be needed because of the deception inherent in using the changeup.
Doug Thorburn: It depends on how severe the difference is, as well as the effectiveness of the pitch. If it's a stark difference then advanced hitters will pick up on it, serving as a tell that the change is coming. This is a particular issue with the change, given that it is generally a deception pitch that is tied to the fastball, and he'll want to find a consistent arm slot for both pitches. That said, some guys get away with it, such as Bronson Arroyo and his penchant for dropping down on the curve.
Rex Little (Big Bear, CA): 1. What does it mean when you say that a breaking pitch is "tight", or that it "needs to tighten up"?
2. How is a 12-to-6 curveball different from a sinker?
Doug Thorburn: A tight breaking ball is one that features less "loop" in its break, typically with sharper movement that takes place within a narrower time frame. In contrast, a "loose" breaking ball often leaves the hand with a different trajectory (more elevation) than the fastball or a "tight" breaking ball, allowing hitters to identify it sooner in the flight path, an element which is typical of pitchers who are manipulating a twist of the wrist on the breaking ball rather than taking advantage of supination.
Sinkers and 12-6 curves are very different in terms of how they are thrown, especially with respect to pronation/supination. The curve involves heavy supination (think of a karate chop in a downward motion), while sliders and cutters involve a smaller degree of that supination. Sinkers involve a small degree of pronation at release point (inverted chop, palm facing slightly away from the pitcher).
On the jukebox: Offspring, "It'll Be a Long Time"
Jeff (Maryland): I'm in my mid-30s and recently starting playing baseball in an adult wood bat league (not very competitive). I played through high school and pitched a little, put probably never had great mechanics. If I want to try pitching a few innings a few times a month, what advice and books/videos/resources can you suggest to help me stay healthy?
Doug Thorburn: I'm guilty of bias here, but Tom House's books are excellent for both mechanics and conditioning. I would start with "The Art and Science of Pitching" and also consider "Fit to Pitch" and "The Pitching Edge." If you are interested in the crazy motion analysis stuff that we did at the NPA, (shameless plug incoming) then check out "Arm Action, Arm Path, and the Perfect Pitch," which I co-authored with House.
On the jukebox: Metallica, "Creeping Death"
NightmareRec0n (Boston): I know Spring Training is essentially meaningless, but have there been any pitchers that have really impressed you from any improvements you've seen so far?
Doug Thorburn: Spring Training mechanics are extremely volatile as pitchers round out into shape, and it can be dangerous to overweight what one sees in the first week. For example, Hyun-jin Ryu looked sluggish with his motion early last spring in my first exposure to his delivery, but he looked like a different pitcher by the time that the regular season rolled around. I haven't seen much to get excited about yet, aside from the blatant differences in Bauer's mechanics - he showed the opposite trend of most early-spring pitchers, with better balance than in the past, which made his alterations notable.
BWooster (Finland): Instead of estimating what any one team should offer for, say Mike Trout, has anyone tried to figure out the reverse: what would the other teams pay collectively to buy him out, walk away and never play ball again. This could be called Termination Value or Buy Out Value, or perhaps, there is a measure like that already. Please, dsicuss.
Doug Thorburn: I don't want to even think of that ridiculous scenario. Words like "collusion" come to mind, in addition to "fan rioting."
On the jukebox: Red Hot Chili Peppers, "My Lovely Man"
(PS my jukebox is on random, aside from the startup track of "The Rain Song." Thematic ties to each question are purely incidental)
Cal Guy (Cal): Hi Doug, Looking into your crystal ball, how will the following SP rank 5 years from now: Walker, Stephenson, J. Gray, Bundy, Gausman and Giolito. Thanks!
Doug Thorburn: In the sense of on-field skills, I see an order of Gray, Bundy, Giolito, Gausman, Walker, and Stephenson. If talking fantasy numbers then Gray bumps down a couple of spots due to his home park. Bundy and Giolito are essentially neck-and-neck, with Gausman right there with them.
Daniel Schoenfeld (Evanston, IL): Doug, is there anything to be done with Chris Sale besides a nightly prayer? Those were some awfully high pitch counts during a season that didn't matter last year.
Doug Thorburn: There are definitely concerns with his vulture-like arm action and lanky frame, but he is actually very efficient with his delivery from foot strike through release point. High pitch counts do add to the levels of worry, but I think that the baseball public has become hyper-sensitive to pitch counts, especially given the reality that different pitchers can withstand very different thresholds. The perception of 120 pitches creates knee-jerk reactions of panic, but this is not necessarily the case. Sale exceeded 120 pitches three times last year, topping out at 124, and I don't think that's dangerous in and of itself.
On the jukebox: Eminem, "Stan"
Chris (Baltimore): Who are some minor league arms with fastballs too good to ignore...like Robert Stephenson?
Doug Thorburn: Jonathan Gray, Yordano Ventura, Lucas Giolito, Noah Syndergaard, Alex Meyer ... I am big on Kyle Zimmer's fastball, which only loses deception when he ratchets down the momentum in his delivery, resulting in lesser depth at release point and poor command. It's an 8 when he lines up the gears.
ace (PA): Hey Doug! How can I scout a pitcher's mechanics from behind the plate at minor league games this year?
Doug Thorburn: The behind-the-plate POV offers a great look at posture as well as 2 of the 3 planes of balance. You can also get a semblance of torque and timing - watch the pitchers front shoulder to see if he is opening up too early. You also get a good idea of deception from behind the plate, how well a pitcher hides the baseball from view. Momentum and release distance are tough to judge from that spot, but if you find yourself behind dugouts then you can get a much better view of those dimensions.
On the jukebox: Jimi Hendrix, "Highway Chile"
Paul (DC): Is there some common thread in the pitching mechanics of pitchers who win the Gold Glove or who are generally considered excellent fielders on the mound?
Doug Thorburn: Good fielding is aided by finishing in a good position to react to the baseball, so balance is critical after release point. Pitchers who fall off to the side of the mound will be slower to react on defense. It also helps to have a direct line to the plate, with momentum that finishes with kinetic energy flowing towards the target. Torque also plays a role, as some pitchers are unable to harness the rotational aspects and will effectively spin off the mound.
Dylan (SF): Are you somewhat afraid of Anibal Sanchez?. He was filthy when he pitched last year, but the labarum history is concerning.
Doug Thorburn: Sanchez also invokes some spine-tilt in his delivery - I gave him a peak grade of 50 posture in the SP Guide but it often falls into the 40s - and poor posture is a precursor to shoulder injury. He has continued to refine his delivery since coming to Detroit, which minimizes the worry a bit.
On the jukebox: Thrice, "The Sky is Falling"
Gary (New Jersey): Any update on the Miguel Sano elbow injury?? Is he now at full strnght?? Thanks!!
Doug Thorburn: Paging Will Carroll ...
Gila Monster (RI): Could baseball introduce a "soft salary cap"? If you were under say $100M, you could roll more money over into the draft/international signings. This could assure good low market teams still benefit from the draft even when picking lower and would allow for teams like the Astros to rebuild quicker. Thoughts?
Doug Thorburn: I don't think that there is a need for a salary cap in baseball, and the ripple effects are more likely to benefit the owners than the players. Even at $90M you would have several teams that fell way short and at a competitive disadvantage. I think that it would just allow the rich teams to spend exorbitantly within the few areas that they were allowed to flex their financial muscle, - ie players from Japan or Cuba would be getting $200 M contracts and the low-revenue clubs would be effectively shut out of that market.
On the jukebox: Pink Floyd, "Hey You"
NightmareRec0n (Boston): How could we make it that young players are compensated fairly without destroying small market teams?
Doug Thorburn: Bridging from the last question, I do think that it is a poor reflection on the current market when the players who are true free agents from certain countries reap monster contracts while players who are subject to the draft and Int'l spending rules have to labor through several years of service before cashing in. There has been a ripple effect of the capping on the draft and int'l spending, giving the windfall to a smaller cross-section of players. I am careful with the word "fair" here, as I believe that younger players should need to earn the bigger salaries to some extent, but the market has gone too far in the opposite direction.
I don't have a solution off-hand, beyond somehow including agents in the CBA process - but that would open up a plethora of other issues and it hurts my brain to imagine the consequences. The intents behind the current system were sound, but the practical execution is lacking, and the best solution should involve a limitation on spending for all first-year players, not just those from certain countries.
Tyrion Lannister (Parts Unknown): Are you familiar with Mauricio Cabrera's mechanics? Reports on his stuff are impressive, but as Professor Parks noted, there are problems with his delivery. How fixable do you think this is?
Doug Thorburn: I haven't seen Cabrera pitch yet, so I have to file the report as "N/A" for now. I am looking forward to getting a look at him this year though. I trust the Professor's assessments in the meantime.
AJ (Phoenix): You gave both Eddie Butler and Marcus Stroman a B- for their mechanics. Stroman had a better baseline (No grades <50 or >65) while Butler had higher peaks (70 torque 60 momentum) and lower valleys (35 balance, 45 posture), with a comparable release distance (55). My question in 2 parts: 1) While Stroman's height is usually the focal point of the SP/RP discussion; everything but his height says SP. Could it be argued that Butler is the more likely a late inning option?; and 2) What adjustments do you think these two could make to improve to achieve [better] success for a rotation future?
Doug Thorburn: Awesome question, AJ.
1) Pitchers who lack balance in the delivery are at high risk for over-exposure in the rotation, and based on current mechanics I would say that Stroman is a better bet for the rotation than Butler. So it could definitely be argued that Butler is the better late inning option, with the caveat that I think Stroman is the more likely bullpen guy.
2) Stroman mostly needs to improve consistency of timing by repeating his pace to the plate while maintaining plus momentum. Balance (and often posture) typically round out later in a pitcher's development path, as the player gains functional strength and finds his peak physical form. These elements bode well for Butler, but he has multiple elements of balance that require improvement (vertical and lateral). So it could take time before he is ready to be successful at the highest level.
On the jukebox: Van Halen, "Mine All Mine"
allangustafson (San Diego): Paul "the person who plays spore" :) took Cashner or Tananka. Would you? Can Cingriani this year have an ERA under 3.75, WHIP under 1.22, and k rate over 9? Thanks for the great pitching info on the podcast.
Doug Thorburn: Cashner and Tanaka are on different ends of the expectation spectrum, in the sense that Cash is on the upswing of the performance curve while Tanaka battles the over-weighted expectation of hype. I definitely prefer Cash's delivery, and I would go with the known commodity over the question mark, at least for now. That said, I can't wait to see Tanaka's splitter in MLB action.
Cingrani - ERA yes, WHIP and K rate not so sure. His deception could be exposed as batters get more looks at his motion, and the 82% frequency of 90-92 mph fastballs is unlikely to hold up his stat line from 2013. It will be itneresting to see if he makes adjustments to his repertoire and approach.
On the jukebox: Anthrax, "Room for One More"
Jim (San Diego): Which HS hitters are receiving the most buzz?
Doug Thorburn: I have been so entrenched in the SP Guide that my finger is not on the pulse of HS hitters. Admittedly, that's not my forte. Apologies for the non-answer, but I'm willing to bet that the Professor, Nick Faleris, Kendall Rogers, or anyone from the BP Prospect Staff could give you a much better answer.
boatman44 (Liverpool): Whom, among the batch of rookie pitchers mechanically gives you cause for concern,if any.
Doug Thorburn: There is really an impressive group of young pitchers who are almost ready to make an impact, in terms of mechanics and stuff. I give the current batch very impressive grades overall, with the vast majority of the top prospects earning a B- or better. That said, I always pause for the guys with poor grades for balance and posture, such as Butler, Ventura, and James Paxton.
On the jukebox: Average White Band, "Pick Up the Pieces"
Nicta Clacta (Glendale): Hey Doug, Regarding Brandon Beachy, what should I be watching for during Spring Training as an indication to the type of year he will have? Thanks, this will be helpful.
Doug Thorburn: Spring Training is too early to tell how Beachy's season will go, and I expect that he will continue to make refinements during the season. He has some worrisome arm action, from high degree of shoulder abduction to the infamous "Inverted W" - I don't expect these elements to be addressed given their ties to personal signature, and he will likely struggle if tries to calm them. Watch to see if he is exaggerating spine-tilt to get on top of the ball and whether he still carries the big upper-body twist and scapular load prior to firing his bullets.
On the jukebox: Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Higher Ground"
Jonah (Redwood): Very deep 20-team dynasty league: I need MLB-ready pitching. I was offered Felix Hernandez and two bench bats (Likely Ackley and R Weeks) for Archie Bradley, Matt Harvey, and Marcus Stroman. I know you're not Sayre, Sporer, etc. But from the pitching expert side, do Harvey's TJ recovery, Bradley's control, and Stroman's size give you reason to part for the King?
Doug Thorburn: It really depends on your team makeup and whether you have a good shot at 2014 contention or built for the long haul. I am optimistic about Harvey's return from injury, and he can be the King's equal if he comes all the way back. Interestingly, though, they are only about 3 yrs apart in age (Felix is just 27). Bradley and Stroman add considerable upside to the deal, and I would probably hold on to the young arms in a dynasty league - esp one with 20 teams, given that you need to have some extremes in order to prevail. But if you have a very strong team for 2014 that could age its way out of contention, then you may have to pull the trigger.
Alex (Anaheim): Will C.J. Wilson continue to disappoint in 2014?
Doug Thorburn: I have been pessimistic on CJ Wilson for years, so "disappoint" depends on your expectations. He exceeded my expectations last year. His arm action (highly pronated early in the arm path) and C-level mechanics limit the ceiling in my view.
Chris (Phoenix): We alway hear that certain lefty pitchers throw a great curve but the same kind of reverance isn't given out to righty's. Now is that due to camera angle always being over the pitchers right shoulder providing a more open angle to see the action of the curve or is there something to lefty's that throw sick curveball's like Zito in his day?
Doug Thorburn: Is that true? I feel that there are plenty of righty curveballs that deserve praise, but I think that fastball velocity comes into play here. For example, Justin Verlander has an 80 curve yet it is typically overshadowed by his 80-grade heater. Lefties tend to have lesser velocity due to the fact that we are plucking 35-40% of the pitcher pool from a group that makes up 10% of the population, so the thresholds of expectation have to be lowered. For that reason, I think that secondaries often gain more attention from southpaws given the commonly underwhelming velocity.
On the jukebox: Dredg, "Gathering Pebbles"
doog7642 (Blaine, MN): At this point in time, do you see Stephen Strasburg as a different kind of health risk than your average 25 year-old toeing the rubber?
Doug Thorburn: The fact that he throws so hard inherently adds to his injury risk. He also suffers from occasional elbow drag, particularly when fatigued, due to the combination of heavy scapular loading, inverted-W, and delayed trunk rotation. When he delays his rotation too long, the arm lags behind and over-stresses the elbow. Throw in the fact that he already has a TJS on his resume, and that the biggest predictor for injury is previous injury, and I would say that his risk is higher than the avg 25-year-old.
That said, I'm still buying. His stuff is that good, and when his timing is right, his mechanics are elite. What worries me is that his posture took a turn for the worse last season with exaggerated spine-tilt (a precursor to shoulder injury), so here's hoping that he can rectify that element in 2014.
TVR (FL): Matt Moore threw a considerable amount of balls to his glove-side and down. Considering his walk rate and the fact that he stands on the third-base side of the rubber, would you entertain the thought of moving him closer to the middle or first base?
Doug Thorburn: Actually that was a stark improvement from Moore's past, when he really struggled to hit the inner-half against right-handed batters. The 3B positioning is therefore by design, and moving him to the center would throw him off-line to the arm-side. His lack of command stems from inconsistent timing, and though he used to have a magnetic attraction between his fastball and the #1 on the strike zone keypad, last season he had more of a tendency toward over-rotation that saw him miss low and to the glove-side. The key for Moore is finding his ideal release point, and if anything I would adjust his starting angle on the rubber as opposed to his positioning.
Jim (Seattle): How fast does a device need to be to capture pitcher's motion if you can record their bullpen session? MLB.TV and gifs are great, but I feel there are more opportunites to capture pitching motion in current technology. I have an business idea with you...
Doug Thorburn: Certain aspects can be captured with standard video (32 fps), but there are a bunch of mechanical traits that escape detection and are only measurable with advanced technology (ie hi-speed motion capture). Also be careful with over-analyzing bullpen sessions, as there are tons of pitchers who look great in the 'pen but then change considerably when amped up to full speed.
On the jukebox: Soundgarden, "Fell On Black Days"
DanDaMan (SeaCliff): Hey Doug, just wondering what your thoughts are on today's fantasy article on Pitchers To Avoid? And anyone you would add to that list?Thanks
Doug Thorburn: Great stuff from the fantasy staff today in this article: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=22928
I would add anybody on the Brewers, esp Estrada who seems to be getting some helium in drafts. Same with Drew Smyly. I will also be staying away from Liriano, Ubaldo, and both Wood's.
Prich (Seattle): With likely no Walker or Iwakuma through April, which is more likely for the Ms: Sign Santana or trade N. Franklin for a #4 starter?
Doug Thorburn: The M's are in quite the quagmire. They have had an odd off-season, adding a bunch of DH types and making the big splash with Cano while the front office has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, yet the recent injuries expose the fragility of their roster construction. Signing Santana might be prudent (good fit for that park), but I wouldn't over-react and give in to his 4-yr $50 M demands in order to cover for a single month. That would just be compounding their problems.
SpamFuld (Inthebox): We know about pitchers adding a new pitch in spring, but what are your thoughts Jake McGee reintroducing a curveball?
Doug Thorburn: The news is especially significant for McGee given his extreme FB-leaning ways. He threw heaters 94% of the time last year (!), and he needs something else to put in the minds of opposing hitters. Hopefully the curve is trustworthy enough to become a ~10-20% pitch.
On the jukebox: ACDC, "For Those About to Rock "We Salute You)"
Rex Little (Big Bear CA): It's raining here too, but the ski slopes are really hoping it turns to snow.
Please rank the following pitchers in order of expected career value: Archer, Cole, Sonny Gray, Wacha, Shelby Miller, Teheran, Zack Wheeler. I expect that one or more of them will be available for my first round pick in my Strat-O-Matic league rookie draft tomorrow.
Doug Thorburn: Interesting list. Gimme Cole, (gap), Teheran, (gap), Miller, Gray, Wacha, Wheeler (all very close), Archer
Shawnykid23 (CT): When is the new TINSTAAP out?
Doug Thorburn: We actually posted it to iTunes about a week ago, but we both forgot to post it to BP. Ep 18 is up on Unfiltered now, and we will be recording Ep 19 tonight. Thanks for listening!
Shawnykid23 (CT): Who do you think throws the nastiest pitch in the MLB right now, and what is it?
Doug Thorburn: Double dose of Shawny. Big Fern's breaking ball, "El Defector," is the dirtiest thing to come out of a pitcher's hand since the 2006 playoffs, when Kenny Rogers lacquered his palm in pine tar.
guest (chicago): What's a reasonable ETA for Lucas Giolito assuming he has no setbacks?
Doug Thorburn: Prof Parks and crew put 2016 on his ETA, so that's as good a bet as any. But there are so many variables here that really anything can happen, and we just don't have enough information from in-game performance to understand where he is and what he needs to do in order to ascend to the highest level.
Charles (Seattle): I know you aren't a fantasy expert. But other than Jordan Zimmerman, who would you target in every league? Paul makes it clear when he gushes over guys, you don't.
Doug Thorburn: I don''t claim to be a fantasy expert, but I've been playing fantasy for 15 years so I definitely have opinions. Guys I have been targeting based on perceived value and current ADP's:
Fernandez, Price, Verlander, Zimmermann, Gio, J. Shields, Teheran, CC, Samardzija, Kluber, S. Gray, J. Gray, Gausman
On the jukebox: Ennio Morricone, "The Desert"
hdub (the bleachers): I saw a tv analyst compare teherans mechanics to pineda the other day. do you think teheran will suffer a similar fate?
Doug Thorburn: I don't think that their deliveries are all that similar, aside from the leg-swing during the follow-through. Pineda actually had a solid delivery in his Mariner days, but there are a lot of variables in the injury equation, and mechanics are just a small part of that calculus. I woudln't draw any inferences from Pineda in trying to gauge Teheran's future.
andygamer (boston): I keep hearing about pitchers (in minors) whose organizations aren't letting them throw a particular pitch (e.g., Dylan Bundy not being allowed to throw a cutter). I assume the rationale is to force a broader repertoire, but what is your impression of this practice?
Doug Thorburn: It depends on the ball club, but often the reasoning is centered around fastball command. Pitchers can reap huge success in HS, college, and the minors with a dominant breaking pitch, but they will crumble in the majors without fastball command. So teams limit the use of the breakers in the name of development, thus keeping pitchers from falling into bad habits while also being forced to iron out their mechanics in order to command the heat. This is why we have to be careful with minor-league stats for pitchers.
On the jukebox: Rage Against the Machine, "Guerilla Radio"
Dave (Boston): Do you think Alex Cobb can take another step forward in '14?
Doug Thorburn: He can, and is in a good org for pitcher development, but I think that he is currently being a bit overhyped. His odd pattern of leg lift adds a wrinkle of complication to his delivery that could crop up during the season to dent his pitch command. There is a lot of projection built into his expectation, but I see him as a good number 3 - and I mean that as high praise, even if it falls short of current perception.
hdub (the bleachers): taillon vs wheeler for the next two years? im thinking jameson but dont really have a good reason other than its pittsburg.
Doug Thorburn: Wheeler will be in the majors for the next two full seasons, but Taillon won't be up until Pitt thinks he's ready, so on a pure performance basis I think that Wheeler gets the edge due to volume. But in two years I expect Taillon to be the better option.
Greg43 (Oakland): Thoughts on Addison Russell being up to stay by June? What do you think his upside is?
Doug Thorburn: Russell has killer upside with a wide swath of skills. He has the bat tools to hit .285 with 20+ HR and tons of doubles at peak, and the fielding prowess to stick at SS into his late 20's. He would fit in nicely on the Oakland IF, allowing Lowrie to slide over to 2B, but I think that June is a bit optimistic. Russell only played in High-A last season (plus 3 G in Sacramento at end of year), and he could be tested by pitchers with better secondary stuff in the high minors. How he responds will likely determine his time table.
On the jukebox: Cream, "Born Under a Bad Sign"
Rodney (work): The first guy that charges mound to fight Dylan Bundy. That will be entertaining. Thinking Tyson/Spinks.
Doug Thorburn: Brett Lawrie already has it marked on his calendar.
Man ... or Stroman? (Outer Space): Sano tweaked his elbow while throwing and is being examined again. Twins staff are downplaying the issue. Twins fans are sacrificing goats at the Paul Bunyan statue in Bemidji.
Doug Thorburn: Thanks for the update! Twins have no incentive to be aggressive with Sano's time table, so I expect them to be patiently cautious.
Beattie (NYC): I love what you do with pitching, but it there anyone who does something similar, but with hitting mechanics? Or is that difficult without hit f/x data and slow motion video?
Doug Thorburn: **Sorry for the delay, everyone. Power was on the blink - figures that PGE can't handle a little bit of precipitation, our first in months**
There are plenty of coaches out there who do hitting analysis, but translating that to an online format is much more difficult. Not only are the angles insufficient for video scouting, but hitting mechanics are at the mercy of the pitchers they face, from stuff to location. It can take weeks to track a hitter's swing before getting an in-game impression, which is why there is such an emphasis on batting practice and how that swing translates from the cage to the field. Pitching is much easier, given that pitchers are solely responsible for their own deliveries and we have camera angles that allow for some decent assessments.
Man ... or Stroman? (Outer Space): Who comes closest to having "textbook" mechanics in MLB today?
Doug Thorburn: Big Fern!
Jose Fernandez is the future of pitching.
On the jukebox: Black Sabbath, "Electric Funeral"
(seriously, my jukebox is sentient)
TGisriel (Baltimore): Press reports indicated that the Orioles spent one of the early days at spring training for a bio-mechanical analysis of their pitchers.
What is that?
Is it helpful/useful?
Are other clubs doing it?
Doug Thorburn: Biomechanical analysis involves hi-speed capture of a pitcher's delivery, using a system of 8-12 cameras that capture up to 1000 frames per second. They can also make biomechanical measurements for all of the elements that are on the report cards (and many, many more). This is actually what I did at the National Pitching Association in San Diego, running the motion capture system for biomechanical assessment of our pitchers. The O's have Rick Peterson on staff, and he has been a proponent of motion analysis for a decade. Most clubs will send their pitchers to the Andrews Institute of ASMI for a motion analysis, but only a handful of teams have their own systems in-house.
Shawnykid23 (CT): Piggybacking off of AJ's question above, would rather have the pitcher with peaks and valleys (does some things great and other poorly) or the pitcher closer to the average, with some aspects slightly above/below average?
Doug Thorburn: It really depends on the shape of those peaks and valleys. The power grades (torque, momentum) tend to to be more ingrained than the stability grades (balance, posture). Torque and momentum can certainly be taught, but they are seldom addressed outside of a very narrow range of adjustment. Balance tends to improve naturally over time, same with posture, but some pitchers have a blatant manipulation that does not improve with functional strength - for example a severe drop-n-drive or intentional spine-tilt in the attempt to achieve a high arm slot.
With that in mind, the best projections are for pitchers who have great power grades and need to improve stability, but who don't have any manipulation in the system.
Shawn (CT): Do you think there is an ideal height/weight for pitchers? It seems pitchers too small get unfairly pigeon-holed as relievers, and pitchers too tall have a hard time controlling their delivery.
Doug Thorburn: Agree with the unfair pigeon-holing of shorter pitchers, but taller pitchers do have the natural advantage of deeper (and higher) release points. Those tall guys also need strength in order to keep their long limbs in line. I'm not really tied to an ideal height/weight, per se, but in a vacuum I do prefer a taller pitcher who has the size to sustain his delivery.
On the jukebox: Tool, "Undertow"
Gotribe31 (DC): Do you agree that a curveball either is or isn't in a pitchers wrist? Can it be taught to older pitchers? Alternately, how easy/necessary is it to add a cutter to a guy who already has a slider in his arsenal?
Doug Thorburn: I don't agree with this at all, and in fact a pitcher who is using his wrist to spin the curve is doing it all wrong. Proper curves (aka biomechanically correct) rely on supination rather than the vicious wrist-snap that is popular among little league coaches. Functionally, the twister curve also leaves the hand at a higher trajectory (more loopy, less "tight" from earlier) and is easier for advanced hitters to identify out of hand. Only pitchers with exceptional spin on the twister survive on a performance level, and they are at the greatest risk for injury.
I believe that anybody can be taught a curve, but some pitchers struggle to get a feel for it. The cutter/slider distinction (as well as the curve) boils down to semantics and the reality of their pitch mix. It's all just clicks of supination, despite the interpretations of those who are observing the action on the pitch. One man's cutter is another's slider, and one's slider is another's curve. The distinction only really matters to me when they throw multiple breakers, and a cutter + slider can be useful if they have enough difference in velocity and trajectory.
Howard (Freeport, ME): RE: salary cap in baseball. Baseball analytics like to scoff at the thought of a cap. But the facts are, the team that wins the World Series almost always comes from a team with a top ten payroll. You simply can't deny the advantage MLB allows the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers to have. It doesn't guarantee a title, but it certainly makes October baseball easier to get to.
Doug Thorburn: Agree with the general sentiment here, but the fix is not as simple as a cap, and the reality is that some clubs/markets have more access to revenues (which isn't going to change). There is not much of a way to address that aspect, aside from wider revenue sharing across the league, and the anti-trust exemption that MLB enjoys is not about to go away. I am not denying the financial advantages of big market teams, but given the way that disparate clubs operate, a cap would have to be lowered to about $60 million to have the desired effect. The Player's Association will never agree to that (nor should they).
nubber (tx): Are there any pitchers that come to mind who may not have great stuff but have excellent mechanics? Any you think could be in for a breakout season?
Doug Thorburn: Phil Hughes, James Shields, and Ian Kennedy come to mind. They all have legit stuff, but mechanics allow their stuff to play up a notch. I might focus on mechanics in my analysis, but at the end of the day raw stuff triumphs over mechanics. Mechanics determine how well that stuff plays.
Repperson29 (-4 below): Who ends up being the better major league pitcher, kingham or Glasnow?
Doug Thorburn: I really like Glasnow, who has exceptional extension with a deep release point that will allow his stuff to play up further. He needs to work on the balance & posture elements, so he could take awhile to climb the minor-league ladder, but I have high hopes for his eventual ascension.
On the jukebox: Helmet, "Unsung"
justarobert (Santa Clara): How do you go about understanding why and how certain pitchers with bad mechanics succeed, and certain pitchers with good mechanics fail?
Doug Thorburn: Some pitchers can overcome mechanical barriers to find success, but it requires a mastery of their inefficient mechanics. For example, Cliff Lee has very poor balance that should be a barrier to repetition, yet he repeats his limbo-leaning delivery with exceptional consistency. Clayton Kershaw has a triple gear-change in his momentum that used to hamper his command, but he has since mastered it. These guys are the exception, as most pitchers crumble with such barriers to repetition.
Pitchers with great mechanics who fail - that usually comes down to lack of stuff or an inability to repeat the timing of their motion. The timing element is the most crucial and the most volatile, and most pitchers' good and bad days boil down to timing. They can have awesome baseline grades, but can't hone the rotational elements that must be coordinated within hundredths of a second. This is actually reasonably common, because pitching full-speed with utmost consistency is really difficult. Hence why most pitchers miss the majority of their targets.
On the jukebox: Incubus, "Pardon Me"
Rammstein (Germany): Soothe my concerns over Shelby Miller's regression at the end of last year. I wanna love him, but it's been a rollercoaster with him.
Doug Thorburn: I chalk it up to his tiring down the stretch, despite his comments that he was physically fine at the end of the year. He does need to refine his change-up in order to have another option against left-handed bats, but I expect continued progression from Miller.
Awesome name, by the way, been awhile since I listened to Rammstein.
Matt (MA): Probably a dumb question, but why don't we see pitches like the screwball,palm ball, or eephus? I've always though guys that struggle with the changeup should try a palm ball.
And wouldn't it be awesome if a guy like Verlander blew a 100mph fastball by you and threw a 50mph eephus...It probably generate a ton of weak contact too.
Doug Thorburn: The screwball is very hard to get a feel - it's essentially an exaggerated change with excess pronation. The palm ball is not only tough to command but batters can often see it coming out of hand, so it requires tremendous action to be effective. My opinion is that guys who lack a change should work on a splitter.
On the jukebox: Sepultura, "Desperate Cry"
Matt (MA): Isn't there a problem when it comes to teams like the Rays or As in which your team is too consistently good to get high draft picks, but their small market makes keep quality players impossible. There systems are relatively barren now.
Doug Thorburn: It's a good problem to have, because their teams are consistently good due to their skills with player development. I guess that they could just tank and get some higher draft picks, but there is still plenty of uncertainty at the top of the draft, and you have to endure a few years of development to see if they will become anything. The name of the game is winning at the big-league level, and the Rays and A's have been very good at that despite their not having high-end picks in recent years, all while figuring out how to succeed despite their financial constraints. That's the reality of the game, and I applaud the forced evolution that we see with these smaller market clubs. The Rays have shown how to keep homegrown talent with early extensions, and though they may not be able to keep the Price's, the escalated attrition rate of over-30 players in the post-steroid world provides merit for that approach. All in all it adds intrigue and opportunities to analyze the game on different levels. Frankly, I think that the game would get complacent if every club had the same opportunities to acquire and develop talent.
Rags (Brooklyn): How much of pitching is genetics vs hard work and good training?
If the top pitching coaches from around the league coached a bunch of determined but otherwise very average joes, how many of them would make the majors?
Doug Thorburn: Genetics certainly matter, but to be elite requires tons of hard work and appropriate training. The best pitchers of all time were obsessive about improvement through hard work and proper training, from Nolan Ryan to Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson.
The second question is impossible to answer without context.
Tony (The Tundra): Does Ian Kennedy have a chance to resurrect his career and become a viable SP again in San Diego? Thanks
Doug Thorburn: Absolutely. is baseline mechanics are awesome, and though his stuff may not be elite, he has proven successful when his delivery is honed timing-wise.
Bonus points for his new location, not just for the friendly home park, but now he is a 15-minute drive from his old pitching coach, Mr. Tom House.
TGisriel (Baltimore): I keep hearing that there is risk in Ubaldo Jimenez arising from inconsistent mechanics. Do you agree? Did his mechanics improve at the end of last season when he was very effective?
Doug Thorburn: Ubaldo has terribly inconsistent mechanics, both in terms of timing and positioning. His saloon-door stride lands in a very different spot on nearly every pitch, and sometimes he is setup to throw at the on-deck circle behind the left-hand batter's box. His posture wavers from bad to horrific, and his rotational timing is all over the map. He ironed out the last bit for a portion of last season, which helped to rediscover some of his lost velocity and created some more repetition for his release point, but keep in mind that his crazy-good streak boiled down to 6 weeks of pitching versus weak opponents. I am very bearish on his future.
On the jukebox: Misfits, "Come Back"
Silverback38 (VA): Looking at young prep and college prospects, how much can their mechanics change when experts state they have awful mechanics? Does this mean they will not develop into star players?
Doug Thorburn: A ton of things can change, depending on the coachability of the player. Kevin Gausman has made huge changes from high school to college and now the pros, which speaks well to his ability to make adjustments. I was not the biggest fan of Big Fern's delivery in high school, but now it's one of the best in the game. But some players can never make the right adjustments, either because they lack the plasticity of muscle memory, they don't have proper coaching, they don't understand the instruction, they lack functional strength and/or flexibility, or they are just plain stubborn.
AJ (Phoenix): Would it be physically possible to have pure-perfect mechanics (80s across the board)?
Doug Thorburn: Sure it's possible.
Peak Randy Johnson says "hi."
On the jukebox: Aerosmith, "Ragdoll"
Gotribe31 (DC): First off, thanks for sharing your pitching knowledge with us; there really isn't anyone out there in the writing world that's comparable, and we're all better for it.
Second, thoughts on Ubaldo's move to Baltimore? How much of his 2013 was sustainable?
Doug Thorburn: Thanks so much for the kind words, and I am happy to provide what I hope is a different angle from which to view the game.
See above for my thoughts on Ubaldo. To summarize: not sustainable
Jim (Seattle): Would you care to elaborate on timing and consistency component of Josh Johnson 's mechanic report card in SP guide? Many analysts sees him as great rebound candidate due to moving to NL and Petco. But I am seriously worrying about his command and elbow, and wonder if those are mechanical related? Do you see him bounce back like Ubaldo, who was hit hard in 2012 and earned "Saloon door" on his mechanical issue?
Doug Thorburn: The key for Johnson is ironing out the transition from max leg lift to the stride phase of his delivery. He has a strong first move toward the plate, but then he slows down with an inconsistent pace that messes with his timing of rotation. There is reason to be worried about the elbow - it has been more than 6 years since his first Tommy John, and he had off-season surgery to remove bone chips. The timing issues potentially compound the injury concerns. There is not much comparison b/w Johnson and Ubaldo - Johnson doesn't have the saloon-door stride (not that has injury implications, more of a consistency issue), and I have more faith in Johnson's ability to rediscover his timing, that is if he remains healthy.
NightmareRec0n (Boston): Do you think Sabathia's weight loss could aid his posture and extension? Wouldn't less weight around the mid section result in less of an arched posture?
Doug Thorburn: Great question and I appreciate the details of your analysis. Weight loss does not necessarily mean that his functional strength has improved, and CC has always been quite flexible despite the girth. His posture has been above average for the past couple of years, so that is not a big concern for me personally.
Trevor (Cleveland): I've heard various things, good and bad, about Danny Salazar's delivery, I'd welcome your take. Thanks Doug!
Doug Thorburn: Dig his combination of power and stability, though he loses stability a bit during the highest-energy phases of rotation. Timing consistency is the big question, and whether he can continue to repeat the delivery. He utilizes both generous upper-body load and good delay of trunk rotation to create torque, and his ability to coordinate those aspects will be a large determinant of his success this season.
On the jukebox: Thrice, "We Thought We Were Brave"
nubber (tx): Do you think Kershaw's funky mechanics could be a problem the older he gets or is it easily repeatable and likely not an issue longterm?
Doug Thorburn: I think that he has overcome the issues inherent in his goofy timing pattern, and it should be a smooth ride from here on out. Kershaw has also shown an ability to improve his funtional stability - balance and posture - throughout his career, which bodes very well for his long-term projection, allowing him to buffer against the potential downgrade of his stuff over time.
Cris E (St Paul, MN): Did you read The Injury Zone Revisited last week regarding predicting pitching injuries via short term PitchFx changes? Any thoughts on stat- or numbers-based telltales like this? They wouldn't replace coaches watching, but can you picture something like this as a viable data point?
Doug Thorburn: I have not read that yet, but will be sure to check out. PITCHf/x has the ability to detect certain alterations, particularly with respect to release point positioning, but caution must be practiced given that the current systems do not pick up the baseball exactly at release point, instead requiring a mathematical extrapolation to estimate it.
The numbers can certainly be useful, but they are easily misconstrued without the benefit of context and visual evidence. As with any quality analysis, it is critical to consider all of the potential variables - even if it greatly complicates the task. Embracing that complexity is the crux of viable analysis, and too often people are quick to make sweeping conclusions based on very flawed data. When you sweep elements under the rug - particularly those that are not well understood - you end up with false conclusions such as "outlier BABIP = luck"
Doug Thorburn: Thanks to everyone for the tremendous truckload of questions today. I'll be swinging by the chat room again in the near future, but in the meantime check out the 2014 SP Guide, available at paulsporer.com