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Chat: Doug Thorburn

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday August 10, 2012 2:00 PM ET chat session with Doug Thorburn.

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Mechanics expert Doug Thorburn stops by to take your questions about pitching.

Doug Thorburn: Cup o' tea is in hand, let's talk baseball.

DanDaMan (MV): Growing up I wasn't allowed to throw curveballs as my arm was still growing. What are your thoughts on when a kid can start throwing curves? Thanks.

Doug Thorburn: Functional strength is a key determinant of when to start throwing curves, as a properly-thrown curveball requires the greatest amount of supination and pronation. A player with good conditioning can begin throwing curves around 12-14, assuming that they are utilizing supination to throw the pitch. The most important thing is to avoid the snap or twist of the wrist that some coaches teach, as that strategy is absolutely devastating to a young arm.

Ashitaka1110 (Houston, TX): George Springer was just promoted to AA. Against better competition, do you think he'll be able to cut down on his strikeouts to continue hitting well? What's his ceiling if he can't?

Doug Thorburn: The biggest variable for a young hitter is pitch recognition, especially as he climbs the minor league ladder and faces more advanced secondary stuff. A batter with patience is not the same as one with pitch recognition, as a player like Springer or Brett Jackson can run up tons of walks and K's by virtue of deep counts, which can be deceiving when looking at the statistical profile. Springer could be a fantastic all-around ballplayer if he makes the necessary adjustments.

Jacob (Illinois): Doug, I've read from Dick Mills that long-toss ruins pitchers arms and causes injury. Do you buy into that? He states that is why the Rangers have so many injuries in their staff.

Doug Thorburn: With all due respect to Dick Mills, I am wary of such claims in light of the variables involved in injury prediction. There are also a variety of long-toss programs, and any pitcher who fails to support such a program with proper mechanics and conditioning will be at an increased risk when throwing long-toss. A pitcher also needs to retain sound mechanics during the long-toss exercise, as some players will sell out to throw the ball a further distance, or raise the shoulder axis like a cannon shooting at a distant target.

Regarding the Rangers, they are way ahead of many other teams when it comes to the art and science of pitching despite the old-school perception of Nolan Ryan. He was one of the first to be involved with hi-speed motion analysis, and his coaching staff is on top of all the latest research.

On the jukebox: Guns N' Roses, "You Could Be Mine"

Brian Oakchunas (Alameda, CA): Being that his stuff isn't overpowering, have you seen Dan Straily pitch and do you think his stuff will carry over from the minors to the majors well?

Doug Thorburn: Straily has a very simple and efficient delivery that is easy to repeat, a skill set that will play huge dividends at any level. That said, some command pitchers who are light on stuff end up getting battered in the majors, a lesson that the Angels tried to teach the young lad on Wednesday. Straily has some solid stuff, but I am worried by the lack of velocity spread between his slider and change, as MLB hitters could capitalize if he only has two velo options.

William (Pensacola, FL): Simple question: What is the ideal age for someone to begin a long toss program ?

Doug Thorburn: There are several variables at play (as mentioned above), and the age range is determined by many of the same factors that were brought up in the curveball question. The proper distance for long-toss is determined by the functional strength of the player as well as his mechanical profile, especially when doing the exercise. Long-toss has its detractors, and there are other options available for building arm strength.

jr (mass): hi doug thanks forvthe chat. im trying to help my 9 yr old nephew he is pretty good pitcher. he throws 2 seam 4 seam knuckle(shocked!) & slider. he is more focused on trying to develop circle changevand trying to tell him worry bout mechanics rather than doing other pitchers right now..any advice thanks

Doug Thorburn: My biggest advice is to do exactly as you said, to focus on mechanics and not pitch types. I would greatly discourage against the slider at this age, even if he is using the proper methods and is functionally strong for his age. And the circle change is one of the toughest pitches for professionals to master, so I would try to temper his enthusiasm with that one as well. He can toy with pitches in practice from time to time, at low intensity from flat ground, but I would axe the repertoire until he matures.

Pitching mechanics are priority #1 at his age. Many youngsters try too hard to look like the pitchers that they see on tv, with huge leg kicks and flailing arm movements, and the net result is that they can throw harder with more accuracy when taking groundballs than when on the mound. The worst thing that can happen is for a very young player to be really good, resulting in overuse and frequent pitching while fatigued. I would prefer that the player slips under the radar a bit until he reaches a higher level.

On the jukebox: Thrice, "Image of the Invisible"

Kingpin (Grinnell, IA): My 11- and 9-year-old sons joined the local youth swimming program last winter. Swimming would seem to be an excellent way for pitchers to build shoulder/arm strength to avoid injury. Is there any validity to this idea?

Doug Thorburn: You are dead-on. Swimming is an excellent exercise, and pitchers in particular can benefit greatly from the work that it does for back-side shoulder muscles like the infraspinatus and teres minor. Pitchers with great balance of functional strength will be able to get more out of their mechanics, and they can more safely utilize advanced methods (such as scapular loading) that can be otherwise dangerous to ill-prepared arms. Surfing is another benefit, as paddling out will build the shoulder muscles that a pitcher needs to throw a baseball. We had a saying at the National Pitching Association in San Diego: "We never had a bad-armed surfer."

On the jukebox: A Perfect Circle, "Three Libras"

William (Pensacola, FL): Prospect with the most risk based on mechanics,Daniel Corcino or Tony Cingrani?

Doug Thorburn: I wish I could give you a 2-paragraph diatribe on each of these guys, but unfortunately I have not yet had the pleasure of watching them pitch. With prospect mechanics, it is crucial to be open-minded about the past, present, and future - they can show widely disparate mechanical profiles month-to-month and even start-to-start, and they are often focusing on one element at a time during development. You often hear about a pitcher scrapping a particular pitch in order to work on his other offerings, and it can be a similar story with mechanics, where a pitcher is toying with (for example) his momentum during a game and trying to find the same timing pattern on all of his pitches.

Jacob (Illinois): Thanks. Another question: What drills do you recommend for young (high school) pitchers to do before they start throwing bullpen sessions in the offseason? Also, any drills that you recommend for improving accuracy with all pitch types?

Doug Thorburn: A full dynamic warm-up is critical, including aerobic exercises as well as flat-ground throwing. The towel drill is an excellent jack-of-all-trades, allowing a pitcher to focus on specific elements of his delivery with tons of repetition while inducing a much lighter kinetic load. Pitch accuracy comes from proper timing and sequencing in addition to functional strength, and we had a great drill at the NPA called "the mirror drill" that broke down the various phases in the kinetic chain, allowing the player to isolate those elements and "feel" the proper sequencing. I also recommend isometric exercises to build functional strength.

On the jukebox: The Clash, "Tommy Gun"

Doug Thorburn: Thanks for the chats, everyone. From one baseball junkie to another, here's to the dog days and an amazing stretch drive.


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