Pitching mechanics guru Doug Thorburn drops by to discuss the art of throwing baseballs.
Doug Thorburn: Everyone grab a seat next to the hot stove, and let's talk some baseball. Trades, Free Agents, even pitchers - everything is on the table.
Alex (Anaheim): Would Koufax have enjoyed a longer career in today's game?
Doug Thorburn: That is a great question, and one that offers up the opportunity for plenty of speculation, but it's highly dependent on a number of unknowns. His unique delivery had plenty of good elements (momentum, stride) and a few dangerous ones (spine tilt, balance), and whether he could have had the same success or similar workloads is highly dependent on the organization that drafted him. One would think that a stricter limit on his workload would have saved him a few years, though - he pitched 658 innings in his final two seasons alone.
On the jukebox: Lagwagon, "Know it all"
Hoot Stromboli (American Canadian): There were grave concerns over Felix Hernandez's pitching mechanics during his first couple of years with the Mariners. Those understandably stopped as King Felix became a reliable 230-250 inning/year guy. Yet, he seemed to wear out in the 2nd half of 2012. How concerned are we now?
Doug Thorburn: Felix has made a number of adjustments to his delivery since his MLB debut, and his efficiency has been steadily improving along with his functional strength. He added the twist in max leg lift a couple of years ago, and he swears by it, though he has had some issues with consistently lining up his delivery out of the twist. The strategy has helped his timing, but this past season he did have some problems with inconsistent positioning that caused him to tinker with his starting position on the mound. I wouldn't be too concerned about his future, beyond the usual caveats behind a high-energy delivery with an extensive IP history.
On the jukebox: Bad Religion, "Stranger than Fiction"
jlarsen (chicago): Looking through the FA class of RP and SP, who are this year's Fernando Rodney, Hiroki Kuroda and Wei-Yun Chen?
Doug Thorburn: Projecting relievers is a fool's errand, given the sample sizes involved and the variation in reliever usage from year to year. But I'm a fool, so allow me to take a stab at it. A few names that stand out as potential bargains are Jason Grilli, Joel Peralta, and Octavio Dotel - Dotel might be the Julio Franco of this generations relief pitchers.
On the jukebox: Guns N' Roses, "My Michelle"
Paul (DC): Danny Hultzen, what the hell happened to his control? And are his mechanics fixable moving forward?
Doug Thorburn: Hultzen has an extremely closed stride, and the more he exaggerates the angle the tougher it is to hit the inside edge against right-hand batters. His timing and positioning went off the reservation in the 2nd half of 2012, and his ability to correct things will depend on his off-season regimen as well as the coaching that he receives this spring. It is certainly fixable, but it will take the right instruction and a buy-in from Hultzen. I will be watching him closely next spring, as I'm as curious as you are which pitcher will show up.
On the jukebox: Cream, "Sunshine of Your Love"
Ashitaka1110 (Houston, TX): Watching Jarred Cosart pitch two inning in the AFL Rising Stars game was...troubling. How worried should Astros fans be about his mechanics? If you were the Astros' pitching coach, what would you try to tweak or full-out overhaul with him?
Doug Thorburn: Cosart has the type of delivery that can offend the eyes, given his long levers and high elbows, and proponents of the Inverted W would probably say that he is doomed. I'm a bit more optimistic, as he has several underlying traits that are big positives, including his balance indicators and the torque to produce heat that sits well into the 90's. But his inconsistent timing is a red flag, and one that could compound the risk of his hyperabduction and scapular load. If he lacks the functional strength to support the delivery, and poor timing results in frequent elbow drag, then his body could betray him. Back-side muscular work will be key to his survival, especially the shoulders.
On the jukebox: The Clash, "Tommy Gun"
Steve G. (Athens, OH): I know teams like to draft highly projectable high school kids in the draft because they think they can improve greatly. But how much do teams believe a pitcher can improve when they draft a player out of college?
Doug Thorburn: Individual context is crucial here, and improvement depends on several baseline levels, including mechanics, conditioning, approach, repertoire, etc. Some pitchers are a change-up away from making huge leaps in performance, but the ability to harness the pitch is one of the great challenges in development. In this sense, high school kids typically have more projection due to repertoire, as they often throw smoke with a big bender that dominate 17-year old batters, but adding an off-speed pitch can be the difference between a future starter and a reliever. I have found that the style of breaking ball can also play a role, as guys who twist the wrist will have loopy breakers that advanced batters can identify right out of the hand, as opposed to supinated breaking pitches that leave the hand at a fastball trajectory.
On the jukebox: Pantera, "The Sleep"
jlarsen (chicago): Matt Moore was quite the enigma last year. Like in year's past, he started out quite shaky but turned it up as the weather started heating up. He's a power lefty who, for some unforeseen reason, has a problem getting lefties out. He also seemed to nibble with secondary pitches, rather than gassing hitters(which he did well, when he actually did). With his services locked up, the Rays don't have to worry about losing him, but trade speculation surrounds Shields/Price/Hellickson. What does he need to do or work on, so he can step up his game in case the team finally deals a pitcher for hitting?
Doug Thorburn: Moore is intriguing due to his interesting pattern of hitting targets - he throws a ton fastballs up and to the arm-side - if the strike zone were cut into a 3x3 matrix with numbers like a telephone keypad, a bunch of his fastballs would land in the "1" zone. The strategy is based on his mechanical positioning, and works well against RHB's because he keeps the ball away, and his heavy velocity made it difficult for minor-league lefties to square up the pitch when thrown inside. Moore is finding out the hard way that MLB batters can hit raw velocity, and his ability to get out lefties could hinge on his hitting more targets on the glove-side of the zone (sectors 3, 6, and 9).
On the jukebox: Helmet, "Better"
Jim (Milwaukee): Looking back at Tyler Skaggs' 2012 season. He seemed to struggle getting the third out of an inning. Is this a skill that a younger pitcher can learn or is it something that you either can do or not? Thanks in advance for the response.
Doug Thorburn: Skaggs struggles with repetition in any count, given the inconsistencies with his stride and the extreme angles he uses for deception, but getting third out certainly should not be an issue in and of itself, unless he has some psychological block when he gets to two outs. I expect him to struggle for awhile against advanced hitters (who will sit on their pitch), which will force him to gain consistency and command.
On the jukebox: Nirvana, "Drain You"
Paul (DC): Which great pitcher from the 50s, 60s, or 70s would be most changed by today's dogma on teaching pitching mechanics?
Doug Thorburn: Awesome question. It depends on the organization, as well as the player. For a guy like Bob Gibson, many teams would be hesitant because of his "violence," but they might be afraid to tinker with his delivery until he suffered failure. Nolan Ryan is a fun answer, because he both pitched during the aforementioned era and also adjusted his mechanics as he matured. So based on his improvements and sustained longevity, my guess is that he would have been way more efficient if he had been exposed to mechanical teachings earlier in his career. The guys led all of baseball in walks AND strikeouts SIX different times in the 1970's - ridiculous.
On the jukebox: Corrosion of Conformity, "Clean My Wounds"
aschauer (Los Angeles): It seems like catchers are really volatile in their year-to-year production. '10-'11 Mauer, '11-'12 Napoli, ???-'12 Ruiz... is there anything to this or am I just off prancing around in Confirmation Biasland?
Doug Thorburn: The fact that hitting is so far down the list of catcher responsibilities, combined with the beating that their bodies take behind the plate, opens up the range of potential outcomes. Combine this with the tough guy mentality to play through injuries, and I think that catchers are often playing at 80% capacity out of necessity, but they would never tell you that they were anything less than 100%. Think Jake Taylor's knees.
On the jukebox: Misfits, "Hybrid Moments"
jlarsen (chicago): Rays have a habit of picking up a RP off the scrap heap and signing them for cheap, then making slight tweaks to their mechanics or mound positioning thus ending up with a "surprise" relief stud on a yearly basis. Are Hickey and the rest of the Rays pitching coaches/instructors really that good at what they do or have those pitchers just been pitching wrong for all that time or post-surgeries that a minor tweak or change easily fixes them?
Doug Thorburn: As with many things, the Rays are ahead of the game with respect to pitching mechanics and the ripple effect on pitcher effectiveness. The plethora of talented arms to rise through the system speaks to their acumen with pitching development, which allows them to identify players that they might be able to "fix" with minimal adjustment.
On the jukebox: Dredg, "Somebody is Laughing"
RMR (Chicago): What is your take on Aroldis Chapman's conversion to starting in terms of health and effectiveness?
Doug Thorburn: I think that the adjustment began during the 2012 season, as Aroldis learned to trim back the aggression a tick in favor of better command. He wasn't hitting 105-mph with regularity, but he actually knew where the pitches were going, and his ability to trust his FB at 98-mph while mixing in the slider will be crucial to his success as a starter. He needs stamina and command, and his performance of 2012 was a good indicator for his development into a pitcher who can eat innings and potentially start a playoff game, a scary proposition for the National League.
On the jukebox: Thrice, "Cold Cash and Colder Hearts"
Paul (DC): What pitches did Ryan Vogelsong learn or improve upon during his 3 years in Japan that made him return to MLB as an above average starter?
Doug Thorburn: Vogey was hit hard in Japan, and I don't know that he made any specific adjustments on the other side of the Pacific that turned him into a sudden All Star. Dave Righetti played a big role in getting Vogelsong back on a big league mound, and his intriguing mix of pitches that run in the 89-91 mph range are key to his success by changing batter eye levels.
On the jukebox: Primus, "John the Fisherman"
Paul (Omaha): How do you feel about Dan Duquette's comments earlier this year about the cutter? He said "First of all, the cut fastball, we don't like it as a pitch, OK? And we don't like it for young pitchers because it takes away from the development of their curveball, which is a better pitch long-term and also, the velocity of their fastball. So we encourage development of an overhand breaking ball that has depth along with command of their fastball and, of course, velocity and movement will get the hitter out."
Doug Thorburn: If we're talking about an organizational mandate against the cutter, then I have reservations, but as a developmental rule I agree that young pitchers are better off with a more traditional fastball-breaking ball-off speed combination. The cutter is just a hybrid between a fastball and a slider, and it is a great option for pitchers whose 4-seamer comes in too straight. But for most pitchers I would want them to develop the traditional mix in order to maximize the options with effective velocity, and then add a cutter if they struggle to get advanced hitters out with the fastball.
On the jukebox: Iron Maiden, "The Prisoner"
dipotonotdipoto (brooklyn): What are your thoughts on David Price's mechanics? Specifically at the start, where he turns his feet toward first, stops, then goes on with his delivery. Does that complicate the process?
Doug Thorburn: In general, the strategy might complicate things, but the worry with complication is that a pitcher will struggle to repeat his motion, and Price seems to rely on the strategy to initiate his natural rhythm. So while I wouldn't tell a pitcher to blatantly invoke any pause to his motion, I also wouldn't interfere with a pitcher who was able to find a consistent timing pattern, so long as they could repeat that pattern from the stretch. I like Price's mechanics overall - great momentum, good balance, finds a consistent release point, and he brings it from a tough trajectory to pick up.
On the jukebox: The Offspring, "It'll Be a Long Time"
Jerry (Anaheim): There was an idea that C.J. Wilson was a "young" 31-year-old starter when he hit the market because most of his career had been spent as a reliever. Was that idea too simplistic and, whatever your answer, does it tell us anything for Wilson going forward?
Doug Thorburn: I thought that the Angels overpaid for a guy who had a ton of question marks, and throwing fewer innings in the 'pen did not necessarily excuse him from workload concerns. Wilson relies on angles and deception, and generally has issues with hitting his spots, and combined with the durability concerns I felt that 5 years and $78 million was too much of a commitment for a 30-year old with two good seasons of starting under his belt. But the Angels can apparently afford to make such mistakes (insert Vernon Wells joke here).
On the jukebox: Korn, "Divine"
Lil' Sebastian (The Barn): Which pitcher is more likely to get back on track: Tommy Hanson or Jair Jurrjens?
Doug Thorburn: Hanson has the more promising baseline, but I fear that there is some underlying structural damage that will create an uphill battle (he has lost 3 mph from his FB in two years). I was on board with the mechanical changes that he was going to make out of spring training, but he seemed to scrap the idea early in the season and reverted back to his old delivery. I prefer Hanson in a vacuum, but Jurrjens' approach is less dependent on the heat, and his injuries are lower-body in nature, so I would give him the better odds of regaining his previous level of effectiveness (with the caveat that he was never as good as his 2011 ERA suggested).
On the jukebox: Testament, "Electric Crown"
TheRoyalFlourish (Capetown): How much of where Matt Moore is hitting targets is due to his position on the rubber - extreme third base side? Does that hurt his ability to dial up the 3-6-9 to lefties?
Doug Thorburn: Actually, his position on the rubber is likely helping him to hit the 3-6-9, as many lefties will start on the extreme first-base side in order to create angle, but he requires a 3B-side starting position in order to line up his delivery. His best chance at hitting those outside targets to lefties might come from adjusting his starting angle on the rubber, altering his position to open up the hips a bit, but part of the issue has to do with arm slot. Moore's high-3/4 slot will lead to a tendency to hit targets on a line that extends from up-in to LHB's to down-away.
On the jukebox: Metallica, "Fade to Black"
captnamerca (FL): What is your jukebox, Doug? An iPod shuffle? Pandora? An actual jukebox that you have to get the bartender to break a $20 into a ten, a five and five ones?
Doug Thorburn: I use Winamp, just like in college when Napster and mp3's were all the rage. You may have noticed that most of my music collection is 10+ years old - I tend to find something that I like and stick with it, and I can be slow to come around to new stuff. I let my two huskies take turns as DJ, and they work for treats.
On the jukebox: The Yardbirds, "White Summer (live)"
nickkappel (Iowa): Talk about Chris Sale's mechanics. Any long-term concerns?
Doug Thorburn: Sale has frightening mechanics, due to a potentially lethal combination of extreme hyperabduction of the shoulders, extreme scapular load, and the tendency to drag the elbow as he gets into maximum external rotation of the throwing arm. Perhaps he has the functional strength to withstand the risk factors, and I can't speak to his conditioning work, but his mechanical profile is full of injury red flags. The lack of balance is also a concern, again relating to his ability to repeat the delivery, but thus far he has overcome all of the barriers to find a consistent release point, which does speak well to his underlying strength indicators. He might be ok in the short term, but I would downgrade his status in a fantasy keeper league due to the risks inherent in his motion.
On the jukebox: AFI, "The Leaving Song, Part 2"
Kristof (Seahaven): How hard do you figure you could throw now? How about before you started studying pitcher mechanics and such?
Doug Thorburn: I blew out my shoulder in high school, but I was never on anyone's draft board, as a groundball-inducing lefty who relied on a splitter and an over-the-top delivery to be effective. The injury was a torn rotator cuff that was misdiagnosed at the time, and though I have learned to throw pain-free (thank you Tom House), I would probably be lucky to crack 70-mph. But I do have decent accuracy (after a dozen or so warmup throws), as well as some natural cut to everything that I throw, elements that I can attribute to what I have learned about pitching mechanics (as well as personal signature).
On the jukebox: Van Halen, "AFU (naturally wired)"
Kingpin (Grinnell, IA): What available players make sense to help fill the Cardinals' middle infield need?
Doug Thorburn: It is a shallow free agent class up the middle, but I could see the Cards signing someone like Jeff Keppinger for his bat at 2B, or if they are leaning on a glove, then perhaps they will give Jason Bartlett a shot (though that would compound the injury concerns with him + Furcal). Given the lack of options they could decide to pursue a trade, or Skip Schumaker might be in line for a lot of AB's in 2013.
On the jukebox: Rancid, "Salvation"
Doug Thorburn: The husky DJ's are going on strike until they get a walk, so I am going to appease the labor union and make my exit.
Thanks to everyone for all of the great questions, and feel free to drop me a line on Twitter @doug_thorburn