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With all due respect, couldn't one use the exact same logic as your point 1) for the purpose of doubting the applications of TTOP theory? Just replace a few words here or there with "pitch/pitcher" --> "we really have no idea how (pitchers) of various talent levels fare as a function of the size of the (pitcher), and the speed, location, trajectory, and spin of the (pitched) ball."
I get the general implication of TTOP, and it seems to me that it tells us more about batter's behavior than it does pitcher's, but the biggest issue IMO is taking the lessons of the aggregate and applying it as a blanket for individuals. Not every pitcher takes the same approach each time through the order - some follow convention, with majority fastballs the first time through and mixing in secondaries on the second trip - and some do not. Some gain velocity as the pitch count rises, while others distinctly lose it (and some flatline). And one can imagine how altering velocity compared to a first-trip-through-order baseline would have differential impact on batter success (including batted balls, vis-a-vis weak contact).
Teams are aware of these elements, therefore managers are aware, and thanks to data available via PITCHf/x, the baseball public can become more aware. It seems to me that stats based on a box score are inherently limiting, and while I agree with the impetus to recognize those limitations, it is only logically consistent to express such doubts within the confines of all statistical research that fails to incorporate certain dependent variables.
I found Russell's research to be intriguing, and he laid forth the limitations of said research. We will not have answers to the questions posed in 1) until there is public access to HITf/x data, but in the meantime, I felt that this was a well-thought and worthwhile exercise.
Good catch, dougdirt, and apologies for the mistake. Making matters worse (on my end), I had several references to Barnhart in my original notes for the article, but did a quick-scan when adding that particular line and substituted the wrong C from the box score.
Thanks again for the fact-check!
Great point about windup vs stretch, and in fact this was an item that I left on the cutting-room floor at the last minute (thought I had gone on long enough about momentum). His pace to the plate was consistent both from the windup and the stretch, and it is exciting to see a young pitcher who has such command of this phase of the delivery, which is often one of the last pieces to come around (if ever). Pitchers with two different speeds create an obstacle to repetition, but has not been a problem for Stephenson.
Awesome observation, and thanks for sharing.
Great stuff, Mike.
Pitchers are interesting on a couple of levels in fantasy, and I am in agreement that the typical owner has gone way too far in devaluing pitchers in general (esp at the top) - and no, that's not just my love for pitchers talking.
It's true that there is no such thing as a five-category pitcher (paging Hoyt Wilhelm), but ace SP's can have a larger influence over four categories than any hitter can. The 220-IP starter will cover 15% of innings in a league with a 1500-IP cap; meanwhile, the typical fantasy hitter makes up less than 10% of the overall PA's for a team. With fewer spots to fill, it's also easier to have a dominant rotation than a dominant lineup, especially given the greater range of categories for hitters - it is easier to find a four-category starter than a 4-cat bat.
With this in mind, I have found that pairing a couple of impact aces at the top and then going dumpster-diving for the bottom half is a fairly reliable strategy.
Thanks for the write-up.
Great point, whanson.
The teams: MIN x2, CHW x2, ATL, BAL, KC, HOU
4 of the AL's bottom-5 offenses in 6 of the 8 games.
TTOP = Times Through Order Penalty
Referring to the general tendency for pitcher performance to decline the more times that they go through the batting order. It has been a popular topic lately, so I went with the acronym.
Agreed, the light at the end of the Mets tunnel is brightening
I probably won't go in-depth on AFL games, but Paul and I might be discussing some of those players on TINSTAAPP (which returns next week).
This is a great point, and one which I have raised with other pitchers who share the same tendency. There is definitely the potential for tipping, particularly when facing advanced hitters, but there are a few factors at play.
1) The magnitude of the difference - the greater the disparity in breaking-ball posture and fastball posture at release point, the more potential exists for tipping. Syndergaard's isn't a massive difference, but it is large enough to potentially be detectable.
2) The consistency of the effect - Pitchers with inconsistent release points (on either pitch or in general) will not provide an indicator that is trustworthy for batters to detect. Syndergaard's was relatively consistent and persistent in the games that I watched, which is a point against him.
3) The quality of batters faced - As you mentioned, the nature of the "tip" is such that batters only receive the indicator at release point, so the perceptual time gap is extremely brief. That said, many batters look for a "visual window" at release point, and an advanced hitter will be able to detect a visual window that moves, particularly if there are two clear windows from which different pitch types emerge. For Syndergaard, this could be a bigger problem as he climbs the ladder, but there are pitchers who exhibit the trend in the majors and yet are only punished by the best hitters.
Of course I meant Julio Urias, not Jose.
When evaluating momentum, I focus on the pitcher's movement from the moment that the front foot lifts off the ground through release point. So yes, the pace/speed essentially dictates the momentum grade.
Most of what a pitcher does prior to leg lift is rooted in finding a rhythm, and typically less movement is good for consistency between windup and stretch. These days it is very rare to see a pitcher who uses a "pre-delivery maneuver" from the windup that actually encourages momentum, but such moves used to be more common. I talked about this more extensively in this article.
Fried is on the short-list of additions, along with Eddie Butler.
On the definite list: Archie Bradley, Jameson Taillon, Jose Urias, and Robert Stephenson.
It's a long winter, so odds are strong that Fried will make an appearance.
Great point, tristramshandy, and there are a couple of elements at work here.
The short stints are not necessarily conducive to building stamina, and it mutes one's ability to work on the sequencing patterns that are necessary to minimize the TTOP issue, as you mentioned. The upside is that it allows a team to minimize innings counts, but I personally believe that pitchers are being coddled too much in the minor leagues, such that many of them are not adequately prepared to handle a major-league workload (especially that required of a front-line starting pitcher).
It is becoming somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as teams limit workloads in order to prevent injury yet the meek patterns of preparation lead to pitchers who lack the strength/stamina/approach to handle the needs of the job, thus leaving them more susceptible to those injuries (as a baseline). There is a middle ground of optimal efficiency with respect to workloads, and that level is different for each pitcher, but in general I feel that many teams are erring too far on the side of caution. This isn't an indictment of the Mets specifically, but rather a general observation throughout the league.
Good observations, Stuart, and the reason behind it is a combination of experimental design and consequence.
The list was not all-inclusive, and I was generally going for the combo of best players / biggest inefficiencies - so there was some potential bias in selecting the pitchers for this article. I generally give the edge to starters on the "best" side of the ledger, and there would be many more options if I branched out to include more relievers or lowered the threshold of success for starters. As an aside, Greg Holland was a late scratch because I had covered him in a recent piece - http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=21684 .
But your point is spot on, as there are tons of relievers that have mechanical issues but are still able to find success, as their limited exposure helps to mask the impact of mechanics on their performance.
It's also not a coincidence that lefties are so well represented here, as coaches are much more likely to mess with a lefty's mechanics in order to coax extreme angles than they are with right-handers. The two elements come together with the LOOGY phenomenon - a ridiculous amount of LOOGY's are sidearm-types or have extremely closed strides, all of which is intended to exaggerate platoon splits. I wrote about it here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=17971
I hope that adds some clarity. In many ways, the list provided in this article is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Thanks for the kind words, Nick, and I'm beyond gratified that Raising Aces has helped to fuel your enjoyment of the game.
Regarding repetition, I do feel that it is by far the most important aspect of pitching, and it is definitely the most critical grade on the mechanics report card (it also takes the most time to evaluate, by far). The difference between and good day and a bad day boils down to repetition (or lack there of) so often that it's ridiculously under-appreciated.
This is why it often baffles me when coaches flaunt techniques that interfere with what a pitcher does naturally to throw a baseball - creating extreme angles might make life tougher on opposing hitters, but it also makes life tougher on the pitcher. I'll take repetition (and pitch command by extension) over angles every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Good call, woodruff. Lee almost has to have decent functional strength in order to repeat his imbalanced delivery, but it raises the question of whether his imbalance is a result of sub-optimal functional strength (as is often the case). In Lee's particular case, I think that his imbalance is more of a blatant manipulation of spine angle than a lack of strength leading to instability, especially since he has been doing it for so long.
Agreed, and I think the high camera angle in Minnesota adds to the parlor-game effect. Also, freeze-framing deliveries is an enjoyable exercise - it often makes pitchers look funny (Lee), scary (Sale), or downright ridiculous (Weaver).
Great point, Kinanik. Bad days are quite often related to mechanical issues, but it would be interesting to study whether funkadelic pitchers are more likely to have those bad days. Intuitively, I would think that it is strongly related to personal signature - sometimes a pitcher is naturally funky, and other times the funk has been taught through coaching in order to exploit angles. When the funk goes against signature (ie unnatural), then a pitcher is more likely to struggle.
That makes two of us, Jim, and here's hoping that his excellent momentum is encouraged as he climbs the ladder
Thanks, dantroy, and duly noted. Ventura is due for a write-up on his MLB stint, and I'll add Almonte to the list of potentials for the Bush League series.
The above list of players is not comprehensive, and Butler was actually a late scratch from the article. He will likely be covered in-depth over the winter.
I'm sorry to hear the sad news, but happy to hear that Chase's legacy lives on through his progeny. Thank you for bringing Chase's story to light.
... and Jhoulys Chacin hits MLB pitcher-homer #21, off of Randall Delgado in the bottom of the third inning!.
Prior to the HR, the Rockies were one of two NL teams whose pitchers had not yet hit either a triple or a home run. Now Pittsburgh stands alone, with 9 days to go.
Great question, and thanks for the kind words.
The key is posture at release point, and Rivera's is a notch better when you freeze-frame. I had to double-check as well, because Uehara stabilizes his head just after release point, which deceives the eye. Uehara's posture is actually at its worse at the point of release, and he would earn a higher grade if taken just before or just after the ball leaves his hand.
He actually has a very sound delivery.
There's a bit too much lean back during leg lift, and his momentum is slow, but he avoids the blatant pause in his delivery that is characteristic of so many pitchers in Japan. Everything is nails after foot strike, with a healthy delay of trunk rotation and finishing with excellent posture. He even has a solid glove side and finishes with all of his energy directed toward the target.
Thanks for the great anecdote, terryspen.
I wonder if the issue also has to do with variations in pitcher set-up positions. In order to do this fairly, we would need to have a different chalk line for each pitcher based on where they set up on the rubber, otherwise certain pitchers would have an advantage. If we draw a 45-degree line from middle-rubber, then players who set up on the extreme 1B-side would be able to effectively cheat the rule, while pitchers on the extreme 3B side would have to step more directly toward the 1B bag in order to avoid a violation. A pitcher who sets up on a different side based on the handedness of the batter (ie Liriano) would be absolute chaos for the grounds crew.
There is a potential connection there, though there are other factors to consider as well - whether they use pronation or a "twist," as well as the degree of pronation used. Liriano's frequency of 37% is definitely higher than you like to see, but I am not too concerned about Masterson's increased frequency as he is still under the 30% mark, and the vast majority of his offerings are still fastballs (72%, as compared to just 41% fastballs for Liriano).
Pitchers can be different entities year-to-year, but I really like the overall trend of his rising release point as an indicator of his physical improvements.
The slider is Masterson's most effective pitch, and he has been using it more and more over the last few years, with a 3-yr frequency of 15.0% - 19.3% - 27.9%, so he is throwing it nearly twice as often now as in 2011.
The downward movement on all of his pitches is key, and the increased use of the slider as a wipeout pitch bodes well for his K rate moving forward. Time will tell if that all carries over into 2014, but I think that you can trust him for the rest of this season.
Ha, good call, and thanks for the catch!
Great stuff, Colin!
Using hi-speed mo-cap to measure pitching mechanics is exactly what we did at the National Pitching Association, granted in a lab setting with sensors (though we didn't use "suits," instead choosing to apply sensors directly to the body with adhesive). So in that sense, we have verified the connection between pitch repetition and injury risk, as well as specific mechanical indicators to injury. Of course, the future of the technology requires applications to measure in-game data, but as you note, the practicalities of accuracy and cost are currently prohibitive (as well as the issue of volume of data).
I am curious as to which company was backing the technology (guessing Vicon), as well as that which was doing the mechanical modeling. There are so many caveats, and the interpretation of the data is not always straightforward. This was the crux of my job when I ran the motion analysis system at the NPA.
I will be going more in-depth at the SABR, Scouting, and Science Seminar in Boston in two weeks - it will be fun to drum up some shop-talk!
I don't see either of their former selves coming all the way back, but CC can still be very effective if he finds his release point. Theoretically, JJ also has it in him, but he also has a much larger problem to address, so I am less confident that he can regain his performance this year. But pitchers can be very different beings year to year, and I will be very curious to see which version of JJ shows up next season.
If only that were possible ... I am an advocate for some pitchers to pitch exclusively from the stretch, but going all-windup is virtually impossible since opposing baserunners would take off with reckless abandon.
His timing issues are much worse from the stretch than the windup, so that is certainly a focal point for instruction. I wish I could be more positive with his outlook, but the combination of diminished stuff and wayward pitch command have sapped JJ of his skill set.
Thanks for the awesome question, and your solution is right on target. He could either slow down his delivery (slightly), allowing his arm to catch up, or he could trigger trunk rotation a bit sooner. The only issue with an early trigger is that it could diminish his torque, by not allowing the hips to rotate as far before the upper body fires, which would cost him even more velo. So a slightly slower pace might be in order, though as a pro-momentum guy it pains me to say that.
The coaching cue typically centers around his initiation of momentum, focusing on the speed that he uses right from the get-go. It's both simple and difficult to fix at the same time - his disparity is so slight that he requires only a minor adjustment, yet that timing adjustment is so sensitive that it could take awhile to rediscover. I have seen some guys pick this up in a matter of minutes, only to lose it again the next time that they take the mound.
That said, I think that CC's diminished stuff leaves him more vulnerable than he has been in the past, even if he can find his ideal extension.
In the short-term, yes. But in the long-term, almost every athlete would be better-suited with proper mechanical fundamentals such as solid balance and efficient transfer of energy.
This is a great question, as muscle memory and structural integrity are certainly factors, but they manifest much differently depending on the "bad" part of a pitcher's mechanics.
For example, guys with spine-tilt are invoking more muscle groups, and are doing so in an inefficient fashion, which places undue pressure on certain muscles and ligaments. Also, pitchers who lack mechanical repetition are using a wider array of muscle groups in an inconsistent fashion, which opens up the gamut of potential injury or ineffectiveness.
In most cases, the improvements in mechanics that I suggest involve a more efficient use of muscles and joints, to allow the body to be utilized the way it is designed. But harnessing a new technique takes time. The duration of the learning curve is player-specific, and is also sensitive to the elements that are under construction.
Great points, Barry, and I appreciate the detailed response.
It is rare to see such solid walk numbers from a pitcher with so many obstacles to repetition. It does speak well to his timing, though this is something that can't really be evaluated in a one-inning sample, so I would need to see more before giving him the stamp of approval.
The Kershaw comparison was specific to his "hip-whip" style of torque, with delayed hip rotation and the firing of hips and shoulders almost in unison - but the release points of Kersh and Montero are quite different. There are others that use the hip-whip technique, but very few top-end pitchers (esp starters) - I cited Kershaw as the one example of a starting pitcher who makes it work, though it should be noted that Kersh has also had some issues with his hip in recent years. Kershaw is an outlier in many ways, though, including his odd momentum pattern that features three different speeds en route to the plate, so I would not exactly use him as a template.
Thanks for the kind words, Yefrem. I really enjoy opening up the conversation to a wider range of these on-field events, in order to better understand the context behind the numbers.
Fatigue could definitely be playing a role, particularly in Iwakuma's case. Yu Darvish was dealing with the same issue, with a noticeably slower second gear in his last few starts.
Great work, Zach
Now I can sleep with visions of Taijuan splitters dancing in my head
Criteria were largely statistical, based on PITCHf/x, along with a strong dose of subjectivity. I leaned heavily on whiff/swing % and opponents' SLG, as well as velo for fastballs [and Holland's slider]. I also looked at pitch frequency with added weight, for reasons of sample size as well as an indicator of a pitcher achieving great results while not necessarily surprising anyone with the pitch selection.
Any RHP/LHP trends were purely coincidental. That said, I should note that it was 7 of 8 guys who were RHP, not 9 of 10. Replace one RHP with a LHP and it falls right in line with expectations based on the population.
It is definitely a nod to Evolution, and the first hyperlink (second paragraph) will take you to the scene which inspired the title.
I am so happy that somebody got the reference, so thanks! That movie is terribly underrated.
Regression is often used as a cover for the elements that we cannot measure very well with our current statistical inputs. Regression is a very real phenomenon, of course, but I think that the analytic community sometimes gets a bit trigger-happy with its application.
At the core of this issue is the reality that a ballplayer's "true" talent level is not static, but rather dynamic on a game-to-game, month-to-month, and season-to-season basis.
I'm inclined to agree with your line of thinking. One would think that if Matheny and Bengie had noticed Cain tipping his pitches while they were catching him in SF then they would have alerted him to it at the time. And if Cain knew that he had a tendency to tip pitches then he would have addressed it long ago, or he would know to adjust in-game if the problem persists, and the current Giants staff would know to look out for it. It follows that they would be particularly sensitive to the issue when facing the Cardinals. All it takes is a trip to the mound.
I guess the theory makes sense if Matheny/Bengie hid the tipping info from Cain while they played for the Giants, but that would make them quite possibly the worst battery-mates ever.
I'd like to think that this comment is tongue-in-cheek, but I don't see a sarcastic font.
Great call, Psych. Most pitchers do have better momentum from the stretch, and some players have better overall mechanics when they get out of the windup. The common issue is that pitchers spend less time working from the stretch (both in-game and warming up in the bullpen), and the timing disparity from windup to stretch contributes to inconsistencies.
I happen to agree that the windup works as a detriment to many pitchers, and today's version of the windup brings little to no functional advantage (in contrast with the windups of the past). This is a huge issue at the amateur levels, as young players struggle mightily to harness two distinct timing patterns for stretch and windup. I often say that Little League coaches teaching windups is equivalent to teaching calculus to a geometry student, yet they all do it anyway.
I wrote about this issue with windups a couple weeks ago in a piece called, "Time to Unwind" - http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=20456
Thanks for the tip of the cap, Psych! I certainly encourage everyone to give TINSTAAPP a listen, but understand if the 3 hour 'cast takes awhile to sift through - luckily, we time-stamp each episode to make it easier to pick out the specifics.
Great question. To answer the last thing first, I have not noticed any specific tendencies with momentum based on handedness, aside from the trend for lefties to direct their momentum off-line on a closed pattern to create angle.
Regarding Hamels, it might appear as if he is rocking back as the leg comes up and he invokes a *slight* reverse twist, but his center-of-mass is actually drifting toward the plate during his first gear. Interestingly, his delivery did not feature a blatant gear change last season, but rather a continuous progression of acceleration. But his lateral movement is slower into max leg lift this year, with a distinct gear change after max lift. Combine that with balance that is weaker than last season, and you have a recipe for poor consistency into release point.
As for Verlander, you're right that he has a very smooth transition after max lift, and though he does shift gears from slow to fast, it is not as abrupt as many of the pitchers in this article. His momentum is excellent overall, despite a somewhat slow lateral move during leg lift.
The mechanical issues are at the root of his inconsistent release point, and hence his lack of pitch command. Balance and timing are the most critical elements for repeating the delivery, and when they are out of whack, even the best pitchers in the game can get hammered.
I am making that assumption, but it's impossible to know for sure without sitting in Verlander's brain. He generates a tall enough arm slot without any spine-tilt manipulation, and the timing of his posture change coincided with the high-energy phases of rotation, suggesting that he was not able to support ideal balance at max intensity that day.
This could be the result of too much adrenaline, as Verlander may have been amped up in anticipation of the hyped matchup, and could have upped the intensity beyond his personal thresholds for balance.
I agree with the extra drop, as mentioned in the piece, and it serves as an indicator of lesser balance than in the past.
I imagine that both the Tigers coaches and Verlander himself are aware of the problem. Verlander's body language indicated that he knew that something was off.
Fixing mechanics in-game can be problematic, but some issues are easier to address than others. I found it telling that Verlander literally slowed down the delivery after the mound-meeting with Jones, and was able to line up a couple of pitches before he lost it again, so that appeared to be an intentional adjustment as directed by Jones. But in many ways what you see is what you get, and sometimes you just have to chalk it up to a bad day.
In the og email, the preceding sentence was, "...he suffers from elbow drag on most pitches, due to an extra hitch of upper-body load (in addition to scap load) and an extreme delay of trunk rotation."
I will sometimes refer to the imaginary "wall" or "cliff" that exists when it comes to timing and sequencing trunk rotation. Delay after foot strike is a great thing, allowing for an increase of torque while the hips open after foot strike, but there is a line at which the delay has gone too far, resulting in elbow drag. Venters just plays chicken with that line.
I will send you a couple of pictures of Venters to check out, along with some of the technical jargon. Let me know what you think, and thanks for spurring the conversation.
Great catch. I was using the PITCHf/x leaderboards found here - http://www.baseballprospectus.com/pitchfx/leaderboards/ - with a 200-pitch threshold.
Now I realize that Cashner's stats are a bit different on the leaderboard - it has him at 195 four-seamers thrown, with an average velo of 95.3 mph, ranked 6th among SP's with 100+ FB's - so I think that led to the oversight. The data on Brooksbaseball.net reflects the numbers cited above - it's an anomaly that could be tied to the fact that Cash has spent time as both an SP and a RP, and I set the leaderboards to sort SP's only.
Thank you for such great attention to detail.
Oh, and this series rocks! Great work by our killer prospect team.
Zimmer looks like he has really slowed down when compared to his college days, especially from the windup.
Compare the linked video to the GIF in this article from June 2012 - http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=17293
The contrast is pretty stark.
It's too bad, as I thought that momentum was his best mechanical asset coming out of USF. Less momentum means a shallower release point, which would explain why batters were able to get a good look at the ball.
It should be an easy fix, but KC is not exactly known to develop high-energy pitchers, so it could be a systemic issue with respect to his development. The Royals did the same thing with Aaron Crow, another guy whose delivery I liked better in college.
Tiant was awesome. He probably deserves his own article - or at least an Unfiltered piece.
I'll look into it and see what I can find.
The causation arrow is reversed - more momentum produces a longer stride, not the other way around. A long stride can also be influenced by style of leg lift, as in how long the pitcher keeps the lift leg off the ground as the COM travels down the mound with momentum. Taller leg lifts typically beget longer strides.
Lincecum is all about momentum. When he's on, it's a pure 80 on the mechanics report card. He is the only pitcher in the game today who earns an 80 grade, and when his delivery is clicking, he can generate it from both the windup and the stretch.
Timmy's dad taught him that delivery, and he based it on the motion of Koufax. Hence the similar emphasis on momentum as well as spine tilt - a dangerous combination, FWIW.
Depends on the type of curve. If throwing a supinated curve, then release point height establishes the baseline for trajectory. But guys who use the dangerous twister curve will actually have the baseball leave the hand at a different trajectory than the supinated curve (or a regular fastball, for that matter). The twister curve often appears to have a "hump" in its flight path.
Of course, there are other variables that determine the magnitude of break, as well.
Great observation, Tom. I think that you are right on, and though I don't know for sure, I can certainly see the line of thinking that the straight front leg is working as a counter-balance for the lean-back. Or perhaps it was just a conventional piece of instruction with minimal utility. Tough to tell for the practices of this time period.
1) It's definitely applicable to modern pitchers. Sure the lower mound means that pitchers can't reap the same magnitude of momentum as with a steeper slope, but the benefits of momentum and stride are absolute in nature. More momentum is always a good thing, so long as the pitcher can maintain balance. If anything, a lower mound means that the pitcher has to generate more of the momentum with his lower-half, rather than rely on gravity, and that should make it easier to stabilize.
2) Nolan was the man, and he improved his delivery throughout his career. He is a fascinating case study, but I am admittedly biased - Nolan was the foundation for much of our research at the National Pitching Association (Tom House was his P-coach in Texas).
3) Thanks for the tip. I'll check it out!
Good call. I noticed the same thing when watching clips of Mike Scott the other day - he had a modified/reduced '80's version of the step behind the rubber, but it was still there, and the modern iteration of the windup has come about relatively recently.
Thanks for the idea for an article topic. I will put it on the list.
Here's the Clemens article: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=19367
I can't attribute these tendencies to one specific coach, and they seem to be conventional wisdom for the time. As is the case with pitching, many of the best players have figured things out for themselves, sometimes in spite of the coaching that they have received. This was especially true in the good ol days.
Thanks for helpful comments, Matt! Great stuff
I agree that there is a natural trade-off between balance and momentum - it is more difficult to harness higher levels of kinetic energy. However, the old school pitchers were intentionally manipulating both aspects - momentum was directed at the plate early during the lift phase, and poor balance was a side effect of the "rear back and chuck it" idea.
I agree that the best pitchers were uncanny in their ability to repeat, and my point wasn't necessarily that the old school guys had it all figured out. I see greater momentum than today, but much worse balance, and both were tied to intentional manipulations of the motion. Then conventional coaching did away with both of them, rather than sticking with great momentum along with a renewed emphasis on proper balance - the best pitchers earn high grades for both.
Beautiful - Thanks for the anecdote!
I hear the heavy accent of conventional wisdom! The problem is that, leading up to release point, spine tilt will disrupt balance in a side-to-side motion, not backwards-forwards. Koufax did have some extra tuck of the glove-side, which can give the impression of pulling down the release point. But that only makes sense if the pitcher is using a "Captain's Wheel" method of rotation that locks the shoulder-axis, and that outdated method is much less efficient than the technique of hip-shoulder separation. It is possible that Koufax was following that instruction, though.
I should also note that the first GIF of Koufax is a warmup pitch, and as such his spine-tilt is not exaggerated - it actually looks decent in that GIF. The momentum in that GIF also does not demonstrate his peak speed to the plate. Unfortunately, I did not find another GIF with such a great camera angle, so I went for it.
The "push off the rubber" paradigm can be quite misleading, as can the "tall and fall" terminology. Of course we're just talking semantics, but watching how players respond to those methods of instruction reveals the issues. The "push off the rubber" guys tend to collapse the back leg at or before max leg lift, disrupting balance and/or initiating a drop-n-drive, and the "tall and fall" guys fail to use their starting position to generate much momentum.
At the NPA we used the terminology "Lift and thrust," because it invoked the necessary mechanism of leading with the front hip and initiating an early charge toward the plate. Essentially, the pitcher thrusts the lead hip toward the plate in conjunction with the lift phase, and the goal is to achieve a similar (but more balanced) look to Gibson in the 2nd GIF.
There was some glove movement by Salty, so perhaps it was more of a friendly call than a friendly frame. Thanks for the catch
This is an interesting element, moreso for the psychological implications than some measurable element of mechanical efficiency. But there is something to it for some pitchers, as a solid tempo can help them to find a consistent delivery. There is also the side factor that a pitcher who takes a very long time is more likely to invoke a timeout call from the batter, which would further disrupt the pitcher's rhythm.
Also, good call on the player-specific nature of coaching. This is an underappreciated element, and sometimes we have to use a seemingly odd bit of advice to encourage a particular adjustment from a pitcher.
Thanks for the insightful comment, William
Awesome observation, Ben - good eye. This is especially pertinent given that the catcher is set up in virtually the same location for both pitches. The momentum and balance were the big issues that caught my eye, but a stride pattern that better lines up the gears could very well be supporting the more-efficient path to the plate.
Note that he was also on the 3B side in the clip from 2010, so it appears to be a new adjustment rather than going back to the old way.
Thanks for sharing!
I was watching the start where Lackey hurt his forearm, and overall I was impressed with what I saw. Had been awhile since we had seen a clean Lackey delivery. That said, coach shoulda been on the mound after the previous pitch, when he first started favoring the arm.
Sorry about that - I must have mixed up the lead-off men on my makeshift scorecard.
Thanks for the catch, Gene, and thanks for the edit, Ben!
Also, I think you're on to something with the "sit," as when Fernandez exaggerates that stall then it delays the upper-body portion of rotation, causing the arm to trigger late.
You can see this in the first two GIF's. The "sit" is more obvious in the first GIF, and he triggers trunk rotation too late. The second GIF has better momentum but also less "sit," and he has no problem with his timing of trigger.
Great stuff as usual, Matt!
The "sit" used to be much worse, with an exaggerated drop n' drive, so this is an improvement. If anything, he often gets into foot strike too quickly from the windup due to outstanding momentum, which is a good thing except when it throws off a pitcher's timing, and the "sit" could actually be helping to find that ideal timing by slightly delaying his charge. His momentum was volatile on Sunday, and the ones where he missed up and to the arm-side were tied to those pitches with the fastest pace.
He also struggled to line things up from the stretch with a runner on first, as the truncated leg lift got him into foot strike too quickly, again producing a late arm. I think that it all boils down to consistency, and finding an ideal pace to the plate that lines up the gears of his delivery.
I make that mistake every stinkin' time!
Awesome work, Sam.
Thanks for delivering such rich context to the Lincecum situation, and I am stoked for this season and the increasing spread of in-game evaluations at BP.
Framing, mechanics, PITCHf/x ... these all add to the enjoyment of watching the game, and they bring out the inner coach/scout in all of us.
"Getting on top" and "getting on top of the ball" are typically used interchangeably, referring to arm slot as opposed to hand/wrist manipulation, and I have not personally had to address "cupping" in any of my instruction over the years.
When talking about the physical position of the hand in relation to the baseball, you will hear references to getting "behind the ball" or "to the side," vis-a-vis fastballs vs cutters and the supination that takes place for cutters, sliders, curves, etc.
Randy Johnson and Chris Sale are completely different pitchers, and the only thing similar about their mechanics is that they both throw from a very low arm slot (and they're left-handed). Randy had near-perfect balance, and though he did use a heavy scapular load (similar to Sale), the abduction angles were miles apart.
Not to single this out, but I have heard this comparison used before, and it made my head hurt. We must dispel the notion of Johnson as a comp for Sale; it just leads to invalid assumptions and false hope.
And for posterity, Sale is an injury risk due to his extreme trifecta of scapular load, inverted W, and elbow drag. Please click on the hyperlink in Sale's description to read more on the subject.
Sorry I'm late to the meeting guys, but here's my 2 cents.
Arm slot is mostly determined by two things: the player's posture (spine angle) and the angle of shoulder elevation (abduction).
In the photos that Sam has graciously captured, Weaver's posture has become progressively worse over the years, which has artificially raised his arm slot. In fact, his 2013 posture might be the worst of the bunch [the picture is captured a split-second later in the 2013 release-point pic than in the one from 2012, which might be slightly biasing]. Now this can indicate an intentional adjustment or it could be signs of fatigue or a lack of functional strength - I should note that it is common to see pitchers in spring training who are still building strength and not yet 100%, and thus struggle to maintain posture.
However, Weaver's angle of shoulder abduction is noticeably lower in the spring training photo from 2013, which is likely the adjustment that he is consciously making (it certainly "feels" lower to him). The angle of elevation that he is showing in the spring training game is definitely closer to the angle from '06 than the additional abduction that he showed last year.
The combination of poor posture and lower abduction might give him an overall release height that is slightly lower than in the recent past, but it is still higher than in his rookie year.
Great observations, BloodStripes and alwaxman, and thanks for the head's up.
Awesome article, Sam!
So you risked being late for your History of Sport class so that you could witness Sports History being made? Um, I think that your Prof woulda been cool with it, bro. And why am I envisioning a Road Trip scenario here?
I lived in San Diego back in '06, but now I've landed just outside of SJ. Shoot me an email if you're still in the area, and we can tell tall tales of Dice-K.
This is awesome - thanks so much for your perspective, Tony! I noticed how empty the stadium was for the Cuba-Netherlands game and am concerned about those ramifications.
That said, I still like the idea of spreading the wealth, so to speak, in order to expand the game. I believe that the long-term gains outweigh any short-term losses, particularly for a tournament that is presenting itself on the level of World Cup and the Olympics.
Who knows? MLB might already be starting a slow transition, having the Group 1 championship held in Tokyo - all other final-qualifiers had been played in the states. So it could be that the league has already wised up to the marketing potential, and are targeting a careful approach.
Thanks to the readers for all of the excellent comments. My favorite part of writing for BP is the insightful discussion that takes place in the comment section, and I greatly appreciate all of the thought that was put into these posts.
I agree with the point that political issues present a significant barrier to this idea, vis-a-vis Cuba, and I apologize for neglecting this angle in the article. I guess that I was stuck in a dream world where we all just get along and play ball, but the economic ramifications can't be ignored.
Thank you to many for pointing out this error of omission.
It's certainly possible, though it is also pretty common for pitchers to leave the ball up when pitching from the stretch, particularly when using a poorly-timed slide step. When a pitcher gets into foot strike too quickly - as Cobb does with a slide step from the stretch - then his delivery will be out of sequence, such that the arm cannot catch up in time to reach full extension. So the arm will be "late," and the resulting pitch will miss the target high and to the arm side.
Thanks for the tip of the cap, bobbygrace!
I think that video is much more informative for pitchers, especially when judging mechanics, than it is for any other tool or skill. Video is extremely limited for defensive evaluation, given the wide swatch of important information occurring all over the field yet the narrow view of the camera lens. The angles used for most TV feeds are terribly inefficient for evaluating hitting skills, and I completely agree with Mark regarding the importance of live-scouting these skills.
Pitching is unique - there are minimal outside variables to interfere with the pitcher doing his job (whereas batters are at the mercy of the quality of pitches thrown). The pitching delivery is also rooted in repetition, and so the ability to replay a pitch, to compare multiple deliveries simultaneously, or to press the "pause" button mid-delivery using video are advantageous (my brain has not yet mastered those skills).
Live scouting provides a clearer picture of the various skills on the diamond, and I would not have been able to develop an eye for pitching without first having live-scouted thousands of pitchers. But I also think that pitching is uniquely suited for video analysis, while the game feeds that are currently available are insufficient for evaluating most other skills on the diamond.
Weaver, Jimenez, and Gallardo are the best of the past 5 years? Those are the guys that I have "taken to task," and I think that you can make a case for Weaver as one of the best of the past 5, but not so much with the other two. Of the 8 pitchers with stills of poor posture, you can probably tack on Lincecum and Haren.
Meanwhile, the pitchers with strong posture (60+) from the above lists include Verlander, CC, and Halladay - each of whom has had a better 5-year run than Weaver. Beckett is another guy who has had plus posture for the past several years (tho it was poor for his first few years in the league), and Felix's posture has been improving every year since his debut.
Going away from the velocity-drop list to other top arms, you have guys like Kershaw and Price, each of whom has been improving his posture every year since his rookie season (Price is now plus, Kershaw is average). Then there are pitchers who have always had elite posture, like Cole Hamels and Matt Cain, as well as new arrivals such as Strasburg and Darvish. I will grant you Cliff Lee and his poor posture, though - that guy's a conundrum.
The pitchers that I have "taken to task" are surely doing something right, but my point is that they could be doing something better.
(Apologies if the task-list was unclear - I was not referring to the entire K-13 group, but a general trend among the 24 pitchers who dropped velo, hence the list of stills with guys from all 3 groups. I realize that the use of "steep decline in velocity" could be easily misconstrued.)
Great observations, Scott.
Your conjecture is certainly on the right track. Smaller pitchers can still produce big velocity, through a combination of torque (hip-shoulder separation), momentum (leg strength and consistency), proper timing and sequencing, core strength, and also pure arm strength. Lincecum relies more on upper-body load for his torque, in addition to the extreme momentum. Collins is more of a hip-driven example of hip-shoulder separation, as his stride begins at a closed angle but finishes open due to such extreme hip rotation.
You are also correct that proper use of the legs, core, timing, etc. will effectively take kinetic toll off of the arm. A pitcher who is weak in these areas becomes more dependent on pure arm strength to produce velocity, and faces a greater risk for physical breakdown.
That said, the inverted W has as much to do with scapular loading and a pitcher's natural signature than anything else, so it is not specifically related to the lower body so much. But it does reflect a combination of trained (scap load) and untrained (hyperabduction) techniques, which drives much of the confusion regarding the technique.
The front shoulder is involved with arm speed, but it is more of a spectator than a team captain.
It can be an indicator of inefficiency, and from the batter's/catcher's point of view it is easier to see what the front shoulder is doing than the other dimensions of hip-shoulder separation (which plays the biggest role in velo). I think that the batter's/catcher's perspective has driven many of the theories about pitching, and though that perspective is integral to understanding the game, it is not necessarily ideal when it comes to evaluating how a pitcher does his job.
But I disagree with the adage regarding the speed of the pitching hand being predicated on the front shoulder - the connection is not nearly so solid to make that claim, and it could lead to some funky methodologies for coaching.
Great call, DDriesen. We only have PITCHf/x data going back to 2007, but a deeper study of those years could certainly reveal some valuable insight. I am also interested in tracking the mechanical tendencies of those 2007-2010 pitchers to look for any other patterns that might emerge, similar to work that we did at the National Pitching Association.
I also recommend that you take a look at this article by Bill Petti of FanGraphs (hyperlinked in the second sentence), which tracks some of the general pitcher trends over time - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/pitcher-aging-curves-introduction/
Lincecum requires tremendous lower-body strength to coordinate his high levels of kinetic energy, and when he is not at 100% speed to the plate then it throws off his timing. At peak form, Lincecum is the epitome of 80 momentum, with a tremendous burst to the plate that he is able to line up in order to extend his release point, but last season I gave him a 70-grade momentum for the first time since he was drafted.
Timing is the underlying facet of pitch command, and poor timing will also function to decrease a pitcher's torque if the elements of hip rotation and shoulder rotation are not sequenced properly.
The slower, inconsistent momentum is based on personal observation, and the background support is based on what happened in 2010. Lincecum was noticeably slow to the plate in August of '10, and Roy Oswalt (who has a similar high-speed delivery) called Lincecum out for poor conditioning. A day or two after Oswalt's public comments, the Giants acknowledged that Lincecum was not at full strength and they vowed to address it. Lincecum got better as he crossed over into September, and by the playoffs he was back to full speed. But the same problem cropped up in 2012, and he wasn't able to regain his peak athleticism until Lincecum was put in the bullpen where he could ramp up the momentum in shorter bursts.
His posture has always been a weak link in Lincecum's delivery, but when not at full strength (or he gets fatigued) then his spine-tilt gets progressively worse.
I disagree with the "burying" technique, but then again I tend to disagree with a lot of conventional wisdom.
The proper arm angle is determined by posture (less spine tilt is more natural) as well as the pitchers biologically-driven angle of shoulder abduction. "Burying" the shoulder was a technique that was used to artificially raise arm slots, but research coming out of ASMI suggests that hyperabduction is an injury threat during the periods of high-speed rotation, so I prefer to stick with a pitcher's natural slot (which is different for each player). Coaching against biological signature is typically a losing battle that leaves the pitcher vulnerable, so I tend to focus on the controllable element of posture.
I believe that the problem of "opening up" too early is related to the timing of trunk rotation, and guys who fly open with the lead shoulder are typically triggering the rotation of the shoulder axis before the lower body is in proper position. Rather than "bury" the lead shoulder, I encourage pitchers who "fly open" to close the starting angle on the rubber, or to quicken their pace so that the lower body is in position sooner, allowing for an easier transition into upper-body rotation. Often times a bigger load of the shoulder axis will also do the job of keeping the pitcher closed.
Great question, Jim!
Thanks for the quote, digiderek - that's a good tidbit.
Now we just have to watch to see if he makes the adjustment.
Duly noted, and I agree that it is a factor that deserves an in-depth look.
As the author of the A's chapter, I mentioned the platooning in the team essay but I made a point to address the specific platoon patterns of Moss and Seth Smith in their player comments (and added the lefty-mashing bit to Gomes). I also mentioned the team-wide tendency toward platooning under manager Bob Melvin's comment. I certainly could have gone more in-depth in one space, but instead I chose to build that theme within the chapter.
I expanded on the positional flexibility and the strategic platooning in the A's episode of Effectively Wild, and I made sure to cite the Rays as a point of comparison. I encourage you to check it out for a bit more detail and nuance, if interested.
Wow, 4 of those 5 lines in the 2nd paragraph start with the word, "Movement," and the other lines has movement as the 4th word. Clearly, I need to consult a thesaurus.
Great question, Josh.
His command has improved, thanks to steady mechanical development that has helped his balance, posture, and especially timing. Price's mechanical development is underpinning his improvements in velocity, command, and the stats on the back of his baseball card.
Movement is more difficult to determine. The PITCHf/x data indicates that he has lost a touch of vertical movement on his 4-seam and sinker, though his horizontal movement has gone up a bit. There might be some caveats with comparing movement across seasons, however, so I'm not as confident with the numbers for movement, but the trends make sense in theory.
At the end of the day, I think that the overall package represents an upgrade.
Dead-on, MGL, and your points demonstrate exactly what I mean by Price being such a fascinating case. There is so much more to the story, and your examples drive the point home.
Quick and dirty rules can be alluring, which is why theoretical constructs such as the Verducci Effect and the inverted-W gain traction, but reality is always more complicated than we like to admit. Personally, I find that embracing the complexity of the game stokes the analytic fires.
There could be something with Zimmermann, though he threw harder in 2012 than he had in 2009 (before the surgery), by a difference of 0.64 mph. The vast majority of pitchers would not be expected to improve velocity 3 years later, even assuming perfect health in the interim.
Regarding Gio, I wouldn't consider the PED connection without better evidence. Of all the guys named in the Miami probe, he is the one who stands out as most likely innocent. He didn't receive anything banned, he has an alibi (his dad went to the clinic), and he has been the most vocal and willing to prove his innocence.
Besides that, Gio has made some legit improvement to his mechanics over the years, and he currently has one of the better deliveries in the game. I wrote about it here.
Costa Rica was incredible. We felt very welcomed by the locals, whose positive approach to life was absolutely infectious, and the wildlife in the rain forest was unforgettable.
All they need is a baseball academy in CR and I might become a permanent resident.
Great point, as there is not necessarily a straight-line relationship between pitch velocity and performance, and I suspect that players who fall in love with their newfound power can lose sight of the other elements that made them successful.
I'd like to thank Willie Mays Hayes and coach Lou Brown for that valuable insight.
Excellent point, and I probably should have added those numbers in retrospect. Here's the numbers for the big 3 velo gainers:
Tillman, FB whiff %
2012 - 7.49%
2011 - 6.19%
2010 - 5.52%
Porcello, SINK whiff %
2012 - 5.71%
2011 - 4.12%
2010 - 4.60%
Both Tillman and Porcello saw positive ripple effects with their rates of swings and misses, supporting the optimism of the velocity increases.
But David Price is a big of a mystery:
Price, SINK whiff % / FB whiff %
2012 - 6.39% / 9.05%
2011 - 7.96% / 12.87%
2010 - 10.94% / 11.64%
So his whiff percentage fell precipitously as he added velo, meanwhile his K% has actually increased from 2010 to 2012:
2012 - 24.5%
2011 - 23.8%
2010 - 21.8%
David Price presents a much more complicated scenario, and I find him to be one of the most fascinating players in the game.
Many thanks, Sam!
I am a lucky man to have found my partner in crime, and her support of my obsession with baseball allows me to fully indulge in life.
Johnny D is the best.
I had the honor of being the press box lackey (among other jobs) for the River Cats back in '04, and Johnny kept us laughing every day. The guy brings genuine enthusiasm to the ballpark that never wanes.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Curto, and the best part of my day was sitting down to the pre-game spread with the guys like Mike and Johnny, and listening to them banter about baseball.
Agreed, his $8.25 million comps are tough to justify. If Hammel's side had filed $1 million lower, at $7.25 million, then it would have changed the whole debate with a midpoint of $6.475 million. If that was the case, then the Scott Baker comp plays an even bigger role in the final outcome.
I'm not saying there aren't risk factors (see the explanation with Taillon), but Stras did have some other red flags that had nothing to do with mechanics. A 20-year old who gains 9-mph in 2 years is at elevated risk, even assuming that he properly prepares his body to handle the increased kinetic toll, and we don't know if Stras had the structural foundation to manage such a rapid ascent. Stras has yet to show the ability to handle a heavy workload - OTOH, Prior labored through extremely heavy workloads for a few years while maintaining his top-end skills.
When a high-profile player goes under the knife, everyone goes searching for a place to aim their blame, and conventional wisdom is to blame the pitcher's mechanics. Reality is that injury assessment is much more complicated, and typically involves multiple variables. It's like blaming a manager entirely for a loss because of one decision that didn't go his way - imagine if Posada's flare does not drop in vs. Pedro, then would Grady Little still be an expletive in Boston?
I have made that comp myself within the lecture halls of BP.
The difference is that I wasn't scared - Prior's mechanics were a thing of beauty, and his injuries were heavily influenced by heavy workloads and traumatic collisions with various Giles and projectiles.
In a sense, mechanics can be a double-edged sword with prospects. By this I mean that strong mechanics will raise the players performance floor and will increase the likelihood of success, but pitchers who have advanced to the high minors despite poor mechanics have more theoretical upside (but also carry more injury risk).
My favorite example of this is Felix Hernandez. He always had the raw ability, but the mechanics were lacking in the early days. He had to learn on the job at the highest level, and he has improved his mechanics every year of his career to the point that he is now well above average.
That said, in a vacuum I will take the prospect with stronger mechanics every day of the week and twice on Super Bowl Sunday.
Both pitchers have elite upside, and each has exhibited excellent mechanics since their amateur days. They both possess elite torque that leads to top-notch velocity. Most impressive is that both pitchers maintain excellent posture combined with the high levels of torque, a rare combination that underscores the maturity of their deliveries.
The difference is that Cole has more room for improvement with his mechanical efficiency, despite his advanced age, whereas Taillon has more room for physical development. Cole could improve his momentum and his balance, elements that can oppose each other during development in the same way that high torque conflicts with solid posture. Taillon carries the risks that come along with scap loads and inverted W's (vis-a-vis elbow drag), so it will be critical for him to emphasize functional strength and flexibility while the Pirates manage his workloads.
Repetition of ideal timing will also be a key aspect to the future of both pitchers.
MiLB.TV is amazing, and you can find some of the most bizarre and entertaining footage during the down times. When researching this article, I witnessed a member of the grounds crew nearly get swallowed by a Tarp-nami, and I even saw a Batdog - the golden retriever was trained to fetch the lumber after batted balls.
Best $15 I ever spent.
Yes sir, it surely was! September 10th, 1999. The only hit was a HR by Chili Davis, and the only other baserunner was a plunked Chuck Knoblauch. 17 K, 0 BB, and the big W.
This is a great point, though the answer likely depends on the nature of the mechanical adjustment.
1) If the pitcher increases momentum, then his leg muscles would be more taxed but it could very well lesson the toll on the throwing arm, due to a more efficient use of the body to generate (and transfer) kinetic energy. So the legs would be at higher risk, but that is favorable when compared to the alternative.
2) If a pitcher increases balance, then the improved stabilization would most likely result in better mechanical repetition, thus lowering the variability with respect to recruiting associated muscle groups. Also, improvements of posture would allow the arm to function more efficiently during rotation, again helping to buffer against injury.
3) The danger zone is with torque, as often a pitcher will expose his joints to new loads, going against the buffer created through years of throwing, just as baseballATeam mentions. This is particularly true with pitchers who introduce scapular loading or who have timing issues with respect to trunk rotation, and the combination of more kinetic energy with ill-supported muscles and joints is a big risk factor.
And as lagniappe mentioned, conditioning is an underlying factor with all mechanical considerations.
Can we put an MA label on it for "violence" and "gore"?
Great call, Lindemann, and I agree that it is very satisfying to notice a mechanical trend and then see the results on the field. One of my major goals with Raising Aces is to open up the conversation of what our eyes see and to share in the subjective experience - when I watch a ballgame, the mechanics tell the story of "why" behind a performance, and I hope that the readers get similar value from these articles.
Thanks for reading!
Duly noted, jalee, and thanks for the kind words. Sale won't quite fit into the "Then and Now" series (he doesn't have much of a "Then"), and I covered Sale a bit in this article, but I agree that I should do a full profile of the lefty soon. Thanks for the suggestion, and I'll add Sale to the list.
Thanks for the awesome observation, mcguire. I didn't realize that Gio did that, and it certainly reinforces the notion that his altered stride direction is a point of emphasis. Great stuff.
Just for fun, check out Gio Gonzalez's GS/IP for the past three seasons:
2012: 32 / 199.3
2011: 32 / 202.0
2010: 33 / 200.7
The guy is a solid six and out - the variation of IP's on his 2012 game log is remarkably low.
Looks like the Nats will be running the 6+1+1+1 pitcher strategy on a regular basis, with their light-workload starters and a trio of shutdown relievers.
I also believe that certain pitchers have proven to have outlier BABIP's that are sustainable (Kershaw/Cain), and that it is explainable due to the high incidence of weak contact. There are other pitchers that do this to a lesser extreme, but BABIP is limited by the imperfect inputs problem and thus only catches the outliers - one needs HITf/x to quantify the quality of contact in order to establish significant thresholds.
Luckily, Mike Fast covered that topic for us before bolting for more humid pastures.
Excellent work, as per usual. I meant to ping you when I saw the chat comment, and I couldn't agree more about the large-N model.
I remember learning something in stats class about applying the results of large-N studies towards similarly robust samples - if 500 players tend to regress toward a mean in one season, then one might expect a similar sample to follow the same trend. But the model breaks down on a case-by-case basis.
Besides, individualized analysis opens up so many fun research questions, many of which don't enter the analytic framework of a large-N model.
Well said, Evo, and in the case of Hellickson, Jason Collette wrote an awesome article on his particular tail-wagging, to which I chimed in with a couple of additional details (with GIF's!).
Also, watch Ricky Nolasco pitch if you want to see an outlier example of the difference between ERA and FIP - his (ERA-FIP) for the past four seasons have been +0.56, +1.17, +0.62, and +1.75. The guy doesn't miss his targets by much, but he misses them all the time, and missing your spots within the strike zone will get you hammered in the show. The result is few walks but a ton of hard-hit baseballs, a factor that slips beneath the radar of any metric that is rooted in box-score stats.
Speaking of which, I think the greatest limitation in today's statistical playground is the error inherent in our input variables - how can we properly tease out the roles of pitching and defense on balls-in-play when we are using a data set that treats a bunt single the same as a screaming liner over the second-base bag?
In all fairness, I think that pitches like this one have something to do with the lack of confidence - it's tough to remain self-assured when one is missing targets by more than a foot (check out the C's glove at set-up).
I agree that he is young enough to turn it around, though I also agree that he has yet to show the secondary stuff to warrant much optimism.
This is a great idea, Dave, and the first I've heard of it.
Each BBWAA member having a personal "locked in" ballot would serve the function of satiating the voter's ego, allowing each one to grandstand with a branded opinion of who deserves enshrinement. Each voter would also be held more accountable for his or her individual ballot.
This sounds like a pretty solid compromise to fit the interests of all parties, and it would accomplish several key elements relating to the overcrowded ballot, from the lack of annual entrants to the players that get squeezed. The only issue I see is that it's a one-way door, so voters might be reticent to commit to players if they know that they can never go back, causing the plan to backfire.
I would give you a round of applause, but the best I can do alone is to start a slow clap.
That is one interpretation, though I find it somewhat dubious to project one's intentions based on a list of names, without the author's explanation. I was surprised to learn that there was such a consensus among the selections of my BP brethren, but I am willing to bet that we all have different reasons for our choices.
There are two boundaries: "PED's don't matter for HoF voting" on one side, and "any whiff of PED's = no HoF" on the other. In between those boundaries is a murky grey area of vague options, and my guess is that many of us lie on different parts of that spectrum. Personally, I applied a discount to the numbers of confirmed users, but I also felt that the best power hitters of the generation still deserved enshrinement.
You can disagree with the opinion, but it is a misinterpretation of the results to presume that we are all like-minded individuals forming a united front.
Russell: Our baseball interests were piqued at about the same time and at the same age, so maybe you can help me out here - did you ever think that Kenny Lofton and Willie Mays Hayes were the same person? Or am I the only one?
... and Charles Nagy did a horrible impersonation of Rick Vaughn.
+1 Larry, I couldn't agree more.
Hopefully we are getting beyond the "BABIP = luck" paradigm for pitchers (many thanks to the excellent work by Mike Fast), and there is much to be learned from outlier players.
I think that everyone can agree that Justin Verlander is an outlier, in every sense of the word, and his putting up a .273 BABIP last season in front of the 27th-ranked defense in baseball by Def-Eff (.693) tells us something about the nature of the stat. In 2011, he put up a ridiculous .236 BABIP in front of a .708 Def-Eff Tiger defense (18th in baseball). It is similar with Clayton Kershaw (though Kersh is not so extreme) - these guys live in the lower-left quadrant of the correlation chart.
The middle of the graph is still muddled, either because we lack the tools sensitive enough to measure them with precision (my contention), or because the actual impact is quite small. But it's not a coincidence that the pitchers who are generally regarded as the best in the game also happen to have very low hit rates.
Great work, as always, Jason.
Oops, the hyperlink didn't survive the trip. Here's the article on pronation/supination:
Great question, twayda. These grades actually have very little to do with pitch movement, and instead are indicators of command and velocity, as you mentioned.
Pitch movement is determined by the physical pronation (change-ups, screwballs, sinkers, 2-seamers) or supination (curves, sliders, cutters) of the throwing arm into release point. I covered the topic extensively in this article back in May, and pitch grip also plays a role.
Unfortunately, I lack the tools to do a fair assessment of pronation/supination for major-league pitchers, hence the exclusion from the mechanics report card. I haven't done so yet for BP, but in previous work I have offered grades for a pitcher's arsenal, evaluating command, movement, and velocity on the 20-80 scale. Perhaps I should add that element to pitcher profiles.
Incredible. The depth and breadth of the reports are outstanding, and I will echo the sentiment of nolandsdad - no way did I expect to see 100 detailed scouting reports when I clicked the link.
Amazing work, Alan - I will be re-clicking this article for weeks!
I am sending a set of them over the electronic mail right now. Take a look and tell me what you think!
Many thanks. I am enjoying these reviews of past greats, as they did not just happen upon their numbers with raw talent alone - each one had elite mechanics in nearly every category. There isn't a pitcher in the game today who can match the mechanics GPA of Greg Maddux or Randy Johnson.
I wrote about Randy about a month ago (if you want my thoughts on the subject), though I doubt that it will settle anything, because they both had absolutely ridiculous mechanics.
Great work on a fascinating topic, Jason.
Just an observation, but part of the explanation for his success with runners on could be mechanical.
I feel that Hellickson has a better delivery from the stretch because he brings more momentum with runners on base, which acts to lengthen his release point - which means later relative pitch-break, giving batters less time to identify the incoming pitch.
Helix is slow to the plate from the windup [I gave him a 40 grade], but he often gets going with runners on [closer to a 50]. He uses a couple of strategies from the stretch, from a slide step to his standard leg lift, and though he does not get closer to the plate on the slide step (leg comes down too early), he does get noticeably closer to the plate when he uses a regular leg lift from the stretch due to the greater momentum. From what I have seen, he mostly relies on his regular leg lift from the stretch but mixes in the slide step to keep base-runners honest - so most of his pitches with runners on base have a deeper release point than his pitches from the windup.
Why Helix doesn't use his stretch-momentum from the windup is somewhat perplexing, but he probably feels like he can repeat his timing more consistently with the slower motion.
Awww, thanks Ric! Kind words indeed.
I'm glad that you enjoyed our journey in the Wayback Machine, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to enhance our readers' learning curve.
Thanks for reading!
I should note that Kimbrel was doing his best Maddux impression in the video, not Kimbrel's own delivery. He also showed off his best impersonations of Glavine and Smoltz.
Here's the link of the video at mlb.com : http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=24764019&c_id=mlb
I was most impressed when Kimbrel put the glove on the other hand for Glavine.
Great question, and in fact my former boss (Tom House) asked Maddux that very question at one point. Maddux's response was: "27 pitches, 27 outs."
I anticipated a bristled reaction to the Samardzija suggestion - looking at the surface names, it looks like a huge haul for a pitcher who has an inconsistent past. If such a trade had been suggested in March it would have been laughable, but a LOT has changed.
Samardzija's stock has skyrocketed under the radar, as he overcame many of the knocks against him and proved himself as not only capable of starting at the highest level, but of dominating there. There aren't a whole lot of starting pitchers available within his tier (or who can hit 98 on the gun), and he's under control for the next three years yet playing for a team whose window of contention might be 3 years away.
I'm not as sold on Perez, as I think there is a huge gap between what he could be and what he is, and he has made little progress in bridging that gap. I also think that there has been a market correction regarding the value of prospects and the willingness to deal them - many prospects quickly morph into suspects, and their peak trade value can be very fleeting.
Or maybe I will just be the guy who over-drafts Samardzija in his fantasy leagues next year.
Haha, I hear ya, Zeustis! The logic behind that instruction never made sense to me, either. It seems to me that if you start balanced and stay balanced, then you shouldn't need to "find a balance point."
Unfortunately, I have not yet had the opportunity to watch May pitch, but players his age often struggle with balance before figuring out how to get into functional pitching shape. As I alluded to with the Felix comment above, balance is an aspect that often improves with age, so there is plenty of reason for optimism with May.
Maddux had incredible mechanics, and he will be featured in an upcoming article for my "Good Old Days" series. Some folks might be surprised by his power grades (torque and momentum), but nobody will be surprised by his insane repetition grade.
Stay tuned ...
Seaver was awesome. His balance grade was hurt a bit by some lean back toward 1B at max leg lift, and his head trailed behind the center of mass, but he finished with strong balance and posture (which will be covered in Part Two) - averages out to about a 50 grade. His momentum was excellent, probably a 65 overall, and I have seen pitches where it graded out as an easy 70 from the windup. His torque was elite, with huge upper-body load and great timing of trunk rotation - his torque grade was a solid 70, and reached 80 during his peak.
You picked a helluva player to emulate.
There is nobody in the majors that is close to 80 on all 3 of these particular grades, but there are a couple of guys who are well above average on all 3 (60 or better), with 80 spikes. Off the top of my head, Verlander is near the top of the scale for torque and has momentum that is probably a 65-70, though his balance is more like a 55-60. Strasburg has 80 torque and 60-65 balance, and in his rookie year he had 60+ momentum, though I graded him as a 55-momentum earlier this year. Felix Hernandez might be a 65-70 on all three measures, which is incredible when you consider how far his mechanics have come along during his career. His balance and posture used to be a mess, and to turn them both into assets is simply awesome (as if he wasn't good enough on raw talent alone). I should do a write-up on King Felix's development - I'll add it to the list.
The best candidate for your question has already retired, but he was pretty good during his day.
Any adjustment would require the functional strength and flexibility to support it, and in that sense the degree of improvement would depend on pitcher conditioning. But if they had the underlying structural integrity, then both pitchers could add some velo through more efficient mechanics.
Buehrle has more room for improvement, because torque is more closely linked to velocity, whereas Ross would see more of a benefit to his release distance / perceived velocity / pitch break.
Theoretically, Buehrle could add a few ticks (~3 mph or more) with average torque. But that assumes that he is flexible enough to produce that level of hip-shoulder separation, and that he could do so without throwing his timing out of whack.
Average velocity is around 90-91 mph, and Buehrle averaged 86-mph on his FB this year. Torque accounts for a big chunk of that difference, but his intrinsic arm strength and other factors also play a role.
Fair point, Alan.
I tried not to repeat too much of the material from other articles, where the "why" has been covered pretty extensively. That said, the point of this series is to provide a Cliff's Notes version of the grading system, and a "why" is certainly relevant.
So here is a brief explanation as to the "why":
Balance - balance allows a pitcher to repeat the positioning aspects of his delivery, and to support a stable motion. Great balance is an underlying ingredient of great pitch command.
Momentum - Greater momentum adds kinetic energy to the system, and through our NPA experiments we discovered that the lower body is responsible for about 20% of a pitcher's velocity. Momentum will also get a pitcher closer to the plate, which increases perceived velocity and allows for (relatively) later movement on breaking pitches.
Torque - More torque = more velocity, and does so in a way that recruits energy from the body rather than rely on pure arm strength.
Some of these elements are related to injury risk, which I covered in this article.
I hope that helps, and thanks for reading!
I could not think of a greater way to exemplify the visual aspect of balance than to put Cain and Marmol side-by-side. They are a testament to the value of functional strength - Marmol might beat Cain in arm wrestling, but functionally Cain is miles ahead!
Awesome observation, jfribley.
Actually, almost all pitchers leave the rubber in the later phases of the delivery. In fact, it is extremely difficult to physically keep the foot in contact with the rubber at all times.
If you look at the Timmy GIF, you can see how his back foot carves a line in the dirt from where it leaves the rubber through release point. We call this the "drag line," and pretty much every pitcher has one. In fact, it is a great indicator of the pitcher's positioning at release point, and we use the "drag line" as a marker when lining up pitchers on the rubber when they set up. Meanwhile, the length of the drag line is an indicator of how far forward a pitcher's momentum takes him.
It is one of those things that often goes unnoticed, because of an overwhelming tendency to ignore the lower-body when watching a pitcher throw a baseball.
Walden is a different case, though. His back foot essentially "hops" off the rubber, with some slight elevation just before foot strike, which is a very odd trend indeed.
Many thanks. Mark!
I never knew that physics could be so cool until I started learning the real science behind pitching mechanics. Personally, I find it fascinating that there can be such a massive gap between conventional wisdom and reality.
Item #8 is particularly apropos - congrats to Sam and Joe for getting behind the velvet rope! The faux revolution will not only be televised, but it will also be digitized - coming to a website (very) near you.
Can we add that as #9?
... a close second
Thanks, rwinter! Your words are very much appreciated, and reader comments are my absolute favorite part of this gig.
In theory, yes, but keep in mind that the shoulder axis is rotating less than 180 degrees (a half-revolution) and often closer to 100-degrees from start of trunk rotation to release point - a skater requires multiple revolutions before there is a noticeable impact on angular momentum. So though it might have a slight effect, in the specific situation for pitchers it is almost negligible. But if the Tazmanian devil took the mound, then he might benefit from keeping his arms close to the body - but I don't think that Taz would get past the balk rule.
Many thanks for the tip of the cap, Ric! I'm glad that you have enjoyed the Raising Aces series.
There's definitely something to that, as that 1.5 pounds feels heavier as a pitcher tires, and in general he might have a tougher time lifting his arms if fatigued. Valentine was the manager when Tom House was the pitching coach in Texas, and he is certainly aware of much of the methodology. He may not have the most street cred right now, but I respect Bobby V's open-minded approach to baseball research and methodology.
Maybe not a direct relationship, but the tendency for guys with poor gloves to also have poor balance, rough posture, and /or inconsistent timing adds to the injury equation.
Good observation, Nils J - Stanek is relatively weak with the lower body, and his delivery is very reliant on upper-body and torque. I would like to see him get more use of his lower half in order to increase momentum, along with the athleticism to maintain balance and to track the body closer to the plate. Not many guys can successfully execute the stiff front leg and consistently repeat the release point (Verlander is the glaring exception), and Stanek could really benefit from some additional extension to his release point. His posture is already very strong, and his upper-half is much more advanced.
Stanek's arms also have some Inverted-W thanks to a heavy scapular load, which underscores the importance of conditioning to allow the shoulder muscles to support his technique, in addition to proper timing to prevent the possibility of elbow drag (which has been connected to injury risk).
I agree with Nick that continued reps and tailored instruction will go a long way toward helping Stanek to hit his ceiling, especially an emphasis on strength-training and balance.
I should mention that, though his mechanical grades are not extreme, his fastball velo is certainly top notch, which combined with a smallish frame will often generate doubt about stamina. He doesn't have the hip-shoulder separation that is typically characteristic of such velo, which speaks to his tremendous arm strength. I am also basing the evaluation on just a couple of AA starts, and from what I have heard, his mechanics fell out of whack in 2011 but looked better in 2012. He reportedly made a mechanical change after his shoulder was barking in spring, and my assessment is based on what I saw in August-September, so that may explain some discrepancy in the scouting reports.
That, and the fact that "effort" is not always interpreted the same way, and I tend to like pitchers who display some effort in the delivery. I should also note that hard-throwers are naturally at higher risk for injury, and smaller pitchers require tremendous functional strength to support such high levels of kinetic energy. In that sense, what "projects well for his future health" is a relative term, and brings with it certain caveats.
I really like his delivery. Clean, simple, efficient, and he gets a lot out of his frame. Nothing extreme, grade-wise, other than his exceptional posture, but he has a delivery that is easy to repeat and projects well for future health. He is a quick worker, and on the mound he gives the impression that he has a plan that he knows how to execute.
The only potential concern is some hyperabduction of the shoulders as he nears foot strike (the "Inverted W"), an element that could require emphasis in his conditioning regimen to help support the shoulder.
I think that he safely projects at the back-end of a big-league rotation, though his ceiling might be limited.
Wacha is moving fast, and he could factor in sometime soon, however I have reservations about his delivery, which I detailed here.
Here is something that I said back in June: "The ability for Wacha to reach his performance ceiling could very well depend on the instruction that he receives while climbing the minor-league ladder, specifically regarding the elements of posture and momentum, as a conventional emphasis on downhill plane and minimal effort could sidetrack his development"
He has put up video game numbers thus far, and from the sounds of it he has maintained the arm slot. If he repeats the slot then he may be able to minimize the variation in lateral locations, typically missing above or below the zone rather than inside/outside, which will reflect well on his walk rates. But I worry about his ability to repeat the arm slot, and there are risks associated with such exaggerated spine-tilt.
I can't get enough of that one - I laugh every time.
Collin Cowgill, meet my friend, "TILT"
"It marked one of the few times he went first to third all year."
Poor oversight on my part. Thanks for the correction!
Many thanks, Nick. I have a blast with this stuff, and I hope that the readers derive similar enjoyment from the art and science of pitching.
Unfortunately, the video is sketchy as well as scarce. The frame-rate is such that, on the few full-speed deliveries that I have seen, his arm is moving too quick for the cameras to pick it up - it essentially looks like his arm goes instantly from start of trunk rotation to release point.
Of course, the ghost-arm only adds to the mythical legend of the Big Train.
That said, he would score elite marks for posture and torque, while his balance and his momentum were well above average, resulting in excellent release distance. He would likely earn 60's and above for every category, with an 80 or two sprinkled in for good effect.
Which is insane when you consider that he did this 100 years ago.
My pleasure, and thanks for reading.
I dig the idea of searching through the archives at mlb.com to see what I can find from the 80's, though the pickings will likely be slim. In fact, I get zero results when I type Tudor's name into the search engine.
I think that Bauer would certainly benefit from instruction as long as he trusted the source. I wrote about Bauer's mechanics here, and his report card is littered with peaks and valleys (nothing is average). I believe that Bauer would appreciate a scientific approach to pitching, given his background.
Controlf/x sounds awesome, and as the name implies, it will reveal much more than catcher-framing ability - it will measure true command vs control for their pitchers.
Though they should call it Commandf/x.
Genius idea, Peter, and I'm stealing it
We should nickname him "Q&E" - describes his pace as well as his mechanics.
Thanks to everyone for all of the suggestions, and look forward to seeing many of these over the off-season.
I am stoked on the idea of looking at some of the greats of the previous generation to breakdown why they were so good. The fascinating thing is that, even though guys like Randy and Pedro appear to be completely different, they actually share a ton of mechanical similarities.
PS Randy Johnson's Mechanics Report Card is almost perfect.
He's an interesting one, and I actually wrote about Dickey back in June.
What an awesome story.
Looks like somebody missed class last week
Special thanks to Ian Miller for providing the Krukow quotes to confirm what my eyes were seeing
Bumgarner's timing had been off for over a month, and the Giants had Bum make an adjustment by decreasing his upper-body load (twist). The ripple effect made it easier for Bum to repeat and find his release point, but he had less torque than usual.
Interestingly, Bum has relatively low velocity for a guy with such heavy hip-shoulder separation, and his velo was also down before he made the adjustment. He maxed out at 91-mph vs StL and sat 89-90 most of the game, and vs. Cincy he hit 92-mph twice in the first inning but his velo dissipated afterward.
My guess is that Bum is dealing with the physical toll of pitching a long season (at 22 years old), making it more difficult to coordinate his peak mechanics. I wouldn't worry about next year, and he proved that he can survive at 89-90 mph if given another start.
Excellent work, Nick.
So much can change with these kids in such a short time, and many of them are still growing while at the same time trying to harness consistent mechanics. Most of the players lack the functional strength to repeat the delivery (or even maintain balance), but then you have guys like Sheffield that look like they are all brute-strength right now.
Quick question: Was Driver consistently exaggerating the over-the-top arm slot on curveballs, or was it just a SSS fluke of the video?
Thanks for the awesome analysis.
Here is the answer key to the final exam:
Great work, RJ. There is a ton of information hidden in the analysis of first-pitch tendencies of various pitchers, and checking out which guys are confident in a first-pitch "show me" curve is one of the highlights.
Also great notes on Zito. He has been throwing his fastball up in the zone his entire career, and the point about initial trajectory is right on. The tendency to rise above also helps the FB play up a tick on the effective velocity scale, as batters have to start the swing a little bit earlier in order to hit a pitch squarely that is up in the zone (or above). One of the funniest sights of the post-season has been batters taking late swings on 85-mph "fastballs."
A big leg-lift can aid momentum, but more critically it allows a pitcher to get the most out of his momentum by allowing him to extend his stride and thus his release distance.
I am not a fan of the slide step for exactly this reason, and I prefer that a pitcher uses his natural leg lift from the stretch.
However, because many pitchers have poor early momentum (slow into max lift) from the windup, they will often have a better burst with a slide step in comparison, because they will get their energy moving toward the target from the get-go.
Excellent suggestion, Bill. I am kicking off a series of these "Bush League" articles, and players like Miller and Rosenthal are right up my alley.
It's also funny that you mention the teammate thing, as my original idea was to rock pairs of teammates like Cole/Taillon, Hultzen/Walker, and Bauer/Skaggs. In the end I decided to open up the scope of the series, but I think that teammates are a great way to go in future articles.
Thanks for the idea, and I appreciate the descriptive qualities of your post.
Many thanks, dcorr.
My perpetual goal is to open up the landscape of things to see when watching a ballgame, so that's the greatest compliment that I could receive.
Momentum can be the quickest fix, as I have seen players make such adjustments in a single day, however the ripple effect on timing can throw a wrench into things. Most pitchers actually do a better job of repetition once they jack up the momentum, but there are others who will struggle until they find the pace that fits their time signature.
Repeatability is the most difficult element to address, given that it is sensitive to all of the other links in the kinetic chain. Just when you think a pitcher has his timing down, something will crop up that will throw him off track. Release distance is also a function of multiple variables, including momentum, posture, glove position, timing, etc.
Other elements such as balance, torque, and posture often require that the athlete improve his functional strength and flexibility, so it can take longer for them to establish the physical baselines necessary for improvement.
Yeah, but what's up with the four-function calculator?
Somebody get that man a TI-89
I think that the hypersensitivity of mechanical timing and sequencing is strongly linked to this - a dose of adrenalin or a rush of anxiety can throw the whole system out of whack.
As Jason has mentioned, watching a pitcher get lit for the first time is also a crucial stage of development, to see if he becomes phobic of challenging hitters. A pitcher who doesn't trust his stuff will never succeed in the bigs.
Thanks for the additional background, Fred. I agree that he is a poor candidate for the 'pen, and there is often a push-pull between pitcher and coach when it comes to adjusting mechanics, so I understand the potential for friction.
I also agree that his shoulder is at risk, though it is not the short-arm motion that stands out to me as a threat. The high angles of abduction are red flags, plus his dependence on hip-whip to generate rotational velocity as opposed to hip-shoulder separation is a potential risk factor.
Thanks for the correction. My ill-fated attempt at humor was thwarted by facts once again. Blast!
Thanks for the comment, and I appreciate the thoughtful consideration of how to approach this type of analysis.
To answer your question, I controlled for base situation by choosing pitches with nobody on when evaluating momentum and timing. Regarding inning and pitches, I kept to the first few frames in order to avoid issues with fatigue, as you mention. We are dealing with very tight parameters, so I wanted to replicate the environment as closely as possible for these imperfect experiments.
Romero can surely be "fixed," but whether or not that happens depends on coaching, conditioning, and the player's ability to make adjustments.
One of my favorite BP quotes of all time, courtesy of Gary Huckabay, circa 2007:
"When I first wrote that "There's No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect," it meant two things, one of which has kind of become lost over time. Yes, it means that pitchers get hurt at approximately the same rate that methheads swipe identities and lose teeth. That's what all pitchers do, not just prospects. But it also had another meaning-that guys who are totally blowing people away in the minors like they're so many hot dog pretenders before Kobayashi are absolutely not pitching prospects-they're already pitchers, and more time in the minors only means time off the living, pulsating clocks that are their labrums, rotator cuffs, and elbows."
That's a fair question, especially given that I did not offer up how the other catchers do with such errant throws.
The answer is that great catchers will begin drifting the target slowly toward the final location from nearly the moment that the pitch is released, but Soto doesn't budge his glove until the ball is almost right on top of him (hence the "stab").
To see the difference, check out the Molinas - in the 2nd Cardinal GIF, Wainwright misses a bit up and Yadier begins lifting the target slowly above the setup position, almost immediately after release, and though the pitch was fouled he was right in line to make the clean play. It is tougher to see because he is crawling to the inside edge, but if you isolate the mitt then you can see just how early he recognizes the pitch by starting to lift the glove. That is a catcher who knows his pitcher's delivery, who knows his stuff, and who recognizes process and results.
Jose Molina does this as well. Looking at the GIF, Shields misses his target by a few inches inside, and Jose recognizes it so early that he begins drifting the target almost in sync with Shields' release point. It's a minor miss, but Molina's early recognition and precise adjustment (without moving the body) make it look as though the pitch went exactly where it was supposed to. If a pitcher misses a target by a foot, Molina will be able to recognize it early enough to begin moving early, and I would rather he drift the body than risk a passed ball with a stab.
Thanks for the observation and the follow-through, Leg.
"...I'd shut him down whenever I felt like I was hitting an inflection point in the risk curve."
I am incredibly biased, but I strongly recommend anything written by Tom House. "Fit to Pitch" and "The Art & Science of Pitching" are essential guides for a coach at any level.
And if you pardon my shameless plug, I recommend the book that I co-wrote with House - "Arm Action" - to anyone who is interested in numbers that challenge the conventional wisdom of pitching.
Thanks for the suggestion, kc. I'll add him to the list.
I think you're on to something, jcj, and I do something similar when doing a single-game breakdown of a pitcher, using an Excel template. For Stras, it would be very informative to track the frequency of mis-timed deliveries throughout the season for both performance evaluation and risk assessment, especially as the season wears on.
I think I hear a project for the off-season ...
Muchas gracias, comrades!
Between the stretch adjustment and the pause in his momentum that was introduced over the summer, Darvish has made some pretty big mechanical adjustments in-season.
Watching him pitch, I rarely get the impression that he is comfortable on the mound or pleased with his results, leaving me fascinated by what we might see in the postseason if he finds his mechanical groove.
Great observation, timber. Darvish ditched the windup back in April - according to the archives at mlb.TV, he started pitching exclusively from the stretch on April 24 against the Yankees, in just his fourth start of the season. He had been toying with his arm-movements from the windup in the first few games, and the Rangers decided to axe the issue.
The strategy could certainly help with his timing, as pitching from the stretch all the time means that he only needs to master one timing pattern, as opposed to disparate timing from windup and stretch. When working with younger players, I often encourage them to pitch exclusively from the stretch in order to simplify their mechanics.
Excellent follow-through, Tom - thanks for coming back to visit the article. You ask a great question, and it's a topic that will be covered in this week's edition of Raising Aces.
Good call, jfribley, and there is an article like this already in the workshop.
Wow, that is a huge omission on my part to have the word "aces" twice in the title of an article about the A's, and then make no mention of the "Four Aces" draft. Thanks for the catch!
Think the Braves are happy with the results of that one?
Good call on McCarthy. My mind's eye went straight to the uniform that he wore when I had seen him pitch in the past, which happened to be the Rangers. As a prospect, you're absolutely right, as he was drafted and developed by the W-Sox before he was flipped for Danks (among others).
Oh, there's more in the tank. I had to make a judgment call on pitcher #4, and decided to go for a player that came up through the system - Straily seemed like a solid choice given his rapid rise and surprising success.
I think that Anderson deserves his own write up at some point, and the A's have several other pitchers in the system that are worthy of digital ink. Griffin is certainly one of them.
I think that Parker's delivery appears easier and "safer" due to the slower speeds giving the appearance of greater control over his movements. That said, I am a proponent of strong momentum and high-speed rotation as elements of efficiency that help to maximize pitch effectiveness, though such techniques require greater strength and coordination. I am also a huge fan of Straily's balance indicators, which helps to explain the higher grades.
I think that McCarthy has the highest floor, with the caveat that the floor might have some dry-rot. Straily has the higher mechanical ceiling, but his stuff is not on par with Parker's, and in the end mechanics are there to safely improve stuff. So ultimately I would say that Parker has the higher ceiling, particularly if he can ratchet up the intensity without killing his efficiency.
Awesome breakdown, Riley - you nailed the fills.
"It’s what it might sound like if you let a troop of chimpanzees run wild in a Guitar Center."
I tried running "chimp" and "guitar center" in the YouTube search engine ... no luck. That needs to happen, for the sake of humanity.
My pleasure. Duels like this are so much fun to write up that I had a hard time showing restraint on the word count.
Excellent idea, Sean - that would be a lot of fun to write. Thanks for the suggestion.
Besides, I've been looking for an excuse to embed even more GIF's into an article.
He was also in the blimp, manning the camera
The side-view is ideal for evaluating a pitcher's momentum and functional stride distance, as it isolates the lateral movement from rubber to plate. It can also make it easy to see if a pitcher is imbalanced with the head lagging behind the center of mass or leading out in front of the body. The drawback to the side-view is that it is tough to diagnose other elements from that angle, such as left-right balance, posture, or torque.
I guess you could say that it is a powerful angle with limited scope.
Brown had a very efficient delivery prior to release point, though he demonstrated some solid flail after he let go of the baseball. He is also a great example of why downhill plane is over-rated, as an extreme groundball pitcher who carried a low arm slot - he exemplifies the extent to which grounders are influenced more by the angle of trajectory at impact (aka Brown's filthy sinker) than the angle at release point.
If you locate a pitching encyclopedia from the years 1988 - 1995, then there will be a picture of Dibble under the tab for "Mechanics - Violent." The guy had all of the ingredients - huge leg kick with a powerful (but imbalanced) stride, ferocious rotation and early spine tilt. His head jerked violently to the glove side as the arms went into full flail mode, with sloppy rotation before spinning off the mound. Talk about a distraction, I imagine that batters went to the plate with the same feeling as facing Nuke LaLoosh just after he hit the bull.
Good point on Marichal, and though we often hear of a pitcher who "changes arm angles" on the batter, truth is that most pitchers who do this will do so unintentionally. Very few pitchers can effectively alter their arm slot with precision, and even fewer can do so while maintaining stable posture - in other words, they change arm slot solely through a voluntary adjustment to the angle of shoulder abduction. More often the pitcher's posture is unstable, and the various degrees of spine tilt will artificially raise or lower the arm slot.
This was meant as a reply to TJ's question (mis-click).
But you bring up another good point, chicken (can I call you chicken?) - a pitcher also has the choice of altering his grip or his forearm angle to influence the pitch velocity and break. A deeper grip or an increase in pre-set supination will effectively slow down the offering, though pitchers may struggle to find the grip consistently until they have it mastered.
This can be very difficult for a pitcher, and one should only expect those with incredible command and "feel" for their arsenal to be able to add or subtract at will. Younger players will show such variation from pitch to pitch without intention, as part of the natural variability in their timing and positioning.
The functional difference comes from a very subtle alteration to the delivery, typically relating to the timing of trunk rotation to alter the overall torque on the pitch. However, some players will more literally slow down the body to "take something off," and hitters can pick up on this tactic, as delatopia astutely mentioned.
Many young players will telegraph the changeup with either a slow body or a reduced arm speed.
Certainly. I wouldn't ask a pitcher to alter his mechanics just to create a visual distraction for hitters, but there are pitchers whose failing limbs serve that function naturally. Batters have expressed frustration in picking up the baseball out of Weaver's hand for the same reason.
Great call on Nolasco's command vs control, R.J.
He has no problem throwing strikes, but he demonstrates how it can hurt to miss by 6 inches as opposed to 16 inches. Nolasco is a perfect example of the Com-v-Con distinction.
The AngelFish is
Legen- (wait for it) -dary
Do Trout swim upstream?
Certainly. The low level of kinetic energy flowing through the system will minimize the kinetic toll - as Dr. Glenn Fleisig illustrated in Ben's Q&A, harder throwers generally have higher-stress deliveries: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=17520
This helps to explain why knuckleballers can seemingly pitch forever.
Strong early momentum involves a first movement that is triggered toward the target, as opposed to straight up or back toward 2B. Most pitchers have 2 gears, with momentum that picks up after max leg lift, and good early momentum refers to the 1st gear, from first movement to max lift. An indicator for a good first gear is a pitcher who leads with the hip, thrusting toward the target immediately from setup.
Lincecum is a good example of a guy with strong momentum throughout, as is top draft pick Kyle Zimmer.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
In general, generating strong early momentum is a good thing, and it often results in a shorter time into foot strike. This will increase the kinetic energy in the system, though the torque will be more reliant on timing and sequencing. Both momentum and torque contribute to velocity, but torque plays a much bigger role.
The A's are way ahead with respect to biomechanics, and none of their starters bothers with the slide step. A's starters also have great balance & posture across the board, FWIW.
The .1-.2 seconds comes via research that we did for "Arm Action," in addition to measurements that we made regularly at the National Pitching Association. Keep in mind that the .1-.2 seconds is compared to a regular stretch delivery (not the windup).
I agree that there is more to be mined here, however I feel that the philosophical exercise underscores the "insanity" - why would we create any obstacle to pitch execution in order to thwart such a rare occurrence, particularly when the methods employed only have a marginal impact on the end-goal?
There are many examples that can be observed in the numbers. For example, Brandon Morrow was a mess with the slide step for the last two years, and the impact to his line is clear. I would watch games where he just could not get the ball down due to constantly early rotation, which helps to explain why he was so "unlucky" to get only one GIDP in 2011. But he has addressed the issue in 2012 and is finally finding his release point with the slide step, which is a factor underlying his improved numbers. In fact, if you watch the mlb.tv feed from the game on June 6, the announcers discuss these exact improvements (2nd inning, after Pierzynski's single). Someone studying the numbers might look at the 2012 to '11 disparity and scream "noise" and "small sample size," but watching the game with a mechanical bent will often reveal why the numbers are what they are.
To be fair, there are other pitchers who will struggle from the stretch with a more standard leg kick - just watch any Tim Linececum start from the last month to see what I mean.
I hear ya, Bill, though data collection is extremely difficult - one would need to break down each pitcher's individual slide-step context and measure the HR rates from there. It would require classifying every pitcher in the league as a slide stepper or non, and not everyone employs the slide step to the same degree - the crafty vets that mix in the slide step selectively would require pitch-by-pitch tracking from the stretch. The effect is also more pronounced on the first few pitches from the stretch, before a pitcher can make adjustments, which further complicates the target sample. There are also confounding variables when parsing pitchFX data that make it tough to isolate an effect, such as the findings by our own Max Marchi regarding fastball velocity that increases in critical situations: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=17352
I have mentioned some specific examples in Raising Aces, and in fact I showed a visual comparison of Stephen Strasburg's new slide step here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=17146
I encourage you to look for this phenomenon when watching games, rather than take my word for it. I think that you will notice that many pitchers lack command from the stretch, particularly those who employ the slide step, and that the command issues are more often manifested as under-rotation.
I will say that, in general, if pitchers were equally effective with a slide step, then the obvious solution would be to pitch that way all the time. Why harness two timing patterns when one will suffice? Coaches know that they are sacrificing something to achieve a quicker release, and the degree of impact is very much player-dependent, with wide variance across the league.
I agree, and the symptomatology of the fall-off is rooted in each pitchers' imbalance from foot strike to follow-through.
It is a problem that could be addressed in the minors, though different coaches will have different philosophies for how to fix the problem, and some might be hesitant due to a perceived risk of sacrificing effectiveness. One would hope that the imbalance would be corrected earlier in the kinetic chain, and the ripple effect would then solve the issue after release point.
If the fall-off persists, then these pitchers will have a very tough time covering the bunt to the 3B side, and their teams will have to rely on the wheel play in the event of a bunt with a runner on 2nd and less than 2 out.
His inconsistency mostly boils down to mechanical timing and sequencing, and as you noticed, the timing of initiation of trunk rotation is a critical benchmark in his (or any) delivery. The question is whether his arm is "late" getting into position or if the trunk rotation is "early" compared to the rest of the kinetic chain.
Timing issues can definitely be fixed, though some players take a long time to find consistency (as mentioned above). It also requires one to recognize the importance of consistent timing in order to make such an adjustment, as well as identification of an ideal time signature that is unique to the athlete. However, not every coach emphasizes mechanical timing when working with pitchers.
I would guess that Heaney speeds things up with runners on, but that leaves to question whether he compensates with an abbreviated lift, and/or has issues adjusting to the timing discrepancy.
It is typically easier to improve momentum than balance, posture, or torque - the latter three often require extra conditioning to support the change. The former can alter timing, though, and timing is the wild card - some guys figure it out quickly when they discover a natural timing signature, others battle for years to find the timing that works best. In the end, it all boils down to the individual athlete.
There are many factors that contribute to timing and repetition, and a pitcher with strong balance and functional strength will have an easier time repeating the delivery. That said, occasionally you'll find a pitcher who can overcome the obstacles to find a consistent time signature despite mechanical barriers. Dan Haren is one such example, as a pitcher with a distinct "pause" in his delivery in addition to shaky balance and posture, yet the guy somehow finds a way to repeat it each time. He just has a natural feel for his timing signature that he can harness at any time.
The report cards are based on all pitches in the game - stretch, windup, fastball, breaking ball, etc. The grades are meant to be a composite of all pitches thrown.
Many pitchers have different mechanics on different pitch types, and this will be reflected in the grades. The most common trends are that pitchers will slow down their momentum on off-speed pitches, and they will feature extra spine-tilt on breaking balls. As mentioned in the article, Buchholz is an example of a pitcher whose posture gets worse on the curve ball.
Great point about the slider, which he threw last season but has become a major part of his repertoire this year. I chose not to focus on pitch selection in the article - I only had the space to focus on mechanics in Four of a Kind, as opposed to the more detailed single-player breakdowns.
I have watched other starts from the vault, including his 11-K, 1-BB performance against Washington on May 17, and the grades were basically the same across the board. His momentum was a bit better in that game, as was his torque, but the balance and posture were still a mess. His timing was spot on, though, and that continues to impress me.
I appreciate that McDonald is a better pitcher now than in the past, but I contend that his numbers are over his head. I just don't see the ingredients for a 2.20 ERA and a 3.3 K:BB for the rest of the season.
Thanks for the discourse, aso
I am a devout follower of all things baseball, and am enamored with the intersection of stats and the physical elements of playing the game.
By themselves, stats and scouting/coaching are really cool. Put them together, mix in some physics, and baseball becomes a museum of discovery that can be appreciated on many angles.
I am happy to serve as a guide to that museum.
Thanks for the kind words, and I am stoked to be able to share my work with the great minds of the BP family. The reader feedback is the best part of this job, and I enjoy the criticism as much as the kudos - as you can see by my response to aso above.
McDonald's posture has been rough his entire career (check his minor league photos), and his momentum has been slow all season (check the mlb.tv archives). Put them together, and you have a pitcher with a very shallow release point - a huge disadvantage. His balance was also an issue, and these are relatively stable baselines for mechanics.
The elements that tend to fluctuate most from game to game are repetition and torque - and those were his best scores. If anything, McDonald's mechanical GPA is likely to be lower in future games, and may have been lower for some of his previous games (even the good ones). Mechanics GPA does not necessarily agree with the box score, and you'll notice that I made no mention of McDonald's line from that game.
With that in mind, and considering the statistical evidence, my opinion is that McDonald is due for some correction to his fantasy stats. You can disagree, but calling the analysis "very short-sighted" is itself very short-sighted.
Balance and posture are usually the first indicators, and the most glaring, followed by timing issues with the delivery.
Stras actually lost his typically-great posture on a few pitches late in the game, though it had more to do with pitch type than fatigue - Stras used his breaking ball much more heavily in the final two innings, and he has a tendency to tilt the spine more when throwing the hook (a common issue among young players). Check out the strikeout of Exposito to see what I mean - his imbalance leads to a posture-change, and his momentum finishes with a glove-side drift.
Great observation, and the plant-leg discrepancy is a balance indicator as well. Ideally, a pitcher should have some bend/flex in the front knee, allowing the torso to track toward the plate in the time between foot strike and pitch release (i.e. the "follow through" that you mentioned). This will extended his release point closer to the plate, and the knee-bend will allow the pitcher to find his natural balance point.
There are exceptions (proving the rule?), with Justin Verlander being a blatant outlier of a pitcher who succeeds with a very stiff plant-leg through release point.
The follow-through is a non-teach from a coaching standpoint. The last thing I want is for a pitcher to start thinking about what his arm is doing after he releases the baseball. As you mentioned, follow-through should be the natural consequence of the preceding links in the kinetic chain.
Many teams are waiting for someone else to do the heavy-lifting with injury research, especially as it relates to mechanics. They are unwilling to invest the resources necessary to do the job in-house, which makes sense given the time-frames and dollar signs involved in the research. Then again, MLB teams have huge incentive to create their own mechanical models and to lead the era of discovery, given the potential ROI of such a system and the baseball acumen it requires to design an effective model.
I am a huge fan of all three of those pitchers' deliveries, and what is striking is what they have in common. All three pitchers had outstanding marks in the categories that I grade on the mechanics report card, and the one thing that really set them apart (as a group) was excellent momentum and incredible stride that produced astounding depth at release point. Another tie that binds all three of those guys was their pursuit of greatness (#want), as they were three of the hardest-working players in the game. I'm convinced that Nolan has thrown more baseballs in his lifetime than any human being before or since, and Clemens had a hyper-competitive outlook that he will never be out-worked or out-prepared by another pitcher. Every player works hard to get better, but not every pitcher displays a relentless obsession to improve.
I wouldn't believe in ghosts unless one slapped me in the face. That said, I've been beaten senseless by scouting ghosts for the past eight years, so I choose to believe in them.
Overconfidence in either objective or subjective data alone will fuel a limited view, and baseball epiphany lies in the intersection of what we see and what we measure. Much like scouting, performance stats rely on input variables that are imperfect, which will be true as long as a bunt-single is weighted equally with a laser off the Monsta' in the box score.
... which makes Verlander's .220 BABIP all the more impressive
Fascinating that Tepesch was slower to the plate with runners on - any thoughts on the mechanism? Less momentum, difficulty adjusting to a slide step, or maybe some hitch in the delivery from the stretch?
Estoy muy curioso.
Basically, yes on all points.
The conditioning factor is somewhat of a double-edged sword - conditioning will better prepare the body to withstand the rigors of pitching, while at the same time enabling the body to perform at increasingly high levels kinetic energy. Conditioning essentially limits the underlying structural risk while increasing the peak-intensity risk.
I think the most dangerous aspect is the lack of balance in most pitchers' conditioning regimen, such that they might be conditioning certain muscles and joints in preference over others. A pitcher might train his body to throw harder through specific exercises, but a lack of muscular balance can create relative weak links in the kinetic chain. Think of a car, where you might tune an engine to generate higher RPM's, but the machine will fall apart if the belts are too weak to support the increased workload.
As you say, it differs for every pitcher, but the global trends are fascinating in their own rite. Great question.
Please pardon my hyperbole in that line, and understand that I was referring to more than just PAP.
"All told, Mark Prior threw 235 innings in '03, violating Tom Verducci's “Year-After Effect” while sitting right in the thick of the injury nexus, putting in his most strenuous work at the end of his longest season as a pro after coming back from an arm injury during the high-pressure environment of a pennant run."
That is a lethal combination of factors, particularly when you consider what he did post-injury (i.e. risk of cascade). He was venturing into uncharted territory with innings and enduring his heaviest per-game workloads of the season, even before considering the age-related factors. Pitchers also have a tendency to kick things into high gear in high-pressure situations, and a 2nd-year player trying to carry his team into the playoffs would certainly qualify as high-pressure, and that's before you consider that this was a Cubs team that hadn't won the Series in 100 years.
You are certainly entitled to your opinion on the injury nexus, but I disagree with the absolute nature of your conclusion. There might be some selection bias, as you mentioned, and individual physiology certainly plays a role, but age is also a factor. Stats like PAP look at the collective population for individual trends, but of course they break down on an individual basis (hence Pedro v. Randy), and players develop physically at different rates. The injury stats do highlight general risk factors, and accumulating significant workloads during stages of physical development is one of those risk factors.
I am also curious as to what you consider to be "sufficient abuse," as I have seen plenty of amateur players that were completely abused long before reaching their 20's. Saying that "the only ones who make it past that age intact are those with unusually resilient ligaments/muscles" essentially assumes that all pitchers are enduring the same workloads, which is far from reality (especially at the high school and college levels). It also ignores the conditioning factor, which is an underlying part of the injury risk for any individual pitcher, with most amateur players having no idea how to properly train their bodies to throw a baseball.
If age is not a factor, then should we just tell 14-year olds to toss 110 pitches per game, with the hope that they have resilient enough ligaments/muscles to withstand such abuse?
There is certainly crossover in the injury influence, due to the mechanism of the kinetic chain. Often times a pitcher is putting additional stress on both elbow and shoulder, but the structure that is structurally weakest is the one that will break down first.
The risk is not necessarily equal, and certain precursors do foretell more specific damage. Elbow-drag is an example that is pretty much elbow-specific, but the scapular load that often precipitates elbow-drag can also be a risk factor for shoulders (just ask Jake Peavy).
Great call on the different angles. I will walk all over the place when working with a pitcher in the bullpen in order to get a good look at each piece of the mechanics equation, and I will take strategic seats when evaluating a game performance.
The behind-the-plate POV is best for evaluating left-right balance into foot strike and for posture at release point, as well as hip-rotation and its contribution to torque. It is also the best angle for evaluating velocity, movement, and pitch trajectory from the hitter's POV.
The side view (behind 1B or 3B) is ideal for momentum, stride, release distance, front-back balance, and shoulder load. It is probably the best POV for assessing timing and repetition, as well.
An angle closer to 45-degrees (dugout POV) will give the most complete view of torque and the relative contributions of hips vs. shoulders. The ideal angle to measure torque is actually a bird's-eye view from above, but we will not be able to see those until they install NFL-style cameras that fly around the stadium.
The typical game feed is far from ideal for evaluating pitching mechanics, with shots coming from beyond the outfield wall at an off-centered angle. We can see a little bit of everything from that angle, but we can't get a great look at anything. Unfortunately, it is pretty much all we have to work with when it comes to what is available at our fingertips, which helps to explain why I tend to lean on pictures over GIF's in my articles unless I am trying to display a timing element or the results of a pitch.
Your hunch is dead on - the higher frame-rate of video you have, the better you will be able to capture what is really happening in the delivery. Of course not everyone has access to hi-speed cameras, let alone 10-camera setups for 3-D analysis like we had at the NPA, and there is still much to be gleaned from regular 32-fps video.
The effectiveness of scouting mechanics depends largely on the eyes + mind of the one doing the scouting, though certain elements of mechanics are nearly impossible to evaluate when using just our eyeballs given the time-frame limitations that you mentioned - this is especially true for aspects such as peak torque or maximum external rotation.
The specifics of the Verducci effect are debatable, particularly the specificity of the 30-inning jump. That said, I do think a 68-inning jump at the age of 22 is noteworthy, especially when sandwiched around an arm injury.
It's true - pitches that badly miss the catcher's target don't generally get called a strike - however that is a function of the catcher's physical movement more than the pre-set glove position.
An umpire is not looking at the catcher's glove during the pitch, but he is crouched right behind the catcher like a human shield, such that the ump's perspective changes based on the foot position of the catcher. It's an intimate relationship - if the catcher has to shift his body to catch the ball or if he stabs at a pitch, the umpire is going to sense this movement, which is typically associated with a missed target, and call "ball."
Molina is a rock behind the plate but he catches the ball with a pillow, and from the ump's perspective even missed pitches look like they found their scheduled destination with minimal turbulence. It boils down to pitch framing, which involves the body as well as the glove, as Ben noted in reference to the work of Mike Fast.
Tomorrow's Headline at The Onion:
Bam Bam Rubble found Hunting Pebbles at Baseball Prospectus
Thanks for the kind words. I have really enjoyed the time-travel comparisons with Ubaldo and Timmy, and I am honored to have invoked your first comment. I hope the hits keep on comin' - the first one's always the toughest!
I happen to disagree with Kyle's assertion that Ubaldo's struggles have nothing to do with the front shoulder, especially given that the issues with early arm action are mostly harmful if they have the ripple effect of creating early rotation and "shoulder flying open."
In the GIF's from the article, Jimenez triggers trunk rotation earlier on the GIF on the right (with the funky arm action), with a lead-shoulder that opens up sooner. So I was very surprised to see Kyle claim that he had "busted the shoulder myth."
Of course this is just one man's opinion, and this stuff would not be much fun if we all agreed all the time. I will say that Kyle is the master of GIF synchonization - wow!
Kyle is awesome, and he does some great work. We often see similar things when looking at pitchers, however we don't always focus on the same aspects in our evaluations.
In this case, I had noticed both the early hand separation and the bizarre wrist-flick as the throwing arm reaches it's lowest point (in CLE), however I do not consider these to be glaring issues. To me the key is when he initiates trunk rotation, and though an early break of the hands can be a pre-cursor to early rotation, it does not have to be. The wrist-flick is Ubaldo's compensatory mechanism for the timing of hand-break, but he has manual control over when to trigger the shoulders - in other words, the early hand-break isn't causing him to do it so much as Ubaldo's choosing when to fire.
I apologize for not addressing this in the article, but I was up over 2000 words already and some things were left on the cutting room floor. I also noticed the extra "rock-n'roll" tilt of the shoulder line in CLE, but decided to omit that portion. A typical article of mine has about 10 pages worth of notes that do not make it into the final version, and Ubaldo had too many other things happening that I felt the need to address.
His mechanics were inconsistent in 2011, but they looked more similar to 2010 than 2012. Things are really off this year.
Each hurler is a different entity each season, and they can even morph game-to-game. But when a pitcher is suddenly "on" or "off" for the first 2 months of the season, I take note, as those trends can be persistent in both directions. Perhaps there is an underlying physical issue to explain a collapse (i.e. strength), and perhaps there was an adjustment made to explain a breakout (i.e. added a pitch).
This gets to KG's definition of a True #1, and how it takes a few years to earn that label, because the best pitchers are reliable every time they take the mound start-to-start and year-to-year. Ubaldo never earned the True #1, especially once you consider how erratic he was at peak.
It is tough to say what the Rockies tried and what they knew, but they may have grown tired of Ubaldo's inconsistent shenanigans. Or perhaps they liked the idea of gaining two cost-controlled pitchers with legit upside for a guy whose value appeared to be on a downhill slope.
Yes, but that depends on each team's interpretation of "mechanical flaws."
Some teams are hands-off with mechanics, others have gurus that are trusted to identify and mold the player, but those gurus often have different systems and values for pitching mechanics.
Some (but not all) teams take their players to ASMI or Andrews Institute for motion analysis breakdowns, however not every team knows what to do with the results of those analyses.
We also have to consider that they cannot ask a player from another team to have that analysis conducted before the trade, and though they get a short window to do their own medical checks, that is not necessarily long enough to properly address the results.
I see no reason why the team would not try to fix his mechanics in-season (in-game is a whole other issue, though).
If it is really that "hard" - which I assume means that the 5-day interval between starts is not enough time to firmly establish a change and the team fears his game-day performance - then I would suggest pulling him from a start or three to make the tweaks. Aren't a few lost starts worth the incremental gains of fixing the problem for the rest of season?
SaberTJ mentioned Halladay, and that's a great example of a pitcher who was taken out of harm's way while he worked on rebuilding his delivery. Perhaps the Tribe should take note.
It really depends on the pitcher. I have worked with players that can make mechanical fixes in a day, particularly when finding a previously-established delivery, and others that take weeks or even months to make the necessary adjustments.
Much of the timetable would depend on the conditioning aspect. It could take awhile if his functional strength and flexibility are far below his previous levels, and the preferred coaching technique for building that strength and flex will also play a role. For example, teams have only just begun to appreciate the important of training the back-side shoulder muscles for velocity, and many teams are still behind the curve so to speak.
It is also possible that 2009-2010 was peak Ubaldo, physically, and that he will never quite achieve the levels of his mid-20's.
Ah, the difference between form and function. Sale has great repetition and outstanding posture at release point, hence the machine-like command. But he also has a list of injury red flags, most of which are waving from that scrawny left elbow of his.
I am sure that Cooper is aware of all of this, but is sticking by his guy in front of the media. I would do the same thing in his shoes.
I will be sure to mention Sale in my injury primer next week.
It is pronation that occurs just after release point (turning the palm down/outward), during the follow-through phase of the delivery. Consider this photo of Halladay:
The forearm will be supinated at release point on breaking pitches, and then the arm will pronate naturally after the ball leaves the hand. I have never actually seen a pitcher that supinates the arm after release point.
High arm-slot pitchers quite often have poor posture, but it is not an absolute. Some pitchers have a higher degree of natural shoulder elevation (abduction), and can generate a higher slot while maintaining strong posture. Roger Clemens is a great example of a pitcher who had excellent posture in addition to a high arm slot.
A present-day example is Ubaldo Jimenez, who has decent posture and a relatively high slot, while Brewers 1st round pick Jed Bradley is a more extreme example of a high intrinsic arm slot combined with strong posture.
Side views can be hard to come by, and as you note, they are advantageous in the evaluation of balance, momentum, stride, and release point (not to mention torque). There tend to be a couple of side-shots during a typical game (particularly with men on base), and I like to use the insane database of pictures at Getty Images for reference when the game feeds fall short.
The variation in philosophy among pitching coaches is pretty wide and those philosophies are often kept close to the vest. Some guys are almost completely hands-off with mechanics (Leo Mazzone), while others are biomechanical geniuses (Rick Peterson), and those who are into mechanics might focus on very different things.
The greatest common denominator among MLB pitching coaches is an in-depth knowledge of their pitchers, such that they can quickly identify when something is off vs. when things are clicking, and do so based on an evaluation of process over outcome. The difference is how they choose to fix things when they inevitably do go wrong.
Thanks for the great question.
Good observations Larry, and there are many pitchers who look like they get the "head out of the way" while the arm comes through in order to get on top. It is exactly that sacrifice of posture that is necessary to support an over-the-top slot, and while the flow of causation puts spine-tilt before arm slot, the instruction often goes the other way.
Thanks so much for the kind words, and I am stoked that you are enjoying the book. I have to give all of the EV credit to Perry Husband, and his "downright filthy" series of books is a must-read if you are interested in diving deeper. The cool thing is that Perry studied the phenomenon from a batter's perspective before he realized the implications for pitching coaches, and we were just enamored with EV when he brought it to the NPA.
I agree that would make a great article series, breaking down various pitch sequences based on Effective Velocity and evaluating the results. I did use EV to analyze a couple of at-bats for a World Series article over at BDD, in a piece that was actually inspired by a Q&A question to KG from SaberTJ.
Small world, right?
Thanks Peter. Allow me to answer your q's in order:
1) Yes, I would expect to achieve greater precision of results with greater accuracy of input variables. In fact, I think that all stats - including those in the box score - are limited by the shortcomings of their inputs (i.e. treating all singles as equal). Unfortunately, I lack access to such accurate data in this case, though the bad-ass BP stats crew busted out the PITCHf/x correlations to help back up the low-precision results. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
2) Not to be a broken record here, but I am afraid that the MLB data is insufficient to quantify arm angle. Setting aside the distinction between biological arm slot (abduction) and functional arm slot (face of a clock), there is no way to accurately measure a pitcher's arm slot without more sophisticated tools. We need to quantify arm slot, and finding that angle would mean tracking the pitcher's center-of-mass, establishing a perpendicular line through that COM, and then tracking the throwing hand at an angle relative to the perpendicular. Measuring pitch accuracy then requires tracking the catcher's glove at pitcher release point to see how close the pitch came to its intended target.
3) I will be covering injuries in a future edition of Raising Aces, and it is one area that is still in the naive stages of research even at the highest levels. We have learned a few things and have a ton of ideas, but the multitude of confounding variables makes injury detection a tough mystery to solve.
To sum up, I wish that this data was being tracked on the field (it is being tracked in labs), and further wish that we had public access to such data. I have studied some of these issues extensively in the lab and yet there is still so much more to learn, which is what gets me amped to turn the next page in the encyclopedia of baseball research.
I agree that it would be interesting to control for stuff, but as you mention, there are issues with data collection as well as a wide variance in fastball properties from player to player. My takeaway is that despite multiple attempts to find evidence for a connection between release-height and GB%, I have not yet found even a weak surface-level relationship. Further doubt was cast by research into the physics of downhill plane that we did for "Arm Action."
As for Oswalt, I see what you mean for the moment of bat impact, which brings to question the subjective interpretation of what constitutes a "strike." Barry Zito used to have this problem with his curveball (a.k.a. the grandfather clock of 12-to-6), where it could be a strike for the front half of the zone but a ball for the back half (or vice versa), and his performance sometimes hinged on whether the umpire felt a half-zone strike was good enough. I wonder if there is evidence to support such a theory beyond the anecdotal, and would defer to PITCHf/x guru Max Marchi for such data.
However, I don't think it's such a problem with "straight" fastballs, as the initial trajectory difference is very small given the overall flight distance of 54+ feet. Consider that all pitches are dropping somewhat due to gravity, and that one foot of extra release-height equates to approximately one degree of downhill trajectory (assuming the same release-distance and target location). One foot of height is essentially the difference between the shortest and tallest pitcher in the league before accounting for arm slot, and even the most extreme examples of release-height are separated by no more than 2.5 feet, or 2.5 degrees of initial trajectory.
Am I the only one that thought "Dukes of Hazzard" with the Uncle Jesse reference?
Thought process: "Wait, that was an 80's show, and why would little girls have their hearts broken by an old man in coveralls?"
Then the other shoe dropped.
"oh right - Full House, quasi-mullet, Stamos. THAT uncle Jesse."
...and now for something completely different.
I propose an amendment to expand the SP spot to a full rotation, or perhaps let us cheat and stick some legends in our bullpen (Randy Johnson = top LOOGY of all time).
An argument could be made that four of the top five post-WWII hurlers were contemporaries in the 1990's, especially once we adjust for league context with the likes of Maddux, Pedro, Randy, and Clemens.
*Call me impressed that Robert Frost has a player card. The experience in rookie ball might not actually be the inspiration for "The Road Not Taken."
Great point Behemoth, and I know that one of the frustrations with pitching mechanics is that there are so many "experts" with different opinions, some of whom spend a great deal of energy insisting that they are right (I have the same problem when seeking landscaping advice).
One of the great challenges in coaching/scouting is to relate with words what can be seen with the eyes, and I will lean on visual evidence to help bridge that gap (photos, videos, and game footage). I will also use a combination of objective and subjective data to explain my evaluations, in addition to assigning grades (20-80 scale) for individual pitcher mechanics.
I hate to play the "shameless plug" card, but the statistical evidence can be found in our book - "Arm Action, Arm Path, and the Perfect Pitch." The book marked the first time that motion-analysis data of pitchers was made available to the public, and several of these concepts were investigated.
I greatly encourage the readers to join in the investigation of pitching, rather than take my word for it. For example, I will be breaking down Yu Darvish after his first MLB start, and one can set the DVR or check MLB.TV for Rangers-M's on 4/9 in order to follow along with the analysis.
I agree with the "landing spots," though there is a wide variance in consistency/size of those landing areas from player to player, and many pros have very different landing spots from the stretch and the windup (i.e. multiple "holes"). On one extreme you have Nolan Ryan, who was known for landing in the same cleat mark on every pitch, and on the other you have amateur players who can turn a mound into a mine field.
The best pitchers will dig "holes" that are much smaller in area. It's like a drummer with a new set of heads - a great drummer will hit virtually the same spot every time and leave very few visible marks, but an inexperienced drummer will leave stick-marks in a random pattern all over the drumhead.
The leg lift does "make room for the stride," in the sense that Timmy is moving forward (toward the target) during the lift phase, and his center of mass travels further than it would if he had a lower leg lift (prior to getting into the "skim" phase). The "skim" technique adds even more stride length, and there are other pitchers who employ that strategy as well, but the skim is made possible by the preceding links in the kinetic chain - if Lincecum lacked the combination of balance, momentum, and lift, then he would not be able to take the same advantage of the skim technique.
Keep in mind that max leg lift is not an absolute determinant of stride length, but rather one of several factors that play a role. Lift height is a potential mechanical advantage that is trainable from a coaching perspective, though the aspect of signature dictates that some players have different styles of lift - i.e. pitchers who bring the lift foot back toward 2nd base are less dependent on lift height to extend stride.
The back knee will turn naturally during hip rotation, beginning just after max leg lift and facing the target after foot strike.
Does the issue happen from both the stretch and the windup? Does your son have the same problem when playing catch, or making throws to first base? A lot of young players have great natural throwing mechanics from shortstop, but they try to get fancy on the mound with poor results.
Good question, coach.
Leg lift provides the opportunity to get the most out of the horizontal forces that are generated. A taller leg lift will keep the leg off the ground longer while the pitcher approaches foot strike, thus lengthening his stride (which is a good thing as long as a pitcher maintains balance).
There is also a big distinction between pitchers who drift back to start their delivery and those get going straight toward the target. In the case that you describe - "the leg goes up, the leg goes down and then the pitchers center of gravity moves forward" - energy absolutely is wasted. But a pitcher who makes the first movement toward the plate is taking advantage of the setup position to harness more kinetic energy, which combined with a high leg lift will create an awesome stride.
When watching games on Opening Day, take a look at pitcher stride length from the windup vs. the stretch. I think you'll notice that pitchers who use a slide step tend to have a shorter stride from the stretch than from the windup, due to the lowered leg lift and abbreviated timing into foot strike.
Great piece, Jason.
I especially liked the reference to change-ups after Table 1, as I believe that some pitchers do have an exceptional ability to induce weak contact, and had noticed that many of the exceptions were pitchers with plus change-ups.
In fact, I was surprised that Matt Cain missed your first list, given that he is the poster boy for low BABIP's and beating his FIP's, and of course his meanest offering is el cambio. Then I saw that his 70.6% LOB was too low for inclusion, so I understand the omission.
I appreciate research that detect trends in the collective data set, but the power of such studies often breaks down when applied to individual cases. I contend that "regression to the mean" is often mis-applied, either in the context of league-wide vs player-specific regression, or in the underlying assumption that a player's "True Value" is static. It is necessary to look deeper at individual player context, as you have well-exemplified in this article!
I have been writing an article series on the subject of True Value over at BDD, so this topic is right in my zone of thought these days. Thanks for adding more thoughtful analysis to the discussion, and for addressing some of the underlying issues "Between the Numbers."
I think it's a tad harsh to ding Beckett for the blister issues, given that he hasn't had a recurrence since 2007. It's not in the same category as, say, Jose Reyes' hamstrings.
2010 was a train wreck, but Beckett has averaged 30 starts a season during his other 5 years in Boston. His hit rate was out of line on the low side last year, and it spiked in '10, but combining those two outlier seasons essentially nails his career average.
The guy is pretty much a lock for 8-8.5 K/9, and a BB/9 in the 2-2.5 range. There will likely be some hit-rate regression, but otherwise he feels like a pretty safe bet, ERA notwithstanding.
Excellent work on a critical topic, Max.
The issue has been under surveillance since the 80's, with Craig Wright and Tom House having tackled the subject of Catcher ERA in "The Diamond Appraised," and I'm thrilled to see the depth to which the analysis has improved. I imagine that the future integration of Hit f/x will only further increase the power of such models.
Thanks for a great read!
S.F. will be in play, so you should rock the drive down I-80 and join in the good times.
In other words, I agree with this guy!
On a related note, the mechanical similarities between a golf swing and a pitching motion are striking, especially with respect to the timing and sequencing elements of the kinetic chain.
Can you imagine if Hanson utilized a "stop" in the linear momentum (ie "weight shift") of his golf swing?
I have my doubts as to whether Hanson's "stop at the top" really aided his deception. It may have even helped hitters by providing a trigger to time their swings, especially given the pitch-to-pitch consistency of mechanical timing that Hanson employed with his motion. Many pitchers struggle with timing consistency when they have a stop at the top (think Dice-K), but Hanson was in the Dan Haren mold of pitchers that defy convention in that regard.
I think that Hanson's mechanical change will yield positive results in the long-term, though he may very well struggle to harness his new timing for awhile. Derek is right on with the weight-lifting analogy, and the key to Hanson's injury prevention will be conditioning, and the extent to which he can optimize functional strength and flexibility when honing this new delivery.
Fluid rhythm, increases in momentum and stride, using the lower body to generate kinetic energy... these are all good things. I would expect an adjustment period, but would not shy away from drafting him, especially in a keeper league.
Excellent write-up, Jason, and the comments on Turner certainly ring true.
Getting the ball over the plate and inducing weak contact are two very different skills, and while the former often serves as a stepping stone to the latter, not every hurler can make that leap.
In Kevin4prez's defense, he does appear to be well-prepared for that other category, "Burning dog poo and the human response."
Excellent anecdote on the culture of rookie leagues, and how the interpretation of performance stats can be altered with heavy doses of context.
We need a new baseball word that describes this phenomenon of perceptive distortion. Vote for your favorite:
A) Pioneer Goggles
B) Appy Specs
C) Gulf Coast Glasses
Despite Pimentel's backing of B) and the alliterative qualities of C), the pun-dit in me has to vote for option A).
I'm diggin' the fact that "He is a 40 runner" falls under the Good for d'Arnaud. Is this a misplaced sentence, or perhaps a backhand commentary on the baseline expectancy for catcher speed?
I'm pulling for the latter, but betting on the former.
This news is both sad and exciting, depending on one's point of view. I, for one, will miss having public access to your ideas, your research, and your unique perspective on the game.
Many thanks for enlightening the baseball community with your work, and from a selfish standpoint, I want to thank you for helping to propel my own research and understanding of the sport. For this I owe you a debt of gratitude.
Best wishes with the 'Stros (or whatever they'll be called), as you are joining an elite team of analytical minds. In addition to Mejdal and Luhnow, I anticipate a wealth of brilliance to emerge once you start exchanging ideas with the likes of Perry Husband, whose research with effective velocity is right up your alley.
I adore the frequency with which ignorance and arrogance intertwine
please, oh please tell me that there is truth to the "Choose your own prospect adventure" ...
A) Go out for one more inning, despite a pitch count in the 120's and a Texas temperature to match, because damn it we need to win this one for the gipper! (turn to page 98)
B) Tell the coach that there's nothing left in the tank, tuck your tail between your legs, and take a seat next to the gatorade. (turn to page 112)
You go out there to finish off the masterpiece, ready to fire your bullets even though nothing sits in the chamber. You muster everything you have just to pick up the rosin bag, and after a few paces around the mound, you are ready to let mind take over matter. On the first pitch, you feel a twinge, followed by a sharp pain, shooting from the inside of your right elbow. The coaches and trainers rush out to your aid, but the manager knows before he reaches the mound, having experienced the same pain back in his playing days. You soon learn the words "ulnar collateral ligament" and "Tommy John surgery," and though you spend years trying to regain the luster that once made you a top prospect, all that survive are memories from that fateful day in Midland.
Does Quentin really have zero HBP's on 2-0? That lone data point has a loud voice.
Say Hey to the recruits!
I am continually impressed by the ridiculous talent that flows through the BP pipeline, and from the point of view of this early adopter (did they take that cover photo from my office?), it appears that BP is experiencing a renaissance of content.
Thank you sir, may I have another?
"... making his trigger a tick slow and creating some exploitable lanes for pitchers to explore on the inner half of the zone"
Brilliant explanation, particularly the mental image that accompanied those "exploitable lanes" - I may have to (*ahem*) borrow that term in the future.
And some day, we will look back and remember that this was how body-kayaking went viral.
He can certainly hammer the low pitch, but I wonder how that long swing translates to high heat.
... and it's probably a good idea to keep him out of harm's way, thus preserving his bat in the lineup, by avoiding those dangerous takeout slides at 2B.
"If you actually had a world championship in baseball akin to the World Cup in soccer..."
World Baseball Classic, anyone?
Advanced apology for the shameless plug - seriously, I have no shame - but I published a related piece yesterday at BDD, and your article from last week covered a large chunk of the debate. This was especially true in the comments section, where several readers brought up specific points that had been banging around in my head over the last couple weeks. It was crazy, like having my own words read back to me, and a tribute to the depth of conversation that takes place in the halls of BP.
So... thanks for spurring an excellent discourse, and for having the gumption to follow up and address a difficult topic at the center of the discussion.
Well done, Derek!
A tip of the cap and a hearty congratulations are in order for Bossman Joe, aka The Godfather of BDD. The townsfolk can sleep peacefully, knowing that the future is bright in BP land.
And welcome to the team, Johnny V! Your uniform is in the locker at the end of the row, right next to the PECOTA machine.
(*raises a glass*)
Excellent question, Nathan, and it was actually the first question that David Laurila asked me in a Q&A for BP two years ago:
This article was insightful, thought-provoking, and most of all honest, Jason. Thanks so much for giving us such an in-depth a glimpse of your thought process, and believe you me that your unique perspective is greatly appreciated.
I can certainly relate to your experience, and I have found that the art of player evaluation is made all the more challenging by the fact that the same player does not show up every game. This issue is glaring when it comes to pitchers and mechanical timing, where results often come down to whether or not they can harness consistency on that particular day.
I do have to admit a lean toward the digital age, though my device of choice is a digi audio recorder. I have found that the inflection and emotion conveyed through tone can help to put a performance in context, which is key for sopmeone who often struggles to convey tone through print.
...or maybe I just like the sound of my own voice.
One last note on park effects... I remember when Alfonso Soriano went from the Rangers to the Nats, and the conventional wisdom said that Soriano would fall on his face in Washington, due to a home/road OPS split of 372 points. Everyone knew that Texas was a hitters paradise, and Soriano's .224/.265/.374 road line was surely a harbinger of doom.
Then the swingin Soriano defied the pundits to put up the best season of his career (at the age of 30), with a virtually non-existant home/road split.
It's just one example, but my point is that conventional wisdom usually falls short of explaining reality. More curiously, there appears to be an effect where certain hitters adjust their approach in some of the more extreme home parks, and then struggle to re-adjust when on the road. A player who makes a habit of pulling short bombs in Boston will be really disappointed when he tries the same trick in Citi Field... just ask Jason Bay.
Sacramento - Well-worded response, and I guess we can agree to disagree on CarGo (especially when it comes down to semantics), as I think that he is probably in the top 5% of his peer group at the big league level. How many OF's 25-and-under would you prefer to have on your ballclub? Justin Upton, and... maybe Andrew McCutcheon? Mike Stanton? The list is a short one.
The Coors effect is interesting, particularly when you compare CarGo to Tulo, who had similar overall ratios in 2011. CarGo had extreme home/road splits (242 points of OPS worth), while Tulo was fairly consistent (just +67 pts of home OPS vs Road). The common conclusion drawn from these numbers is that road stats are a closer approximation for "true value," and thus Troy is the far superior hitter. But I have to wonder why C-Gonz is so much better at Coors? Most batters perform better at home, and while CarGo might enjoy the best home environment in baseball, he is also the best player in the game at exploiting that environment (that fact is not a mirage) - he consistently out-hits Tulo in their own home. I think that has value, and that his stats cannot be washed away with park effects.
As for the other guys in the trade, I challenge you to find another trade that involved one side getting 6 prospects who all saw MLB time. Quantity is a definite factor in evaluating trades, and the deal did not exactly lack in quality (CarGo was #3 in NL MVP voting last year). Also, the key players that the A's acquired (CarGo, Anderson, Carter) all have yet to reach their prime, and the trade will probably look more lopsided three years from now.
Geoff - I definitely agree with the CarGo angle, vis-a-vis the A's. I actually wrote an article about it over at BDD a couple weeks ago, highlighting the A's inability to reap value from the aformentioned revolving door of prospect trades. The downward spiral of CarGo-Wallace-Taylor is ugly enough on the surface, and looks uglier when one considers the $8 million that the team paid Holliday for his rough 93-game introduction to Oakland (he played 63 for STL that year).
I was surprised to see the Haren trade filed under "the good." I'm sure that the fans appreciated the message sent with acquiring Haren, but at the time it was a coup of prospects to send along for a single asset. CarGo was ranked #1 on the D-Backs prospect list just prior to the trade (according to Baseball America), Anderson ranked #3, Cunningham #7, Carter #8, and Smith came in at #13. CarGo became a superstar, Anderson was one of the top young arms in the league prior to TJ surgery, Cunningham is a useful 4th OF, Carter remains one of the top prospects in the Oakland system (#2 by BA coming into the year), while Smith and Eveland both saw PT in The Show.
It seemed like an insane cost of young talent at the time, and 4 years later it still looks imbalanced; and that's before we consider that the D'Backs were not competitive in the years following the Haren trade, and ended up re-flipping Danny H for a much-diminished prospect return. I will give Byrnes credit for trading for a player with cost control and a very friendly contract, which is what made Haren so desirable in the first place, but I am thinking that most GM's would have been able to get more value from such an impressive collection of prospects.
Just a minor quibble, as I would have dumped the Haren deal into "the bad" category, but overall an excellent article... thanks for the read!
Wow, excellent perspective on the history of puns in baseball. Those '87-'06 headlines are brutal, and "Power Rangers" forced an eyeroll so pronounced that I had to reach for the Tylenol.
Plus, I had no idea that I was such a slave to convention - in just the past two months, I have posted articles at Baseball Daily Digest that included the following titles:
Gone in Sixty Minutes
Stras Wars V: Return of the Prodigy
Raising Aces: Four of a Kind (Pt. 2)
I spend way too much thought trying to conjure up something creative, and sometimes I end up with a cringer.
Thanks for providing the historical perspective, Sam!
The 3-0 ball/balk rule would help to limit those "unintentional" IBB's, but man it would wreak havoc on a pitcher's approach. The dynamic of 3-0 would completely change, as would the dynamic of 2-0 (for fear of reaching 3-0). I think this would really sway the advantage for the hitter.
Then again, plenty of batters waste the current advantage that they enjoy on 3-0, choosing to watch meatballs slide across the plate because (apparently) it's a cardinal sin to willlingly give up on a near-walk situation. If there is one thing that drives me more nuts than IBB's, it's pitchers who toss BP fastballs on 3-0, and even moreso the hitters that watch those pitches pass by.
So I guess that's my long-winded, circular way of saying that you might be on to something...
The start times seem pretty fair, all time zones considered.
Typical night games start at 7:05pm on both coasts, and Giants fans living in the East Coast have to stay up pretty late to watch those Dodger games that start at 10:05 EST. Seems to me that 8:30EST is the average between 7:00 and 10:00, and would thus constitute as "fair" in any unbiased discussion.
Also, consider that it is easier to stay up a little late to watch baseball than it is to leave work early to watch the game. Out on the left coast, most of the employed have to either miss the first few innings, DVR the game and watch it non-live (*cringes)*, or put their job security at risk by ditching work early. I understand that the kids need to go to bed on the eastern sea board, but what better excuse to be tired at school tomorrow than, "I stayed up watching the World Series with my parents"?
Choosing between getting fired or being tired, I opt for the latter.
I was just thinking, "what is an angle on the ALCS that I haven't read yet?"
Then I clicked on this article.
Oh, and you should write film scripts for baseball movies.
Excellent finish to an awesome series, Michael.
This piece adds so much perspective and background, and the balance of knowledge and research warrants a "WOW" from this guy.
Thank you sir, may I have another?
As Mr. Burns would say... Excellent!
(immediately adds to Favorites)
Ok, last one...
"Over the Line" is hugely popular in various parts of the country, and the field looks like it was inspired by the drawing above. For the uninitiated, Over the Line is 4-on-4 on a triangular field, with 4 lines crossing the triangle (parallel to the 1st-to-2nd baseline in the drawing). The pitching team has one defender behind each of the lines, with the pitcher behind the front line. A ball that hits ground before the first line is an out, as is any flyball caught by the defense. Batters are awarded points for each line that is cleared on a ball that lands safely within the zone. 3 outs and the teams switch sides.
I hadn't heard of the game until I hit San Diego for college, but folks are crazy for the game down there - and for good cause, as it's an awesome beach game.
Here's another one that we played in Little League, and that I used as a coach:
For 8-12 players: We would split up into 4-6 teams of two players each, and the teammates would alternate plate appearances while the rest of the group was in the field. The 2-man team would hit until they registered 3 outs, but rather than using ghost runners, we would just count up points based on the number of total bases gained - a single nets 1 point, a double is 2 points, etc. Walks would just reset the count and start the AB over again.
Here's another variation that I played all the time with my buddy in high school:
It was 1-on-1 baseball with ghosts all over the field, Calvin & Hobbes style but with less running. Hits were judged based on similar rules as those above, ie grounders were outs, ball had to reach the OF for a hit, one-hop the fence for a 2B, and hit the fence for a 3B.
We also had fun with ghost runners... they were basically station-to-station, except that grounders to the right side advanced a ghost runner, and they would score from 2nd on singles with 2 outs.
We would play a full lineup, including a designated "fast guy" and "slow guy" (we also required at least 2 LHB's). The "fast guy" scored from 2nd regardless of out count and also went first-to-third on singles, while the slow guy required a double to score from 2nd with 2 outs. Slow guys would not score from 3rd on sac flies. Also, fast guys didn't hit into double plays.
... maybe we were a tad too specific, considering the arguments that ensued over whether or not a ball was hit hard enough for a DP.
Wow, ask and ye shall receive! Thanks Mike!
You bring up a great point, whitakk...
I've always wondered how the ball-tracking systems define the threshold for a "line drive," and how consistent those definitions are throughout the industry. And that's before getting into the subjective experience of judging a line drive...
I think it's a real stretch to call Cain the "third best pitcher on his team"... I like K rate as much as the next guy (and probably more), but I'll trade Cain's vastly superior ability to keep runners off the bags and runs off the board to Sanchez's penchant for the punchout.
Watching them pitch is an object lesson in the contrast between "pitching" and "throwing," and striking out more batters need not be the only criteria to measure a pitcher's effectiveness... even your fantasy team prefers Cain's WHIP/ERA combo to Sanchez's K rate.
Throw in their ages, performance record over time, and consistency from pitch-to-pitch and start-to-start, and I don't think it's particularly close at all. But hey, difference of opinion is the essence of fandom, so thanks for spurring a debate!
I am also a proponent of integrating velocity, command, and movement when grading a pitcher's stuff. They might not be weighted equally on the field, but it is close enough that I just take the average of the 3 grades to get a "GPA" for the pitch.
That said, I think that the biggest challenge is grading velocity for secondary pitches. My velo grade for a slider, for example, is based as much on velocity differential as it is pure speed.
Check out my article on Hellickson vs. Haren over at Baseball Daily Digest (linked on the BP home page), and let me know what you think. Morrow vs. Price is forthcoming...
Oh, and great call on watching hitters to read fastball movement. I do the same for changeups and splits, as well.
Excellent article, Jason!
Thanks for the response, Mike. That's my fault for not watching the video (duh), and then trying to interpret his words. Somehow I glossed over the video link when reading the article, but now I see that you are right on with his description. Thanks again for the correction, and I apologize for a faulty "post reply" function!
At the NPA in San Diego, it was common practice for us to adjust a pitcher's starting position on the rubber, as it directly impacted his release point position. Pitchers have very different stride directions, so the starting position was unique to the player, but the goal for every pitcher was to finish with their spine lined up with the centerline. This is a key idea behind Peterson's words.
Interestingly, the horizontal release-point position could be very different for two pitchers that had the exact same starting position, stride angle, and finishing position.... the reason is arm slot, as a low-3/4 guy will have a release point that is closer to the throwing-arm side when compared to an over-the-top guy. I think this could be a confounding variable in the results, given that Peterson might be looking at a pitcher's spine to determine whether he is square to home plate at release point, and that could be what he means by "starting as a strike."
I could be reading into it too far, but the above idea is consistent with Peterson's approach to pitching mechanics, and the strategy is used by many major league pitchers.
Cain certainly has the ability to induce weak contact on grounders, and to generate opposite field weak flies (especially from LHB's). The explanation, based on what my eyes tell me, is Cain's changeup. The pitch has exceptional late fade to his arm side, which is a rare and effective commodity, one that Tim Hudson has used for years with his split. I would be curious to see the results if you ran similar numbers for Huddy.
This is just anectdotal evidence, seen with mine own eyes, but I think it can be quantified via Pitch f/x (paging Mike Fast). The change is Cain's best pitch, thanks to its being virtually indistinguishable from the fastball. I described it a bit further in this article for BDD:
I agree with the rationale, and I respect your opinion. I'm not exactly a Garza enthusiast myself, and in fact I tend to overvalue young players. But isn't there a reason that PECOTA penalizes the AAA innings? I would think that any young pitcher that is still swimming through the injury nexus, and that has never pitched a full major league season, would have a lower expected durability than a 27-year old with a clean record in terms of workload management and development. The youngsters will also be on pitch counts and team-imposed IP caps, in order to buffer the inherent injury risk.
Will Carroll mentioned that the Verducci Effect does not necessarily apply to minor league innings, as there appears to be a difference when it comes to the imposed workload at different levels of competition. In my experience working with pitchers, I have seen how many players react to playing on the biggest stage, as pitchers tend to push their physical limits for the sake of competition. Fatigue becomes a major factor, and mechanics are often sacrificed, resulting in a more taxing workload per inning.
All that said, I still like your advice, as the 50-IP gap could easily be closed by a successful late-round flyer, and there are plenty of prizes to be found under the pile of FA arms every year. Great article, and thanks for the discussion.
I'm surprised that the IP projections don't get more play in this article, as that appeared to be the biggest outlier of the ABCD comparison. It seems that the reason for Garza's supposedly-inflated draft value is fairly clearcut - he is a known commodity with a track record, and he is the only one of the four listed pitchers to ever crack 200 IP in the majors.
I would say the beta is probably much higher for the other three pitchers mentioned. Hey, I'm all about risk-reward, but there is something to be said for minimizing risk on a fantasy pitching staff. On a rate basis the other three come out on top, but what happens to the numbers if you factor in the ~50 innings of fantasy replacement-level performance that are necessary to close the gap in playing time?
Or maybe I'm just calloused from drafting too many teams with high-upside pitching staffs, only to find myself 200 innings under threshold by June.
I can't imagine my childhood without Baseball Digest. It was the only mail that came to the house with my name on it, and I would read the short-stack monthly during SSR in grade school.
I remember saving the crossword puzzle for last, as many of the answers could be found elsewhere in the edition, and I measured my baseball acumen by the results on the quick quiz. - "if you score 80 or better, you are a baseball expert"
The magazine did an excellent job of pacing the material, with a healthy mix of headline articles and regular features. One of my favorite features was "The Baseball Rules Corner," and I'll never forget the rule that states that the hand is part of the bat on an HBP/foul ball, thanks to the killer drawing of a wilting ballplayer with a busted hand. Too bad that rule is rarely enforced correctly today... maybe I should send a copy of BD to the umpires union.
Thanks for bringing back some fond memories, Bob.
"Fewer Strikes, More Balls"
Thanks for the write-up and explanation, Will.
Any chance that you can expand on the near-future of motion analysis and MLB clubs? It sounds like there is something big on the horizon.
I'm sure there are some non-disclosure issues, but as a general question: are you referring to a revolution in the technology, or greater league-wide acceptance of the data?
In either case, the key difference-maker could very well be the biomechanics model that each team employs in order to filter said data, and whether there is a standard model that is used throughout the league.
Gary Huckabay said it best at a book signing last Spring:
"Joe Sheehan could write about lint and make it interesting."
Joe - Thank you for the insight, the passion, and the inspiration. You wrote the book on articulating the online rant, and I read it cover to cover.
Please forward me your (virtual) address when you find a new home.
Thanks so much for sharing this, Will. I was also fortunate enough to meet Mr. Gammons, at the GM Meetings of 2002, about a month before the W-Meetings in Nashville.
He was respectful and kind to a motivated kid who wanted nothing more than to work in baseball. He gave me some great advice, and I credit Peter for pointing me in the right direction to speak with people inside the game.
I can't help but respect the Hell out of a guy with such a profound love of baseball (and music), such a motivated approach to his craft, and such an eloquent voice. Thanks again.
...or it may indicate that many players earn their September cup of coffee in the Bigs before making an All-Star game in AAA.
Given that the Padres issue is $$, I would be shocked if they dealt away Gonzo with his bargain of a contract. The guy makes just $3M this year, $4.75M in 2010, and the club holds a $5.5M option for 2011 (with no buyout). So I have a tough time seeing their incentive to move him under any circumstances.
I like listening to that record - I\'m not questioning the moves, in fact I think Cerda was a relative steal. I\'m just pointing out that the primary motivation seemed to be $$.
They also dumped a number of guys that were due raises via arbitration, like Willingham, Olsen, Jacobs, and Gregg. No other team has made such blatant cost-cutting moves on that low end of the spectrum.
I\'m not faulting management, but it\'s tough to defend ownership that routinely shells out half as much on the roster as they receive through revenue sharing ALONE. The Marlins could close the gates on game days and still make a profit! If I was a fan that paid admission and bought concessions, I would hope that some of my money would go toward the product on the field. I also wouldn\'t be too ecstatic about paying more taxes to fund a new stadium for that franchise.
Cabrera made $2.875M last season, after signing a 1-year deal to avoid arb (he wanted $3.3M, team offered $2.6M). After the season he had in \'08 (K:BB of 95:90!), there was no way he\'d make $6M in arb. He might dream of about $4M, but even that\'s a stretch.
Given the O\'s projected rotation and lack of ML-ready internal options, I have to agree with Joe on this one. If the lack of quality in the ML rotation ends up accelerating the timetables and service clocks of Matusz, Liz, Arrieta, et al., then not having Cabrera in 2009 could actually cost them down the road, when contention might be a possibility.
Besides, why not take the chance that Cabrera regains some of his old stuff, and becomes a tradeable commodity at the deadline to some team that lost a couple arms to injury?
A huge moment for BP and the BBWAA, congrats to both Will and Christina. It\'s \'bout time!
Since when is .067 of SLG a \"little bit\" of a split, and .082 of SLG \"no split to speak of\"? I understand that OBP is Life, but when OBP is essentially equal in splitsville, you can look at the other numbers and still discern a significant difference. Weighing .008 of OBP vs .067 of SLG, I would personally take the SLG every day of the week and twice on Sunday. But the Victorino comment has me truly baffled.
On the other hand, much has been made of Howard\'s October slump, largely due to his sub-.350 SLG, but the man has put up a .400 OBP in the playoffs (entering the WS).
I guess if you\'re trying to make a particular argument, you can ignore those points that run counter - it just makes the argument that much less persuasive.
I should also mention that Cole does not employ a slide step, unlike many of the pro\'s we see these days. Instead he uses his natural leg lift, whether from the windup or the stretch. The popularization of the slide step has made the lift-and-throw move somewhat moot for those pitchers that use it, so it makes sense that Cole\'s move looked somewhat irregular.
I have to agree with beegee. LHP\'s have the option to step off the rubber with the back (left) foot and make a quick snap-throw to first, or the more common front leg lift-and-throw toward the bag. If the LHP crosses the rubber with his lift leg/knee, then he must go toward the plate (this is when most runners break for a steal vs. a LHP, unless they are going on first movement). So many Lefties have adapted their deliveries to just lift the front leg straight up (without crossing the rubber), such that a runner can\'t get a jump until they show an obvious move toward the plate. Cole never made such an obvious move, as Pena\'s early jump didn\'t give him the chance.
I liked that Fox showed the verbal exchange between Maddon and home plate umpire Tim Welke regarding the balk. Welke was focused on the aspect of \"intent\" to deliver the ball to home or first, and intent is tough to jusdge for a LHP. When you watch the replay, Cole never took his eyes off of 1B, and Pena took a very early jump, clearly going on first movement. At no point did Cole look toward the plate or initiate movement in that direction.
Now the call was one for the base umps to make, rather than Welke, but it has been somewhat established that lefties display their directional intent based on the position of the landing foot relative to a line at 45 degrees, the angle splitting the right angle between the plate and 1B. Cole landed very close to that imaginary line, but appeared to be on the \"safe\" side of 45 degrees - though he didn\'t step \"directly\" at ANY base (which is actually common for LHP\'s - just ask Andy Pettitte).
As a pitching coach and former LHP, I have taught this exact move to many players, and it is legal within the written rules. However, many opposing coaches have asked for balk calls, as the move is admittedly deceiving, and the rules are vague. Balk calls are among the most difficult to ascertain, particularly with LHP\'s - it\'s one of the advantages that we lefties enjoy!
To avoid sounding hypocritical, yes I am saying that the outcome is largely unpredictable, despite our ability to make predictions.
Chemistry? Experience? Random variation? It\'s an imperfect game played by imperfect people, with unpredictable outcomes. That\'s the beauty of this game, IMO. Another beautiful aspect of baseball is that over 162 games, 700 PA, or 225 IP, we can make many astute evaluations and predictions based on a large volume of information, but that analysis is best applied to similarly large volumes (like using PECOTA to predict 2009 stats). But in any 1 week, 1 game, or 1 inning, all of that analysis gives way to the essence of playing the sport: nobody knows for sure what is about to happen, and it is up to the guys on the field to produce an outcome, however unlikely it may be. Man, I love this sport!