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November 8, 2013 6:00 am

Raising Aces: Great Pitchers, Flawed Mechanics

11

Doug Thorburn

Pitchers who succeed despite less-than-perfect deliveries.

One of the most common questions people ask me is to name good pitchers who have bad mechanics. Of course, mechanics are too nuanced to draw lines in the sand of “good” and “bad,” but the question is fascinating nonetheless. The general rule is that the best pitchers have excellent mechanics, but it’s true that some of the top players in the game have flaws in their deliveries.

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May 3, 2013 9:00 am

Raising Aces: Time to Unwind

29

Doug Thorburn

Why historical changes in pitching mechanics haven't always led to improvement.

The pitching delivery has evolved throughout the history of Major League Baseball. There are elements of old-school pitching mechanics that are now artifacts of a bygone era, and though one would expect the modern iteration of pitching instruction to have greatly progressed over time, there are some ways in which the pitchers of today have regressed compared to their predecessors. A few of these topics have been covered in previous editions of Raising Aces, such as the modern-day emphasis on angles and deception that has resulted in over-the-top arm slots and closed stride patterns.

The windup is a fundamental component of the pitching delivery, one so basic that its utility in the game is never questioned, yet it serves as a classic example of the ever-changing practices of the pitching-industrial complex. Pitcher windups have morphed over the past 70 years, and what was once a series of movements has been simplified to the current model, which basically involves a side-step and pivot, essentially putting the pitcher in the stretch position at the time that he initiates the lift phase of his motion.

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April 26, 2013 5:00 am

Raising Aces: Throwdown: Mat Latos vs. Jeff Samardzija

4

Doug Thorburn

Dissecting Wednesday's 1-0 duel.

Midwest baseball fans were treated to an NL Central showdown on Wednesday, as the Cubs and the Reds squared off at Great American Ballpark with their aces on the mound. Mat Latos has been a reliable top-of-the-rotation arm for the Reds ever since his arrival via trade with the Padres in the offseason of 2011-12, and he has assumed the top spot in the Cincy rotation with Johnny Cueto currently on the shelf. The Cubbies countered with Jeff Samardzija, whose 2012 breakout has carried over to this season and who entered Wednesday's contest with the third-highest strikeout percentage in the National League (among starting pitchers).

The pitching prodigies did not disappoint. After a 90-minute rain delay, the two right-handers traded scoreless frames until the Reds broke through with a solo homer by Todd Frazier in the bottom of the sixth. When the dust cleared on the duel, that lone run would stand as the difference in a 1-0 Reds victory. Both players performed exceedingly well, yet a very different approach was at the foundation of each pitcher's success.

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December 21, 2012 5:00 am

Raising Aces: Making the Grade, Part Two

4

Doug Thorburn

Doug wraps up his visual guide to breaking down pitcher deliveries.

Scouting grades evolve in conjunction with player development, and pitching mechanics in particular can change drastically over time. This is especially true of young players in the minor leagues, who are specifically targeting weak links in their deliveries to address before ascending to the majors. The grades that appear in my mechanics report cards are typically a snapshot of a pitcher's skills, and though some elements can be more pervasive, a player's delivery can also morph throughout the season.

Part One of “Making the Grade” dealt with the first half of the mechanics report card, using visual representations of the 20-80 grades on the scouting scale. The subjects on the report card are arranged in chronological order, following the kinetic chain from the pitcher's first movement through pitch release, and the trio of topics on today's agenda covers the final stages of a pitcher's delivery.

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November 30, 2012 5:00 am

Raising Aces: On the Other Hand

13

Doug Thorburn

Don't become so fixated on the throwing arm during that time you forget about what's going on with the glove side.

A pitcher's throwing arm is the hardest-working limb on the playing field, so it figures to get all the attention, but the oft-ignored glove-side arm has the potential to either aid the delivery or throw a wrench into the system. The non-throwing arm plays a non-trivial role in mechanical assessment—I have occasionally dropped a reference to a pitcher with a “sloppy glove” or one who “keeps the glove out in front of the body,” but I have yet to go into detail on the topic.

We have covered the basic tenets of Pitchology this season, from balance to momentum and hip-shoulder separation, but today will be an advanced lesson in the theory behind one of the finer elements of pitching mechanics. So if the class will indulge me for a lecture, I'll don the tweed jacket while the rest grab a mitt and meet me on the diamond for a virtual field trip.

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October 26, 2012 5:00 am

Raising Aces: Pitchology, Final Exam

23

Doug Thorburn

You've been reading Raising Aces all season. Now it's time to put your knowledge to the test.

We’re reached the culmination of the baseball season, having nearly consumed the 2012 textbook, and it’s time to test our knowledge. So let us begin the Final Exam for our Pitchology class.

We have covered a multitude of topics this semester, including mechanics, stuff, and injuries. We have studied a combination of case studies, player comparisons, and some of the theoretical concepts that underlie the mystery of pitching. Please refer to your notes and/or the textbook as you take the exam.

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Doug wraps up his mechanical analysis of the Futures Game rosters with a look at the World Team.

The international stars of the World Team lacked the draft-day pedigrees and household names of their U.S. counterparts, but the group was anything but lacking in terms of stuff, including multiple arms that reached for triple digits. The final result may have been a blowout, but the box score is hardly reflective of the collective talent on the World Team, and much of the damage was concentrated in the middle innings.

Yordano Ventura (Royals-A)
Ventura was the World Team's answer to U.S. starter Jake Odorizzi, as the hometown Royals watched their own farmhands go to battle in the first inning of the Futures Game. Ventura was the more impressive of the two right-handers from the standpoint of stuff as well as mechanics, with high-90s heat that touched triple digits and was supported by a well-tuned delivery. The 21-year-old attacked hitters with plus momentum and a long stride that was directed straight at the plate, contributing to legit release distance despite his sub-six-foot frame. The early momentum was a plus, and in what was a theme for the World Team pitchers, Ventura exhibited a smooth transition into second gear after maximum leg lift.


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UCLA's tremendous duo can deal, but how will they do after they're picked in June?

After catching a few tracking sessions on the back fields of Surprise, I made the trek to Los Angeles to scout UCLA’s Friday and Saturday starters: Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer. Scouting elite talent is always fun, and despite being easier than scouting talent that elicits a wide-range of opinion, it never gets old watching professional scouts, cross-checkers, scouting directors, and writers all look giddy after witnessing something special.

Cole, UCLA's ace, took the loss on Friday, but nobody really cared. He was dominant through six innings, with front-rotation stuff, a major-league body, and more poise and polish than I was led to believe he owned. As inarticulate as this might seen, Cole was just awesome, and seeing him throw three 70-grade pitches made the long drive to worth it.

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A conversation with that rarest of cats in the minor leagues, the inked Wildcat from Northwestern.

Chris Hayes has emerged from the humblest of baseball backgrounds to the doorstep of the major leagues. A walk-on at Northwestern University, Hayes worked his way up to the team's closer his senior year. Following graduation he spent a year in the independent leagues before signing with the Kansas City Royals as an undrafted free agent in 2006.

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An in-depth discussion about mechanics with the motion analysis coordinator and coach of the National Pitching Association.

Pitching is both an art and a science, and from youth leagues to the big leagues, so is the challenge of keeping pitchers healthy. The National Pitching Association (NPA) is on the cutting edge of research and instruction on all three fronts, and many of their concepts are shared in their forthcoming book, Arm Action, Arm Path, and the Perfect Pitch: a Science-Based Guide to Pitching Health and Performance. David talked to the NPA's motion analysis coordinator and coach, Doug Thorburn.

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December 16, 2007 12:00 am

Prospectus Q&A: John Farrell

0

David Laurila

Last season, John Farrell moved from the front office to the field, taking over as the Red Sox pitching coach. David spoke with Farrell about his shift in priorities, the importance of a fastball that hits both sides of the plate, and more.

David Laurila: Warren Spahn famously said that you only need two pitches to get a hitter out: the one he's looking for and the one he isn't. Is that a simplification?

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