The latest addition to the pool of pitching hopefuls is former NBA star Tracy McGrady, who’s recruited a star-studded staff of coaches, headlined by Roger Clemens, to reshape his athleticism in the pursuit of a professional gig on the mound. Considerable buzz was generated by a bullpen session in which the 34-year old McGrady faced live hitters (not that they were taking swings), and his height and long arms have been credited with both downhill plane and release-point extension. It makes this evaluator smile to hear positive references to creating depth at release point, but is the praise justified, or is it simply placating a player who is well-respected in the athletic world?
At 6'8”, McGrady has a height advantage on the mound, but his size is not unheard of at a position that regularly features players who are 6'5” or above. The equation for release-point extension has many components, and height only establishes the baseline. True depth at release point stems from great momentum and delayed foot strike to extend the stride, as well as elements such as glove position, timing, and posture. So how does McGrady stack up?
The answer: not very well.
My first exposure to McGrady's mechanics was this commercial, which featured McGady throwing to little leaguers.
Obviously this was just a promotion and served as nothing more than a light-hearted demonstration, so when I was asked to break down the advertised mechanics on Twitter, I had my tongue planted firmly in cheek:
@NeastWS A guy that tall should NOT be using a slide step, just killing his greatest advantage. Power grades are a disgrace, no momentum …
@NeastWS ..and negative torque – his throw shoulder is connected to his right hip. Fix that, then we'll clean up the glove. Nice posture tho
— Doug Thorburn (@doug_thorburn) February 2, 2014
This was all said in jest, but we can take McGrady a bit more seriously after his 20-minute bullpen session with professional batters at the plate. There are still plenty of caveats, as a pitcher's bullpen mechanics can differ greatly from what he puts on display at full speed in front of a crowd, but the early returns suggest that the commercial delivery was not such a far cry from McGrady’s true mechanics.
McGrady had a much longer stride in the bullpen session when compared to the little-league delivery from the commercial, thanks to a legit leg-lift and improved momentum. That said, his stride was still relatively short considering his biological advantages, as he got into foot strike sooner than necessary. McGrady’s posture suffered as he upped the intensity of his delivery, which is to be expected for someone who has not trained his body to pitch. The glove was still very soft, but the biggest red flag was his torque: despite his increased intensity, McGrady still had hips and shoulders that fired essentially in unison, as if the front hip and lead shoulder were connected by a taut chord. It’s a testament to his strength and athleticism that he was able to reportedly generate heat up to 87 mph using the delivery that was on display, especially given that his hip rotation was too slow to earn the “hip-whip” moniker that often comes attached to other pitchers who lack hip-shoulder separation.
It's a fun sideshow act, but McGrady was nowhere near being mechanically efficient, and he has a very steep hill to climb before we can take him seriously on the mound. His biological clock is also ticking, but you can't blame the guy for enjoying life, and whether he pitches for the Sugarland Skeeters or the St. Paul Saints, he will at least be a gate attraction as long as he toes the rubber.