keyboard_arrow_uptop
Chat with Craig Goldstein and Jeffrey Paternostro now!

The thrills of the 2014 postseason have harkened memories of my childhood, when every playoff game carried extra significance due to my lack of postseason experience. Back then, it seemed that each World Series was personified by a single starting pitcher who led his club to victory, and the awards reflect that particular narrative – a starting pitcher was named the MVP in six of the seven World Series from 1985 to 1991, yet starters have accounted for just five of the 21 series' MVP awards since.

Let's take a look at the mechanics of the pitchers who owned postseason baseball 25 years ago. Before we jump into the mechanical pool, please note that the repetition grade has been removed from the Thorburn Report Cards (TRC's) for the following players. Scores were determined (in most cases) by archived footage and highlights, with a sample size too small for a true read on the player's consistency of timing. Therefore, I have limited the grades to the four baseline categories of balance, momentum, torque, and posture; scores reflect each pitcher's mechanics during that particular series.

1991 – Jack Morris

World Series Stats

GS

IP

ERA

K

BB

H

3

23.0

1.17

15

9

18

Opponent: Atlanta Braves

In the history of Hall of Fame arguments, perhaps no player's case for Cooperstown has been so pinned to a single performance as Jack Morris and his 10-inning shutout in Game Seven of the 1991 World Series (his HoF backers politely ask that you ignore his performance in the '92 Fall Classic). It was an epic battle between two teams that had both been league doormats the year prior, billing the '91 series as a war between two “worst-to-first” teams in a year that marked a changing of the guard at the top of baseball's power pyramid.

Morris' impact was felt throughout the series, as the right-hander started Games One, Four, and Seven; he earned the W in two of the contests and left the other game with the Twins holding a narrow 2-1 lead in the late innings. Game Seven was a hard-fought skirmish, as both lineups put runners on the bags but could not cross the plate; there were a combined 24 base runners between the two lineups, but it took the 17th hit of the game (a Gene Larkin single in the bottom of the 10th) to shut the door on the '91 season.

Report Card

Balance

40

Momentum

45

Torque

55

Posture

50

Overall

C

Morris had an average delivery, both in terms of his overall grade and the individual subjects on his TRC. The weakest link in his '91 motion was balance, with a big drop-n-drive as well as some lean-back toward first base and a slight rock-n-roll during the stride phase, though he appeared to repeat the delivery decently well in spite of these obstacles.

His posture often looked worse than the grade reflects, due to some extra flexion and additional spine-tilt that took place after he let go of the baseball, but his spine angle was within average range at release point. The biggest feather in his mechanical cap was solid torque that involved a generous blend of upper-body load and delayed trunk rotation, adding power to a delivery that lacked momentum during the stride phase. He also added a touch of funk to his delivery, raising his hands above the shoulder line as he approached foot strike to add an element of deception to his offerings.

1990 – Jose Rijo

World Series Stats

GS

IP

ERA

K

BB

H

2

15.3

0.59

14

5

9

Opponent: Oakland Athletics

The A's were heavy favorites in the 1990 Series, but the Reds rode their Nasty Boy bullpen and a pair of Rijo gems to an improbable sweep. A former Athletic, Rijo morphed into a weapon for the Reds after he was traded in the Dave Parker deal in December 1987, and he would return to Oakland three seasons later to haunt the defending champs and to spike broom sales throughout the Cincy metropolitan area.

Rijo won Games One and Four to take home MVP honors, allowing just a single run in the two contests, and he iced the sweep with a nine-strikeout performance in the final game. The 1990 season was the first in a four-year run that saw Rijo toss nearly 870 innings of 2.56 ERA baseball, for an ERA+ of 152 over that stretch.

Report Card

Balance

55

Momentum

60

Torque

55

Posture

45

Overall

B-

Rijo featured a high-3/4 arm slot that was influenced by late spine-tilt. There were several examples in which he spun off the mound to the glove side during his follow-through, but nearly all of his excess movement took place after release point and was tied to his lower half.

The right-hander featured very strong momentum early in the delivery, leading with the hip on his way into max leg lift, and he employed a consistent pace to the plate as opposed to a gear-shift during the stride phase. The torque was heavy on the hips, with a heavy delay of trunk rotation that also involved late rotation of the hips, essentially blending the “hip-whip” technique with the hip-shoulder separation that is generated through a delayed trigger.

1989 – Dave Stewart

World Series Stats

GS

IP

ERA

K

BB

H

2

16.0

1.69

14

2

10

Opponent: San Francisco Giants

The Loma Prieta quake that canceled Game Three of the '89 series carried the consequence of a 10-day layoff for both clubs, giving Stewart the opportunity to start games One and Three while Mike Moore handled Games Two and Four, as the A's used just six different pitchers during the entirety of the four-game sweep of their cross-bay rivals.

Stew brought intimidation to the mound in the form of his icy stare that glared at opposing batters from behind a low-pulled brim of his hat. His split-fingered fastball – a trademark of A's pitchers under the tutelage of Dave Duncan – was a devastating weapon that formed the backbone of the right-hander's four consecutive 20-win seasons (1989 was the third straight). Looking back, the series featured a field full of future coaches and executives, including Stewart (new Diamondbacks GM), Matt Williams (current Nats manager), Walt Weiss (Rockies manager), Mark McGwire (Dodgers hitting coach), Rick Honeycutt (Dodgers pitching coach), Curt Young (A's pitching coach), and Mike Gallego (A's third base coach).

Report Card

Balance

60

Momentum

50

Torque

55

Posture

65

Overall

B

Stewart had a minor drop-n-drive and some slight rock-n-roll to his motion, but he stabilized his head above the center of mass. His lateral balance was perfect, and he finished the delivery with excellent posture that flashed as high as a 70-grade at peak, but typically settled into a 65 on the TRC, depending on the ferocity of his late head-jerk at release point. With a relatively low angle of shoulder abduction and strong posture, Stewart had a low-3/4 slot that he was able to repeat consistently.

His method of torque was similar to that of Jose Rijo (whom Stewart faced twice in the '90 series), with a hybrid of the hip-whip strategy and the delayed trigger that encourages separation, all of which was made possible by very late hip rotation that allowed the trigger of trunk rotation to sync up with the lower half. He was somewhat slow into max lift but he led with the front hip to create a strong energy angle, finding a decent pace during his stride that rounded out to league-average momentum.

1988 – Orel Hershiser

World Series Stats

GS

IP

ERA

K

BB

H

2

18.0

1.00

17

6

7

Opponent: Oakland Athletics

Hershiser is known for his incredible scoreless-innings streak of 1988, which included 59 straight frames of keeping the scoreboard clean that ran through the end of the regular season. He continued the unprecedented run with eight shutout innings in the NLCS, running the record to 67 straight innings without allowing a run, though the official record does not include his postseason zeroes.

Hershiser was in absolute control in the fall of '88, continuing into postseason play as he silenced the A's with a pair of complete games and just two runs allowed. He started three games of the NLCS and came into a fourth game for relief work, and his combined innings total from that season (regular season plus postseason) checked in at 309.7 frames.

Report Card

Balance

55

Momentum

70

Torque

65

Posture

55

Overall

B+

Hershiser's first gear of momentum was so good that we created a drill at the National Pitching Association that was named after him. Dubbed “the Hershiser drill,” the purpose of the exercise was to teach players the feel of leading with the hip to generate power out of the setup position. He then continued to accelerate his pace throughout the delivery, using his lower half to build kinetic energy into the system, and he was able to find a repeatable timing pattern that was both efficient and effective.

The right-hander had some drop-n-drive and a bit of late spine-tilt, but he maintained balance better than the average big-leaguer, a feat made all the more impressive considering the tremendous power that was coursing through his slight frame. Hershiser had big torque, with an open stride angle that got the hips rotating early, which combined with his delayed trunk rotation and some upper-body load to give him excellent torque.

1987 – Frank Viola

World Series Stats

GS

IP

ERA

K

BB

H

3

19.3

3.72

16

3

17

Opponent: St. Louis Cardinals

Viola started three games for the Twins in their seven-game triumph in the '87 series, and though he was lit up to the tune of five earned runs without escaping the fourth inning in Game Four, he came back in Game Seven to avenge that loss, pitching eight innings of two-run baseball to setup the Twins for victory in the ultimate game.

The ERA was dinged by the rough outing in Game Four, but Viola's peripherals speak to his success in the other two contests, and the combined effort earned the southpaw MVP honors for the World Champion Twins. Viola would continue his run of dominance the following season, winning the 1988 Cy Young Award with a 24 – 7 record and a 2.64 ERA in 255.3 innings.

Report Card

Balance

50

Momentum

60

Torque

65

Posture

50

Overall

B-

Viola's delivery involved a couple degrees of imbalance, including a lean toward third base during most of the motion that caused him to drift away from his arm side. His vertical balance was very strong, though, with little to no drop in the vertical plane. He did have a tendency to finish out in front, thanks in part due to a combination of aggressive flexion and spine-tilt to the glove-side near release point, and his soft glove-side during follow-through revealed some of the inconsistencies.

The key markers in the left-hander's delivery were those associated with power. His plus momentum traced an efficient line of kinetic energy, and his big torque was driven largely by a massive twist with the upper-half that included a pronounced scapular load that increased his hip-shoulder separation. Viola sacrificed some stability in the effort to generate so much power in his motion, but he impressed with his ability to overcome the lack of balance and repeat the delivery.

1986 – Bruce Hurst

World Series Stats

GS

IP

ERA

K

BB

H

3

23.0

1.96

17

6

18

Opponent: New York Mets

Hurst is the only pitcher on this list who did not earn MVP honors in his year's series, and non-coincidentally he is also the only pitcher from this list that hailed from the losing ballclub. As if there weren't enough fingers already pointing at Bill Buckner, the plight of Hurst adds one more casualty to the ledger.

Hurst did everything within his power to break the Curse of the Bambino, starting three games in the series including the deciding Game Seven. He worked the seventh game on short rest after having started Game Five (back then there was a day off between Games Six and Seven), and Hurst blanked the Mets for five innings in that final game. However, he surrendered a three-spot in the sixth thanks to a trio of singles plus a walk, and then watched the Boston bullpen implode as the Mets scored eight times across three frames to win the big trophy. Hurst gave up more runs in that fateful inning (three) than he had in the 22 frames that preceded it (two).

Report Card

Balance

40

Momentum

50

Torque

40

Posture

35

Overall

D+

Hurst had a rough delivery, with balance that started well but deteriorated throughout the motion. He was able to stay somewhat stable prior to foot strike, though his generous flex in the knees left him prone to drops in his vertical positioning. His balance jumped off a cliff after foot strike, though, with a massive lean at the waist that pulled him to the glove-side and left Hurst way out in front. The back foot would pop up prematurely, and the forward-lean was so egregious during follow-through that Hurst often looked as if he was going to bury his face in his glove after releasing the baseball.

His balance drop was not the sudden plunge that is often associated with a drop-n-drive, but rather a continuous lowering of his center-of-gravity throughout the stride phase. He utilized an open stride that assisted his glove-side veer late in the delivery, as his energy went off course from foot strike through release point. The late tilt culminated in poor posture, adding to the laundry list of mechanical inefficiencies associated with Hurst's delivery, which included soft torque that was reliant on scapular loading to create separation.

1985 – Bret Saberhagen

World Series Stats

GS

IP

ERA

K

BB

H

2

18.0

0.50

10

1

11

Opponent: St. Louis Cardinals

The list comes full circle with Saberhagen, who led the charge the last time that the Kansas City Royals were in the World Series. The year 1985 was critical, not just for Marty McFly, but for the start of an unusual phenomenon in which Saberhagen would be dominant in odd-numbered years and pedestrian in even-numbered ones (he would finally shake the trend in 1994).

The 21-year-old right-hander won the Cy Young Award in '85 and continued his historical run by taking home the World Series MVP. Not known for high strikeout totals, Saberhagen relied on pinpoint command and subtle movement to master the battle of the strike zone, with an AL-low walk rate of 1.5 base-on-balls for every nine innings pitched. He rode those skills to a pair of complete game victories in the Series, culminating in a Game Seven shutout in which just a pair of outs were recorded via the K.

Report Card

Balance

70

Momentum

60

Torque

60

Posture

55

Overall

B+

Saberhagen had a very clean delivery. His near-perfect balance was only deterred by a slight tuck into max lift, as he otherwise kept his head stable above the center-of-mass in all three planes throughout the motion. The right-hander finished with solid posture, though some late tilt during the high-energy phases of rotation brought that score down a peg. Despite the late redirection, Saberhagen kept his kinetic energy on a straight line toward the target, as indicated by a follow-through that followed the baseball toward the plate.

The right-hander finished with a 3/4 arm slot, which runs contrary to the sidearm caricature that pitches for the AL All-Star squad in Nintendo's RBI Baseball. His first move of momentum was powerful, propelling his slight frame toward the plate with a controlled fury, and he maintained a swift timing pattern that he could repeat ad nauseam. The torque was fueled by a massive delay with his trigger of trunk rotation, allowing the hips to create tons of separation before the upper-half fired, giving Saberhagen the rare combination of stability and power that is often associated with the game's greatest pitchers.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
brucegilsen
10/27
The "day off between Games Six and Seven" was a rainout that pushed game 7 back one day and allowed the Red Sox to switch from Oil Can Boyd to Hurst/
tombores99
10/27
Ah, that makes sense. Thanks for the head's up!