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Our journey through baseball's mechanical extremes continues with a tour of the American League Central, a division that is teeming with power deliveries that created bottlenecks at the top and fueled stiff competition in every category. Before we get started, here's a quick refresher on the rules: pitchers must have thrown 40 or more innings in 2014 and finished the season playing for a club in the AL Central.

Without further ado, on to the mechanics…

Balance

Best: Jose Quintana, 70 grade

Stability forms the crux of Quintana's mechanical efficiency, and his ability to maintain balance throughout the delivery puts him in an elite class. He sustains a near-ideal center of gravity during the stride phase, with his vertical head position staying relatively consistent with the slope of the mound. The solid Z-plane balance also manifests in the other two planes, keeping his head over the center of mass from first movement through foot strike and avoiding the glove-side lean and excessive lean-back that plagues so many of his pitching brethren. The stutter-step at the beginning of his windup might give the impression of instability, but Quintana's exceptional body control has fueled an excellent walk rate that continues to improve with each season in the big leagues.

Worst: Caleb Thielbar, 35 grade

Thielbar's delivery features plenty of flail through release point and follow-through, and his wild finish to the motion is an indicator for his lack of stability throughout the delivery. He begins by hunching over toward the first-base side as he approaches maximum leg lift, and the hunch becomes more exaggerated as he transitions to the stride phase. He also greatly lowers his center of gravity after leg lift, collapsing the back side as part of a blatant drop-n-drive delivery that also throws a wrench into his Z-plane balance. The lateral imbalance veers to the glove side after foot strike, and he begins invoking spine-tilt as soon as the rotational elements kick into gear. Thielbar's delivery is powerful, but his balance suffers under the weight of his aggressive motion.

Momentum

Best: Phil Hughes, 65 grade

Momentum tends to be a depressed category, even at the extremes, as the general “don't rush” philosophy to pitching has infiltrated many of the coaching paradigms throughout the league. In this sense, the AL Central is an exception, and the Indians in particular have demonstrated a penchant for pitchers who utilize their athleticism to hurtle towards the plate at break-neck speeds. Cleveland pitchers such as Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Josh Tomlin excel in this subject of the report card, but Hughes is the best of the bunch, with a steady acceleration of momentum throughout the pitching motion. He begins by leading with the hip to create a formidable angle of kinetic energy as he reaches leg lift, and though his front leg appears to jut forward abruptly during the stride phase, his center of mass enjoys a smooth ride of increasing speed into foot strike. Some of the Cleveland hurlers matched the 65 grade of Hughes, but the Twins' right-hander takes home the crown thanks to an incredibly efficient path of momentum that gets going straight toward the target from the beginning of his delivery.

Worst: Anthony Swarzak, 35 grade

Swarzak features a slow pace to the plate, beginning with his first movement. His first gear of momentum is very light on forward progress, with a slow-but-simple lift, and he appears to slow down even further during the stride phase of his motion. His lack of burst is striking when pitching from the windup, and though he finally engages a touch of burst just before foot strike that feeds a deceivingly powerful rotational phase, the vast majority of his motion is devoid of power or forward progress.

Torque

Best: Wade Davis, 70 grade

Hip-heavy torque fuels Davis' high-90s velocity, and though the delay of his trigger of trunk rotation is relatively strong, it's the high-speed rotation of his hips that allows him to create so much hip-shoulder separation despite a minimal contribution from his upper half. Davis had plenty of competition in this category, as high-torque pitchers are aplenty within the confines of the American League Central. Pitchers such as Corey Kluber, Justin Verlander, Danny Salazar, Greg Holland, Yordano Ventura, Carlos Carrasco, and David Price make plus-plus torque a regular sight to see in the division. But in 2014, Davis wins the prize for the top hip-shoulder separation in the division.

Worst: Bruce Chen, 35 grade

Chen has a reasonable upper-body load to create the potential for solid separation, but the lower half fails to cooperate, as the southpaw lacks the physical underpinnings to expect any improvement on his modest mid-80s velocity. He features late hip rotation, and though he avoids a full-on hip-whip strategy in which hips and shoulders are wired together, the two halves fire in close enough proximity near foot strike to limit his overall torque.

Posture

Best: Chris Sale, 70 grade

Yet another close race emerged in the quest for the division's best posture, with many of the top-performing pitchers able to attribute some of their success to outstanding stability as they reach release point. The crown-bearer for best AL Central posture in 2014 was Chris Sale, a fact which is made all the more interesting when one considers his poor marks for balance, as most pitchers who lack balance early in the delivery will see a ripple effect of poor posture near release. Sale hunches over during his stride and leans back to dent his balance grade, but he rights the ship for near-perfect posture at release point, adding yet another layer of intrigue to one of the game's most fascinating pitchers.

Worst: Greg Holland, 30 grade

Holland comes dangerously close to hitting the bottom of the grading pool when looking at his posture, with a violent dive to the glove-side after foot strike that appears to trigger his rotation. The excessive spine-tilt creates an arm slot that is almost directly over-the-top, striking twelve on the clock from the opposing batter's point of view. The egregious drift precipitates a Neo-like follow-through that is hilarious when caught in the right moment, with Holland's body floating parallel to the ground as some hitter waves helplessly at yet another exploding slider.

Overall

Best: Corey Kluber, A grade

Similar to the situation with Madison Bumgarner in the NL West, the case for Kluber was made before his Cy Young campaign of 2014 even got started. Kluber was one of just nine starting pitchers who received a grade of A- or higher in the 2014 Starting Pitcher Guide (out of more than 200 players that received report cards), and he found a way to improve his scores this past season. Kluber earns plus marks in every single category of the report card, and he was in the discussion for best in the division for all four subjects under consideration. David Price also received consideration for this award, and like Kluber, Price has plus marks in every category, but his stability took a small step backward while Kluber's improvements allowed him to leap-frog Price in the standings. The right-handed Kluber is a machine of mechanical efficiency, with a template for his delivery that portends a continued run of success.

Thank you for reading

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jwbbslo
12/31
Based on a video that cannot be viewed frame by frame, Hughes certainly seems to have delivery tempo/momentum but doesn't his arm recoil & short arc of deceleration concern you? Looks like a recipe for future posterior chain issues.

JW
tombores99
12/31
His inclusion is based solely on the momentum, so his arm action / arm path did not enter the equation.

Whether Hughes' arm action is "concerning" is another issue altogether, and one that includes myriad variables. I'm not particularly worried about the recoil, and keep in mind that the sudden 'hitch' after follow-through (in the included video) is not typical for his delivery.

rrvwmr
12/31
Love your work, Doug. How much is the deceleration phase a part of your momentum grade? Hughes abruptly halts the momentum of his torso, shoulder, and arm. I'd like to see a smoother deceleration. The Twins should take insurance out on his shoulder.
tombores99
1/01
Deceleration does not factor into the grade for momentum, as I choose to focus on the functional impact from first movement through foot strike, with a nod to how it translates into release point. But I hear ya on the ease of transition (ie deceleration) into follow-through, or the lack thereof in the case of Hughes.
username49
1/01
speaking of starting pitching guide, will there be a 2015 version? When will it drop?
tombores99
1/01
Yep, Paul and I are plugging away at the SPG 2k15 as we speak, and it will be available at the beginning of February.
migueljsteele
1/02
I can't say it enough: I love your work, Doug. I only wish I was coaching baseball still so that I could use what I learn more often. I maintain my subscription to read your work.