Site Search
Featured Reading
  • Starting Strength, 3rd edition
    Starting Strength, 3rd edition
    by Mark Rippetoe
Sponsors

Monday
May182009

Dr. Mike Marshall Training: Javelins and Bucket Lids

I've been a bit busy lately with another project of mine, so I have been slacking a little when it comes to this blog. There isn't much substance to this post, but it's better than nothing.

This is another video that was filmed, edited, and produced by Dr. Marshall's students. It shows several of them performing some of Dr. Marshall's more unconventional training drills. In the video, they throw javelins and bucket lids.

The video quality isn't spectacular, and its producer added some background music (as well as a lengthy credits sequence at the end). I'd suggest muting the video, but then you wouldn't hear the commentary.

The pitchers perform the same exercises that they performed with the wrist weights and iron balls. The projectiles in this video are lighter, though not quite as light as a baseball.

These drills are more about neuromuscular fitness - joint action timing and sequencing or "muscle memory" - than they are about strength and durability. If I understand correctly, they are used to help learn and "perfect" Dr. Marshall's motion rather than to maintain it.

The bucket lid drill, designed to teach the appropriate axes of rotation for pitched balls, seems like it would also provide a decent "report card" for the release and spin of each pitch.

Wednesday
May132009

Texas Rangers Prospects: Martin Perez and Juan Grullon

Martin Perez. LHP, 6' 0", 165 lbs, Born: April 4, 1991. Venezuelan Martin Perez has been the left-handed pitching prize of the 2007 Latin American free agent class. The Texas Rangers won the bidding for Perez and held him back until they unleashed him on the Northwest League in 2008 against players that were typically 3-4 years older than the then 17-year-old Perez.

Walks were a small problem for Perez, and he was hit at a .274 clip, which isn't bad but isn't anything to brag about either. This resulted in a 3.65 ERA and a rather large 1.52 WHIP. His strikeout rate was very good.

He threw only 61.2 innings in 2008, so I don't expect him to jump past 100 this season. That said, he's already surpassed 25 innings in 2009. In that short sample, still against players much older than he is, Perez has lowered his walk rate (from 4.1 per 9 innings to 3.0), dramatically lowered his hit rate (from 9.6 per 9 innings to 5.7), and improved his already solid strikeout rate (from 7.7 per 9 innings to 10.5).

Still only 18 years old, Perez has some serious projection left.

You can see in the video several things that I mention quite often when talking about pitching mechanics. He strides slightly closed, drags his back foot, and has a little bit of a reverse forearm bounce. Perez picks up the ball well, but doesn't supinate as part of his pick-up. As a result, he doesn't rely on forceful external rotation to put his arm into throwing position, but he still has a late forearm turnover.

Perez has a very large back bend, similar to that of Tim Lincecum and Derek Holland, from which he drives his shoulder directly over his landing hip. This gives him a straight-line shoulder drive, but I am not a huge fan of the way Perez pulls his trunk down into his front leg.

This pull-down is a tenet of Jaeger Sports' long-toss program, and it can lead to good arm actions, but I worry about the stress it might place on the landing hip and spine. Of course, Perez didn't spend time with Jaeger Sports, he's from Venezuela, but the point still stands.

This pull-down leads to Perez's fairly uncontrolled follow-through. His initial finish is high, but he still has a violent-looking wrap across his body. This type of follow-through tends to stress the posterior capsule of the shoulder and can lead to rotator cuff issues, specifically in the infraspinatus and supraspinatus muscles.

Dr. Mike Marshall advocates throwing breaking pitches with pronation instead of with the more traditional supination. This works well in his pitching motion and for his pitchers, but some critics have suggested that throwing these pitches is difficult or impossible for pitchers with more traditional mechanics.

Martin Perez's pronation curve frame-by-frame.I hereby offer Martin Perez as an example of a pitcher with traditional mechanics rather easily throwing a pronation curveball. Take special notice of his palm as he approaches release and immediately after release. Perez's palm clearly turns from inward, to forward at release, and to outward during follow-through. [Click the image to enlarge.]

Perez pronates like this on each of his pitches - fastball, curveball, and change up - and it is excellent for both health and performance. Pronation allows for better ball rotation (more spin therefore more movement) and helps protect the elbow from forearm flyout. This is a good thing because Perez doesn't get his arm nearly as vertical when he throws his fastball and change up compared to when he throws his curveball.

Juan Grullon. LHP, 6' 0", 185 lbs, Born: March 4, 1990. I dug around for information on this guy, and there simply isn't much to be had outside of his 2008 Dominican Summer League statistics which are pretty exciting.

The Dominican lefty threw 48.0 innings and allowed only 37 hits while striking out 67 and walking 25, a few too many. Grullon did not allow a homerun. His efforts were good for a 6-1 record and a 2.44 ERA.

We could see Grullon stateside this year with either Spokane or the AZL Rangers. He will be 19 years old all year.

Grullon is extremely compact. He doesn't doing anything flashy, and it almost looks like he's not trying.

His front leg is actually pretty active through his stride. Grullon seems to almost kick into his landing. This action applies force in the direction opposite to the pitch, but it also gives Grullon leverage to rotate his hips.

Grullon picks up the baseball in almost exactly the same manner as Martin Perez (above). He essentially uses a pendulum swing motion but lacks the supination action. As with Perez, this reduces the required external rotation torque required to lay his forearm back but still leads to a late forearm turnover. The important part is that the resulting reverse forearm bounce is very minor compared to most other pitchers with traditional mechanics.

As Grullon opens his shoulders to throw the pitch, his glove arm just sort of hangs there. He maintains a firm front side, but he could be using this arm to actively contribute to more powerful shoulder rotation. The lazy glove arm makes it look like Grullon is using a pull-down like Perez, but Grullon stays taller through his delivery.

Grullon has some forearm flyout as well, but it is hard to determine to what extent he pronates his pitches. The evidence is less convincing than in the Perez video. Having looked at my raw footage of Grullon, it looks like he definitely pronates on a few of his pitches, but for the most part, he does not pronate. I found no evidence of supinated releases.

The simplicity of his motion allows Grullon supreme control over his follow-through. Under such control, Grullon's pitching arm stays on the pitching arm side of his torso; it does not wrap across his body. His pitching arm is decelerated so well by his latissimus dorsi that his elbow actually winds up tucked in next to his rib cage as he finishes his follow-through.

Wednesday
May062009

Texas Rangers Prospects: Wilmer Font and Evan Reed

Wilmer Font. RHP, 6' 4", 210 lbs, Born: May 24, 1990. The Texas Rangers signed man-child Wilmer Font out of Venezuela during the 2006 international signing season only a couple of months after he turned 16. Font is an extremely raw talent still, but parts of his game are starting to show signs of polish.

Font can run his fastball into the upper 90s, and he has shown very promising off-speed pitches in his change up and curveball. The part he has struggled with to this point has been control. In just over 65 innings of stateside work, Font has allowed only 53 hits while striking out 82, but he has also allowed 35 walks. That's not all. More than 20 batters, possibly 30 or more, have reached base via hit-by-pitch against Font. (Does anyone know the actual HBP numbers? I couldn't find them.)

There's no questioning his stuff, though. Still not quite 19 years old, Font has plenty of time to work on refining his it. Those signs of polish I spoke of? Over Font's last two appearances (both of them starts, with limited pitch counts) spanning 8.2 innings, Font allowed only 6 hits and 2 walks while striking out 8, hitting 0 batters, and throwing only 1 wild pitch.

This 210 fps video is from a March 19, 2009 spring training appearance in a Low A game.

The first two things I noticed were the large reverse rotation of his shoulders and how far he takes the ball toward first base. In this video, you can very easily see what pitch Font is about to throw. At full speed, I know this is harder to see, but his change up still has to be a dead give away.

Font's stride is slightly closed, and his back leg appears to be driving across his landing leg pretty powerfully. In the video, it almost looks like the front of his back leg is driving into the side of his landing leg. Pitchers typically put a lot of torque on their landing hips, but Font seems to be pushing the limit. I have no way to measure it or even estimate it, but I know it looks bad.

His front foot lands slightly open despite his closed front hip. Font had a knee injury last season. This little quirk could either be the result or the cause of that injury.

He pulls his front shoulder a little bit before driving his pitching shoulder forward, but the timing is still pretty good as evidenced by his mid-to-upper-90s fastball.

Because of his massive reverse shoulder rotation, Font has to drive his pitching shoulder a long way toward third base before it really starts moving toward the plate. As a result, his elbow and hand have even longer paths to travel. The short of it is that Font has extreme forearm flyout, and since his release is in a low-3/4 arm slot, his ulna's olecranon process is at the mercy of his eccentrically contracting brachialis.

At 210 frames per second, Font's hand is still moving too fast for me to conclusively say whether he does or does not pronate through his release, but it looks like he does not pronate on any of his pitches.

I like his follow-through a lot. It is similar to that of Neftali Feliz (featured previously) and that of Evan Reed (below). Thanks to strong shoulder rotation, Font avoids wrapping his arm across his trunk. His primary deceleration is handled chiefly by his latissimus dorsi, and afterward, very little deceleration is required to bring the arm to a complete stop.

Evan Reed. RHP, 6' 4", 225 lbs, Born: December 31, 1985. Drafted out of Cal Poly by the Texas Rangers in the third round of the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Evan Reed had been a closer, but he was promptly pushed into the short-season Spokane rotation after a quick start. Reed earned a promotion to Low A Clinton after only 7 appearances. His strikeout rate dropped from 11.7 per 9 innings to only 5.0 per 9 innings, but his results improved everywhere else.

2008 saw Reed struggle in the High A Bakersfield rotation. He has special stuff, but he struggles to control it. His fastball is typically a 92-95 mph pitch that often looks like it's moving faster when it gets to the plate than when it left his hand - amazing life. Reed's off-speed pitches have looked like pitches with plus potential at times, but more often than not, he has struggled to harness the two.

Walks and deep counts hurt Reed's pitch counts and his ERA, so the Rangers moved him back to the bullpen for 2009 - for now, at least. Still only 23, Reed has the stuff to make up ground and jump back into a rotation, but he needs to find a way not only to control his stuff but to command it as well.

Reed has a very powerful looking stride, but if you pause the video at foot plant, you can see that his power is directed at the [off-center] camera instead of the plate. This is inefficient but pretty common. A closed landing like this can cut off hip rotation, but Reed pulls himself forward and is able to open his hips almost directly toward the plate before he releases the ball. Try pausing the video at pitch release, and then look at his hips.

Thanks to his excellent hip rotation, Reed is able to get excellent shoulder rotation as well. Part of his excellent shoulder rotation is due to the way he flexes his trunk across his driveline. Because he strides closed, he has to drive across that stride line to get the ball to the plate. This is more inefficient than it is injurious, but it can add stress to the landing hip and lower back.

His pick-up is a little better than average, but it isn't particularly close to the pendulum swing that I like. Reed pushes down, straightening his pitching arm, and away, but instead of continuing the swinging action, he picks the ball straight up with some active external rotation.

Reed's arm is up and ready by the time his shoulders start to rotate, but the external rotation from his pick-up creates some layback inertia that is amplified by his rotating shoulders. This results in a reverse forearm bounce where the ball is moving toward first base while Reed's elbow is moving toward third base.

From that point forward, Reed's mechanics look to be well above average. His shoulder tilt helps him pick up his arm into a more vertical position to help reduce the effects of forearm flyout, and he seems to pronate through the release of every pitch in this video. Reed's follow-through is very good thanks to his excellent shoulder rotation. His arm wraps across his torso rather gently after his back and rotator cuff have taken care of primary deceleration.

Reed also bears an uncanny resemblence to fellow Texas Rangers RHP prospect Thomas Diamond.

Monday
May042009

Dr. Mike Marshall Training: Iron Balls

Following last week's question regarding Dr. Marshall's wrist weights exercises, I exchanged several emails with Dr. Marshall and one of his students.

The student addressed the question, but claimed that the two arm actions are the same despite the obvious visual differences. He then took the opportunity to tell me that I don't understand how Dr. Marshall's pitchers throw a baseball. The student also claimed that the vertical elbow extension was the result of centripetal force. Apparently, this student wasn't paying much attention to Dr. Marshall when he explained forearm flyout.

Dr. Marshall had more useful things to say. He explained that his pitchers are taught to drive their upper arms in a position described to be "as vertical as possible." From this position, a pitcher clearly can only extend his elbow vertically. This matches exactly what I have seen from his pitchers when they throw baseballs.

When performing the weighted exercises, Dr. Marshall's pitchers appear to me to be powerfully extending their upper arms toward the target. This is because their upper arms seem to move from nearly vertical to nearly horizontal in the direction of the throw prior to release. As a result, their elbow joints extend their forearms toward the target instead of the sky.

Take another look at some of Dr. Marshall's students performing a weighted training exercise. This time, they are throwing iron balls which are obviously more similar to baseballs than the wrist weights are.

Again, his pitchers appear to be driving the heavy weights in a nearly straight 3-dimensional line. Some of them do this better than others. In this video, it appears that the pitchers who raise the ball higher are better able to keep the ball on a 3-dimensionally straight path through release.

Compared to the wrist weight exercises from last week's entry, the iron ball exercises appear to result in more skyward elbow extension. This could be an illusion caused by the arm's reaction to the release of a heavy object. Without high-speed video, it's virtually impossible to tell which happens first.

Because Dr. Marshall wants his pitchers to accelerate their upper arms in as vertical a position as possible, elbow extension is necessarily skyward. This is really the answer to last week's question. In Dr. Marshall's view, when performing his motion, skyward elbow extension is expected and unavoidable.

It seems that the difference in arm actions is the result of the weights being too heavy for Dr. Marshall's pitchers to duplicate the intended arm action.

Wednesday
Apr292009

Texas Rangers Prospects: Brandon McCarthy and Ezequiel Rijo

Brandon McCarthy. RHP, 6' 7", 200 lbs, Born: July 7, 1983. Okay, he's not a prospect, but I'm not renaming my series because of one guy.

Since coming to the Texas Rangers, McCarthy has struggled with two things: health and command. It's a little early to declare either of those as "overcome," but so far this season he looks healthy and strong.

McCarthy's fastball has generally been an 89-92 mph offering which, by itself, is nothing special. Two other elements make it a pretty special pitch, though. His high release point gives his pitches a great downward plane to the strike zone, and he gets excellent "rising" action from a crazy amount of backspin. The combination of these two gives his fastball a unique look for the batter.

For someone with a soft landing on a flexed front leg, McCarthy gets very little power from his legs. In this case, when his front foot lands, his legs stop contributing to forward movement and the following hip rotation is purely inertial. His trailing hip even drags his back foot like an anchor.

McCarthy has a tendency to drag his arm behind his body when he throws his fastball. Arm drag occurs when the pitcher's body gets too far ahead of the arm. In other words, the arm lags behind the body. This is mostly a timing issue, but it can lead to health problems in the shoulder. Performance-wise, arm drag tends to lead to poor command and a preponderance of pitches that are high, outside, or both.

In this video, his front shoulder opens a little early, but he keeps his pitching arm from lagging behind.

When McCarthy pulls his front shoulder, he's using a large number of his trunk muscles. To drive his pitching shoulder forward, he uses the rest of his trunk muscles. By breaking his shoulder rotation into two separate actions, McCarthy's trunk muscles do not work in concert. The result for McCarthy is slower, less powerful shoulder rotation with a large degree of forward flexion in his trunk.

For an example of someone who uses his trunk insanely well, Neftali Feliz has both a powerful shoulder rotation and a large degree of forward flexion (see Texas Rangers Prospects: Neftali Feliz and Tae Kyung Ahn for more details). Notice that Feliz's shoulders rotate together as a single unit, not separately. Also notice that he stays fairly tall, while McCarthy sort of bends in half at the waist.

Rangers blogger Mike Hindman suggested that McCarthy has an inverted W. McCarthy's arms, though, are well past the inverted W shape when his front shoulder starts to open up. He still has a late forearm turnover and a reverse forearm bounce.

It's hard to tell from this angle, but McCarthy's reverse forearm bounce might be exaggerated by some elbow flexion. By this, I mean that he picks his elbow up high enough that gravity plus natural elbow flexion - rather than inertia - appear to be causing some of the ball's downward motion. This view is inconclusive, but I don't believe his ulnar collateral ligament would hold up for very long if inertia alone caused a bounce that large.

As McCarthy drives into his release, he lifts his elbow just above the line across the top of his shoulders. At release, his humerus usually approaches vertical. This prevents forearm flyout - even though he takes the baseball toward first base during his pick-up - and allows McCarthy to powerfully contract his triceps brachii.

McCarthy pronates into his release on each of his pitches, and if you look closely, you can see his elbow pop-up early in the follow-through. This is fairly similar to the pop-up in Dr. Marshall's arm action that he has demonstrated to be a result of using the latissimus dorsi to both extend and internally rotate the upper arm (see Dr. Mike Marshall on MLB Network).

His follow-through is not spectacular but is fairly standard for traditional pitching mechanics. One negative aspect is that he falls so dramatically toward first base after every pitch. (When he pulls his front shoulder, he's also moving his center of mass in the same direction which causes a balance shift.)

In summary, I think McCarthy could get much better results from his legs and core, but I like his arm action. If he can have success with these mechanics and stay healthy, though, there's no reason to change them.

Ezequiel Rijo. RHP, 6' 4", 190 lbs, Born: September 12, 1990. Rijo pitched in the Dominican Summer League in 2008 and posted some interesting numbers including 48 hits (only 2 homeruns) and 41 strikeouts in 71.0 IP. I don't recall anything about his stuff, though his numbers suggest a fastball with decent movement but not overpowering velocity. In the video, you can see three pitches being thrown: a fastball, a change up, and a slider that you have to look closely to see.

I went pretty long on McCarthy, so I'll keep Rijo's report nice and short. Let's take a look at the video.

Rijo's leg drive is shockingly similar to McCarthy's, but Rijo's looks more intense and appears to lead to better hip rotation.

Interestingly, Rijo also pulls his front shoulder before driving his pitching shoulder. Rijo's glove arm is only slightly more aggressive than McCarthy's glove arm, and his result is the same as McCarthy's - poor shoulder rotation with extreme forward flexion of the trunk.

Rijo has a very sound ball pick-up. We can't see his whole pick-up, but we do know that he doesn't take the ball behind his back and that his elbow doesn't reach shoulder height before the ball. Unfortunately, he still has a late forearm turnover and a large reverse forearm bounce.

Forearm flyout is another potential issue for Rijo since his arm isn't really close to vertical except for his change up. His pick-up helps limit his forearm flyout risk. Because he never takes the ball laterally toward first base, his lateral acceleration of the ball toward third base is very minor.

His follow-through is fairly average, and he gets himself almost immediately into an excellent fielding position.