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Entries in Brandon McCarthy (6)

Tuesday
Apr272010

McCarthy suffers another stress fracture

Jeff Wilson has reported that Brandon McCarthy has been placed on the 7-day DL in Oklahoma City with a stress fracture of his right scapula. Unbelievable.

Seriously unbelievable. Bones get stronger after stress fractures. It's part of the healing process sometimes referred to as overcompensation (or supercompensation). Bones respond to stress and stress fractures by growing thicker, stronger, and more dense.

This is the third diagnosis of a stress fracture in McCarthy's shoulder. Having been through this twice before, McCarthy's shoulder blade should be plenty strong enough to withstand two months of pitching, but it apparently isn't.

Unbelievable.

What is believable, though? I see a couple of possible explanations.

The original stress fracture from 2007 simply may not be healed. If this is the case, the cause is likely dietary, but it could be that the injury has never been given sufficient time to heal. Stress fractures often become pain-free well before they are actually healed.

Another explanation is that the problem is not actually a stress fracture. Soft tissue is much more susceptible to re-injury than is bony tissue, and the location of McCarthy's injury is a confluence of soft tissue that literally encapsulates the glenohumeral joint.

The recommendations here are running short.

McCarthy attempted a mechanical overhaul, but it doesn't seem to have accomplished its chief goal despite leading to a sparking ground ball rate at Oklahoma City where McCarthy has been excellent.

At this point, it looks like mechanics aren't McCarthy's real problem. If it isn't his mechanics, the culprit is one of the following: diet, strength/conditioning, and genetics.

Genetics, of course, can not be changed, but the other two can be addressed.

In addressing the diet, there are three things to watch for, and they all go hand-in-hand. The goal is improved bone density so the main focal points are calcium, vitamin D, and pH balance. I am not a dietician or a nutritionist, so I will stop short of making specific recommendations.

In addressing potential strength and conditioning issues that may be contributing to McCarthy's problems, a recently published DVD set contains just about everything anyone would ever need to know ranging from prehab and diagnosis to rehab and high performance.

You (and Brandon McCarthy) should check out Optimal Shoulder Performance.

[[Update: The evidence is apparently quite clear. This is, in fact, a scapular stress fracture. Someone who has seen recent video of McCarthy believes that McCarthy had fallen back into old mechanical habits.]]

Thursday
Feb252010

Another post about Brandon McCarthy

If you're a betting man, you should know that the odds are good that this won't be my last article featuring the mechanics and health of the Texas Rangers starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy.

As my favorite subject, his mechanics have spent a lot of time on my computer monitor playing forward and backward, in slow motion, and in still shots. As a result, I have a small tendency to see a little bit of McCarthy in just about every pitcher. Every once in a while I run into a pitcher whose mechanics have a lot in common with him.

Meet University of Texas at Dallas junior Marvin Prestridge.

In light of recent mechanical changes, Prestridge doesn't look much like McCarthy does these days [Edit: this may not actually be true since I haven't seen high-speed video of McCarthy's new mechanics], but when I pulled up the video I shot of McCarthy last spring, the similarities were striking. The angles aren't quite the same, so you may have to use a little imagination in places.

McCarthy (left) and Prestridge (right) at the top of their leg kicks.

They don't look too similar at the top of their leg kicks, but they appear to have a similar degree of reverse rotation (turning their backs to the plate). McCarthy is more compact, and Prestridge lifts his knee much higher.

McCarthy and Prestridge at hand-break.

At hand-break, their mechanics are starting to run together. McCarthy sits a little lower on his back leg. Prestridge breaks his hands much closer to his body.

McCarthy and Prestridge right before their forearms start to turn over.

Before foot plant, this is the frame where their elbows stop moving upward and backward (toward 1B), and their arms begin external rotation. You can clearly see McCarthy's inverted W and that Prestridge's arm is below shoulder level with an extended elbow. Both pitchers have their arms well behind their shoulders.

I much prefer Prestridge's method of picking up the baseball to McCarthy's method from last spring. As a part of the changes he has made to his mechanics over the past 9 months or so, McCarthy's current pick-up features a full arm swing that positions his pitching arm much like Prestridge's arm.

McCarthy and Prestridge at foot plant.

By the time they hit foot plant, there's only one evident difference between the two: Prestridge is pulling his glove arm back toward second base. McCarthy's glove arm is essentially dead weight, while Prestridge's arm helps create additional rotational force through his shoulders.

McCarthy and Prestridge at peak elbow height just before elbow extension.

Again, the only difference is the glove arm action and position, though it appears that Prestridge has a greater degree of trunk tilt toward 1B.

McCarthy and Prestridge at full arm extension just prior to release.

At this point, the pitchers are literally inches away from letting go of the baseball. Prestridge is able to reach a little more toward vertical, thanks to his 1B-side trunk tilt.

McCarthy and Prestridge after primary arm deceleration.

After release, the pitching arm continues internal rotation while the body tries to keep the arm from flying out of socket. This frame attempts to capture the moment where internal rotation stops.

What's clear in this frame is that McCarthy's arm continued to fly forward, winding up closer to his head than to his chest. Prestridge's arm, on the other hand, is still essentially at shoulder level. This is the most significant difference between the two deliveries.

With McCarthy's arm positioned like this, the head of his humerus is placed in an anatomically questionable position while his rotator cuff applies extreme compressive force at the glenohumeral joint, driving the humerus awkwardly into the scapula.

Prestridge's arm is in a more natural position at this point, and as a result, I do not view his mechanics as risky despite their on-the-surface similarity to McCarthy's old, problematic mechanics.

McCarthy and Prestridge after complete deceleration of the arm.

McCarthy and Prestridge during the recovery stage after their follow-throughs.

You can follow Marvin Prestridge's season here: University of Texas at Dallas Baseball.

[Edit: For reference, here's a link to the video I shot of McCarthy at spring training in 2009.]

Tuesday
Jun092009

Brandon McCarthy: Scap Load Failure

Yesterday, for the second time in his 3-season stint with the Texas Rangers, Brandon McCarthy was diagnosed with a stress fracture of the scapula. With consideration to the number of muscles that move and stress the scapula when throwing a baseball, it's amazing how rarely scapular stress fractures are diagnosed in pitchers.

In 1987, Texas Rangers pitcher Edwin Correa was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his scapula. Correa never again pitched in the Major Leagues.

In 2003, Kurt Ainsworth, then pitching for the San Francisco Giants, was also diagnosed with a stress fracture in his scapula. Ainsworth recovered but pitched in only 7 more games in the Majors, all in 2004.

The most detailed information that I can find on this type of injury is what I know from McCarthy's previous stress fracture and what I learned from reading "Scapular Stress Fracture in a Professional Baseball Player," a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in February 2007.

The study takes a look at the injuries suffered by an unidentified right-handed Major League Baseball starting pitcher. This pitcher's mechanics were apparently a mess. Prior to his scapular stress fracture, the pitcher had been through Tommy John (ulnar collateral ligament replacement) surgery and a "transient episode of subacromial bursitis" in his shoulder. In the three years that followed his recovery from the stress fracture, this pitcher had surgery on both his elbow and shoulder, though neither was directly related to his scapula injury.

Pitcher X's stress fracture was located on the lower outside edge of the scapula bone, called the lateral border. The doctors who authored the study concluded based on the fracture's location that the likely cause of Pitcher X's stress fracture was "repetitive stress in the area of the teres minor attachment."

Repeated stress on muscles and bones causes them to grow stronger and more resilient over time. When the growth can't keep up with the stress, stress fractures occur in bones and tendonitis occurs in muscles. In the case of Pitcher X, his teres minor grew stronger at a faster rate than his scapula. Eventually, the stress fracture developed.

Muscles with origins on the scapula. Subscapularis and biceps brachii not shown. Click to enlarge.The teres minor attaches the lateral border of the scapula to the outside edge of the back of the humerus (see the diagram). It is one of the muscles of the rotator cuff, and its primary function is external rotation. The teres minor is stretched by internal rotation when the back of the humerus turns away from the scapula. It is also stretched as the humerus moves away from the scapula.

In the delivery, the rotator cuff contracts most powerfully during the follow-through as it tries to stop the arm from twisting and flying out of socket. The faster the humerus is moving away from the scapula and the greater the rate of internal rotation, the more powerful the contraction must be to maintain joint stability.

Brandon McCarthy's follow-through is a little unique in this regard. I missed it when I reviewed his mechanics last month because I wasn't looking for it. Of course, maybe I'm just seeing what I want to see. Here's the clip I used for my original analysis:

Notice that, after release, McCarthy's arm continues to move away from his scapula and towards his head. Even at 210 frames per second, it only lasts for a few frames, so look closely. You might even see his shoulder blade "hump up" a little around this time.

This high-intensity eccentric contraction stresses the teres minor muscle more than the other rotator cuff muscles because its scapular attachment is the furthest from the joint.

A reasonable outlook

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has reportedly said that McCarthy will not pick up a baseball for several weeks. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, depending of course on the severity of the stress fracture. McCarthy himself said the pain has been there for a while and that he feels like he did in 2007.

McCarthy suffered and recovered from an injury similar to this one back in August/September 2007. I can not say how similar because I do not know the exact location and severity of either his 2007 or his 2009 stress fracture. McCarthy recovered from the 2007 injury fairly quickly and missed only a month of Major League action.

Rest is the only way to recover from a stress fracture. While the bone heals and gets stronger, the offending muscle atrophies and weakens - killing two birds with one stone. Often times, the pain will subside long before the bone fully heals, sometimes months after diagnosis. It might be that McCarthy's original stress fracture never healed.

I believe the Rangers are more or less "on the lookout" for injuries like this with McCarthy, so I feel that this injury is probably an early-stage stress fracture. They will probably keep him from throwing until scans no longer show signs of the fracture. Hopefully, this is no longer than 3 or 4 weeks.

Last month, I said that if McCarthy could stay healthy and have success with his mechanics, there was no reason to change them. I now believe there's sufficient reason to start that process. McCarthy and the Rangers need to give serious consideration to making major changes in his delivery.

[I suspect that Pitcher X is Darren Dreifort, though the article was written by doctors in Baltimore.]

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.

Friday
Apr102009

Brandon McCarthy PITCHf/x: Sliders, Curves, and Slurves

News broke late this winter that Texas Rangers RHP Brandon McCarthy would be experimenting with a slurve, a pitch half-way between a slider and a curveball. It was later confirmed that this pitch was intended to replace McCarthy's curveball. I had always believed his curveball was a plus, so this news left me confused.

Yesterday afternoon, Brandon McCarthy debuted his new slurve against Cleveland and PITCHf/x was ready to go. On television, the new pitch didn't look that new, seemingly just a little harder with a little bit sharper break, and more than one person wondered if McCarthy was throwing both a slider and a curve ball.

I grabbed the PITCHf/x data from yesterday's game (April 9, 2009), and decided to compare it with a similar outing. I settled on McCarthy's April 9, 2007 start at home against Tampa Bay. In each start, PITCHf/x identified 4 different pitch types: fastball, curveball, slider, and change up. PITCHf/x data is never perfect, but there's still a lot of great information.

Let's first compare his release points from the catcher's perspective.

Brandon McCarthy's April 9, 2007 pitch release points.Brandon McCarthy's April 9, 2009 pitch release points.

At first glance, it appears that McCarthy's release point has moved about 6 to 10 inches toward third base in the past two years. While definitely interesting, this may or may not actually be the case. In 2007, release points were measured at 55 feet from the back corner of home plate, but the 2009 release points were measured at 50 feet from the back corner of home plate.

Taking a bit of a deeper look reveals that McCarthy's release of his change up is very consistent with that of his fastball with a few stragglers straying up a couple of inches. In 2007, McCarthy's curveball release was a little higher and a little closer to first base, but in 2009, his curveball/slider release is noticeably higher but directly above his fastball release.

Take a look at the pitch movement scatter plots below. Vertical movement is calculated compared to gravity - an approximation of the Magnus effect. This means that zero vertical movement is equal to gravity's effect, while a negative number drops more than gravity and a positive number drops less than gravity.

Brandon McCarthy's April 9, 2007 pitch movement.Brandon McCarthy's April 9, 2009 pitch movement.

Based on the PITCHf/x data shown in the graph, McCarthy's slurve is measurably different from his 2007 curveball. To further illustrate the difference, I grabbed velocity data for the two pitches as well. His average curveball velocity in the 2007 game was 73.47 mph, and his average slurve velocity in the 2009 game was 79.81 mph.

The most important difference between the old curveball and the new slurve is pretty simple: control. In the 2007 game, McCarthy threw 40% (10/25) of his curveballs for strikes. In the 2009 game, McCarthy threw 75% (15/20) of his slurves for strikes.

Yesterday, McCarthy threw 10 of 13 change ups for strikes. He had outstanding overall command of his off-speed stuff, but he really struggled with his fastball command, throwing only 34 of 60 (56.7%) for strikes.

I've noted this in the past, and it's still a major issue. McCarthy has a tendency to drag his arm behind his body when he throws his fastball. This is usually caused when the front shoulder "flies open" by turning toward home plate before the arm is ready to throw. The pitching arm tries to play catch up, but pitches usually wind up high and a tick or two slower when this happens.

In the 3rd inning, pitching coach Mike Maddux trotted out to chat with McCarthy. When he left, McCarthy's fastball jumped from 86-90 to 89-92 for his last 2.1 innings, and he was throwing it down in the zone. PITCHf/x is missing 5 pitches in this span, but after the visit, McCarthy rattled off 10 strikes on his next 12 fastballs.

Outside of that stretch, McCarthy threw only 50% strikes with his fastball. On the up side, Maddux appears to be on top of this, and I expect improvement in this aspect of McCarthy's game throughout the season.

Here are some quick shots:

  • In the 2007 game, McCarthy's fastball was 10" to 15" above gravity, and his curveball was 8" to 13" inches below gravity. That's a visual 18" to 28" of vertical separation between the two pitches. I don't have a comparison ready, but that's a huge difference.
  • McCarthy's fastball is straighter than ever. He's getting better back-spin, so the ball might appear to rise more, but his fastballs are all clustered around zero horizontal movement. In the 2007 game, he was getting a lot more arm-side movement.
  • McCarthy is a tall guy, but it's pretty crazy that he lets go of the baseball when it's nearly 7 1/2 feet off the ground. A fastball to the bottom of the strike zone travels vertically down nearly 6 feet!
  • Joey Matschulat at Baseball Time in Arlington took a look at McCarthy's PITCHf/x data as well - Profiling Brandon McCarthy: A Pitch F/X Snapshot.