Pitching Mechanics: Weighing The Risk vs. The Reward

How many of you guys have attended a pitching camp and left scared to death thinking you better make a change or you're going to get hurt?

It sounds like a strange question but unfortunately it's true.

Throughout the year, I have pitchers from all across the country visit me here in Nashville. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had a father email and he was in panic mode.  

Apparently his son had attended a high profile pitching camp and was given one piece of advice, "Make a change or you're going to get hurt!"  At least, that's what he took from the conversation.  Apparently,  the young pitcher possessed the ricin poison of pitching mechanics, the "Inverted W".

As the instructor reviewed the video, he attributed his arm pain with the inverted W arm action and suggested he make a change.  (He didn't bother to ask where and how often the player's arm hurt, but that's for another post.)  The instructor showed him clips of others ideal pitchers (Trevor Bauer), and then asked the pitcher to emulate what he saw.

Over the next few months, the player attempted to make the change but without any luck.  Obviously it was a frustrating process for the player.  I can't blame him, most guys attempting to make these sort of changes become very methodical and over analyze every movement. Read this article.

I'm just glad I wasn't aware of the need to change the inverted W arm action earlier in my coaching career, when I had Rex Brothers at Lipscomb University.  Take a look at this arm action, it's as upside down as it gets.  By the way, if you're not familiar with Rex, he was the 34th overall pick to the Colorado Rockies in 2009.

Of course, I'm being sarcastic but I can't help but thinking how many players out there are being over-coached and riddled with fear based on pure theory and speculation about this particular arm action.  What would have happened with Rex had I drilled this sort of fear into his head?  Currently, Rex leads all active MLB pitchers with a minimum of 20 IP in ERA with a 0.38.

I've discussed many, many times about arm action being the players identity, however, some people still underestimate how difficult it is for players to change their arm action.  It's next to impossible.  A few months ago, I wrote an article detailing Trevor Bauer's attempt to make mechanical changes during a competitive season.

Even with an athlete with the grit and determination of Bauer, it's not going to be easy.

So far this season Trevor has really struggled making the adjustment, in 57 IP he has 39 walks and an ERA over 5.0 at the AAA level.  What does that tell you?  He was the Golden Spikes Award Winner in college and was the 3rd overall pick.  It's not easy!

  • He has struggled with groin issues that in my opinion, stem from his front hip dominated lower body action.  
  • He felt he needed to make a change and I agree, just not this time of year.  
  • With this type of action, the front hip aggressively pulls the back hip open, not what you want.  

You can find out why, here.   Anytime, you see an athlete receive the hype and attention that guy's like Trevor has received, I can't help but think of Mark Prior.

He was the ideal mechanical model for many pitching coaches and now Bauer seems to be that guy.

You guys all know my thoughts on ideal mechanical models, they cause more harm than good after a certain age.  It's simply a form of imitation and the CNS finds it very confusing.  Players that imitate other players find themselves conscious of every movement pattern.  A perfect example is Cody Buckel.

Cody was a 2nd round pick and all the hype in the Rangers organization and just like Trevor, a top prospect.  

Unfortunately, he felt that he needed to take a page out of Trevor's book.  

  • Here's a clip from him last year, listen to the speaker as he mentions how well Buckel commands the strike zone.
  • Here are his stats and no, they are not a misprint:  20.25 ERA & 28 BB/9 K in only 9.1 innings pitched.  (Updated information as of May 6, 2014) 


Here's a video of Cody's delivery and personally I loved it even though he possessed the inverted W.  Therefore, he needed to make a change, at least that's what I'm assuming?? Keep in mind, this kid was player of the week 6 times last year in Minor League Baseball and was on the fast track to the Big Leagues. Just recently he was demoted from AA and moved to extended spring training.

Let's take a look at Cody when things were good.

Why would you attempt to change that?

 Especially when he was having such tremendous success?  I absolutely loved the arm action and the momentum he created at hand break.  Now, let's take a look.

I want you to watch how he's taking the ball out of the glove, in my day, we called these guys pie throwers. This type of arm action is at a huge disadvantage, because of the position of the forearm.

If I'm not mistaken, this type of arm action is believed to help a player "stay connected" and allows the arm to decelerate? Even if that were true and was remotely possible that he could change his arm action at his age and level of play, would the risk be worth the reward?

Here's what I'm talking about. (Hit the pause button and click the bottom arrows on your keyboard to your right to get frame by frame.)  

I want you to pay particular attention to how he takes the ball out of the glove.

Does this look familiar?  

Neither Buckel or Bauer's arm action takes advantage of the redirection of the forearm. As Paul Nyman states, the redirection of the forearm is critical to achieving momentum. Here's what Paul had to say on the forearm and relationship of the Inverted W.

The benefit I saw was the quickness of the forearm elevating from internal rotation to external rotation.  The initial rotational velocity of the forearm starting from a depressed position created forearm momentum which then assisted in developing external rotation.

He also went on to say,

The second potential benefit was quickness of the forearm to external rotation is the whipping effect, ie.... creating a loop and then unloading the loop in a whip like fashion.  The loop being the angle that is formed b/w the upper arm and forearm which is then turned quickly around in a continuous motion.

So at the end of the day:

  1. Do you really want to attempt to change arm action?
  2. Do you really want to emulate other pitchers and follow ideal mechanical models, such as Bauer?
  3. Do you really think that everyone benefits from the same style or teaching?
  4. Do you really think you can make a change without it affecting something else?
  5. If a player is experiencing success, do you really want to make a mechanical overhaul?

Sure, pitching is a complex skill that requires constant change, but you must consider the risk vs. reward before suggesting a change to your guys!

Is it worth the risk to attempt to make changes based on speculation and others "wise" opinions?  Any change, as simple as it may seem, is extremely difficult during a competitive season.    If you don't think so, think about this.

Two of the most hyped prospects in baseball attempted to make changes and in 66 IP, those two guys have 67 walks and ERA's of 20.25 and 5.05.  

 At the end of the day, it's all about the risk vs the reward.


Trust what you FEEL! 


Zita Carno (not verified)

Eddie Lopat had a basic premise. He believed that every pitcher has a natural motion---whatever it is---and so what he would do was work with that pitcher to maximize his/her exxectiveness. He did NOT believe in changing the pitcher's arm motion or arm angle unless it was obvious that the pitcher was really screwing up, and then the first---perhaps the only---change he would make would be the arm slot itself. Inverted W, inverted L, inverted teacup---baloney! None of these things have anything to do with the price of tomatoes.
When he worked with me, he didn't have to tell me much about mechanics, just make a suggestion about something I could do to maximize one thing or another. I was a natural, honest-to-gosh sidearmer with a consistent release point, I threw hard and used a slide-step throughout, and I had fallen so in love with the crossfire that I used it just about all the time---and he encouraged and reinforced that. I will never forget the day when we were discussing repertoire and he commented, "You know, you haven't said one word about a fast ball." I was flabbergasted and blurted out, "WHAT fast ball?" Lopat laughed---he had a warm, easy laugh---and then he told me, "Don't worry about that. We'll work with what you've got." I realized that he was telling me that he would take me in hand, work with me and help me all he could, and my estimation and respect for that guy jumped about 600 percent.
Pitching coaches in general should get off this and that bandwagon and just get to work on getting the pitchers in shape, no ifs, ands, buts or bases on balls---and no inverted teacups either.

Zita Carno (not verified)

Whoops, excuse the booboo---I meant "effectiveness".

Zita Carno (not verified)

At the end of the day you pose five questions, such as "Do you really want to attempt to change arm angle" and four others relating to making wholesale alterations in a pitcher's mechanics, sound though they may be. My answer to all these questions is a resounding NO!!!! Some people never heard of the old (and true) adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
There was a pitcher in the American League, a guy named Fred Sanford who pitched for the old St. Louis Browns in the forties. He wasn't a bad pitcher, and the Yankees saw aomething in him, so they acquired him in a trade. But then the trouble started. Sanford had a delivery best described as "herky-jerky", and never mind that he was getting the batters out with consistency. Pitching coach Jim Turner didn't like it. Third-base coach Frank Crosetti (and how did he,a former infielder, get mixed up in this mess?) didn't like it either. They wanted Sanford to have a perfect Spalding-Guide, smooth motion, and so they started futzing with him. And they ended up destroying him! When they got through with him he wasn't a good pitcher any more, and at the end of the 1950 season he was traded to another team. He had committed the cardinal sin of offending the coaches' esthetic sensibilities, no other reason.
The irony of the whole thing was that Turner ended up with the Cincinnati Reds for the 1960 season, and he had a pitcher on his staff who was even worse---a reliever named Howie Nunn who wiggled and wabbled and jerked around like a jackrabbit on steroids and threw his arms and his legs and his neck and just about every other part of his anatomy into his delivery. It looked screamingly funny---except to the batters who had to face him, because he had good stuff on his pitches and was getting those batters out! And Turner never said "boo" to him.
So there you have it. The only time to make a change is if the pitcher is REALLY screwing up. (Then put him in the outfield---he just might make a go of it there.)

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Comment Text

  • Allowed HTML tags: <p><ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><b><i><u><strong><em>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.