Barry Zito

Chris,

I’ve really enjoyed the analyses you’ve put together on your site. I’ve learned a lot from them. I was curious as to if you’d put one together on Barry Zito. Whatever he does seems to work.

I’m finishing one up as we speak.

In general, he’s a product of USC and has a lot of Tom House in his motion, which I generally don’t like.

He also has a few problems such as hooking his wrist, supinating his forearm as he releases the ball, and stiffening his glove-side knee as he releases the ball.

I wonder if all of this are causing underlying physical problems that may explain the fall-off in his performance since he won the AL Cy Young in 2002.

A first draft of my analysis is up on my web site now…

While I can’t put my finger on it, some of the things I see in my analysis of his mechanics, combined with Zito’s decline in his performance, makes me suspect that there is something going on in his arm that is causing him problems.

It may be a gradual weaking of his UCL.

That would loosen up his elbow joint and could cause problems without manifesting itself via significant pain.

Frame 49.5 is a picture of his curveball release. Gee, I’m sure he’ll want to make changes to the best curve in the business. I’ll have to talk with his throwing instructor, who also works with my son, about that - NOT!

CADad,

I disagree. Frame 49.5 from Chris’s website is much more likely a two-seam fastball, and was captured well after release, though I suppose it’s possible he throws a two-seam curveball. And if it’s a two-seam curveball it’s going to spin like a slider given the seam axis. Either way you can’t tell for certain because of the relative hand position after release. Frames 45.1, 45.2 and 45.3 are curveballs, just prior to release. You can tell by examining the little-finger side of the hand, noting that it faces home plate.

I also disagree that Mr. Zito has the best curveball in the business. I’ve seen curveballs that make Zito’s look anemic, and they were all thrown by guys with a different mechanic. I have high speed film of a curveball thrown with this ‘different’ mechanic that has more than double the spin velocity that Zito achieves. Assuming Professor Adair (The Physics of Baseball) is correct in stating that major league pitchers achieve a maximum of 10 -12 revolutions of the ball between release and home plate, what would you think about a pitcher who can get more than 25? Which pitch will break more and break more violently? If you want to see it let me know and I’ll send you the file on CD. (The offer is good for anyone else, too.)

For the guys out there who have already seen this, please feel free to comment.

Also, look carefully at frame 45.1. You will note that the elbow is completely extended…hyperextended actually. Over time this release will compromise his elbow range of motion as bones slam together, and/or will result in bone chips and bone spurs. Mechanically there’s a better way to do this.

Coach45

I’ll stick with the curveball major league hitters least like to face - Zito’s. By the way, more spin doesn’t necessarily result in a better curve unless you can throw it hard enough to take advantage of the spin. If you had twice Zito’s spin you’d blow your arm out pretty quickly throwing it hard enough to keep it in the strike zone without having to release it so much upward that it would hang despite the spin. Hanging curves don’t generally have less spin, they were just released with too much upward velocity.

Astonishing that you don’t even want to take a look at something you have never seen. And no, these guys don’t blow out their arm throwing these curveballs hard enough to drive the baseball straight forward. The arm action is completely different.

The high speed film I offered clearly shows the ball driving straight forward, never rising, before it breaks dramatically downward with at least double the spin velocity of Mr. Zito’s curveball. If I asked my son or the high school student I’m training to throw 100 of them in an outing they could do so without damaging their arm. You don’t even want to take a peek?

Wow! You’ve got a pitch that contradicts the laws of physics. Either that or your pitchers are ten feet tall. The ball drops over 3 ft. due to gravity so that even a good fastball which get there quicker than a curve has to be released level or slightly upward by all but the tallest pitchers to stay in the strike zone. As opposed to a fastball whose backspin keeps it from dropping as much, a good 12-6 curve will drop about a foot and a half due to the spin in addition to the drop due to gravity. A curve thrown at an average velocity of 70 mph (about 73 on the gun) will drop over 4 ft due to gravity. Now you are going to give me twice the spin meaning it will drop 3 ft. due to spin and over 4 ft due to gravity and tell me that it isn’t released on an upward trajectory. Wait a minute, that isn’t twice the spin of a normal curve, that’s twice the spin of Zito’s curve so it’ll drop even further.

Is this a jump shot curve?

Guess what, there’s nothing new about the way Marshall’s curve is thrown. Tennis players have known for a long time that you don’t hit a spin serve by wrapping the racket around the ball even if that is the feeling you try for. The racket simply brushes across the back of the ball, going from in to out. The 12-6 or 1-7 curve is much the same. Even though the pitcher wants to feel like they are pulling down on the ball the spin is imparted prior to release when the hand is still moving slightly up and out.

When I mark the release position of this curveball on my computer screen and track the trajectory of the pitch the baseball never goes above the release point.

My son is 6’-4 and has the wingspan more equivalent to someone 6’-8 or 6’-9. The arm action he throws with is more vertical than anything you have seen, and he releases the ball with his body much more upright than a conventional pitcher. On a regulation 10" mound that puts his release pretty close to nine feet, give or take. And yes, he throws the curveball very hard.

When conventional pitchers stride to 70-90% of their height they, in effect become substantially shorter and at release the pitching foot is still very close to the rubber. The legs are used completely differently with Marshall’s pitching mechanic and this enables pitchers to stay much more vertical. With the pitch in question, when my son releases the ball his pitching foot (driving off the rubber), has already driven his pitching-arm side knee well in FRONT of the posting knee. His hips ‘flip’ forward. In other words, he’s at least two feet closer to home plate when he releases the ball.

There is a great deal new about the way Marshall’s curve is released. The thumb is down, not up like a hitchhiker. When they throw it properly these guys drive their middle finger across the top of the ball, not pull down.

Everything I’m telling you is true and most of it fairly easy to see because of high speed film. One pitch takes over a minute to view at ‘video’ speeds. Why not send me a private message with your address? I’ll send you a CD with the high speed film file (500 frames per second) that you can play and judge for yourself. No catch. I’ll pay for it, just like I’ve done for a bunch of other folks.

Coach45

Let’s see. AT 6’ standing straight up and reaching straight up I can reach 7’4". Give your son another 5" height and another 5" reach, put him on top of a 10" mound and that would put his finger tips at 9’.

Now comes reality. You say he’s much further from the rubber than the norm at release - take away 6 of the 10" from the mound height.

You say he’s got a short stride. I always had a short stride and I measure my head dropping at least a foot. Your son is taller and would therefore drop more but we’ll stop at 12".

Now let’s take arm slot. I assume he’s throwing this very overhand. Nobody throws straight overhand without leaning so he either leans or he isn’t throwing straight overhand - take away at least another 12".

That put’s his release point at no higher than 6’6" and probably quite a deal lower than that.

Darn those facts. They really get in the way of a good come on unless of course you are talking with a true believer. Sorry, I’ll stick with my son’s throwing coach. Did I mention that another player who works with him is the Astro’s top prospect? Did you notice that Zito’s fastball is released with an upwards trajectory and he is 6’4" and throws pretty upright like most curveball pitchers? Go watch a clip of Don Sutton’s motion and you’ll see where Marshall got his “new” curve.

I guess you didn’t understand what I was saying about pulling down. The pulling down occurs after release. All trying to pull the ball down does is make sure that the fingers brush up the back of the ball more effectively, imparting more spin before release. It shouldn’t be any surprise that the thumb is still under the ball at the actual release point as opposed to the thumbs up position that occurs after release. Generally speaking a sharper breaking curve can be thrown in the strike zone by releasing it upwards but closer to horizontal with more velocity and less spin.

Tell you what, when your son wins or saves his first major league game I’ll buy the CD and happily pay you $100.00 for it. If, despite his size he doesn’t end up playing pro ball you can send me a gift certificate for a nice dinner. If he plays pro ball, but doesn’t make it to the bigs we’ll call it a wash.

Sorry, but more than one pitcher I pitched with and played against made it to the big leagues and one won the Cy Young without any training from Marshall so my standards are a bit high.

The mention of tennis really makes me laugh…as a guy that picked up the sport after I finsihed pitching competively, I was just thinking last night how similar the kick serve is to the curve ball, no wonder as a former “hooker” I picked it up so easily ! And taking him wide in the deuce court … by golly, I always think slide piece!!!

CADad,

Your ‘facts’ are based on mistaken assumptions because you assume he must be doing a great number of things just like any other conventional pitcher. This is very, very different.

I’m also 6’-0 in height and standing flat-footed I easily touch an eight foot ceiling. My son is taller with much longer arms. When I put myself in the relative position I see my son in, on film, the center of a ball in my hand is at 7’-1. I went out to the regulation mound in our back yard and calculated that, in this position my head drops about 2 1/2 inches, not the 12 inches you assume. You are correct that he does tip his shoulders dramatically, and you suggest that this lowers his release height by another 12 inches. You are mistaken. I calculated this from standing height, against a wall, and find that tipping the shoulders this much, along with body lean, reduces the driveline height and release less than two inches. It’s would be very easy to measure this on the film if we put a vertical measure beside the mound.

I looked at images of Don Sutton’s curveball and it was nothing like what Dr. Marshall is teaching, so I’m not sure where you came up with the idea that the two are similar. Please enlighten me.

But, back to the real issue. I have high speed film of a curveball thrown with a different mechanic that drives straight forward from release with much higher spin velocity than you have ever seen. If you want to look at it and then dispute what I told you that’s fine. First you claim we’re violating laws of physics and now you make false assumptions, and then put on airs that I can’t possibly be right. That you are willing to make these statements having never seen the images in question is less than brilliant.

You have no idea how high my standards are, yet you intimate that somehow yours are superior? Not a chance. Will my son make it to the show? I don’t know, but we’re going to find out. I’m not interested in you paying a hundred bucks for the CD, at any time. I wanted to give it to you free.

Coach45

Zito’s fastball is incredibly straight… that’s what’s causing him trouble …

[quote=“Chris O’Leary”]A first draft of my analysis is up on my web site now…

While I can’t put my finger on it, some of the things I see in my analysis of his mechanics, combined with Zito’s decline in his performance, makes me suspect that there is something going on in his arm that is causing him problems.

It may be a gradual weaking of his UCL.

That would loosen up his elbow joint and could cause problems without manifesting itself via significant pain.[/quote]

I have some comments/questions about some of the comments in your analysis.

2/27/2006: Very Tom House pose with the upper arms level and the pitching arm side forearm hanging down vertically. Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to bring his elbow above his shoulder, which should protect his Rotator Cuff.

Tom House does not recommend specific arm positions. Rather, he recommends the arms be in an “opposite and equal” position at foot strike. This means the angle between the upper arms and forearms are equal for both arms but the arms can be in any number of positions (e.g. both up, one up and one down, tilted uphill like Andy Pettite, etc.) The purpose is to help with balance and, more importantly, timing.

2/27/2006: I don’t like how Zito stiffens his GS knee as his shoulders come around. While this will increase his velocity, I am concerned that it may place additional stress on his arm. It may be a coincidence, but Sandy Koufax was also had a great curveball, also extended his GS knee as his shoulders came around, and had his career shortened by injuries. It will be interesting to see how Zito’s elbow holds up.

Please explain how you correlate a stiff front leg with elbow injuries.

2/27/2006: Notice how tilted his shoulders are in frame 46.3. This will help to raise his release point and increase the effectiveness of his pitches.

Why do you think raising the release point makes pitches more effective?

I’ve found with young kids that tilting the shoulder raises the release point (and pulls it back) and makes it much more difficult to get over the top of the ball and put the spin on it necessary to make it break.

One note for these “analysis” pages:
You constantly give advice for how a pitcher could have prevented injuries by using Marshall mechanics, but have you ever taken into account that they would not be themselves if they pitched like that?

Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax may not have had long careers, but at least they had a careers. Can you point to any major leaguers that pitch with your proposed mechanics?

I’m not so sure of this. He may not in his books, but most guys who have been influenced by him end up with remarkably similar arm positions (e.g. upper arms level with forearms hanging down vertically).

I am not at all convinced that I understand this. However, it seems to me that pitchers who stiffen their glove-side knees at or around the release point seem to be more likely to experience injuries.

The logic is that pitching is a game of creating and then dissipating energy. My theory is that by stiffening the glove-side leg you reduce its ability to dissipate energy. This then requires other parts of the body to dissipate that energy. This may end up overloading them and increasing the likelihood that they will break down.

I credit Bob Shaw with getting me thinking about this.

At the most basic level, the beauty of purely vertical movement is that is minimizes the time the ball spends in the sweet spot of the bat (which is roughly 1/2 inch high and 6 inches wide). I have also come across perceptual studies that say that, because of how the human perceptual system works, purely vertical motion is the hardest motion for the brain to process (which explains why the 12-6 curve can be so deadly).

You must be confusing me with someone else.

While I do find Dr. Marshall’s ideas to be very interesting, in my analyses I don’t talk about Dr. Marshall. Instead, I compare pitchers to long term injury-free pitchers like Tom Seaver and Greg Maddux.

You’re assuming they would have gotten worse had they tweaked their mechanics. Give the tremendous variability that I see in pitching mechanics, I don’t think that’s a valid assumption.

Greg Maddux. Nolan Ryan. Bob Gibson.

By definition, a fastball is straight. Otherwise it’s a cutter or a sinker.

…as if there’s no such thing as a fastball with late movement, a tailing fastball etc… saying that a fastball is straight by definition sounds a little pompous to me … watch Zito’s fastball and compare it to Maddux… that’s what I’m talking about.

I’m not trying to be pompous, just clear with my terminology. This is a big pet peeve of mine (it’s a usability thing that carries over from working with programmers in my day job).

A fastball with late movement that breaks horizontally is technically a cutter. A fastball with late movement that breaks down is technically a slider.

This may seem like an unimportant distinction, but kids can hurt themselves by accidentally throwing a slider or a cutter when they mean to throw a fastball.