Will Carroll on good vs. bad pitching mechanics

For those of you who are big fans of Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll, you’ll enjoy this piece. He recently did a video piece for MLB.com about inefficient pitching mechanics, highlighting five major league pitchers – all who’ve spent time on the disabled list because of poor mechanics.

Do you agree with his analyses? (You’ll need a Media Player to watch this 3:55 minute video.)

I’ll kick things off with a few comments about the video. (These are out of order from how they appear in the video.)

  1. I agree that Kerry Wood stepping way across his body and striding short (notice, too, how he doesn’t really bend his back?) is problematic.

  2. I agree that Felix Hernandez’s follow through way off to the first base side is not ideal … but MANY hard-throwing pitchers do this, such as Pedro Martinez, and I don’t feel it’s an injury-causing problem, as Carroll suggests. It’s also ridiculous to compare Felix Hernandez’s pitching mechanics to Greg Maddux’s. That’s like comparing a Porsche 911 to a Toyota Camry. One’s pure power – the other, a quiet ride. But they’d never be compared.

  3. I disagree with his analysis of Francisco Liriano’s arm action, and I actually laughed out loud as he was describing it. He compares Liriano to Santana of the Twins. They both have pretty good mechanics. Hey, Carroll: Since when is “whip”-like arm action bad? Geesh! Both pitchers in this comparison do it. Also, 99% of the time, it’s never “one pitch” that sends a guy to the DL with an elbow problem, as Carroll suggests. Most elbow injuries happen because over time the ligaments degenerate (break down and don’t recover) – not all at once, on one pitch. (Folks, this particular comparison really is a bad analysis!)

As far as I know Will Carroll has no technical qualifications (training or experience) that are even close to what would be considered even rudimentary biomechanical qualifications. The same can be said for kinesiology and for someone who supposedly has a medical expertise appears to have no understanding of basic physiology as applied to stress and force development of/by the body.

Carroll has made his “name” as an injury prognosticator “expert”. Several years ago he was asked the following question regarding his qualifications as a medical expertise:

[i]John (Oakland): What are your medical qualifications to be making injury diagnoses?

Will Carroll: I am not a doctor and I do not play one on TV. I have an extensive background in sports medicine, literally growing up around team physicians and training rooms. I think my dad used athletic tape to make diapers for me. I also have a great network of physicians, physical therapists, trainers, and other professionals that help me interpret the information I come across. While it’s my name on the byline, UTK is very much a group effort. I’ll also say that most trainers and team physicians take the time to make sure that I have my information correct and that I understand what they’ve told me. As I said earlier, sports med is an almost criminally uncovered area and giving these professionals their due is one of my loftiest goals.[/i]

And as far as I know Carroll didn’t also grow up around a lot of biomechanical engineers. Also as far as I know he has no degree that hints of medical or scientific expertise. This is not to say that you have to have a degree to be knowledgeable but this man (Carroll) is one of the best examples, my opinion, of building a career by preying upon the fear of injury. That’s how he built his reputation on baseball prospectus (injury reporter). Which somehow made him an expert injury “prognosticator”.

Now he fancies himself as a biomechanical expert.

In his book “Saving the Pitcher” his biomechanical perspective is based almost totally on interviews with Mike Marshall. As in birds of a feather do flock together.

Carroll’s comparison of Loriano to Santana i.e. Loriano whips his arm a little too much is ridiculous. How does one differentiate between whipping your arm enough versus whipping your arm too much?

Again everyone should have Greg Maddux “mechanics” (the gold standard of the you are going to throw your arm off “chicken littles”). How about Greg Maddux’s brain? How do we copy that? Or Greg Maddux’s nervous system? Or how about Jamie Moyer? Why doesn’t every pitcher just simply throw 80 mph max fastballs?

Exactly what is the equation/relationship that explains the difficulty of making pitches that are near perfect which is what you must do to get by without velocity to making pitches with velocity that are less perfect? Exactly what is the relationship in terms of difficulty between the two and how do we find players that exhibit this capability? In other words is it possible that pinpoint control is as rare talent as being able to throw 100 mph? And that the ability to have pinpoint control may be as genetically predisposed as the ability to throw 100 plus miles per hour??

A significant portion of a thrown ball’s velocity is the result of whipping action of the arm. does Mr. Carroll actually understand how whipping action is created? I know a lot of physicists who struggle with understanding how the whip is actually capable of “cracking”. How often have we heard someone say “stop muscling up”. The reason muscling up being bad is that it takes away the whipping action of the arm. Which begs the question of what constitutes a good arm whip versus bad arm whip? and the even more fundamental question of how does whipping action of the atom actually occur ( how do you actually do it and more portly control it??)?

Creating whipping action is where “using the body” to throw the ball comes from i.e. developing momentum that can be converted by the whipping action of the arm. But whipping action (effect) of the arm is almost exclusively determined by rotation of the upper body. You cannot effectively develop rotational momentum by attempting to guide that momentum toward home plate in a straight line i.e. linear throwing. And in fact this (linear throwing) is what I believe (see) Kerry Woods and Mark Prior doing. Both are good examples of throwing with their arm because quite possibly they have been told that they need to focus all of their efforts body movement activity) two home plate.

Stated differently, effective use of your body to throw (create whipping arm action) the baseball is indicated by following through towards first base (right handed pitcher)and not continuing on towards home plate after releasing the ball. Moving toward first base ( right-handed pitcher) is an indication that the pitcher has converted momentum into rotation. Again we are talking about maximum transfer of momentum to create whip effect which is synonymous with throwing hard which is NOT what Greg Maddux does (throwing hard).

As far as the specific injury mechanism, I concur that in most cases is simply the result of repetitive trauma. I also believe that one possible explanation is that many players today do not know how to deal with even small amounts of muscular fatigue because they never push their body beyond a certain point. And I also believe that it is generally accepted in the medical community that a primary reason for connective tissue injury is the inability of the muscles to maintain stability of the joint(s) either through weakness and/or fatigue (hence pitch count).

Blood from the training community ( physiology) the SAID ( Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand) combined with the principle of acclamation (body quickly adjusts to imposed demand) would dictate that one must go beyond normal (what is normally expected) levels of stress in order to better prepare for what is normally expected. That injury prevention requires the ability to have physical capabilities above and beyond what is normally expected. Which says that in order to throw 100 pitches effectively one must train to throw more than 100 pitches effectively.

It is also possible that the risk of injury increases in a nonlinear fashionas one attempt to throw harder. And yes it becomes even more necessary that hard throwers have highly efficient mechanics.

Also from a motor learning perspective throwing with fatigue is a different motor program (preparation) than throwing without fatigue i.e. it is something you learn how to do. Which again brings into question the whole issue of pitch counts. And we all know that young players today do not throw anywhere near as much as young players did 30 or 40 years ago ( there is no such thing as playground baseball anymore).

I was told that at one time Jim LeFevre while on a trip to the Dominican Republic, out of his own curiosity, counted how many times a young player who was playing pickup baseball through the ball during the course of the day. The number of throws exceeded 800! And this was one days total in the player was out there the next day and the next day and the next day doing the same thing…

From a purely movement perspective there are over 400 muscle groups in the body. That combined with the number of joints says that they are is an infinite number of ways to achieve the same movement result. Exactly how does one quantify what is good muscle movement and what is bad muscle movement??

I struggled to find anything of value in Carroll’s verbiage. The only thing that I could find in Carroll’s injury/mechanical diatribe that that had a possibility Rich Harden’s follow through being somewhat too abrupt i.e. did not have a long enough deceleration path of the arm after releasing the ball. But even this is total speculation as with 99.9% of the injury predictions that 99.9% of the so-called experts attempt to make or should I say foist on the unknowing an unsuspecting public. and in the process are killing all chances (for those who listen to them) of young players ever achieving anything close to their maximal throwing capabilities…

Good post, coachxj.

I think that Kerry Wood’s problem is that he is a habitual rusher. His forearm is horizontal, rather than vertical, at the moment his shoulders start to rotate. You can also see a decent amount of M in his arm action, which increases the load on the shoulder.

I don’t think that stepping across the body is necessarily bad (although Wood does do it more than average). His follow-through also isn’t that bad.

Felix Hernandez has a gigantic head jerk that will probably make him vulnerable to control problems (but not to elbow problems). However, I like his mechanics in general.

Also, his falling off toward 1B isn’t necessarily bad because it means his hips are continuing to rotate for a long period of time, which helps him throw with his entire body. A power pitcher doesn’t want to come to a short stop. Instead, he wants to decelerate over the longest distance possible.

I totally agree the Hernandez and Maddux are two completely different types of pitchers. Maddux is a low-velocity control pitcher who gives up velocity for pin-point control. In contrast, Hernandez trades off control for velocity.

In terms of Liriano, what Will completely misses (as he misses with Mark Prior) is Liriano’s pronounced M (or Inverted W). This M increases the force that is placed on Liriano’s elbow (and shoulder). Santana does not make the M, and IMO that explains their very different fates.

I also agree that Liriano’s problem is a chronic problem (due to his arm action rather than an acute problem).


In terms of Colon, Will is COMPLETELY wrong when he points out how low Colon’s elbow is. Colon’s elbow is at a very standard position (that is almost a requirement due to the laws of physics).


Will is completely wrong about Rich Harden (or he at least is using a completely different definition than everyone else). Harden is a long-armer, not a short-armer.

[quote=“Chris O’Leary”]

Also, his falling off toward 1B isn’t necessarily bad because it means his hips are continuing to rotate for a long period of time, which helps him throw with his entire body. A power pitcher doesn’t want to come to a short stop. Instead, he wants to decelerate over the longest distance possible.[/quote]

Well put, Chris. I used to do this, too, and I, of course, threw pretty hard. This never really bothers me when I’m working with pitchers, either – unless they’re not landing with the front foot straight to the target or slightly closed. Only then is it a problem in my book.

I’ve never liked Wood’s motion. The rest of them just throw hard and therefore put more stress on their arms. I do agree that Harden may be shorting his follow through a bit. That may be a result of lack of shoulder internal rotation rather than a mechanical fault. Chicken or the egg?

Just like everyone else who tries to do this they need to show us someone who throws hard for 80+ pitches a game who isn’t going to have elbow or shoulder problems, then we can believe they know something.

What gets me is the “I know what it is”! mentality…why “if only poor Kerry Wood didn’t throw across his body”, “If only he was more Maddux-esque”. We are discussing a group of men that have reached the pinnacle of their sport… Kerry Wood has had a “respectable” major league career, he has much to be proud of as a player. So do the rest of them, the attitude that one particular aspect of his delivery has caused such a terrible outcome…Lets see…hummm, he’s been in (the league), in the vicinity of a decade, known as one of the most dominant strike out pitchers, he has records and a reasonable record, to suggest if poor Kerry had just done this, or just that, to make himself what? The greatest pitcher in the history of life anywhere? What about the 200+ innings he more than likely threw per year as the terror of Texas Little League? What about that "snap-off breaking ball he’s thrown with a high velocity for decades? How bout what happened to great-great grandad Wood when he broke a shoulder pushing a wagon and caused a genetic disposition to “weak shoulder joint”? It’s absurd, his body has given him what few on earth has experienced, and it’s made it this far (He may still get 1 or 2 more who knows…he’s a fierce competitor).
I find it smug and ridiculous to sit as a talking head and declare that "Ahhhha! If you STEWPID SMELLY BASABALL PLAYER HAD ONLY LISTENED TO ME…WHY YOU WOULD BE [size=18]“GOD”[/size] of all of this silly baseball thingy. Yah right… :roll:

Great point, JD! I agree 100%!!!

Amen, jd!!

I can think of another pitcher who blew smoke, snapped a curve and was around in the league for a “short time” also, but you don’t hear about “poor” old Sandy K’s crappy mechs do you?
You get to where you do…All of those factors pertain. Who knows, if he’d a had different experiences where he would be…What if Maddux didn’t play against his brothers friends growing up? Would he be as fierce a competitor or have the genious of batting weakness analysis he has? What if? The venue lends Will Carrol credability…but if you spend a few seconds just digesting this stuff its obviously flawed and speculative logic, represented as hard fact…by MLB for goodness sakes…Do you know what this tells me? Management with in the structure of MLB knows notta bout their product…either that or their own “experts” are apathetic about what is getting 3 minutes of their air time. We should come up with a business plan for the ultimate pitching widget, work up a marketing strategy for it and laugh all the way to the bank…AND go down in history as “Experts”…where do I sign-up for that train wreck. 8)

Sandy Koufax’s mechanics and timing were solid.

What did him in was…

  1. A congenital circulatory problem that limited bloodflow (and thus the healing ability) in his pitching arm.

  2. Overusing an already weakened pitching arm. He was constantly taking cortisone shots and pitching through pain.

My contention is Chris that there “is”, “was” no problem, Sandy used up what he had and was “only” the most dominating pitcher of his generation. More of this or that, would make him someone else, just like Woods and Prior…my bet is that they would look at a Will Carroll and say 2 things, 1st, your “prognostication-diagnosis” takes nothing but your (Will Carroll’s) short-sighted pet-peeves into consideration…thusly being completely stupid and 2nd is, which eye do want dotted? They just have to be sick of people making them the “poster-children” of bad mechs…those “poor” mechs made them the most feared 1,2 starters in mlb for a couple of years…Just how many kids would trade nad for that curse? IMO to sit and say that only one small mechanical issue and these guys would have been “more” successful is non-sense on the face of it. Mechanics are only a portion of the entire picture, Jimmy Pearshal had great baseball mechanics but an unfirm mind, J.R. Richards and Steve Howe liked the nose candy, the Babe? What would he be, if he conditioned like a modern athlete? Fun for “fantasy speculation”, but the reality of it is way far away from the “Facts” as stated by Carroll…or anyone else for that matter…

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