During the days that Ole’ Cy was hurling the ball off of the mound the game of baseball was still in its toddler stages, and teams could achieve championship level success by framing the set-up of their rotation as described in the above quotation. The 1901 Boston Americans, the team which Cy posted a league best 1.62 ERA in 371.1 IP, for example had their first 4 starting pitchers pitch 85% of their Innings Pitched and they finished 2nd behind the Chicago White Sox that year in the American League standings. Something like this happening in a modern major league rotation would be absolutely absurd, almost as absurd as the in-human numbers put up by some of the first legendary pitchers to have hurled a baseball from the mound. Scrolling through all of these old box scores makes me awe in amazement at the modern-day revolution pitching has gone through over the past 100+ years. Starting and relief pitcher usage has evolved and coincided side by side all this time and still there are many theories as to what percentage of a contribution is optimal for each side to chip-in for a team to have the maximum amount of success on the baseball diamond. These theories all have to a certain extent strengths and weaknesses about them that weigh in on a team’s decision to employ such tactics to their current roster, some more weaknesses than strengths (ala. the 2012 4-man Colorado Rockies rotation).
One thing that remains sort of static in this pretty chaotic universe that is major league rotations & bullpens however, is the fact that pitching mechanics not only play a role in what category a pitcher will fall into (starter or reliever) but knowing how to correctly assess the degree to which a pitcher is executing his own bio-mechanical delivery is key to understanding the foundation for the statistics provided for our fantasy baseball purposes. What we can correctly dissect about a pitchers delivery with our subjective eyes will help us understand the objectivity we see in the numbers. Today we will break down the first 3 of the 6 observable elements of a pitchers delivery that we can use to gauge how accurately the stats match with the real overall talent level of the certain pitcher himself. What you observe in the pitching universe is a grab-bag of everything, some guys out-pitch their actual talent ability (getting lucky), others actually under perform in a statistical sense but in are no way a worse pitcher talent wise than they were before (getting cliff lee’d), and we see a whole lot of guys put up numbers at just about the pace they should be. Grasping the fundamentals of pitching mechanics will also help us try to better predict which pitchers are more at risk for serious injuries and which ones are more likely to get re-injured upon coming back from a serious injury. Without further adieu we shall now look deeper into the elements of success from Set-up to the release of the pitch from the hand.
Element #1: Balance
How to grade it: When looking at a pitchers balance we start at the set-up to check and see if the pitcher is starting with his head centered over the rest of his body. As the pitcher goes through the delivery from the leg lift to the release point we focus on the pitchers head to make sure he continues to stabilize it over his core. Pitchers can get a knock on the balance grade if they show a heavy lean or tilt towards either 1st or 3rd base or fall off the bag in that direction after pitch release. You will also see some pitchers sort of have a head jerking motion while transferring energy to the foot-strike stage of their delivery which will cause a knock on the grade as well. Those that must drop the center of gravity lower to stabilize it during the leg lift phase of the delivery will also get a slight knock on the balance element of their overall mechanics. What we see as it applies to this numbers is the ability for a pitcher to have great balance allows pitchers to have elite walk and hit totals as they can manipulate the ball better to generate weak contact. The effectiveness of a pitchers balance throughout his delivery has a direct correlation to the amount of control one pitcher can harness out of their respective arsenal, and is just the first building block of the engine that drives a pitcher to success.
Matt Cain, as balanced as they come.
Element #2: Momentum
How to grade: Momentum is pretty straight-forward. Those of you who didn’t sleep through high school physics know that momentum is simply the product of mass and velocity. The same applies when examining pitching mechanics. To earn elite grades in momentum a pitcher must be able to effectively drive his mass as fast as he can towards the plate (while still maintaining effective body control) from set-up to foot strike. These deliveries tend to be labeled as “violent” or “high-effort” though if a pitcher can maintain control of all the moving parts while upping the input of kinetic energy into the delivery, then he can effectively raise his velocity and release distance towards home-plate without putting themselves at a greater risk for injury.
Element #3: Torque
How to grade: Torque can be gauged using 2 things arm speed and pitch velocity. Pitchers with elite torque use more of their body to generate momentum rather than just trying to pump fastballs with pure arm strength. They effectively load up the kinetic energy by maximizing the separation in the rotation of their hips and shoulders at the time of the foot-strike in the lift leg. Elite torque pitchers throw upper 90’s to triple digit heat consistently by loading up the upper body and using the separation created in the hips and shoulders rotating to kind of “whip” the ball to the plate. Because of the arm speed generated from using such a throwing motion, pitchers with elite torque are too often labeled as “violent” or “high-effort”.
This concludes part 1 of 2 of our introduction to pitching mechanics, look for part 2 to drop here in the next few days or so. Hurray science!
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