A few cautionary words about Stephen Strasburg's mechanics
Stephen Strasburg was on the field in Viera, Fla., with the Nationals this morning
and reportedly was looking good as he threw on flat ground.
Sounds good, but the estimable Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated raises some questions about Strasburg's prospects for recovery and success after his Tommy John surgery. Sure, it's still ridiculously early in Strasburg's recovery and no doubt the Nationals and their medical experts are just as observant as Verducci. This can't be a surprise to them, but Verducci's take is worth reading. Here's an excerpt.
The answer to why Strasburg blew out -- and why his future is a risky one -- may lie in his mechanics. Several pitching coaches quietly predicted Strasburg was at risk before he broke down. He will continue to bear risky loads on his elbow and shoulder unless he changes the way he throws.
To understand the danger of the glitch, first you must understand the most critical point of a pitcher's delivery. The pitching motion is a kinetic chain of events, carefully calibrated and timed, like a Formula One car's engine, for maximum efficiency. But above all others one link of the chain is most important: the "late cocking phase," or the phase during which the shoulder reaches its maximum external rotation with the baseball raised in the "loaded" position (typically, above the shoulder) and ready to come forward.
"The late cocking phase appears to be the critical point in the pitching motion," according to a conclusion from a study by Dr. Brandon Bushnell of Rome, Ga., and colleagues and published last year in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, "where higher levels of torque at the shoulder and elbow can result in increased risk of injury. Manipulation of pitching mechanics to alter these torque levels or using these measures to identify pitchers at risk may help decrease injury rates."
Here is the key to managing the torque levels in the late cocking phase: timing. The ball should be loaded in the late cocking phase precisely when the pitcher's stride foot lands on the ground.
"If he's too early or too late he winds up with more force on the shoulder and elbow," said Glenn Fleisig, Ph.D., research director for the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala. "The energy gets passed to the arm before it was ready, or after."
Without the energy from the rest of the body, the shoulder and elbow must bear higher levels of torque in what in even optimum circumstances is a maneuver that taxes the physical limits of what an arm can bear.
How important is this specific timing? I spoke with a key decision maker for one club last week who, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said his club will not consider any pitcher -- by draft, trade or free agency -- who does not have the baseball in the loaded position at the time of foot strike.
It is during this critical moment of the throwing motion when Strasburg fails. Most pitchers, after taking the ball out of their glove, swing the ball down and away from the body and then raise it in a way in which the throwing hand raises and then the elbow and shoulder follow. Think about the way you would draw back a whip before cracking it.
However, once Strasburg takes the ball out of the glove, down and away from his body, his right elbow, not his right hand, literally takes the leading role.
| March 9, 2011; 8:38 AM ET
Categories: Nationals, Stephen Strasburg
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