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Posted at 8:38 AM ET, 03/ 9/2011

A few cautionary words about Stephen Strasburg's mechanics

By Cindy Boren

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.

By Cindy Boren  | March 9, 2011; 8:38 AM ET
Categories:  Nationals, Stephen Strasburg  
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Comments

I knew he was dead meat the first time I saw him throw.

All you DC nuts read too much Boz.

Get a grip. The Nats still stink.

Posted by: cbtole2 | March 9, 2011 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Good ol SI investigative reporting, right on time. I've heard so many of these 'bad mechanics' reports about SS -- AFTER he injured his arm. 'We knew it all along.' Bah. Never heard anyone making predictions prior to the injury.

I say we take our chances. In Riz I trust.

Posted by: RIP-21 | March 9, 2011 1:56 PM | Report abuse

He was compared with the same pitching style of Mark Prior dating back to basically when he started to show up on a national scale a couple of years ago. It’s called an "inverted w". Granted Prior eventually had many shoulder issues, everything started for Prior in his elbow injuries. Pitching a baseball is one of the most unnatural motions you can put you arm through. If he indeed has timing and throwing mechanic issues that cannot be fixed in order to keep his effectiveness while minimizing stress in his elbow and shoulder, he is in big trouble. But I am sure he will have a very high pay-rolled staff working with him to try and right the ship.

Posted by: leftovers | March 9, 2011 2:54 PM | Report abuse

He isn't the first phenom to experience trouble with his mechanics what management has to be careful of is listening to every to every tom,dick,and harry i would consult Tony Gwynn and his college pitching coach.

Posted by: dargregmag | March 9, 2011 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Tom Verducci has a B.A. in journalism.

There is no evidence in Verducci's back ground that would indicate he has any knowledge with concerns to pitching mechanics.

Now if someone like Oral Hershiser made this type of commentary I would have concern. But a no nothing nitwit reporter from SI. Please !!!!!

Posted by: Defund_NPR | March 9, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I think it was the W POST several months before his blowout indicating how GREAT his mechanics were.

There are always monday morning QBs.

Posted by: fearturtle44 | March 9, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

We will see if he can change. But a lot of people said the Nats should not draft him because of the high risk--but acknowledged that it politically was impossible to pass him over in case he worked out.

Posted by: jhough1 | March 9, 2011 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Maybe the Nat's coaches should consult former major league pitcher Mike Marshall who has a PHd in sports medicine and specializes in correcting the mechanics that causes the rupture leading to Tommy John surgery.

I listened to an interview on the radio where he stated that he has worked with a number of young pitchers over the years. He stated that he wanted to know exactly what the cause for Tommy John (he was pitching in the MLB when Tommy John went through the procedure) surgery was. He stated that a simple change of how a pitcher holds the ball prior to initiating the throwing motion will change the torque on the arm and shoulder. If I remember correctly, he stated instead of holding the ball with the hand on top of the ball prior to starting the pitching motion, the hand should be under the ball. Dr. Marshall was asked if any of the pitchers he's worked with over the years have had to have the Tommy John surgery and he stated not one of them has had go through the surgery! When asked why pitchers are still throwing with the old motion. He stated that pitching coaches are creatures of habit and old habits are hard to break. One would think with this knowledge and how much is invested in some of the top pitchers/pitching prospects the teams would want to help prolong a pitcher's career but instead the coaches are still teaching pitchers with this old and dangerous throwing motion.

Posted by: TrueDCFan | March 9, 2011 5:25 PM | Report abuse

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