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Posted at 1:10 PM ET, 03/11/2011

Clarification on Strasburg story

By Adam Kilgore

Yesterday afternoon, I received an e-mail from Glenn Fleisig, Ph.D., the biomechanist whose research I discussed in the wake of his interview contribution to Sports Illustrated's piece on Stephen Strasburg's mechanics. He explained that some of what I wrote misinterpreted what he said in the SI story.

After I spoke with Fleisig on the phone today, it seems that I inaccurately characterized his work and opinion by unintentionally assigning some of the SI writer's thoughts from the piece to Fleisig.

Here is Fleisig's full letter:

I read with great disappointment Adam Kilgore's story about Stephen Strasburg (Washington Post, March 10, 2011). I was disappointed because there were several inaccuracies which can be misleading to the readers. First, it was inaccurate to say that I had a "definitive assertion" that a specific mechanical movement led to Strasburg's injury. Rather, I agree with Dr. Tim Kremchek, who is quoted as saying that it is impossible to know for sure how Strasburg's injury happened. Kilgore's story refers to two previous articles (Sports Illustrated, March 8, 2011 and Washington Post, July 27, 2010) which explained how mechanical flaws correlate with increased joint stress in pitchers in general, not in one pitcher (Strasburg) in particular. These findings are based on thousands of pitchers of all levels who have been tested in the biomechanics lab of the American Sports Medicine Institute, including hundreds of professional pitchers. Data from these tests have led to dozens of published scientific studies which have been reviewed by other scientists and shared with coaches and doctors. In publications, presentations, and interviews, ASMI explains pitching biomechanics in general but never discusses specific pitchers. ASMI does not comment on pitchers like Strasburg who have never been tested in our lab, nor does ASMI disclose information on pitchers who have been tested in our lab.

The specific mechanical flaw discussed by Tom Verducci in his Sports Illustrated story was the position of the throwing arm at the time the front foot contacts the mound. The statement in the current story that "a pitcher's foot should land precisely when his arm reaches maximum external rotation" is grossly inaccurate and misleading to your readers. In two decades of testing pitchers, ASMI has never measured a single pitcher reaching maximum rotation of his shoulder when his foot lands. Our biomechanical data show that when the front foot makes contact with the mound, the shoulder should have between 35 degrees and 80 degrees of external rotation (as reference, "0 degrees" is when the forearm is horizontal and "90 degrees" is when the forearm is vertical). This is an important position to understand, as pitchers with their throwing forearm below this range or above this range may have improper timing between their arm and body leading to higher stress on the shoulder or elbow. (Professional coaches understand this, but readers of the Kilgore article may be misled by the incorrect description. Such errors could have been avoided if Mr. Kilgore had interviewed me directly before writing this story.)

There will always be some injuries in baseball; as Jim Riggleman quipped, the only way to make sure pitchers don't get hurt is to not let them pitch. But teams need their pitchers to pitch. In my opinion the more interesting story is how the Nationals and other MLB teams use biomechanics, strength & conditioning, amount of pitching, nutrition, and medical treatment to optimize the performance and health of pitchers.

By Adam Kilgore  | March 11, 2011; 1:10 PM ET
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Next: Nationals cuts include Cla Meredith, Garrett Mock, Josh Wilkie


Having read the Verducci article (and perhaps I should go back and reread it), it seems that Verducci was the one who may have misinterpreted what Dr. Fleisig said. Kilgore was passing that along (without having interviewed Fleisig himself).

Posted by: bertbkatz | March 11, 2011 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Flesig needs to take this issue to SI alot more than the Post

Posted by: cabraman | March 11, 2011 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Sheinin should have been the one to write the story, not Kilgore. NOTHING against you, Adam -- you seriously rock -- but you're busy enough as it is.

Posted by: Juan-John1 | March 11, 2011 1:50 PM | Report abuse

As Mr. Kilgore well knows ... that is the danger of working for one of the two major US news organizations (both known and read Internationally, (a huge advantage for one erstwhile Nats beat writer Harlan Chico) : the Washington Post.

Therefore, given the odds, Dr. Flesig is far more likely to regularly read the Washington Post than Sports Illustrated.

The good doctor did indeed "shoot the messenger", thinking perhaps correctly, that folks from his profession would be more likely to read WaPo than Sports Illustrious-ated. It behooves WaPo, given its higher stature and reputation, to thoroughly check stories before publishing them ... that's you Mr. or Ms. Editor! It is WaPo that should be 'correcting' Sports Illustrated.

Adam's editor dropped the ball here ... not Adam.

Posted by: periculum | March 11, 2011 1:57 PM | Report abuse

I'm happy that Dr. Fleisig weighed in, and I think his contribution to this discussion is vital. But I don't understand the tone of his letter. The general public, the media, and even the baseball world are only just beginning to understand the ramifications of biomechanical research. Disparaging Mr. Kilgore's work is not helpful to anyone's understanding, especially when it seems to be Mr. Verducci who created the problem in the first place. If I recall, Verducci's article made it sound as if Dr. Fleisig had singled out Strasburg's delivery as having a "red flag." Dr. Fleisig's letter makes it clear that he did not say anything like that; indeed, he emphasizes that he would "not comment" on Strasburg, who has never been tested in their lab.

All this says to me is the most anyone can get from simply looks at a pitcher's delivery is an educated guess at the forces affecting that pitcher's arm. Actual biomechanical testing is necessary for any scientific conclusions. We don't know whether Strasburg has ever undergone such testing.

Posted by: jcj5y | March 11, 2011 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Even more interesting would be an article in the WaPo reviewing the findings of the "dozens" of journal articles based on their research.

Re: Strasburg, Boras is his agent. His agency does lots of research and has a huge financial incentive in their clients' longest and most successful careers. Any reporting on whether the Nats and Boras are on the same page on this? If so, he's probably being managed as well as possible given the state of the art.

Posted by: utec | March 11, 2011 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Well! I guess he told you!

Posted by: brianbu | March 11, 2011 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Well! I guess he told you!

Posted by: brianbu | March 11, 2011 2:46 PM | Report abuse

jcj5y: I don't think Fleisig is disparaging my work. I think he's interested in making sure he is not misunderstood and the public is not misinformed. We had a really good, productive talk this morning on the phone. No animosity at all.

Posted by: Adam Kilgore | March 11, 2011 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad there was a productive talk. I still think the tone of his letter could have been better, but the most important thing is that we all continue to learn about this issue. I imagine that in a few years, every prospect will undergo biomechanical analysis before being drafted. It won't avoid all injuries, as Dr. Fleisig points out, but it could help everyone (including the player) understand the risks better.

Posted by: jcj5y | March 11, 2011 3:24 PM | Report abuse

this is what happens when Wpost keep hiring non baseball people to do a baseball job....Chico was really clueless about 95% of all baseball.....Adam does not know the real flaw in Ian D's Fielding....and Adam watches all the games like we do......Ian D makes errors on the most basic plays because he does not charge 4 hoppers right at is a myth that his errors are on balls he gets too with his wide range.

Posted by: JayBeee | March 11, 2011 3:31 PM | Report abuse

This stuff is really complicated and not conducive to daily paperdom.

It's global warming to the tenth power.

Posted by: JohnRDC | March 11, 2011 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I read both the SI article and Adam's piece, and I doubt very seriously if anyone was going to be mislead by what to the good doctor were gross inaccuracies but to most readers are subtle and relatively insignificant details. His arm motion puts him at risk. Or it doesn't. Science marches on...

Posted by: Mathonwy | March 11, 2011 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Great! Now it's clarified with some technical insight after I've had a couple beers. What does it all mean?

Posted by: richs91 | March 11, 2011 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Fleisig's email is idiotic and transparently defensive. He may be an expert in -- uh exactly what is he an expert in? -- but he apparently can't read English. He needs to take his snotty beef to SI and Verducci, not to Kilgore. Looks like Fleisig was embarrassed by his over-simplication to SI in the interest of making a magazine.

Posted by: DCHorseplayer | March 11, 2011 9:33 PM | Report abuse

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