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Pitching Mechanics, Brad Arnsberg and the Letter W: The effect of all three on the Astros pitching staff

Even though the Super Bowl is today, this blog is Astro-centric, so baseball is still the National Pastime! Before I get to the good stuff though, here is the definitive Super Bowl 44 preview.

Now then, back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

The SBN blog, DrivelineMechanics, our baseball scouting blog, had a post earlier in the week concerning the Toronto Blue Jays' pitchers and how they were a "pitching coach's nightmare". Well, it just so happens that their old pitching coach, Brad Arnsberg, is our new pitching coach. David wrote an extremely well done piece last year about Arnsberg, and I'm not going to try to add to it. That being said, this most recent post about the Jays links to a pitching mechanics web page that is extremely, extremely interesting in my opinion.

The author, Chris O'Leary, does a fantastic job of explaining one of the more common mechanical flaws that face pitchers: the "Inverted W". As someone who has never played organized baseball, I love to find articles and studies like this because frankly I like to learn about areas of the game that are not readily accessible to the common fan. O'Leary states his case thusly:

I believe that pitchers who make the "Inverted W" are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing shoulder -- and in some cases also elbow -- problems.

At first blush, one would assume that if this motion causes significant injuries to pitchers, it would most likely be a bad habit that pitchers pick up during their formative years, while they play for managers and coaches who lack the expertise to teach them otherwise. Rather, this is a motion that is taught with regularity and as O'Leary notes, is praised by those in the pitching mechanics industry. John Smoltz, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are three of the bigger name arms that have this inverted W motion and have suffered serious elbow injuries. Whether this is coincidence or causation is left up to interpretation.

The preferred, in O'Leary's estimation,  motion for a pitcher is for the hurler to keep his elbows below his shoulders, thus creating the inverse of the Inverted W, a "Regular W". In getting into position to throw the ball, this motion reduces the amount of strain of the ligaments of the throwing shoulder, and lessens the force with which the pitcher's upper arm rotates outward. Essentially, this motion is 1) more compact, and 2) alleviates pressure on the upper arm and shoulder.

While the DrivelineMechanics post was made in January 2010, O'Leary's post was made in July of 2007. This is important to me because at the end of his post, O'Leary discusses the pitcher's whose motions he thinks are less prone to creating arm injuries, and those whose mechanics could potentially damage their pitching arm.

Pitchers whose mechanics were positive included veterans Mike Mussina and Roy Oswalt, a young pitcher named Dan Haren, and a pitcher who was in his first season of major league ball- Tim Lincecum. Exactly one year before SI writer Tom Verducci penned his now famous article about Tiny Tim and his ridiculous mechanics, Chris O'Leary had seen enough of Lincecum to believe that he had the sort of motion on the mound that would allow him to not only remain healthy, but perhaps generate the high velocity that a man his size possibly couldn't muster if he was an Inverted W style pitcher.

Anthony Reyes and Joel Zumaya were two other pitchers who O'Leary thought injuries may be in their future. In all both cases he was right.

Now, can Brad Arnsberg be blamed for the Blue Jays' problems, or could it just have been an organizational wide problem? After all, it isn't as if a pitcher is drafted and immediately dumped on the pitching coaches' doorstep. Most guys go through at least four pitching coaches before he reaches the bigs, so perhaps these negative habits developed long before these problem arms went north of the border. If nothing else, this is something to keep an eye on in our own pitchers this season, especially our young starters.