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The Strom List: Dr. Mike Marshall

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Taking a look at a controversial figure in the Pitching Community

This was one of the names that I was looking forward to digging into, and I truly hope to capture a bit of his story and dig deeper into this controversial figure. Marshall, despite his dominance in the MLB, and educational background has unfortunately largely been ignored by baseball. In Fangraph’s article about him they talk about the “unofficial ban” of Mike Marshall from the MLB.

If you’re not familiar with Mike Marshall, his “ban” from baseball seems to be centered around 3 main aspects: 1.) He was a very vocal representative of the players association (with some linking the freeze out to him) 2.) His ideas represent a fairly radical shift from traditionalists / the mechanics he proposes seem to fly in the face of everything we know about pitching and 3.) he’s rumored to have a bit of an arrogant streak.

But Marshall is on Strom’s list for good reason, as an early pioneer into analytics, and with his work focusing around injury prevention. With one of his primary theories being centered around eliminating the need for Tommy John Surgery, with his view on forearm bounce and scapula loading.

What is it? The easiest way to describe it would be a pitcher lifting his elbow prior to his hand. This causes a chain reaction, forcing the ball to come up and the arm to externally rotate later. The differentiation of direction between elbow (forward) and hand (backwards) causes enormous pressure on the elbow. He’s a believer that the associated “forearm bounce” causes UCL Tears (leading to Tommy John Surgery).

Marshall’s resume is nothing to be scoffed at. He was/is still the all-time record holder in numerous categories (most consecutive wins, most innings as a reliever & most appearances in a season, etc). Ultimately, Iron Mike threw an outstanding 1,386.2 career innings across his 14 years as a reliever of 3.14 ERA baseball. The highlight of his career would be the 1974 season, when Marshall won the Cy Young as a reliever for pitching to a 2.42 ERA across 208.1 IP (in 106 Games). This was the first time that a reliever had won the Cy Young, and 208 IP is more than most workhorse starters can claim today. More surprisingly, Marshall was known for his screwball, a pitch strongly believed at the time (and still controversial today) for the damage it does to a pitcher’s arm.

During his career, Marshall earned his PhD in Exercise Physiology, taking a passion in learning how the body works. Since then, Marshall’s name as gained notoriety even after his playing careers for his revolutionary approach, and his website is literally one of the greatest assets I’ve seen for pitching coaches. He has tons of resources, a journal documenting his journey when he was a player, and decades of Q&A. It becomes clear VERY quickly, that he is not doing this for the money, he’s doing it because he believes that the “standard mechanics” we push on players is actually the root cause of significant arm damage.

Marshall provides a unique insight as he personally experienced the challenges of the older beliefs in coaching. Which are believed to be a significant factor in causing loss of range in his pitching arm, knee replacement, a disk removed in his lower back, and a fractured 10th rib on his glove side. All of this is what drove him to try to find a better way.

Marshall highlights Dr. Isaac Newton and Daniel Bernoulli as baseball’s two greatest pitching coaches, using Newton’s laws to optimize delivery of force, and Bernoulli’s fluid flow explanation to teach spin and how it altered the movement. Admittedly, when reading Marshall’s book, it reads more similarly to an anatomy textbook without pictures than it does your standard pitching book, but he does an excellent job not only explaining his theories but the logic and science behind them.

Then you get to the chapters in the 20’s. Marshall chronicled and studied every pitch he threw, giving him a very early glimpse into his own “analytics”. He would use this data to then go back and study aspects from the individual pitch and what may be driving down it’s effectiveness. It’s great because it gives a first hand inside glimpse into what he was seeing, how he was evaluating and the impact on every pitch based on the changes he made. He then took it a step further, using Michigan State’s super computer in 1967, he statistically analyzed 60 variables for every pitch he made. He was truly ahead of his time, and albeit some of the statistics he utilized were misleading and skewed by small sample size, it allowed him to take his pitching to a new level, not only studying effectiveness on an overall basis he looked to utilize it to develop strategies of attack. He’d look at a batters’ ability to hit based on first pitch seen, the sequence that followed, and when batter’s appeared to be more aggressive or conservative on pitches. And while none of this sounds overly surprising in today’s world, he was a pioneer doing this in the 1960s.

One of Marshall’s findings that rings true in Brent Strom’s theories today is a reduction in fastballs, with an increased focus on breaking pitches.

Coming into this article, I had always wondered what Brent Strom took from Dr. Mike Marshall’s work. Despite being well known, Marshall’s work has not received much acclaim within the industry. Fangraphs highlighted a bit of why Marshall was blocked out of baseball but the lack of adoption of his techniques or any of his disciples seeming to take the MLB by storm, it had me wondering why Brent Strom listed him. As we certainly had not seem him change anyone’s mechanics to match Marshall’s methods. Although, this pitch does look pretty unhittable.

But then I started reading into Marshall, and he is an absolutely fascinating and polarizing figure within the MLB / pitching community. Even after researching, I still cringe when I watch his training videos. Not because I think he is wrong, but because the motion is so foreign compared to everything I’ve come to know within my life about baseball. With that said, I don’t see Brent looking to radically change a major league pitcher’s wind up or motion. But I think the studies that Marshall did, do highlight areas that cause injury, and a complete shift in mechanics is not the only remedy.

And while the wind up motion is a huge topic in it’s own right, I think it’s unfair to capture that as the only take away about Marshall’s work. He was a pioneer into the field of analytics, training and development, and is well qualified with a PhD. All of which is incredibly impressive in it’s own right, but has been providing free training resources and FAQ for decades.

Admittedly, I am a bit out of my depth from an anatomical perspective to weigh in if Marshall is correct. Driveline has looked at the subject quite a few times, from different angles. There is nothing conclusive, with more of a general sense of yes it’ll prevent injuries but it may not be possible to get 90+ mph on his delivery. With that said, they utilize quite a few of his theories in their training methods such as wrist weights, and do find a number of valid elements of his pitching theories.

I don’t know if Marshall’s radical shift to mechanics will ever catch on, but I do have a much better understanding and respect. I’d love to hear from someone who has a much stronger anatomical grasp (calling all medical professionals), to get a bit of their take and explanation on his theories.

With that said, in my opinion, he deserves a lot more recognition for being the pioneer and the devotion he’s put into the game of baseball, and I’m really happy to have found his website as a resource to read through.

As I wrap up the research on the Strom articles, I do plan on going back to re-read and understand Marshall’s work better. He does have contact info on his website, so I may try to see if he would be interested in doing an interview with CrawfishBoxes as well.

For those of you that are curious for a more detailed anatomical explanation on why Dr. Mike Marshall believes the ways we are currently teaching pitchers is incorrect, or why he believes the motion demonstrated above, here are 2 videos that he put together that a lot of information in a short (~15 mins) period of time.