When I asked Twitter what Jays pitcher I should throw on the mechanical breakdown table next, I received a number of different requests ranging from minor league starters to major league starters to bullpen arms; including a particularly large Ricky Romero contingent. I apologize to the people who requested Romero, but he is far too depressing to write about. Instead, I decided to take a look at a major flaw in his mechanics and relate it other pitchers in the organization. The next thing I knew, I was finding the same flaws, whether minor or major, in a larger capacity throughout the organization. As a result, I started collecting GIFs and video alike as I had found that before going any further with an individual pitcher; I wanted to point out some of these flawed organizational pitching trends.
The obvious glaring injury red flags are apparent in so many arms, including Kyle Drabek, Dustin McGowan, Drew Hutchison, Luis Perez, and Brandon Morrow among others. I’ve harped for so long about all that though. For this article, I’ll detail some good old fashioned mechanical inefficiencies leading to poor performance in the Jays organization.
Spine tilt and closed strides
These four all have significant spine tilt and their plant feet land closed to the plate affecting their release distance or “late launch” because they aren’t lined up with their target. Why is this so important? Releasing the ball late creates many advantages for the pitcher. Weak contact, deception, more effective movement, etc.
The spine tilt/closed stride isn’t that uncommon for lefty pitchers as it can help create deception, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility to think this is being done on purpose. However, given the Blue Jays obsession with drawing lines down the center of the mound for their pitchers, it seems unlikely. Alex Anthopoulos and the Jays pitching coaches often refer to this as throwing across the body. An ancient term you may have heard your friend’s dad yelling from the grandstands when you were a kid.
We’ve seen Toronto’s coaches try to work on direct lines to the plate with such pitchers as Drabek and Romero, but what ends up happening is the player tries to get his strike foot so perfectly aligned with home plate that he disrupts the kinetic chain in his delivery. The entire upper body has to play catch up and the arm is late creating havoc with release point and distance. The Jays can look to the Nationals for advice in this manner. When the Nats traded for Gio Gonzalez in 2011 he was perceived by many to be an overrated trade piece that Billy Beane was using to rob farm systems. Just like the Jay’s names listed above, Gio struggled with spine tilt/closed stride issues that affected his command. The Nats were able to fix the closed stride issue fixing his posture which led to improved release distance, movement on his pitches, and overall command and the results have spoken for themselves.
Of course, the Blue Jay coaches could use their soft tossing $20-million per year man as an example. Just stick to his balance and posture though. The Jays don’t need a staff of 86mph soft tossers.
Overemphasis on Posture
Aaron Sanchez has struggled mightily with command since being selected by the Blue Jays in the 2010 draft. At the midpoint of his 2013 season, the Jays decided to change Sanchez’s mechanics to help battle those issues. The initial change wasn’t well received by fans because of Keith Law pointing out the obvious arm injury red flags (that were there before the change, but I digress).
What the Jays did was shorten Sanchez’s stride, slow down his momentum towards the plate, and concentrate on an extremely balanced posture. In theory this is a great idea. I understand the strategy because they feel there was too much violence or explosion towards the plate for Sanchez to maintain a stable repeatable set of mechanics. I speculate they figure slowing everything down will make everything work more fluidly. He has always been a guy who had great posture in his delivery so I imagine they feel this won’t affect much other than fix his command.
However, most Jays fans would cringe when realizing the change creates further valgus stress on the elbow which was all ready an issue, and is now more apparent.
In the above GIF, you can see how getting his foot down too soon halts his momentum towards the plate and limits his late launch or release distance causing his fastball to tail.
Sanchez isn’t the only over-postured slow momentum pitcher on staff. Chad Jenkins has similar issues where he is straight and painfully slow through foot strike. His upper half takes a beating and he already has visited the DL with shoulder problems.
We have some pretty extreme examples here—some guys are being twisted and turned in trying to manipulate their bodies in order to better their posture. On the other side we see the obsession with overall balance while ignoring the incredible importance of the lower body. It’s hard to say if this idea is part of a an organization wide pitching philosophy. We have seen the coaching staff attempt similar fixes with Romero, Drabek, and Norris in what seems like a one-size fits all approach. However, it’s unclear if there is a clear pattern from top to bottom.
Because the Jays tend to target flame-throwing, high-ceiling arms in the amateur draft they often take on a wide variety of pitching mechanics styles. In my opinion, there needs to be a set development philosophy as soon as pitchers move on to full season leagues. It is true that you can’t take every pitcher on the planet and tell them to just throw like Roger Clemens, but you can however implement specific philosophies; it just requires the proper coaching to implement said philosophies. You also need players with the right makeup to buy into what you’re selling. I’m not suggesting that the Jays don’t already do this, but everything just seems so pasted together when it comes to this team. I look at organizations like the Cardinals and Rays and they appear to be a well oiled machine from top to bottom in terms of development. On the other hand, when I watch prospect arms in the Jays system, I see a variety of mechanical issues encompassed with the high-ceiling potential. Or at least that seems to be a major trend.
While a lot of this is speculation because we don’t have access to the inner workings of the organization, the pitching philosophy trends are still fairly clear. As well, time and time again the Jays have failed to produce any consistent major league starters. As of now the Jays haven’t come close to that consistent major league starter ideal with any pitcher since Roy Halladay, who was brought up over a decade ago. Perhaps the Jays have some new masterful pitching plan in the works, but until it begins to produce results people will continue to speculate and criticize as starter after starter goes wayside.
Picture via John Lott, National Post.