While I readily admit it can be a blessing and a curse, sometimes I incessantly nitpick at things and scrutinize them, occasionally doing so in a poorly timed fashion. It made me successful* in medicine and research at times, but it also gives people a misconstrued perspective of who I am, especially when I go on Twitter with my thoughts.
‘Why can’t you just be happy with ____?’
‘Are you physically capable of just watching the game?’
The answer to both is a resounding ‘no’, much to the chagrin of my wife.
My target of my well-intentioned ire and (over)analysis today?
Washington Nationals pitching prospect and current rotation member Taylor Jordan.
First, let’s get the good things out of the way – ranked as a Top 20 organizational prospect by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, Jordan has done well, scoreboard be damned, in his brief dalliance as a National. Possessing a very good sinking fastball along with good and developing into very good secondary pitches, he tends to be erratic in the strike zone, but at 24 years old, has displayed scads of maturity and an ability to not let poor play behind him rattle him and shake him from his game. Let’s have a look at some of his major league stats, courtesy of Fangraphs:
The first figure shows us some of the usual statistical suspects – please don’t trouble yourself with the win-loss record – as well as some advanced stats that provide a better gauge of how well Jordan is doing independent of the circus going on behind him; in 15.2 innings pitched, the Nats have made three errors behind Jordan. Defense aside, Jordan is doing his part in keeping the Nats in the game by making hitters pound the ball into the ground, as his 55.2% groundball rate attests; his fielding independent pitching (FIP) is lower than both his ERA and expected FIP (xFIP), which speaks to his ability to keep scoring opportunities at a minimum just by himself (FIP < ERA), while also outpitching some of his peripheral stats and therefore, expectations (FIP < xFIP). While he hasn’t struck many folks out – 3.45 K/9, contrasted by his minor league career K/9 of 7.2 across all levels – he also isn’t walking many, which can offset his lack out strikeouts thus far in the bigs.
The second table lists Jordan’s PITCHf/x pitch values per 100, which is a rough, eyeball-it method of determining how effective a pitcher’s repertoire has been against hitters. The more positive a value, the more effective a pitch, with the opposite true with negative values. So far, Jordan’s slider (wSL/C) is his best pitch, with most of his other repertoire scoring well.
So far, so good, for both us and Jordan; if you’d like more ink to peruse, definitely check out John Sickels’ article at SB Nation. Now, let’s peel off another layer of this onion, and take a look at some visuals.
OK, next picture…
Hmm, OK. Next…
Alright, we’re good with pics for the moment – let’s talk about Jordan’s arm slot for a second. It’s high – almost 90 degrees in the last two pictures, awfully close in the first one as well – and is what is considered a high cocked position. The good folk(s) at Driveline Mechanics have a great description of the high cocked position – go check it out. Briefly, this slot is felt to generate the most potential for maximum velocity on your pitches in some circles. While it’s debatable if it really does provide much added velocity, it definitely can lead to injury, especially if the elbow is consistently cocked at an angle that exceeds level the shoulders – excessive scapular loading. Knowing that Jordan has already undergone one Tommy John surgery, we can see where possibly this extreme arm slot might not be the most advantageous, long-term. That being said, Jordan appears to keep his pitching elbow right at shoulder level, which is less worrisome.
Let’s go back to the first picture and the red circle. Notice his wrist and the ball with respect to the rest of his body and home plate? We have another Cobra; as mentioned before here at HDIB? with Shelby Miller, the Cobra move is not a biomechanically advantageous one, long-term. The extreme forearm pronation necessary to put your hand in this position can be taxing and create additional stresses on the forearm and up into the shoulder, but in particular, the brachioradialis, pronator teres, and pronator quadratus muscles of the forearm are at increased risk of fatigue and breakdown with this amount of pronation. This extreme positioning of the hand and wrist can also lead to timing issues, especially when fatigued, which again can lead to injury arising from a breakdown in proper mechanics. While his Cobra move is a tad different that the one seen in Miller, Jordan’s still bears mention as something that isn’t very mechanically favourable. That being said, this arm slot and positioning are possible tools to the success of his sinking fastball, as his very pronounced hand position over the top of the ball can provide additional vertical movement of the pitch. This extreme arm slot might also have already bit him in the butt, as he has already been told by teammates that he is tipping pitches; considering the slight change in angle in his arm slot in picture #1 (taken in his most recent July 9 start) versus pictures #2 and 3, it appears he has possibly countered the pitch tipping with a slightly lower arm angle at cocked position.
This is a nice segue to another negatively positive aspect of Jordan’s mechanics that works for him and against him – he has a very deceptive delivery and hides the ball well before release, which can add to his effectiveness. Much like his unorthodox arm angle helps, but also hurts (literally in some respects), Jordan’s lower half can sometimes betray him while also helping him.
Again, let’s have some visual evidence:
Here we have a different view of Jordan and a bit of a glimpse of what the catcher and batter see. Here, we will focus on the lower body and I have taken the liberty to add some arrows to better describe an effective mechanical detractor – throwing across the body. The red arrow is the path his stride foot is taking with respect to his back leg and the black arrow is my best estimation using the odd camera angle and some landmarks in the picture of where he should be stepping at pitch release. While stepping across the body in a ‘crossfire’ style can be very effective at hiding the ball and thereby tricking the batter and slowing down his ability to recognize, identify, and track the pitch, it also can cause arm problems due to the arm path essentially blocked by the upper body, thereby creating increased stress and strain on the arm. With this in mind, it’s not a far-fetched to see how he is sometimes compared to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim hurler Jered Weaver in regards to his deceptive delivery.
In a small sampling of innings, Taylor Jordan has started to meet and at times, exceed the lofty expectations set forth by the experts. While he is still young and still recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction – he is apparently on a 130 inning pitch limit this season – he does display some troubling habits that might hinder his progress and effectiveness in the future. While I wish I could be blissfully ignorant of these potential red flags in the spirit of a feel good story in the midst of a disappointing season thus far for the Nationals, my innate and annoying desire to pick apart these sorts of things in the name of knowledge leads me to remember the words of a mentor, who would patiently endure my mental gymnastics, with these words:
Great is the enemy of good.
For Jordan, the mechanics that have made him good could prevent him from becoming great.
Have you read the most recent post from the always thoughtful and informative SB Nation Washington Nationals blog Federal Baseball? The thrust of it revolves around the upcoming matchup between the Nats and the St. Louis Cardinals, but what caught my attention was the accompanying photo:
OK, same pic, but with what jumped out at me highlighted – look at Cardinals phenom Shelby Miller‘s wrist at foot plant (red circle/emphasis mine):
What took me by surprise was the angle of Miller’s wrist as he is about to release the ball – he is ‘showing’ the ball towards the second baseman, what was called in my playing days the Cobra.
Let me recruit smarter and more knowledgeable folks to take over and explain, in the form of Chris O’Leary:
What’s more, by following this cue (‘showing 2b the ball’ – editor) you will significantly increase the risk of elbow problems, at least in young pitchers, by forcing them to supinate their forearms through the release point. This increases the load on the UCL (‘ulnar collateral ligament’ – editor), which can lead to growth plate problems in younger pitchers and Tommy John surgery in older pitchers.
This showing the 2B the ball, or however you want to call it, adds increased pronation of the wrist, increased supination of the forearm, while also exacerbating the valgus (outward) aspect of the movement at the elbow.
What does that mean?
While the additional torque provides a modicum of increased velocity for Miller and those who have this delivery quirk, it is probably at the expense of elbow injury down the road and possible Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. A more relaxed wrist, with the ball being ‘shown’ to the first baseman for a right-handed pitcher (3B for a lefty), could alleviate some of this additional elbow and wrist stress and possibly delay any elbow injury matters. While the long-term success of those who incorporate this hitch in their mechanics is yet to be determined, if O’Leary’s research – who has recently shared his wisdom with the Nats on a consultant basis – is to be believed, the reduction of this mechanical quirk along with the dreaded ‘inverted W’ could alleviate many of the injuries encountered by MLB hurlers.
A picture is worth a thousand words; sometimes, it saves you a trip to Dr. James Andrews.