Michael Pineda, SLAP Tears, Forcing a Change-Up, and Pitching Mechanics

As most of you know by now, Michael Pineda (RHP, NYY) is out for the season due to a shoulder injury. Pineda reportedly suffered an anterior labrum tear and his velocity was significantly diminished in Spring Training for the Yankees. GM Brian Cashman reportedly subjected the young hurler to an MRI before agreeing to complete the trade that sent Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to Seattle, but saw nothing negative on the MRI.

Michael Pineda - NYY

Allegedly, the second MRI done to diagnose the labrum tear (better known as a “SLAP” – superior labral tear from anterior to posterior) showed significantly increased structural damage in the shoulder when compared to the first MRI.

Both Yankees’ and Mariners’ fans want to know: What happened here?

Forcing a Change-Up: Mechanical Problems

All anyone could talk about from 2011 to 2012 was the “fact” that Pineda needed to develop a change-up, because… well, you know. You just need to have one of those to be succeessful, and Pineda’s change-up sucked. You gotta have one of those to get lefties out.

Except… that’s not true. Pineda’s L/R splits were not completely out of line with the league average, and in fact may have been better than most RHP. (source: Fangraphs)

There is no law that states that starting pitchers must have three pitches to succeed. The number of pitchers out there that can reliably command and control three above-average pitches are all superstars. Most are lucky to command two pitches that are above-average with regards to “stuff,” and I don’t think anyone would make the argument that Pineda’s fastball and slider were below-average.

So what’s the big deal? How could Pineda’s shoulder injuries be related to developing a change-up? Well, as I’ve stated before, forcing someone to develop a better change-up often kills a pitcher’s fastball velocity. I said it on the Pro Ball NW podcast about training, and I said it in a previous article about teaching youth pitchers how to throw a change-up.

Paul Nyman made this observation many years ago, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. Youth pitchers who rely on a changeup and throw it often in their bullpen sessions will often change their throwing mechanics to get better sink and velocity separation off their fastball. As a result, their pitching mechanics become highly linear and their arm speed decreases due to poor use of rotational force, and this loss of velocity creeps into all of their pitches, including their fastball.

Repeatable mechanics play a role when it comes to reducing shoulder/elbow injuries, so it could very well have been the constant forcing of the change-up that helped Pineda along the path to shoulder surgery – to say nothing of the fact that sinkerballers tend to have shoulder issues in the first place!

Much of this could have been detected if only the Yankees and/or Mariners had an on-field system that analyzed the biomechanics of a pitcher in real-time to see if pitchers appreciably changed how they threw their pitches after making tweaks to their deliveries. Even multiple high-speed cameras installed with constant video review would have been helpful. This type of system would be inexpensive to develop (we have one in our Seattle facility) and could produce a huge edge for any MLB team willing to deploy it. (I’ve been beating this drum for some time now, and while I’ve had some interest from pro teams, there’s a general lack of motivation on this particular subject – why this is, I can’t figure out.)

Damaged Goods? Previous Shoulder Issues?

Pineda’s effectiveness went down as 2011 wore on, and while his velocity ticked down a bit, no one was really worried about his health except for the somewhat-large workload he accumulated as a rookie. (For the record, I don’t think it was unreasonably large at all.) Many are wondering if Pineda was “damaged goods” when he was sent over to the Yankees, but if this had been true, shouldn’t the Yankees have seen something on the initial MRI they did?

Twitter: Pineda

The problem is that people view an MRI as a diagnostic panacea, when it’s barely a baseline tool for analysis. When you consider the torque about the shoulder that’s required to throw a baseball 90+ MPH and how often it’s done, there’s no way you wouldn’t expect massive structural changes in the connective tissue in the glenohumeral and acromioclavicular joints – and this is exactly what you see. Consider that MRIs of the shoulder in asymptomatic (completely healthy) pitchers are really screwed up (source 1, source 2), and you’ll begin to understand that the initial MRI is more of a formality than anything else. Unless the Yankees had seen a complete tearing of the labrum off the bone, they wouldn’t fail Pineda based on a wonky MRI.

The Lowdown on the Situation

As with most things injury-related, this is a highly complex and multivariate problem. You can’t just force a pitcher to learn a pitch that was previously pretty bad without expecting a lot of secondary and tertiary changes. It’s not as simple as developing a change-up (one of the hardest pitches to master) and leaving everything else the same. Athletes who struggle with throwing a particular type of pitch will change their pitching mechanics to accommodate the new pitch, and these changes will creep into their other pitches. Occasionally, this leads to great results – especially if you’re re-learning how to throw a fastball harder – but usually it leads to velocity-killing issues and/or and increased risk of injuries in the pitching arm.

MRIs aren’t perfect; they’re diagnostic tools. As I said above on my Twitter feed (@drivelinebases), you get a basic diagnostic with the MRI, pain levels, and crappy velocities – you can only confirm the extent of the damage if you insert an arthroscope.

The Yankees didn’t act negligently when it came to acquiring Michael Pineda. They may have acted negligently when it came to developing him.

Stuff to Read: 9/12/2011 (Steve Delabar Story, Jason Vargas THT Post)

Looking for a velocity-adding weighted baseball program?  

Steve Delabar’s journey to the major leagues with the Seattle Mariners is a feel-good story anyone could love, right?

Maybe not. Think about it: Why didn’t organized baseball have a velocity development plan for Steve to get him back to where he needed to be? Why did Steve need to explore alternative options by himself to break back into professional baseball?

Steve Delabar

I wrote about this on my latest short article at The Hardball Times – Steve Delabar: How Organized Baseball Failed Him. Go check it out.

Additionally, there’s also my longer article about Jason Vargas and “The Twist” that he added to his mechanics. It seems to have added some fastball velocity for him, so I broke it down a bit at The Hardball Times.

Jason Vargas - Comparison

A related article from The Hardball Times that I wrote is The Fear of Unorthodoxy: A New Model of Player Development. It talks about Trevor Bauer’s unorthodox training methods and how “weird” it looks for him. With 43 strikeouts in 25.2 innings pitched in minor league baseball this year (albeit a high ERA due to one bad outing), it’s looking like the “strange” training methods Trevor used are serving him just fine.

Mariners “No-Weight” Training Room – A Nonsensical Lie

It seems as though I hear about the Seattle Mariners lack of weight lifting in their new training program about once a week. This myth is complete garbage, and it’s perpetuated by training facilities in the Pacific Northwest like WBI Sports. They even run a banner that claims that weights have been removed from the Mariners training facility! No weights in the weight room, you say? Then what’s in the background of the Seattle Mariners’ spring training facility?

Mariner's ST Weight Room

Mariner’s ST Weight Room

Let me tell you exactly what’s in the background: Weights. Specifically:

  • Power Cages
  • Olympic Barbells
  • Olympic Weight Plates
  • Dumbbells (and a large rack to store them on)
  • Weight Benches

And this is just what we can see in the shot. There might even be… MORE WEIGHTS! You can find that shot in this video about Dr. Marcus Elliot’s training program for the Mariners. Additionally, we have athletes at our facility that have trained under Dr. Marcus Elliot and can confirm that they have done basic barbell lifts in addition to other ballistic activities like medicine ball throws and high-speed cable rotational work. So, WBI Sports (and many other training facilities with a misguided agenda) are either spreading blatant lies or haven’t done their research. In either case, I’m not sure why you would send someone to train there – the best case scenario is that they haven’t done a full evaluation of what professional players are doing. The worst case scenario is that they are intentionally lying about the Mariners’ program to cover up the fact they haven’t invested money into a solid strength/power/speed training facility like Driveline Baseball has, or they don’t have the trainers to set up such a facility and corresponding program.

Please, Stop Spreading Garbage Rumors

That’s all I ask of places like WBI Sports. It’s very plainly evident that Dr. Marcus Elliot’s programs are well-designed, and this means a program that involves compound lifts to effectively and quickly develop basic levels of strength before moving on to more complex programming. It does not mean you should omit weight lifting from your baseball training program – always double-check your facts, especially when someone has a vested interest in selling you a product or service. Driveline Baseball trainers actively encourage their clients to ask questions and do their own research to see if the Elite Baseball Training program matches up with their expectations and that it will get them to their end goal: A higher level of baseball. We’ve incorporated a lot of client suggestions into our workouts and programming as a result.

By |August 14th, 2011|News, Training|0 Comments

THT Article: The Velocity Loss Phenomenon

I know everyone here reads my Hardball Times articles – and is subscribed to my THT RSS feed – right, right?

Well, just in case you forgot that I write there, you can check out my latest article titled The Velocity Loss Phenomenon. My article talks about Trevor Bauer, Dylan Bundy, and their “unorthodox” training methods that got them to where they are – and why it scares big league teams off.

In the near future, look for an article on crude biomechanical analysis as applied to the 2nd pick overall in the 2011 MLB Draft: Danny Hultzen of the Seattle Mariners (formerly the University of Virginia).

Here’s the teaser image:

Danny Hultzen - Maximum Knee Height

Danny Hultzen - Maximum Knee Height

But you have to subscribe to my RSS feed or pay close attention to THT for it!