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Bullpen Mechanics
— A Scout's View

Monday, October 02, 2006

Brandon Webb—Hook, Change & SINKER

Brandon Webb, owner of perhaps the nastiest sinker in MLB.
2004: 5.15 BB/9
2006: 1.91 BB/9

Can a change in mechanics explain his improved command? Or is this just a case of a pitcher “learning to trust his stuff?”


DISCLAIMER: I wasn’t very open-minded when it came to Brandon Webb. I didn’t think I was going to find anything different in his mechanics. In my mind, Webb had just finally put it all together. I thought that he had just simply learned how to pitch with his stuff. Baseball people say that sinkerballers just need a little time to figure it all out, that nibbling at the corners isn’t necessarily the best plan of attack. Before I say anything else, let’s go to the video….

NOTES ON THE VIDEO:The clips are roughly synchronized to release. I say roughly because the frames are slightly off (maybe 1/2 a frame at most). You’ll notice that ‘04 Webb releases on frame 23, whereas ‘06 Webb releases in frame 23 1/2 or so. That said, I don’t think that in Webb’s case it makes much of a difference. The angle also seems to be slightly different and I will be careful to not let that influence what I see. Both pitches are sinkers on the outside corner to lefties.

OK, here we go. First, I’ll let you watch the video. Let it loop a few times. What do you see?

OK, you might have caught the one big difference. No? Check out the release points (frames 23-24). There’s other minor ones. As I’ll explain later, some of the minor differences are related to the change in release point.

TEMPO

You all know that tempo is a biggie to me.  ‘04 and ‘06’s tempos are nearly indentical. If anything ‘06 is a wee bit quicker to the plate from knee lift to release. On frame 1, you may have noticed that ‘06’s left knee is starting from a slightly higher point. Since they release at the same time, it would indicate that he’s a little quicker. In Webb’s case, I doesn’t sem to make much of a difference. However, it doesn’t hurt that he’s a little quicker to the plate.
Let’s go frame-by-frame, shall we?

FRAME 1

‘06 Webb looks “more compact” to me. He looks like he’s bringing his torso and his lower body and “sandwiching” it better in ‘06. Notice his shoulders/torso hunched over more in ‘06. ‘04 seems to be leaning back more. From early on, he’s put himself in a position to bring his body together in a more powerful and controlled manner.

FRAME 5

Here they are at 18 frames before release.

LOWER BODY
Slight difference. ‘04 has a little more of “sit and swing the leg” to footplant. ‘06 just a tad more compact and more of a “bring everything together” type.

LEAD ARM/SHOULDER
Do you see ‘04’s lead arm/shoulder? It looks like he’s telling himself “stay closed. stay closed.” As someone who struggles with staying closed, I understand what he’s trying to do, although this isn’t always the best remedy. Plus, it’s another thing you have to think about while in your motion. Remember…Less think, more throw. Contrast it to ‘06’s lead arm.  He’s still closed, but he’s not jamming his front shoulder to his jaw like in ‘04.

FRAMES 8 & 10

Again, reinforcing what we talked abouton frame 5. I guarantee you that ‘04 is thinking (or really worked at) “stay closed, stay closed, stay closed.”

FRAME 20

Remember, we talked about release point as the biggie. I’ll go more in-depth as to why later, but in order to create the higher release point that he shows in ‘04, he has to get his head out of the way to make room for his arm. ‘04 looks like his head is already leaning towards 1st base, whereas ‘06 looks like he’s more leaning towards 3rd. If I were to draw a straight line through the center of their bodies, you would notice his body more to the right of that line in ‘06. More on this later…..

FRAME 23

At release. ‘06 has a lower, more natural release point. To me it seems like ‘04 has created his higher release point. More on this later…..
Also, notice that his lead arm in ‘06 looks a bit different. You hear me talk about about a firm, front side. Throwing to a firm front side reduces shoulder injury risk AND makes your release point more consistent.

FRAME 27

Where the throwing arm ends up is a good indication of the path that it has traveled. ‘06’s arm is a little above ‘04’s because the lower release point makes the arm path flatter.


CONCLUSIONS

Let’s talk about arm action/ arm path, release point. Why do I think that his lower release point makes his control better?

ARM ACTION
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned arm action until now. OK, I’m not a huge fan of Webb’s arm action. He straightens out his arm on the backswing. He takes the ball out of the glove a little earlier than I like it. Let’s talk about what I do like. I like that he loads his arm horizontally. IOW, his arm goes towards 1st base. 

Webb has a “flat” arm path. Generally speaking, the lower your release point, the more horizontal your arm path is. His arm action in ‘04 and ‘06 are almost indentical. What differentiates them is that ‘04 creates a high release point from an arm path that should lead to a lower release point.

Think about a golf swing. You will be more efficient by bringing the club down on the same plane as the plane that you brought the club up in. In other words, you match your backswing plane to your downswing plane. Not many people (save for maybe someone like Jim Furyk) are able to make a correction mid-swing and bring it upright, yet not “come over the top” of it.

Same principle here. On the backswing, the ‘04 and ‘06’s arm swings (on the way back) are going to the same spot. ‘04 has to make a correction (starting with his body) on the way to release, in order to create a higher arm slot. Some pitchers can control their pitches even though they move their heads out of the way. It is easier to control your release point if you don’t have to coordinate that aspect of your motion. I’m certainly a believer in letting pitchers throw from wherever they are most comfortable/efficient. However, in Webb’s case, it seems like his lower release point has been beneficial in allowing him to be more consistent with his release point, and thus, control the strike zone better.

OTHER ISSUES

I talked about the lead arm and his more compact body position.  The lead arm issue to me is more an issue of a pitcher thinking too much. That said, to me, it is very uncomfortable to basically jam my lead shoulder into my jaw in order to “stay closed.” ‘06 seems to be looser and more free with his motion.

I believe that he is more compact in ‘06 because he lets his arm travel to where it wants to travel. In order to create a higher release point in ‘04, he begins his motion by being in a more leaned back position. Some pitchers are better at sitting back and swinging their leg into footplant like ‘04 demonstrates. I prefer bringing the body with the torso together into footplant as in ‘06.

FINALLY

Why do I think his control is better? I believe it is a mix of several factors, mainly confidence and mechanics. Certainly, Webb is blessed with one the best sinkers in MLB (more on this in a bit). With all the movement he gets on that sinker, just throwing that thing down the middle and letting it do its thing (especially early in the count) is probably the best plan of attack. Certainly, trusting your pitches is a big factor. However, from a mechanics point-of-view, I was surprised to find these differences. His mechanics now are better, more efficient, and more conducive to throwing strikes than the ‘04 version.

HOW TO THROW A SINKER..by Brandon Webb

Get on the inside of the baseball….PRONATE….REPEAT

JUST FOR FUN

The sickest sinker that ever sank….

As always, feedback/comments/questions are welcome

ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: October 02, 2006 at 03:32 PM | 27 comment(s)
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Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: October 02, 2006 at 06:23 PM (#2194649)
Damn, this thing ran pretty long. Hope you grabbed some coffee before reading this one...LOL

Off to work soon. I will address your comments/questions tonight after work. Enjoy!
   2. Max Parkinson Posted: October 02, 2006 at 06:38 PM (#2194665)
CBW,

Loved it. Any chance of you grabbing some Kentucky video? I'd love to know if that '04 action (which looks so forced that it had to be 'taught') is different from his amateur days...
   3. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: October 02, 2006 at 06:39 PM (#2194669)
Whoever said that Bullpen Mechanics was the best thing on Primer since Giambi-Mabry was right. I don't recall seeing pitching explained like this anywhere.
   4. joker24 Posted: October 02, 2006 at 06:43 PM (#2194675)
The grip to his sinker is part of what makes it so damn good. You can see it in the "Pronate" repeating clip...his fingers are split on the outside of the 2 seam grip. Here's a better pic I had never seen a 2-seamer gripped like that till about a month ago and wow does it make a huge difference.

Try throwing a ball with this grip, it's really pretty easy to make it drop almost like a real splitter after a few tries. I personally can't throw for anything, but I have "access" to a real power arm that with this grip, just makes the ball just disappear probably only 4-5 mph off a 4-seam. It's a fastball until the last about 8 feet and proceeds to hit about a foot below where you thought it was going to...absolute filth.
   5. Robert S. Posted: October 02, 2006 at 06:46 PM (#2194679)
Excellent stuff, CBW!

RE: confidence - I agree with this wholeheartedly. Webb threw more off-speed stuff this year than ever before. He's learned to adjust to what he has on a given night, too. It is also worth noting that Webb can tailor each of his pitches to be "thrown for a strikeout" or "thrown for a strike" now.

One thing that could be a factor between '04 and '06 is that Webb is flat-out in better physical shape than he was back then.
   6. Robert S. Posted: October 02, 2006 at 06:49 PM (#2194682)
Loved it. Any chance of you grabbing some Kentucky video? I'd love to know if that '04 action (which looks so forced that it had to be 'taught') is different from his amateur days...
I'd be curious to see this, too. According to an SI story from earlier this year, Webb didn't even learn his sinker until after Arizona drafted him in '00.
   7. dave h Posted: October 02, 2006 at 07:13 PM (#2194700)
I'm guessing the difference in mechanics is important, but I just wanted to point out that 2004 is the outlier in his performance, not 2006. He put up a reasonable walk rate as a rookie and went right back to it in 2005.
   8. Sean McNally Posted: October 02, 2006 at 07:25 PM (#2194710)
Fantastic as usual, CBW.

One question, and a Yankee hijack to boot. Webb and fellow sinkerballer Chien-Ming Wang both rely on power sinkers for a good number of his outs. But Wang strikes out just barely more major league hitters than I do on a nightly basis and Webb appears to have solid K/9 numbers. What's the difference?

Is it all repetoire? Is it the type of sinker? Is it the league?

In the Neyer/James pitching guide, James speculated there was a way to formulate every pitcher and figure out say, what would happen if you gave, say, Josh Beckett a devestating screwball (more blisters and lots of homers - hey-yo!). What's Wang missing that keeps him from reaching Webb's rarified air?
   9. Robert S. Posted: October 02, 2006 at 07:51 PM (#2194748)
Is it all repetoire? Is it the type of sinker? Is it the league?

Command + movement. Webb also has a proper repertoire on top of his raw stuff: sinker, change, curve. He can locate all three of them, and they all move. If anything, he still doesn't use his off-speed stuff enough yet.

Sinker: 86-91
Change: 78-82
Curve: 73-77

He's got about five variations on his two-seamer by my count as well: the one in the last clip, a comebacker (think Maddux), one that moves straight down, one that rides in laterally on RHB, and one that cuts laterally across the plate away from RHB. Generally, you'll see the one in the last clip the most, but he'll take a bit of movement off of it against LHB so it ends up knee-high on the outside corner.

Webb misses bats with his sinker all the time, even when he starts it right in the middle of the plate.
   10. myst333 Posted: October 03, 2006 at 04:33 AM (#2195227)
CBW, Make them as long as you want. No worries, I enjoy reading this stuff. It great information for those of us just starting to learn.


I would love your thoughts on Anthony Reyes if you ever have a chance. He looks a little stange and I hear a lot of people talk about his "bad mechanics" and has a history of arm issues. On the other hand the guy appears to have a wicked change. Not many pitchers use a change as the punch out pitch.
   11. ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: October 03, 2006 at 04:50 AM (#2195237)
Hey fellas,
hope you have enjoyes it so far. On to the comments.......

Any chance of you grabbing some Kentucky video?

I'd have no idea as to where to get that kind of video, although I agree that it would be VERY interesting indeed.


The grip to his sinker is part of what makes it so damn good. You can see it in the "Pronate" repeating clip...his fingers are split on the outside of the 2 seam grip.

Yeah, but to a certain degree. I agree that the grip helps Webb "turn it over." However, disregarding drag and other physical factors affecting the flight of the ball (2 seams vs 4 seams against the wind), Webb could probably throw a similar sinker with any grip. Really, you can grip a baseball any which way and what really matters is the type of rotation you put on it. Chad Bradford throws 4-seam sinkers. I throw 2-seam sinkers, but it's more of a comfort thing for me. If I were so inclined, I could throw 4-seam sinkers by getting on the inside of the ball at release.
The grip helps, but it doesn't automatically makes it sink like Webb's does.

#5 and #10.... Webb has control of his pitches to a certain degree. I don't really think (and I'm not ready to make that statement) that he's able to adjust the type of rotation he puts on each of his sinkers. He probably has 2: the garden variety and the turbo, super turnover one.


Is it all repetoire? Is it the type of sinker? Is it the league?

I'll echo #10's comments. Webb's repertoire is actually really nice. His change is what REALLY surprised me. It a power, K-type changeup, and it's got TONS of movement as well just straight freaking down. I've seen Wang pitch a few times and his sinker isn't as good as Webb's. However, really, on almost every pitcher, the offspeed stuff is what really gets the K's. Wang's offspeed isn't really suited as "put away" type pitches.


I'm guessing the difference in mechanics is important, but I just wanted to point out that 2004 is the outlier in his performance, not 2006. He put up a reasonable walk rate as a rookie and went right back to it in 2005.

Good point. A danger that I may run into when doing these is that I may end up comparing someone at their worst vs someone at their best. Again, the '04 seems to be really forcing the "keep closed" thing, which would indicate that he was either really struggling at the time or thinking too much out there (neither of these are good.)


Without commenting on what CBW has to say, which is alwasy interesting to read, I will say that Webb has some of the smoothest mechanics this side of Warren Spahn. Really, he looks like he'll be able to throw until he's 90.
His mechanics ARE smooth. However, I'm not enamored with his mechanics. Do I like his mechanics, yes I do. Would he be the poster boy, no he wouldn't.
   12. McCray Posted: October 03, 2006 at 05:01 AM (#2195241)
CBW: great, as always. your analysis of mulder's mechanics was what made me register an account here. and i'll second what robert s said about his other pitches -- they're all good. his curveball can usually carve up lineups even when the sinker isn't on.
   13. ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: October 03, 2006 at 05:14 AM (#2195247)
CBW, Make them as long as you want. No worries, I enjoy reading this stuff. It great information for those of us just starting to learn.

HEHE, thanks a bunch. A lot of the Webb thing was my giddyness at play. I really didn't expect to find much but as soon as I saw the clips a few times I was like "WHOA, wait a sec."


great, as always. your analysis of mulder's mechanics was what made me register an account here. and i'll second what robert s said about his other pitches -- they're all good. his curveball can usually carve up lineups even when the sinker isn't on.

Thank you. One thing I should do is go back and tidy up the Mulder analysis to get it up to par. I think my recent entries are better than the Mulder one organization-wise. I didn't mean to shortchange Webb's curve either. It is a very good deuce. He does release it from a higher arm slot than his sinker.
   14. ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: October 03, 2006 at 05:16 AM (#2195249)
RE: Reyes

When I watch Reyes at full speed, I like his mechanics. I don't LOVE them, but then again, I'd have to put him under the microscope to get a full understanding as to what he does/doesn't do well.
   15. Robert S. Posted: October 03, 2006 at 07:02 AM (#2195281)
The grip helps, but it doesn't automatically makes it sink like Webb's does.

Let me preface this by saying that some version of this anecdoate pops up every year from Arizona local (and largely awful) sportswriters around ST, but teammates swear that part of Webb's stuff is just the natural way the ball comes off his fingers - they don't want to play catch with him because the ball moves so much. To some extent, you can see this during the season on his throws to first or second.

#5 and #10.... Webb has control of his pitches to a certain degree. I don't really think (and I'm not ready to make that statement) that he's able to adjust the type of rotation he puts on each of his sinkers. He probably has 2: the garden variety and the turbo, super turnover one.

What about the comebacker? You can see the wrinkle in that thing from the right angle at the park as well as on TV. It really doesn't resemble the 'proper' sinker pictured above, for instance.
   16. BrianSabeanRuinedMyChildhood Posted: October 03, 2006 at 07:30 AM (#2195288)
one thing i continue to find rarer is a player wearing high socks....maybe going to the long pants is accounting for his increase in control...

but seriously...nl cy young...great analysis
   17. myst333 Posted: October 03, 2006 at 08:14 AM (#2195296)
Thanks for the comments on reyes.

The reason I ask is the cards had high hope at the beginning of this season after "getting mulder to work on a few things" at the start of the season. The same people that were talking about how much better mulder looked at the start of 2006 are convinced that reyes is messed up and needs fixing. After pitchers arrive here they tend to see drops in velocity but improvements in gb/fb as the team approach is generally to pitch to contact. I wish I knew if Mulders change was Mulder or coaching.
   18. NeifiChicken Posted: October 03, 2006 at 09:12 AM (#2195306)
Great article, great analysis, but I disagree on one thing.

He threw a sinker against the Giants a week ago that sank more than the one you feature as the "sickest sinker that ever sank". It started out thigh high on the outer half of the plate and ended up 3 inches off the dirt off the inside of the plate. Absolutely filthy
   19. NeifiChicken Posted: October 03, 2006 at 09:25 AM (#2195308)
Oh, one more thing, these are more internet questions than baseball questions but here goes

1) Is there a website you could reccomend for how you produce your GIF videos? This is always something I've been dying to do with video
2) Where do you get your mlb footage? Do you download the games or do you have a way to take them from your TV to your computer?
   20. ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: October 03, 2006 at 11:51 AM (#2195326)
but teammates swear that part of Webb's stuff is just the natural way the ball comes off his fingers - they don't want to play catch with him because the ball moves so much.

I totally agree on that. I'm sure that Webb has basically perfected the way the ball naturally rolls off his hand for his sinker. What I'm saying is that while the grip helps, it's not really the grip that does it. Webb could probably take a grapefruit and make it behave like a sinker if he imparts the right spin on it.


What about the comebacker? You can see the wrinkle in that thing from the right angle at the park as well as on TV. It really doesn't resemble the 'proper' sinker pictured above, for instance.

I assume that by comebacker you mean the one that starts outside to righties and comes back to clip the outside corner (and viceversa to lefties). To me, it looks like the same pitch thrown to a different spot. IOW, he's using roughly the same release. IF he comes over the side of it more it tends to have a little more lateral movement than downward movement. I don't doubt that he can control how his sinker behaves to a certain degree. But for the most part, I'd say that he sticks to his garden variety sinker and lets it do its thing.
   21. G A Delgado Posted: November 03, 2006 at 01:53 AM (#2230595)
Man, it's always fun to read your analisys, CBW.

I would like to nominate Jake Peavy for your next proyect, I can't put my finger on it but it sure looks like he's changed something in his mechanics from '05 to '06. Hope you can, and if not I will be right there to read your next stuff. Congratulations.
   22. hankonly Posted: April 16, 2007 at 07:59 PM (#2336416)
Newbie, here.

What a great find is this blog!!

Agree that Peavy would be a great study. Saw him pitch the best-pitched game of 2006 (and LOSE) against the Braves. Late movement on every pitch - up, down, in, out - like Maddox on HGH.

Question about pronating - does Webb point the thumb straight down with a jerking motion or just end up there?
   23. ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: April 16, 2007 at 08:41 PM (#2336455)
Hi Hank,

Every pitcher pronates at release. What Webb has perfected is the position of his wrist at release and then coming inside the ball . I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Mark Prior is the next guy on my lineup and should be finished sometime this week and posted at THT (and I'll link it over here). Peavy is (and has been) on the big board of projects. Just haven't gotten around to it.
   24. Baseball4 Posted: May 27, 2007 at 05:54 AM (#2380288)
What type of spin does brandon webb have on his sinker? Does it spin very fast, or slower?
   25. azdodger Posted: September 21, 2011 at 04:03 PM (#3931922)
Brandon is snapping his wrist to pronate. could this be the reason he has has been injury prone? I have the assumption that the forerm should be preset before delivery. I find that if i do snap down my thumb that i get better movement but worried that it could be affecting my arm.
   26. BDC Posted: September 21, 2011 at 04:24 PM (#3931936)
This is wonderful stuff, CBW, a great post.

In the interests of the Texas Rangers, can you get Webb back at top form for 2012? :)

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