— A Scout's View
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Let’s talk about Arm Slot—A video review of Jonathan Papelbon
Let me start with a question I’ve been getting more and more in the past week or so….
“Is Papelbon hurt?”
While there is no way I can say for certain, there have been several warning signs in the past week. I’m not the only one who has been monitoring the situation. Here’s what friend of the blog Steve Palazzolo had to say about Papelbon on Will Carroll’s Under the Knife column on May 9th:
Let me echo what Will Carroll said about Steve Palazzolo. Steve knows what he’s talking about. Steve and I have had many conversations recently mostly centering around Papelbon. Steve and I have also talked at length about his mechanics. He will be pitching for the Nashua Pride of the CanAm League this year, and in the near future will be the subject of an article here in my blog.
It appears that Farrell agrees that there have been mechanical issues relating to his arm slot. However, he did dismiss the notion that it was related to his shoulder health.
Let’s go to the video and see what we can find out
The pitch on the left is a 95 mph fastball to A-Rod last year. The pitch on the right is a 97 mph fastball to Vlad this year. Both pitches were up and in. Both pitches resulted in swinging strikeouts. As you can see by the video, there is not much difference in these pitches arm-slot wise. There is one other difference that I’ll point out later that could be something of an issue. I COULD make a case for the ‘06’s slot being slightly higher. I won’t because the arm slot isn’t that much different.
Does it end there then?
Of course not. What Steve and I have been noticing is that it this year, when he REALLY goes after a pitch (he tries to throw it really hard), he’s much more likely to fly open with the front shoulder and sling it from a lower slot instead of going through the ball. In other words, he is applying force east-west more than north-south. Consider these two pitches:
This clip tells a story. The arm slot on the ‘06 clip (on the left) is noticeably higher. What I cut out from the clip was the action on these pitches. The pitch in ‘06 was a fastball with minimal lateral movement. The ‘07 clip was a pitch that ran (out to a lefty, in to a righty) considerably more. The extra movement is consistent with a pitch thrown from a lower slot. Still not convinced? Here ya go:
What I did here was to trace Papelbon’s arm path from release to a few frames after release. Where the arm finishes is a good indication of the path the arm has traveled. As we can clearly see here, his slot on the ‘07 pitch is lower.
What does the lower slot have to do with injury concerns?
1) As pitchers, we are reminded daily of the virtues of keeping the arm “up.” One of the clearest indications of a pitcher who is struggling with shoulder soreness/pain is a drop in his arm slot. From a personal standpoint, I know that (when I threw overhand) when my shoulder was hurting me, I would tend to lower my elbow in order to “protect the shoulder.” While I’m not totally sure of the cause/effect, I DO know that since becoming a sidearmer/submariner, I have had significantly less issues with shoulder pain. Consider this analogy: Have you ever gone to the gym for a workout and REALLY worked on your shoulders? How do they feel the next day? Do you have trouble raising your arms and getting your elbows above your shoulder plane? Yeah, me too. Sort of the same idea here except that pitchers are dealing more with ligament pain instead of muscular soreness.
2) Notice the glove/ arm path relationship after release. Here’s a still pic of what I’m talking about:
See how in ‘06 (the one on the left), his arm is under the glove? I call that cutting under the glove.
Generally speaking, pitchers with flatter arm paths (lower arm slot) cut over the glove. The reverse is true for steeper arm paths. By the way, there are many, many exceptions to this, but it’s just something I’ve noticed. Here’s Randy Johnson (low slot) and Greg Maddux (high slot), for example:
I have now closely seen around 40-50 of Papelbon’s pitches from this year and last. I estimate that on over 80% of his fastballs last year, he’s cutting under the glove. This year, in most (if not all) of his fastballs, he’s cutting over the glove.
Why do I find that significant?
Consider Farrell’s quote again:
“Keeping it tight.” Steve and I have talked about this a bit pertaining to his own mechanics. We would think that keeping it tight would be closely related to having Papelbon keep his glove up near his chest, keeping it closer to his axis of rotation (and cutting under the glove) instead of down by his thigh (and cutting over the glove).
A little anecdote…... Yesterday, while on a plane flight, I’m cutting and cropping these clips and running them over and over to see what else I can find. My girlfriend, who is sitting next to me, says (about the second Papelbon ‘06 clip) “This one’s left arm is like dead compared to the one on the right (the second ‘07 clip).” GREAT point….
There’s one more thing I would like to point out about Papelbon’s mechanics. Did you notice how long he is with his arm? His arm completely straightens out on the way back after he breaks his hands. Watch the first few frames on the first video again:
If you’ve read my articles, you know that I prefer a shorter arm action on pitchers. I have always equated a long arm action with shoulder problems. I know there’s plenty of exceptions there too, by the way. I had planned on going into it in this article, but it would be a fairly lengthy explanation with terms such as “mechanical advantage,” “lever arm,” etc. I hope to explain why I prefer a shorter arm action (with a slight bend on the elbow at all times) in a future, follow-up article.
I don’t know if Papelbon’s shoulder is bothering him or not. There’s no way for me to know for sure. All I’m trying to point out here is that he is showing some of the signs of a guy who might bestruggling with his shoulder. I’ll echo Steve Palazzolo’s comments on the issue:
From someone who considers himself Papelbon fan, here’s hoping that the latter is true.
As always….. questions, comments, and JOB OFFERS (ahem, MLB teams, where are you?) are welcome.
18 comment(s)Posted: May 12, 2007 at 12:57 PM |
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