— A Scout's View
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Prospect Report: The Mechanics of Steve Palazzolo
Steve Palazzolo is a 6’10” 265 lb. RHP out of Division 2 UMass Lowell. After pitching in the Division 2 World Series twice in his career and writing his name all over the record books, Steve went undrafted out of college. He soon signed with the Florence Freedom of the independent Frontier League. A move to the bullpen jumpstarted Steve’s career in 2005 as he anchored the bullpen for the Can-Am League champion Worcester Tornadoes. That offseason, the Brewers signed him at a tryout camp in January 2006. Starting the 2006 season at Low A West Virginia Steve struggled at the outset as the organization had him working from multiple arm slots and continued to tinker with his mechanics. After dedicating a month at extended spring training to work from a consistent arm slot and add a new slider to his repertoire, Steve joined Helena of the Pioneer league. He enjoyed a lot of success as Helena’s closer, showing consistent velocity while continuing the development of the slider. After making some changes to his mechanics in the offseason and pitching well in Spring Training, he was released by the Brewers. Steve joined the Nashua Pride of the Can-Am League, where he is off to a great start. As of this writing, he’s pitched 10 innings, given up 6 hits (all singles), 1 run, has walked just 2 and struck out 13 while sporting a 0.90 ERA.
With a HEAVY, sinking fastball that sits 88-92 mph and touches touches 94, an 80-82 mph slider and a 75-77 mph forkball, Steve is not just a very talented pitcher. Steve knows “mechanics” as well as anyone in professional baseball. He is easily one of the most knowledgeable players I have ever come in contact with and is constantly looking for the latest information and techniques that he can implement into his delivery. BP’s Will Carroll got me in touch with Steve during the past offseason and we have had a mutually beneficial relationship since. We discuss mechanics at length. Steve is constantly asking questions, making very insightful comments and is always looking for ways to get better. He has made me re-examine many of my ideas on mechanics, exposed me to new research, and has helped me become better at what I do. Hopefully, I’ve had at least a little impact on him as well.
Enough talk, let’s look at what this behemoth can do
This clip was taken right before he reported to Spring Training this year.
There’s many good things here, a couple of excellent things, and a few areas where he can improve. Let’s take a more detailed look.
THE GOOD AND IMPROVING
In order to illustrate his offseason adjustments, here’s a clip that compares Steve in ‘07 versus Steve in ‘06.
One of the key improvements that Steve made in the offseason was that he learned to engage his lower body in order to produce a more aggressive move into footplant. As you can see on the above clip, he has increased his tempo (sped up his body) and as a result, he has built up more momentum in order to help him accelerate his arm more aggressively. I firmly believe that with increased tempo and momentum, better velocity is possible. While Steve has yet to see a jump in velocity, I believe that with time and a few other adjustments, an increase in velocity will soon come. There is a magic move that makes this happen that is still considered a little controversial. Here’s a clip of “the move”.....
Notice how ‘07 “drifts through the balance point.” Watch how his butt gains ground towards home plate as his knee reaches its apex while the ‘06 version does not. Disclaimer: I know the angles are slightly different, but trust me on this one. ‘06 is an example of the typical “gather at the balance point first, and then go” idea that is somehow still popular in pitching instruction (and makes little sense to me—Why stop at the top and then start instead of keeping it going?). By drifting a bit before getting to the top of his knee lift, Steve has given himself little choice BUT to be quicker to home plate. This “drift” is a powerful, dynamic and athletic move that engages the legs, hips and butt better in order to build momentum into footplant.
The other major benefit of this move is that it has helped him increase his stride length substantially. This is no minor point. Steve has told me that this year, while his velocity isn’t up yet, hitters haven’t been able to really handle his fastball. He has said that it seems that the ball is “jumping on hitters” better. Hitters who face Tim Lincecum often comment on how his ball “gets on you” quickly. In the Tim Lincecum article that I wrote, you can clearly see how Lincecum also “drifts through the balance point” which leads to a stride that is substantially longer than his body height. I’m not saying that Steve is as efficient as Lincecum with his lower body. What I am saying is that he’s clearly improved in this area and is on the right track.
SIDE NOTE: I’d like to some day quantify pitcher’s release point distances from home plate. Really, scouts should pay attention to this. Doesn’t it make sense that this is a big factor in terms of “real” velocity? I believe that this is the reason that Papelbon’s fastball looks harder than 94-96, whereas Verlander’s fastball looks slower than 98-100. Just a thought. Back to Mr. Palazzolo…..
Specifically, the move that I think is off the charts occurs in these 3 frames….
THAT is how you “finish” a pitch folks. I could go on and on about how good this is. His “intent” and aggressiveness at the end of his delivery is just outstanding. In particular, note how his torso tilts forward at release. LOOK at the extension he gets on his pitches. Remember, this dude is 6’10”. Not only is this excellent from a velocity point-of-view, but it is also helpful from an injury prevention point-of-view. The long path that his arm travels after release gives his arm more time to decelerate which lessens the impact on his shoulder. No short, abrupt finish here folks. This is about as ideal as you can get with one exception, which I’ll cover later.
SIDE NOTE: Stride length—check out how much ground his back foot gains.
While Steve has dramatically altered his tempo already, I believe that the way he’ll get to 95+ mph is by getting him to be even faster in the tempo department. From top of the knee lift, ‘06 takes around 30 frames to release. The ‘07 version has cut it to around 25-26 frames. If Steve can cut it further to 21-22 frames, I believe it will have several positive effects.
Arm Action and Tempo
Steve’s arm action is pretty good. However, it can get better. As you can see by this next clip, Steve’s arm doesn’t come to a stop at all, but it does slow down just a tad (frames 2-9) as it waits for his front foot to land. I have compared him with Lincecum once again here as a model of how to do this….
Notice how late Lincecum’s arm shows up to the party. In my opinion, if Steve speeds his body up, he will not only shorten his arm action a bit (which I prefer) but it will improve his arm speed at release because it will lessen or eliminate the very slight deceleration of his arm on his way to release. I want him to speed his arm up through those frames, not slow down. Looking at the video (and making an educated guess), I would say that Lincecum starts to really accelerate the arm at around frame 9, where Steve starts at about frame 11. We have talked about trying to get him to break his hands later, but the more I think about it, this is not really an arm action or “break the hands later” issue. I believe that by speeding up his body, the body itself will “fix” his arm action so that he’ll be able to accelerate his arm for a little longer and a little faster.
Lead Arm/Glove at release
Two things that I believe Steve needs to address in order to “tighten up” his delivery.
Second, at release, his glove and throwing hand are very far apart. Yes, I realize that someone who is 6’10” has a longer wingspan. However, by keeping his glove closer to his center of rotation, it would help him in terms of consistently repeating his release point, which is an issue that has plagued him as well. I would also like for Steve to work on “cutting under the glove.” I explained the term in my Jonathan Papelbon article. Basically, it means that I want his arm following through and going underneath the glove instead of over it like he does now.
These adjustments are, in my opinion, closely related to each other. If he learns how to better “firm up” his glove and leave it a tad higher, he will be able to “cut under the glove” in order to employ a more north-south, downhill approach.
A WORD ABOUT MAJOR IN-SEASON ADJUSTMENTS
I spoke to Steve after his last game about in-season changes. Obviously, what he is doing so far this season is working for him. I wouldn’t want him to make major changes to his delivery at this point. Increasing tempo and momentum while still trying to get hitters out is a challenging endeavor during the season. The offseason is for experimenting with major changes. I do believe that he can work on firming up the front side in his daily work (playing catch, long-tossing, etc). As a reliever who is on-call every game, short side bullpen sessions may be few and far between. That said, I believe it would be beneficial for him to work on the front side adjustments we have discussed throughout the year in his side sessions as well.
HERE’S TWO EXAMPLES OF THE LIFE ON HIS FASTBALL
Let’s call it what it is. These pitches are filthy.
Steve Palazzolo is an excellent example of a pitcher who REALLY works hard on his craft. With his offseason changes this year plus the changes he plans to make in the following offseason, I fully expect him to increase his velocity into the 93-96 mph range while maintaining his now much improved command. Steve belongs in Double-A now, and with the right adjustments and some well timed performance and luck, he could find himself in the bigs sooner than you’d think. There aren’t many 6’10” pitchers out there that can bring it. There aren’t many pitchers out there that are willing to listen and try different things either. Some team will be smart enough to give him a chance and they’ll be happy they did.
As of 6/27: Palazzolo—- 18 IP, 13 Hits, 1 ER, 5 BB, 19 K’s. 0.50 ERA, .197 BA against.
As always, questions/comments/job offers from MLB are welcome.
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