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— A Scout's View

Friday, June 22, 2007

Quick Take: King Felix and Tempo

Earlier tonight, friend of the blog Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus sent me this article on Felix Hernandez, where the author says this:

“Hernandez and pitching coach Rafael Chaves have studied tapes of those two dominant games in April and compared them with the recent struggles. They think he has been rushing through his delivery.”

The article continues with the unthinkable:

“We want maybe a little bit of hesitation at the balance point instead of rushing through it,” Chaves said. “Get to the balance point, spend a little bit of time in it, then explode from there.”

After surviving the mild heart attack that soon followed, I told myself: “Keep an open mind, maybe slowing down his body is helpful to him in the short term.” I’d like to again point out that any interruption in momentum to me is detrimental, especially with a pitcher that has Hernandez’s arm speed. Basically, the less “body” you use to throw, the more “arm” you have to use.

Will explained that he was a little skeptical of the article’s assertion that the reason that Hernandez was struggling was that he was being too quick and “rushing through the balance point.” Naturally, so was I. I decided to take a look with as open a mind as I could. Here are six clips, synchronized to release. There’s 2 pitches apiece from his 2 dominant starts earlier this year(4/2 and 4/11) vs his latest start on 6/15. They are all fastballs except for pitch #3, which is a curveball. All the pitches were from the windup and I started these clips at around 3 or 4 frames before reaching the top of his knee lift.

Disclaimer: This was a quick look. I know that one of the clips (#2) has a dropped frame. Not a big deal….

Was Chaves right in saying that Felix was rushing?

They look pretty similar, don’t they? In frame 11, you may notice that on pitch #3 (the curveball), his tempo is slower. You can tell because his left leg is slightly lower, indicating that he has less ground to cover than the others.

Ok, so maybe the speed of his whole motion slowed down, right? Nope….

You could make the argument that pitch #3 (on 6/15) has a 1 frame head start because his left heel is already up off the ground. The other two have their left heels on the ground. Even with that slight advantage, Hernandez early in the year “beats” his June 15th counterpart to release. In other words, I could argue that he’s “rushing” more early in the year.

You’ll have to trust me when I say that I didn’t go through any kind of exhaustive search for clips. I thought it was evident right away.

In short, I’m not sure what video the Mariners were watching when they came to the conclusion that Hernandez was rushing. The fact that I was able to quickly find clips that support the opposite position make me question what it is that they are looking at. Granted, they may have studied much more film that I have for this study. That said, I do have one more request…

Dear Mariners’ organization,

Please don’t slow King Felix down. I understand that not every pitcher is able to implement the quick tempo that I advocate. If anything though, please try to speed him up. Also, please don’t mention the term “balance point” ever again to him. I’d like to watch him pitch for as long as possible.
Sincerely,
      Carlos, aka ChadBradfordWannabe

 

ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: June 22, 2007 at 04:20 AM | 23 comment(s)
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   1. ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: June 22, 2007 at 05:32 AM (#2412715)
As always, questions/comments and job offers by MLB clubs are always welcome.

On a separate note, I'd also like to ask the community for feedback regarding the voice analysis I did on the part 2 of the draft analysis where I compared Kozma's swing to LaPorta's swing. I'd like to do more of the voice videos, but only if the you the audience likes them.

Kozma-LaPorta comp
   2. North Side Chicago Expatriate Giants Fan Posted: June 22, 2007 at 06:47 AM (#2412729)
Carlos, I like the information you convey through text or voice, but the voice analyses have a major advantage in that we don't have to look at the video, look back at the text, look at the video again.... It is nice to be able to concentrate on the video the whole time while listening to your analysis.

Also, it might be nice to have a primer of sorts explaining your ideas about pitching mechanics with good and bad examples. I have a pretty good sense of your thoughts from having read your pieces here and at THT, but newer readers could probably use a bit more explanation. That is, unless you want to keep some information for the paying customers ;)

Awesome stuff as always.
   3. BeanoCook Posted: June 22, 2007 at 06:51 AM (#2412731)
I don't think you are looking at this correctly. First, let's review the comment....

"We want maybe a little bit of hesitation at the balance point instead of rushing through it," Chaves said. "Get to the balance point, spend a little bit of time in it, then explode from there."
----

"Balance point" is the key here.

Your video starts AFTER Felix has already reached the balance point, thus it tells us nothing about him rushing through the balance point of whether or not he is failing to hesitate at the balance point. We need to see several frames before the balance point of the "dominant" starts and the "poor" starts before we can even determine if there is something here.
   4. BeanoCook Posted: June 22, 2007 at 06:54 AM (#2412732)
Also, I don't think slow mo is the best way to determine whether or not a guy is pausing. A frame by frame look in slow mo can make light appear to pause.

FYI: I like the voice/video.
   5. Human Papelbon Virus Posted: June 22, 2007 at 12:42 PM (#2412800)
Your video starts AFTER Felix has already reached the balance point, thus it tells us nothing about him rushing through the balance point of whether or not he is failing to hesitate at the balance point. We need to see several frames before the balance point of the "dominant" starts and the "poor" starts before we can even determine if there is something here.



The last three clips show him moving through the balance point. And it's pretty clear that he's quicker to the plate in the first two clips. Although I don't see much difference in the amount of time spent at the balance point, it looks like he is quicker with his arm action earlier in the year.
   6. JoeHova Posted: June 22, 2007 at 02:15 PM (#2412856)
As a Brewer fan, I really like the video. ;)
   7. JoeHova Posted: June 22, 2007 at 02:19 PM (#2412859)
Also, whose swing do you like more, LaPorta's or Mills'? It seems like most people preferred Mills before the draft, was that because of defense (which the Brewers clearly are not emphasizing with their recent picks) or does he project to hit better than LaPorta? I'm curious how they compare because they seem to be the top 2 college hitters in the draft.
   8. ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: June 22, 2007 at 02:48 PM (#2412899)
Your video starts AFTER Felix has already reached the balance point

The video starts 3 or 4 frames before the top of the knee lift. Generally speaking, "top of knee lift" is considered the "balance point."


Also, whose swing do you like more, LaPorta's or Mills'?

Tough question. If I had to go based on swing alone, I would take LaPorta. However, Mills is a lefty and apparently does other things better than LaPorta.
   9. Scoriano Flitcraft Posted: June 22, 2007 at 05:00 PM (#2412991)
I am confused (easily, but still). Didn't the scare regarding his arm come following the dominant starts. Wouldn't you look at them both to see why he may have been successful and what if anything he might have been doing to stress his arm? Or even better look at his next start where the twinge was felt?

I guess I don't really know if they are supposed to be looking for what makes him excel and/or if there is anything that might better protect him in the long run.
   10. BeanoCook Posted: June 22, 2007 at 07:19 PM (#2413103)
Your video starts AFTER Felix has already reached the balance point

The video starts 3 or 4 frames before the top of the knee lift. Generally speaking, "top of knee lift" is considered the "balance point."
--------------------------------------------------------
I was only focused on the top line of videos; I missed the bottom set of 3 that showed his entire motion. The top set did join the action too late to make the observation that needed to be made. As Felix was already at the balance point and the point the pitching coach was making was that Felix rushed thru the motion at this point.

After watching the bottom set of videos, it is clear that the pitching coach was correct. Felix was clearly rushing through his motion. I do think rushing is a problem. I would have to disagree with your analysis, in that suggesting Felix slow down or "hesitate a bit" is somehow a bad thing. Clearly Felix was flying open early in the season, and this will lead to decreased durability. He looks more compact in the 3rd video; this will help him stay healthy longer.

Chaves has done a good job here. I know this is contrary to baseball blog etiquette, complimenting Seattle for anything related to pitching, here they are right.

I think the real issue is simply use of language. Nobody suggested "interrupting" or stopping his momentum. I think everyone would agree that is a bad decision. Chaves used the word hesitate and this word has a different meaning than interruption does. Hesitate means hold back, as in Felix should hold back his explosion until he reaches a certain point in his motion. In other words, control your motion, don't explode too early.

This is what Chaves said...

"We want maybe a little bit of hesitation at the balance point instead of rushing through it," Chaves said. "Get to the balance point, spend a little bit of time in it, then explode from there."
   11. Human Papelbon Virus Posted: June 22, 2007 at 07:42 PM (#2413133)
Clearly Felix was flying open early in the season, and this will lead to decreased durability. He looks more compact in the 3rd video; this will help him stay healthy longer.


I think the real issue is simply use of language.


This isn't as much an issue of language as one of philosophy. Carlos clearly states his opinion that "...any interruption in momentum to me is detrimental, especially with a pitcher that has Hernandez's arm speed. Basically, the less "body" you use to throw, the more "arm" you have to use."

Wasn't Hernandez's early injury related to forearm stiffness? Is there any evidence that "rushing" (i.e., not pausing at the top) is a risk factor for this type of injury?

As I pointed out previously, he certainly seems to take his arm through the deliver much more rapidly early in the season when he was having the most success. Now his arm seems to lag behind a little. My unsophisticated eyes do not see him "flying open" in these clips.
   12. BeanoCook Posted: June 22, 2007 at 08:13 PM (#2413153)
Again, language.

"pausing" and hesitation are not the same. Chaves never said he wanted a slow down or "pause", he is concerned about when the explosion point occurs. He wants steady, steady, steady momentum and then explosion after a steady carry through the balance point. He never suggested a "pause" or "interruption" of momentum.
   13. Human Papelbon Virus Posted: June 22, 2007 at 08:28 PM (#2413162)
Not to be pedantic, but...
(from m-w.com)

Main Entry: hes·i·tate
2 : to delay momentarily : PAUSE

Chaves advocated for "hesitation." Whatever you call it, it's a slight interruption in his fluid momentum, which is counter to CBW's philosophy. It may or not be the correct way to teach mechanics, but it reflects a difference in philosophy more than anything.
   14. BeanoCook Posted: June 22, 2007 at 08:58 PM (#2413173)
Yes, that is Definition #2. But what is Definition #1?

It is to Hold Back. Why did you leave that out? Did you really think I wouldn't look it up? Show both. But to discover that you selected the secondary definition and omitted the primary, this proves my point.

Both you and Carlos are making an effort to take the comments of Chaves in a certain way, which is not clear he is advocating. The fact that Carlos has video up that fails to show the speed of the start of the wind-up and delivery, proves that he didn't understand what Chaves or the Mariners were talking about. Let's look at the comments again.
---
"We want maybe a little bit of hesitation at the balance point instead of rushing through it," Chaves said. "Get to the balance point, spend a little bit of time in it, and then explode from there."
---
Clearly the use of the word hesitation was not meant as a synonym to pause or interrupt. Why can I say this? Because the next sentence adds context. "Get to the balance point, spend a little bit of time in it, and then explode from there."

Chaves is concerned with Felix rushing. He is concerned Felix stay collected, gather himself and explode at a particular moment, this moment being after Felix passes through the balance point in a less rushed, more collected manner.

Nothing about pausing and then starting again.

Sure it is cool to rip the Mariners and it also is something of a trend to advocate against a slow, deliberate delivery, but in this instance, the Mariners are not saying Felix should pause. They are telling him not to rush. If Chaves could explain himself some more, I bet he would have chosen different words as to not throw gas on the fire that everyone in this domain is more than willing roast their dogs over .

And yes, I do know how to spell interrupt correctly. My bad.
   15. ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: June 22, 2007 at 10:51 PM (#2413245)
Hi Beano, under no circumstance do I want everyone to agree to what I'm trying to point out. So I honestly want as much feedback as possible, even that which is contrary to the point I'm trying to prove. I ask you to please speak your mind. First amendment rules apply to my blog, I'm not offended....

The part of Chaves' comment which I find downright objectionable is the "spend a little bit of time in it" part in his quote. For years, pitching coaches have assumed that corrections to pitches being left up in the zone are a cause of "rushing through th balance point." I personally detest the term "balance point," because a pitcher should never get to a point where he stops, hesitates, or pauses at the "balance point." Any and all language that involves slowing down through that point is detrimental.

In the article, Chaves said they watched video earlier in the year compared to later in the year. He's implying that he wants Felix to do what he was doing earlier in the year, which is contrary to what the video on 6/15 shows. If anything, Felix was "rushing through the balance point" more earlier in the year. And that's my point, I WANT him to rush through that point, no "hesitation" or loss of momentum through that point.

My BIG issue with Chaves' quote comes down to this:

You said this
"After watching the bottom set of videos, it is clear that the pitching coach was correct. Felix was clearly rushing through his motion. I do think rushing is a problem.

Ok, so you are correct there. Assuming that the first 2 clips are the ones you refer to him "rushing" through (he's quicker with his entire motion so that should be the clue), then why would Chaves want to get him back to when he was "rushing?"

Chaves comments read to me like this:

"I'd like to get Felix back to what he was doing earlier in the year, and I believe the cause of his recent struggles is that he's rushing, where before he was hesitating a bit at the balance point."

The problem is that the video certainly doesn't back that up. I believe they're VERY similar, but I could make the case that he was actually quicker and "rushing" more earlier in the year.

Answer this question and you may have me sold,

If he was "clearly correct," and Felix WAS rushing in the 6/15 clip, why did the April versions of Felix beat the June version of Felix to release?
   16. BeanoCook Posted: June 22, 2007 at 11:44 PM (#2413336)
It must have been late when I initially read the article. Let me clear up one misunderstanding.

I think that Felix is "clearly" and "rushing" in the April starts/video. It was so obvious, that I was unable, with my pea brain to process why on earth the pitching coach was thinking that Felix was rushing, IN JUNE, when it is clear Felix was rushing in April, from the video. Thus, I assumed that in some way, they had already gotten to Felix, made him reduce his pace and had already imparted this to him for his 6-15 start.

After realizing the Mariners think Felix was slower then, as opposed to now, they are crazy and I need to not post after 2 am.
   17. _Kirk_ Posted: June 25, 2007 at 09:47 PM (#2416987)
When I read that article I was skeptical about Felix "rushing" being the problem, so thanks for pointing out that it's a load of hogwash.

A bigger issue (and you can see it in your clips) is that Felix seems to have lowered his arm slot. This visual evidence corresponds with Enhanced Gameday data that shows the movement on his pitches is less than it was at the beginning of the season, and it may also be the reason his 2-seamer has "deserted" him (Felix's own admission) - with a lower arm slot his 2-seamer has more lateral break instead of horizontal break, and he may not be finishing his pitches as effectively as he was at the start of the season (thus putting less spin on the ball).

I'd recommend checking out this analysis of Felix from the excellent Jeff Sullivan at the M's blog Lookout Landing:

http://www.lookoutlanding.com/story/2007/6/22/42124/1515

Seems like Felix is either still hurting some, or he's afraid of re-injuring himself and he's lowered his arm a bit and isn't putting as much finish on his pitches. Any comments on this Carlos?
   18. ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: June 26, 2007 at 12:58 AM (#2417318)
I will check it out and get back to ya
   19. _Kirk_ Posted: June 26, 2007 at 07:53 AM (#2418138)
Awesome - thanks Carlos.

FWIW, here's the link to the entry where Jeff showed the lower arm slot for Felix (couldn't locate it earlier...):

http://www.lookoutlanding.com/story/2007/6/22/193021/093#readmore
   20. ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: June 26, 2007 at 02:26 PM (#2418269)
Kirk--After looking (not too closely) at those 2 entries, he does have evidence to suggest that Felix is "lower." Generally speaking though, you get more lateral movement the lower you go. From a high 3/4 slot the ball has a different tilt than from a lower slot. I don't fully get the Pfx thing yet fully, but what you would want as Felix (if you're going for a 2-seam sinker) is more vertical break and later horizontal break.

BTW, it is not uncommon for a pitcher to have a higher slot for his curveball as he's trying to "get on top of it more." That said, ideally, you want both pitches in the same slot, for deception's sake. From a lower slot, I'd almost recommend him to be a 2-seam/slider guy.
   21. Cris E Posted: June 27, 2007 at 01:33 PM (#2419530)
Sometimes a coach has to resort to a bit of theater to get around a guy's head. That is, make a big show of "finding something", talk through the mechanics for the hundredth time, but then take the extra step of telling everyone you've found it and send the kid out there with his new motion to see how it goes. What are the chances this is just a confidence thing for Young Felix's benefit? GMs and managers have been lying to the press for years for one reason or another, so how come pitching coaches are suddenly held to a higher standard than most grand juries?
   22. ChadBradfordWannabe Posted: June 27, 2007 at 01:58 PM (#2419559)
talk through the mechanics for the hundredth time, but then take the extra step of telling everyone you've found it and send the kid out there with his new motion to see how it goes. What are the chances this is just a confidence thing for Young Felix's benefit?

Excellent, excellent point. Unfortunately, there's some of us out there that can call him out on his B.S.
   23. baseball19 Posted: February 03, 2008 at 11:21 PM (#2682901)
In my opinion his tempo looks the same in all 3. I think in the bottom comparison you can see him straightening his arm out on the video on the far right. The other 2 seem to have a bit of bend which I think puts less stress on him and is the reason he is a bit quicker.

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