My Thoughts: Adam Wainwright

02/24/2011 1:53 PM -  Craig Davis

So Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright is done for the year… another candidate for Tommy John surgery. Enough is enough. I am sick and tired of seeing these talented pitchers having to go under the knife because these “professional pitching coaches” get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to give bad advice.

In my opinion, pitching coaches today are simply going through the motions. They are taking useless information they learned in the past and using it on their current pitching staff. If this continues to go on, generation after generation, we’re going to see a rise in the number of Tommy John surgeries as more and more pitchers are being taught mechanics that defy what science teaches us.

Unlike a lot of these math geeks out there that call themselves “fantasy baseball experts”, I use my own two eyes to be able to tell me if a player has a hitch in his swing or a pitcher has changed his mechanics for better or worse.

I could care less what some guy’s “Dom” is… or his “xERA”. These numbers were generated by math guys who wanted to apply their big brains and number crunching skills to fantasy baseball. I would venture to guess 90% of “fantasy baseball experts” never set foot on a diamond… and if they did, it was a few years in little league only.

While others can tell you how to compute what a player’s batting average would be if he played all 162 games at Citizen’s Bank Ballpark, I can tell you what is likely causing a hitter to hit so many ground balls instead of fly balls and line drives. I can tell you why a pitcher is leaving the ball high or struggling to hit spots.

Honestly, you tell me what’s more important.

Every year some hotshot comes up with a new statistic based on taking a number and dividing it by another number, then multiplying it by the number of games in which a player wore one batting glove as opposed to both batting gloves… and if I promote it well enough, it might catch on.

Then the fantasy baseball nation will follow like a herd of blind sheep, believing that this stat is going to help them draft a better offensive team. Sorry, I’m not buying it. I’m not a believer and, quite frankly, I don’t have time to concoct a new statistic… but mark my words, someone will have a new stat before the year is out.

What I want to do is tell you what I found when breaking down Wainwright’s pitching mechanics from 2007… and one major change I saw in his mechanics last year… a mechanical flaw that caused him to be shut down at the end of the 2010 season, forcing him to miss his last two starts. A mechanical flaw that likely put an end to his 2011 campaign before it ever started.

Let’s examine.

Below is a video I found from Wainwright’s 2007 season. It’s tough to slow down the video enough to analyze it thoroughly, but if you pause the video shortly after hand break, I want you to notice the position of his pitching elbow. As his pitching hand and glove hand break apart and he swings the ball down, back and up, I want you to pay specific attention to the height of his back elbow.

If you were able to pause the video at the right moment (right around 0:21 seconds was the best frame I saw), you’d see that Wainwright’s back elbow never gets above his shoulder, AND, he’s getting the ball back away from his body… not hanging down by his hip. This allowed him to get his lower body in position to deliver the arm and NOT vice versa.

So many pitching coaches today are teaching these pitchers to get their pitching arm (and elbow) into position way to fast. It’s causing pitchers to rush their delivery, getting the arm into the “ready” position before the lower body has a chance to finish what it’s supposed to be doing. These sloppy mechanics are creating elbow and shoulder drag, which puts extra, unnecessary pressure in places it should never be.

Remember Mark Prior? Everyone thought this guy was going to be the next Roger Clemens… though his mechanics were nothing like the Rocket’s. Prior displayed what we like to call an “inverted W” or simply the “M”. This is when the two elbow come above the height of the shoulder soon after hand break. Here are some photo examples of what I’m talking about below:

As you can see from these four examples, this is what’s known in baseball pitching circles as the “inverted W”. Pitching coaches have been arguing for years whether or not this puts any undue pressure on the shoulder and elbow. I’m of the thought that it ABSOLUTELY DOES… and if you know these four pitchers (and several others), you know they’ve each had Tommy John surgery and missed extended time in the Majors.

This is the road Adam Wainwright just went down. If only someone would have video taped his mechanics from 2007 and compared them to last year… this NEVER would have happened.

Now check out these still frames of pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Mariano Rivera, and Roger Clemens. These guys had very few injuries over their careers and NONE of them ever had to endure Tommy John surgery.

And now… the subject of my article today: Adam Wainwright. Here is a slow motion version of Wainwright’s delivery in 2010, courtesy of ChrisOleary.com. I want you to watch his pitching elbow… watch how high above his backside shoulder it gets. This is NOT good… and it’s absolutely the #1 factor in his placement on the season-ending DL.

So what now?

Well, for starters, someone should be held accountable for Wainwright’s injury. Someone changed his mechanics from what he was doing in 2007 to what he was doing in 2010. I’m not sure if it was Dave Duncan or someone else, but someone messed with a good thing. Now Wainwright must suffer the fate of all the other pitchers that have undergone this surgery… and miss the entire season and possibly part of the next one.

So where do the Cardinals go from here?

For starters, Wainwright will seek a second medical opinion, but the writing is clearly on the wall. He’s obviously got a major injury and won’t be able to pitch this year.

The search for a replacement has already begun. Some say the Cardinals have already begun to search for a replacement outside the organization. Others have said they’ll stay in-house. If they were to stay in house for that fifth starter, these are the likely candidates.

Miguel Batista (RHP) — Signed to a minor league contract in January. Posted a 3.70 ERA in 2010 with the Washington Nationals.

Ian Snell (RHP) — Signed to a minor league contract in January. Posted a 6.41 ERA in 2010 for the Seattle Mariners. His best season was 2007 in Pittsburgh… a 3.76 ERA.

Kyle McClellan (RHP) — He’s been a bullpen mainstay in St. Louis for years, though he hasn’t been a starter since 2005. Posted a 3.23 ERA in 202 appearances over the last three years, including last year’s 2.27 ERA. Right now he appears to be the favorite.

Lance Lynn (RHP) — Still in the minors, but one of two rookies who actually have a chance to break into the majors this year. Posted a 4.74 ERA in Triple-A last year.

P.J. Walters (RHP) — This 25-year-old had a few stints in the majors, but neither was productive. He did, however, pitch for Wainwright last year vs. Pittsburgh in September. Solid outing: seven shutout innings, allowing five hits and two walks.


Comments

  1. Jeremy Tiermini says:

    I absolutely agree with you. As an athletic trainer I am always looking at our pitchers to evaluate their mechanics, especially as they get ready to increase their workload. The additional factor that contributed to his injury is the number of curveballs thrown, with the curveball adding extra stress to the elbow. In one draft I had, for a dynasty league, I had the chance to draft both Wainwright and Strasburg…I passed on both of them. Strasburg is another one that has the same “inverted W” and his rehab should absolutely work on correcting that flaw.

  2. Craig Davis says:

    Thanks Jeremy. I’ve been so busy with the football site that I haven’t had much of a chance to comment on baseball, but I took a few hours this morning to put this together.

    I coach a 13U travel team and another 10U team, and these boys believe they need to throw a curve ball to be effective. This is what hurt me back in the day. My coaches didn’t know any better, and I was throwing hooks by age 12. It killed my velocity and forced me into early retirement after college.

    I wish more people believed in the negative power a curve ball can create, especially at a young age.

    Keep up the good work.

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