Dr. Mike Marshall Training: Wrist Weights

April 27, 2009 • Training

This video is possibly the best example I've found of what Dr. Mike Marshall's arm action is supposed to look like. The catch is that the pitchers in the video aren't throwing baseballs. The pitchers are performing exercises from Dr. Marshall's wrist weights program.

4 of Dr. Marshall's students are shown here doing different things that include his wrong foot slingshot, wrong foot loaded slingshot, and pendulum swing wind-up drills.

One thing I've noticed repeatedly is that despite the straight-line acceleration of the heavy weights during these exercises, Dr. Marshall's students routinely demonstrate a dramatically different arm action when they throw baseballs.

The main difference is where the arm drives the baseball. In the weighted exercises (iron balls and wrist weights), his pitchers unquestionably apply force in a nearly straight line that results in extension that is simultaneously away from the pitcher's body and toward the target. When throwing a baseball, however, his pitchers apply a lot of upward force that results in extension that is away from the pitcher's body but toward the sky instead of the target.

[Added at 12:30 PM, Monday, April 27, 2009]

One of Dr. Marshall's pitchers from the video has emailed me and asked that I clarify the difference that  I see. In short, Dr. Marshall writes that the driveline height of the baseball should be just above the ear. This description perfectly fits with the driveline height for the weighted exercises. In the high-speed video I've seen of Dr. Marshall's pitchers, the driveline height for their baseball pitches results in a release point that is almost a full arm's length above the ear.

[/Added]

Some exercise specialists believe that the extremely heavy weights train the muscles to fight gravity. As the pitchers step up the weight increments, their muscles learn more and more to oppose gravity. Holding up a 20-pound wrist weight requires more than 60 times the force that is required to hold up a 5-ounce baseball, so when one of Dr. Marshall's pitchers performs his arm action with a baseball, his body and arm are accustomed to applying much greater upward force than is necessary.

This is one explanation for the upward extension. It makes perfect sense even to a layman, but I don't believe it accounts for all of the differences.

Dr. Marshall himself focuses on the principle of specificity of training - that a pitcher should learn/train to pitch baseballs by pitching baseballs - so his interval-training programs make baseball pitching a part of the daily routine.

So why then do his pitchers have a distinctly different arm action when throwing baseballs compared to when they "throw" heavy weights? Truthfully, I don't have that answer. It could be related to old muscle memory, or I may have misinterpreted Dr. Marshall's ideal arm action.

If you know the answer, I'd love to read it.


Texas Rangers Prospects: Michael Main and Kyle Ocampo

April 22, 2009 • Scouting

Michael Main. RHP, 6' 2", 170 lbs. The Texas Rangers selected Michael Main 24th overall in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft. An extremely athletic two-way player in high schol, Main was on several draft boards as an outfielder.

I became a Main fan well in advance of the draft and thought the Rangers missed their chance at him when they selected Blake Beavan with the 17th overall pick. I was thrilled that he was still on the board at #24, and I was ecstatic when they called his name.

Main has been impressive since being drafted, but at instructs this past fall, Rick Adair, in an interview with Mike Hindman, had the following to say:

He's throwing an extremely high percentage of major league-quality pitches right now. Michael just has the ability to take in coaching, information and come up with ideas. His makeup is tremendous. Mentally he's easily the most polished guy out of high school I've ever been around.

Coming into this season, Rangers fans were more excited than ever to have Main in the farm system.

Main might have the latest forearm turnover in the history of baseball. When his front foot finally plants, his elbow still hasn't reached driveline height, and he's in a borderline inverted L position. This is usually a flag for more serious elbow torque, but he appears to almost completely avoid the reverse forearm bounce pitfall.

Like Tae Kyung Ahn, Main lands with a lot of weight on his front leg, but what Main does differently is very important. Main keeps his hips and shoulders closed very well unlike Ahn, and he manages to keep his center of mass moving forward where Ahn's momentum was more dramatically slowed at landing.

You can see that Main pulls off the rubber fairly hard without dragging his foot. It's likely that he's pulling himself forward with his front leg and therefore creating more ground-reactive force for his pitch. A lot of pitchers push back to help their hip rotation, but Main's "pull" doesn't seem to negatively affect his hips. The lack of a foot drag definitely helps his back hip come forward freely.

Main's arm doesn't appear to be doing a whole lot of work. That's usually a good thing, but Main's arm does all of its work in a shorter period of time than just about every other pitcher on the planet because of his extremely late hand-break and ball pick-up. This leaves less room for error and can lead to timing issues that adversely affect command and velocity when the timing is just slightly off.

Main pronates into his release very well.

His initial arm deceleration is good, and he drives his shoulder all the way through release to help ease rotator cuff stress. His final follow-through is fairly average with a little bit of arm wrap but no major red flags.

Kyle Ocampo. RHP, 6' 3", 195 lbs. Another right-handed pitcher, Ocampo was also a member of the 2007 draft class. Taken in the 13th round, Ocampo was a raw pitching talent with some herky-jerky mechanics. He signed too late to play in 2007, and made his debut in the Arizona Rookie League as a 19-year-old in 2008: 52.0 IP, 47 H, 19 BB, 56 K, 3.29 ERA, 1.27 WHIP.

At instructs after the 2008 season, Jason Cole of LoneStarDugout.com posted an interview with Kyle Ocampo (subscription required). In the interview, Ocampo breaks down his pitching arsenal - 4-seam fastball, 2-seam fastball, curveball, slider, and change up - and discusses the adjustments he's making to become a better pitcher.

Ocampo has a very noticeable head jerk, but overall, his mechanics are much smoother and cleaner than when I previously saw him at spring training in 2008. He still has a lot of wasted back-and-forth movement. For example, he kicks his leg out, picks it up, and then tucks it back where it would have been if he'd just picked it straight up. Like most pitching coaches, I tend not to like wasted movement because it represents an unnecessary expense of energy.

As long as his command remains decent, the Rangers aren't likely to mess with his delivery too much.

Ocampo's leg drive is very energetic, but once he lands, his legs are done. His back leg sits there as dead weight while his front leg does nothing more than create a trunk pivot at his front hip.

He picks the ball up late and has a pretty late forearm turnover, but he, too, appears to avoid a significant reverse forearm bounce. Ocampo does this by picking his elbow up pretty steadily to his release point; this also helps limit forearm flyout and gives him a near-vertical forearm at release. (A vertical forearm allows a pitcher to throw a greater variety of pitches. From there, a pitcher can safely create back-spin, front-spin, side-spin in either direction, and anything in between.)

Ocampo doesn't appear to pronate into his release on either his fastball or his change up, though he clearly pronates after release.

His follow-through is fairly clean, but his forearm appears to slam into his front hip. This shows a lack of body control, but since his forearm takes the beating, it shouldn't lead to shoulder issues.

Ocampo is still a work in progress, so I expect continued refinement of his mechanics over time. He's got the stuff, and it's just a matter of keeping him healthy and of finding consistency and command of enough quality pitches to keep moving through the system.

Note: The last pitch in Ocampo's video is a change up. His mechanics look a little different to me when he throws it. I doubt that it's as obvious at full speed as it is in slow-motion.


Texas Rangers OF Nelson Cruz, PITCHf/x, and Plate Discipline

April 20, 2009 • Analysis

In limited action in 2008, Nelson Cruz finally started hitting Major League pitching to the tune of .330/.421/.609. Given the small sample size, people openly questioned whether he had actually turned the corner.

Through Friday, April 17, 2009, Cruz was off to a .282/.356/.718 start, more or less a continuation of his 2008 success. Using PITCHf/x data through the first 10 games of 2009 and some stats from Nelson Cruz's FanGraphs profile, here's a little plate discipline analysis to see if it supports his impressive start.

The black boxes in these charts are approximations of the actual strike zone. Based on average PITCHf/x data for Cruz's at-bats, the bottom of Cruz's strike zone is about 1.6 feet from the ground, and the top of his strike zone is about 3.4 feet from the ground. The left and right edges of the zone are approximated at 1 foot to either side of the plate based on half the plate's width (8.5 inches) plus some wiggle room for pitches that scrape the black (3.5 inches). (NOTE: All location graphs are from the catcher's perspective.)

The first chart shows us what Cruz has been swinging at by location and by pitch type.

Nelson Cruz Pitch Location for Swings

Based on this chart, Cruz has mostly been swinging at strikes. According to his O-Swing% at FanGraphs, only 20.2% of these pitches are outside of the strike zone. That is the lowest of his career. Since his 2006 Rangers debut, his O-Swing% has dropped every season - 29.4% in 2006, 26.5% in 2007, and 23.1% in 2008.

Notice that Cruz hasn't swung at many pitches near the bottom or near the outside edge of the zone. This has helped Cruz lay off of breaking pitches away. Through 10 games, Cruz had not swung at a single pitch off the outside edge of the plate.

The second chart shows us what Cruz hasn't been swinging at by location and by pitch type.

Nelson Cruz Pitch Locations for Takes

This chart fills in the obvious holes from his swings chart. There are a lot of pitches in the zone low and away that Cruz has not swung at. According to his Z-Swing%, Cruz has swung at 78.5% of pitches in the zone. Based on that stat, the chart doesn't exactly match up. It appears that he's been taking pitches in the zone more often than 21.5% of the time. This could be the result of the PITCHf/x strike zone not matching up with the zone being called by the umpires.

Without getting in too terribly deep, here's a quick look at the righty-lefty split broken down by location and pitch result. The small sample against lefties in the first 10 games doesn't give us much to look at, but the righties scatter plot is interesting.

Nelson Cruz Pitch Locations and Results (versus RHP)

Nelson Cruz Pitch Locations and Results (versus LHP)

The PITCHf/x strike zones for Cruz appears to be pretty accurate. Keep in mind that some of the strikes outside of the zone were swung at.

Let's look at Cruz's Z-Swing% again. My rough count based on my unofficial strike zone suggests a 61:23 ratio or a 72.6% Z-Swing%, which would still be a career high for him. From 2006 through 2008, Cruz's Z-Swing was very steadily between 70% and 71%.

This year, he's swinging at strikes more often, but he's also swinging at fewer pitches overall - 46.8% in 2009 versus 50.8% in 2006, 49.6% in 2007, and 47.1% in 2008.

April 19, 2009 Update: Cruz has reached base safely in all 12 games this season on 13 hits and 7 walks against only 10 strike outs. He is now hitting .289/.377/.667.

The numbers and charts say he's being more selective than ever. This can only be good news for Cruz, the Texas Rangers, and their fans. I believe that Nelson Cruz has finally arrived.

Some other observations:

  • Very few pitches have been thrown low and in to Cruz. I wonder if his AAA scouting report says to stay away from that quadrant.

  • Righties stand a good chance of getting Cruz to put the ball in play by throwing him up and in.

  • Cruz's first-pitch strike percentages by year: 62.3% in 2006, 63.4% in 2007, 52.6% in 2008, 51.0% in 2009. It's a small sample size and might not mean anything anyway, but it is interesting.

  • One step further, Cruz is seeing fewer strikes than ever: 52.5% in 2006, 52.4% in 2007, 50.2% in 2008, and 45.7% in 2009. Combined with the stat above, I'm pretty sure this means something.

  • One concern: what happens when opposing pitchers start hammering that outside corner?


Dr. Mike Marshall on MLB Network

April 18, 2009 • Training

This aired back on March 25, 2009. The link below will take you to a 7-minute segment from MLB Tonight which airs on MLB Network. In this clip, Harold Reynolds is joined by Dr. Mike Marshall and his left-handed student Joe Williams.

With only 7 minutes in which to work, Dr. Marshall has to skim over a lot of things, but he sums up his arm action very succinctly. He briefly explains the muscles that are involved in his arm action and mentions how pronation helps protect the elbow.

Dr. Marshall also has Joe demonstrate a couple of drills. Pay special attention to the second base pick-off drill. It's a drill he has mentioned in the past when talking about re-training traditional pitchers to correct the flaw of horizontal shoulder flexion.

With the football drill, Dr. Marshall and Joe show Harold how to throw a pronated curveball. The video isn't the best, but if you look closely and use some imagination, you can see the ball spinning forward instead of backward.

MLB Network: Dr. Marshall talks pitching
[Update 2019: Link no longer works after MLB.com made changes to their video library.]

Post questions and comments here, and I will do my best to address them.


Texas Rangers Prospects: Neftali Feliz and Tae Kyung Ahn

April 15, 2009 • Scouting

Neftali Feliz. 6' 3", 180 lbs; Born: May 2, 1988. Feliz is already famous for the ease with which he tosses up 100 mph fastballs. He's gone as high as 102 mph, and I've personally seen him hit 101 mph several times. He sits comfortably in the 95-98 mph range and routinely goes higher than that. The velocity is accompanied by significant arm side run and occasionaly sink.

Robbed from Atlanta in the July 2007 Mark Teixeira trade, Feliz isn't just a one trick pony. His curveball has very serious potential. In 2008, he struggled with a consistent release, often throwing his curveball at a different arm angle than his fastball. When it's on, the pitch is easily a plus.

Feliz also throws a change up that can be anywhere from 79 to 85 mph. The pitch strikes me as an average offering that plays up a little bit because of the sheer velocity of his fastball.

Feliz uses his legs very well to generate hip rotation. His stride is very controlled which allows him to maintain his balance through the delivery. Feliz's spine remains upright, and he keeps his shoulders closed very well. Feliz simultaneously flexes his trunk forward and rotates his shoulders. This generates serious velocity at his pitching shoulder.

He brings his elbow pretty far behind his back, but by the time his shoulders start to turn, it appears to be back in line with his shoulders. Feliz's forearm isn't quite vertical when his shoulders start to turn, so there's some late forearm turnover and a reverse forearm bounce. His layback phase seems to have a lot of torque, so I will be interested to see how Feliz's elbow holds up with higher pitch counts and more innings.

Feliz's low 3/4 arm slot results in a large lateral component in his arm acceleration which causes forearm flyout. This flaw tends to be more of a performance flaw than a health flaw, but in Feliz's case, his performance doesn't seem to suffer. The associated health risks are strongly mitigated by pronation. At this angle and at 210 frames per second, it's almost impossible to tell if Feliz pronates on his fastball. He appears to pronate well, even if accidentally, on both his curveball and his change up.

I really like his follow-through. Feliz has a high and controlled finish. His arm doesn't fly across his chest and his back muscles, particularly his latissimus dorsi, do a very large majority of the work in decelerating his arm.

Tae Kyung Ahn. Ahn was signed as a free agent out of South Korea in 2008. He was the first major acquisition from the Pacific Rim after bringing Pacific Rim specialist Jim Colborn into the front office. Ahn was a big prospect as a junior in high school, but had a so-so senior season that caused a lot of teams to back off. The Rangers were not one of them.

Ahn was throwing at least 3 pitches when I saw him. He didn't really have command of any of them. Ahn's fastball seemed like it hit every radar reading between 83 and 92 mph. I didn't see an actual radar gun, but on his fastball, neither velocity nor location was very predictable.

In the video, you can see him throw a few change ups. At times, the pitch was a little firm and may have contributed to the seemingly wide range of fastball velocities. His breaking ball looked like it was probably a slider.

He looked extremely raw, but he's young and definitely has some pretty good upside - even if this report isn't exactly glowing.

One of Ahn's idols growing up had to be fellow South Korean right-handed pitcher Chan Ho Park. If you're familiar with Park's mechanics, it's hard not to see similarities.

Ahn seems to land too heavily on his front leg. His weight is so far forward when he lands that he has no room left for weight transfer. His shoulders turn open and his arm action begins before his front foot lands. Try pausing the video right as his foot contacts the ground; notice the position of his arm and shoulders.

It's hard to really see his arm action from this angle, but it appears as tough he completely avoids reverse forearm bounce despite an extremely late forearm turnover. His release looks clean, but his follow-through looks a little abrupt at the very end.