Washington Post Interviews Dick On Stephen Strasburg

Coach Mills on September 2, 2010 | 7 comments so far - add yours!

Below is a Washington Post article about Stephen Strasburg that I was interviewed for before he had his elbow injury.

Keep in mind that he was put on the disabled list for shoulder problems, not elbow discomfort.

Most of us who were a bit concerned about his arm action thought his problem would be with his shoulder not his elbow.

I don’t believe there is anything in the scientific literature about how excessive horizontal shoulder abduction, where the elbows are pulled behind the line of the trunk just before landing and trunk rotation, could lead to elbow problems. I personally had checked with two experts and both said his horizontal shoulder abduction was not out of the norm for most pitchers.

So we have to wonder was it something else that he was doing or was not doing in terms of elbow and shoulder strengthening.

Is there a chance it was not his mechanics?

If he was not doing the correct forearm strengthening for his elbow or was doing something to excess where the surrounding connective tissue got tight or was stressed, then that would be something for him and the Nationals to consider as he returns to throwing.

It’s easy to look back in hindsight after an injury and make judgments.

What is most important is what we learned that we can pass on to other pitchers so it does not happen to them.

However, I would think that with high speed video available and good expert biomechanists, kinesiologists and pitching instructors that MLB teams would consider getting all of their pitchers analyzed as well as their overall practice and conditioning routines.

That could save them millions in the long run and probably help pitchers improve their overall performance.


Stephen Strasburg Returns, And The Nationals Hold Their Breath:
Washington Nationals pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg lives up to the hype Tuesday night by setting a team record with 14 strikeouts in a victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 9, 2010; 11:23 PM

On Tuesday night, barring another last-minute twist, Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg will restart his magnificent rookie season. He will walk from the bullpen to the dugout, camera lights flashing. “Seven-Nation Army” will blare on the Nationals Park loudspeakers. The Florida Marlins leadoff hitter will dig into the box, the unmistakable buzz Strasburg brings hovering over everything. He will be back.

And then Strasburg will reach his arm back, step forward and hurl his first pitch, an act that once brought only joy and now provides at least a speck of angst.

“He may throw like that for 20 years,” Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “He may have a problem. I don’t know.”

Each of Strasburg’s actions comes under harsh scrutiny, and his trip to the disabled list because of shoulder inflammation only intensified the glare on the most essential piece of his star: his pitching mechanics. Strasburg’s first stint on the DL also forced the Nationals to face a difficult question: Is Strasburg doing something that has the potential to cause a long-term injury?

One major league pitching coach watched his delivery and spotted a similarity to one of baseball’s most infamous flameouts. One expert studied Strasburg’s motion with four sports scientists and concluded he faced relatively small risk. One major league team doctor called Strasburg’s bout with inflammation “a red flag.”

The only certainty is that Strasburg’s first health scare as a professional provided the Nationals an unsettling reminder that their most valuable player relies on the most violent, unpredictable act in sports.

“What are perfect mechanics?” McCatty said. “I don’t know what they are. It’s an unnatural motion for your arm. I think time will tell. I can’t take Strasburg and say, ‘You’ve got to get this move down.’ That’s just how I feel. Everybody’s mechanics are a little bit different.”

As Strasburg neared his return, the Nationals played down the severity of his ailment. (“I hesitate to even call it an injury,” Manager Jim Riggleman said.) Strasburg said the soreness in his shoulder disappeared two days after he was unable to make his start.

Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams called Strasburg’s ailment a “100-inning tired arm” that is “typical” of most players in their first year out of college. The only thing atypical, Williams said, is Strasburg’s circumstances: Rather than anonymously being shut down for a week in the minors like dozens of first-year hurlers, his scratched start and subsequent recovery was covered exhaustively.

“You’ll see a strong Strasburg come out in his next start,” Williams said. “He’ll pitch as good or better as he did before he felt this.”

But if Strasburg experiences the inflammation again, it would be cause for alarm. Strasburg also fought inflammation once in college, and if it surfaces again, it would lend credence to the possibility that his soreness lies in his motion.

“The real concern is what I call an upside-down arm action,” White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said on MLB Network Radio on SIRIUS XM after Strasburg went on the disabled list. “I am not wishing this guy bad, but for him to be having problems right now when they are really, really watching him, what are they going to see when they are trying to get 220 innings from him? He does something with his arm action that is difficult, in my mind, to pitch a whole lot of innings on.”

Cooper told the radio show that Strasburg’s arm action reminded him of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, two young flame-throwers whose arms blew out after overwhelming career starts. After Cooper made the comments, McCatty contacted Cooper and chatted about Strasburg’s delivery.

During the Nationals’ latest road trip, McCatty held court in the clubhouse on the subject of Strasburg’s long-term health. McCatty’s conclusions: He is aware of the conversation about Strasburg’s arm motion. He doesn’t necessarily think Cooper is wrong. And he’s not changing Strasburg.

“He’s throwing 100 miles an hour; he’s got a great curveball and a great change-up,” McCatty said. ” ‘Sorry, Stephen. Just in case you may get hurt, we’re going to change you.’ Now, there’s certain things everybody could do different. I wish I was smart enough to say that.”

At one point, McCatty explained the motion Cooper was talking about. “I know the arm up, one up, one down. I haven’t seen Prior a whole lot, but I know he was like that.”

As McCatty spoke, Strasburg walked behind McCatty and overheard the topic of conversation. He glanced back at his pitching coach.

“Don’t listen to that” nonsense, Strasburg said.

At least one expert would concur with Strasburg. Dick Mills is a former Boston Red Sox starting pitcher who writes books and produces videos about proper pitching mechanics.

Mills relies heavily on sports science and extensive video analysis. The first time he watched Strasburg throw, he worried.

But “instead of shooting my mouth off,” Mills said, he consulted two kinesiologists and two biomechanists who were not familiar with Strasburg. (One of the kinesiologists was Australian.) The first and most potentially damaging thing Adams examined was Strasburg’s abduction, the position of his arm as he pulls it away from his body. If a pitcher raises his elbow above his shoulder, Mills said, it is a certain sign injury awaits. Prior’s abduction sent his elbow well above his shoulder. During his delivery, Strasburg keeps his elbow below the shoulder.

“I don’t see any relationship at all between him and Mark Prior,” Mills said. “You could see something was going to happen there pretty quick.”

The experts Mills worked with concentrated on one crucial part of a pitcher’s delivery. For Strasburg to throw 100 mph, his arm moves so fast it would rotate 360 degrees 20 times in one second.

The point at which a pitcher starts to bring his arm forward is called the maximum external rotation. Because of the force created by a pitcher throwing 100 mph, the position of his arm at maximum external rotation is critical.

“When that arm lays back, better be in a good position,” Mills said. “The kinesiologists, the biomechanists, they said, ‘You know what? I wouldn’t worry too much about him. I don’t know how he would go ahead and stress anything.'”

The Nationals have taken extreme care with Strasburg. They also know, beyond choosing caution at every turn, there is little they can do but watch and hope.

Last week in the Nationals’ clubhouse, a few minutes after Strasburg had walked by, McCatty again wondered aloud how long Strasburg’s right arm will allow him to pitch. He shrugged. McCatty pointed toward the ceiling, keeping his elbow below his shoulder, and said, “That guy up there knows.”

7 comments on “Washington Post Interviews Dick On Stephen Strasburg”

  1. Richard Bender says:

    This year (2010), in May, I saw Strasburg pitch against the Mets from a box seat just behind the Nat’s dugout. While there, I took extensive videos of Strasburg’s motion and later studied the sequences, overall and a frame at a time. The next day, during a staff meeting, I mentioned that Strasburg would experience a sore arm before the season’s end because of irregularities I saw in his mechanics.

    I am currently a baseball coach at a local school, have played minor league baseball and have been coaching in the USA and Europe for more than 40 years. I am amazed that none of Strasburg’s coaches has picked up on his faults over the years. Perhaps their eyes just glazed over at his velocity.

  2. Derek Pacifico says:

    Strasburg will receive the best rehabilitation possible I would think. He is quite the investment and if he recovers well, and being young and modern medicine he likely will, he will learn a less stressful form of pitching as well as the notion that he doesn’t need to throw trip digits every time.

  3. Don Courtney says:

    Congrads on your work to get science in the equation here. Our hearts go out to the Mark Pryor’s and Strausburg’s of the baseball world who are getting sucked into short term gain. Keep up the good work.

    Don Courtney

  4. Joe Mason says:

    There is an article by Warner (2002) titled “Relationship between mechanics and elbow valgus in professional baseball pitchers”. It says abduction angle at foot strike and peak horizontal adduction angular velocity both strongly correlate with valgus torque in the pitching arm.

    1. Keith Manning says:

      Was the Warner article in a journal? Which one? Thanks.

  5. tim morell says:

    I believe that Strausburg’s injuries directly related to the Nationals “slowing him down.” It was back in spring training when they were talking about Strausburg needing to work on his delivery in the minors that I first heard this reason (it was stated that they were sending him down in order to get him to slow down elements of his delivery).

    When I heard that I immediately contacted Dr. Brent Rushall, the author of Momentum Pitching who has been working with me and my son for the last 3 years. Dr. Rushall discussed with me that what would happen if Mr. Strausburg slowed down his momentum would be that extra strain would be put on his arm to achieve the same velocities he attained in college. We also discussed that it appeared that the Nationals were shortening Strausburg’s stride to approximately 86% of his body height. Both the followers of Momentum Pitching (such as Dick Mills at Pitching.com) and the National Pitching Association (with advisory board members such as Randy Johnson and Dr. James Andrews) advocate moving faster down the mound and a long stride– ala Nolan Ryan and Tim Lincecum.

    I can’t help but note that last year’s number 1 draft choice for the Nationals also went down needing Tommy John surgery. I am sure that everyone out there will have an opinion as to the commonalities between Mr. Zimmerman (the pitcher) and Mr. Strausburg. I will voice only one– archaic and unscientific major league pitching instruction.

  6. Dan Gazaway says:

    I enjoyed watching Strasburg every time he pitched. I sure hope we haven’t seen the last of him and his rehab goes as planned.

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