Why Are Awkward Deliveries So Rare in MLB?

After watching the 2011 film “Moneyball,” I had a very interest conversation with my a colleague concerning a series of comments made within the movie about Chad Bradford’s delivery.

In the film, a nameless Oakland Athletics scout makes a series of unfavorable comments about how awkward Bradford looked when making his delivery from the mound.

My colleague asked somewhat sarcastically, “What was wrong with his delivery?”  I thought for a few seconds… and then realized I didn’t have a good answer.

I first tried to explain how he has a “submarine” effect to his throwing motion, and how that is different from a more traditional over the shoulder arm motion that is prevalent in professional baseball. But, going back to the original question, I have to ask, why is that such a bad thing?

We certainly make a few assumptions, the most dominant of which would have to surround the concept that the consistency of pitcher’s mechanics are vital to their success.

Now, considering how genuinely unique an unorthodox delivery style is to each pitcher, it is safe to reason that a standard pitching coach would be lost when trying to define when these pitcher’s mechanics begin to fail.

As a result, each outing will literally be a shot in the dark. It would be nearly impossible to define whether he has is “best stuff” from one pitch to the next.

A perfect case study is the career of recent Milwaukee Brewers’ signee Dontrelle Willis, who’s most recent stop in MLB cam in 2011 with the Cincinnati Reds.

For those who might be unfamiliar with his somewhat bumpy career, Willis broke into the show in 2003 with the Florida Marlins and had a spectacular season in 2005 where he went (22-10) with an ERA of 2.63. These Cy Young Award worthy numbers lead many to tab Willis as the Marlins staff ace for years to come, however, that was not to be.

Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

Dontrelle was known league wide for his exaggerated leg kick, which caused his off speed pitches to be remarkably deceptive. As Willis’s career progressed, however, his control began to wane resulting in the gradual decline of his statistics. By 2008, his ERA was north of 9.00 and his career looked over by all accounts. Why couldn’t he pull his career back together?

Dontrelle was known league wide for his exaggerated leg kick, which caused his off speed pitches to be remarkably deceptive. As Willis’s career progressed, however, his control began to wane resulting in the gradual decline of his statistics. By 2008, his ERA was north of 9.00 and his career looked over by all accounts. Why couldn’t he pull his career back together?

I contend that this largely had to do with how difficult it is to define what exactly went wrong with his mechanics. Consider the example of Oakland A’s pitcher Scott Kazmir, who has resurrected his career following a dismal 2011 season. Kazmir’s 2011 campaign saw his ERA balloon to over 27.00, leading many speculate his career was over. His once dominant 95 mph fastball had fallen into the mid 80’s. His slider had disappeared, leaving the once dominant hurler vulnerable to anyone who could hit a BP fastball.

What changed? ByKazmir’s own admission, it was a matter of flexibility, not that the height of his leg kick had decreased noticeably since his rookie campaign in 2004. A careful review of his delivery showed that his motion has stiffened considerably, eliminating the effective transfer of motion between his leg , hip, shoulder and arm that propelled his fastball.

Source: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America

Source: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America

By focusing on tactics to increase his flexibility, specifically Yoga, he has regained the power behind his fastball, reestablished his slider and picked up an array of other pitches in his repertoire.

I won’t pretend to have any true idea why major league executives make the personnel decisions that they do. But, it would seem to me that when given the option between drafting/signing a player whose success is clearly defined by most standard coaching strategies, as opposed to one whom your staff is baffled by, a prudent GM would want to go with the safe choice.

One Response

  1. Lin

    You are so right! My son is a LH Sidearm pitcher in Jr. College and he has had coaches tell him that if he does something wrong, they won’t know how to fix it or when he can’t throw a strike it’s always mental.

    Reply

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