BOSTON - In a year when seven Blue Jay pitchers had their seasons ended by arm surgery and several more spent time on the disabled list, we are reminded of that old bromide “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The blizzard of arm injuries that crippled any opportunity for Toronto to compete in a meaningful way this season is a source of ongoing discussion in the Blue Jays’ inner sanctum, as it should be.
One of the subjects under discussion is the use of biomechanical analysis to identify young arms at risk.
Biomechanical analysis is a high-tech photographic process using cameras placed at four different angles recording at 1,000 frames per second to evaluate a pitcher’s throwing motion. Some medical mechanics have been using it for years but with advances in technology, the process is now revealing aspects of pitching mechanics that the human eye just cannot compute on its own.
“When I was in Cleveland, we did it for four straight years,” said Blue Jay manager John Farrell, who was the Indians’ farm director until 2007. “It’s another tool for evaluation.”
It’s hardly a panacea, though.
“We’ve had discussions recently, internally, with the Blue Jays about looking to incorporate that more than it’s been,” Farrell said. “The bottom line is this: once you get the information, how do you use it? That’s the biggest key.”
Baseball is not known as a breeding ground for new ideas. If baseball owners were in charge of the world we would still be arguing the merits of fire. Biomechanics? Whassat?
While the process can identify weaknesses and points of stress in a pitcher’s mechanics, it’s not a magic bullet.
“In and of itself, it can be useless if it’s not interpreted correctly and ultimately applied at the field level,” said Farrell. “The thing you have to be careful of is that if you have this evaluation done and there are red flags that are identified, if you try to make delivery changes does it take away the effectiveness of the pitcher? It’s a catch-22.
“You may pitch longer but you might pitch in Double A for the rest of your life.”
One place where biomechanics is taken seriously is at the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), founded by Dr. James Andrews, the noted surgeon who has made a living fixing broken elbows and shoulders, injured by bad mechanics and overuse. In the past, very few of ASMI’s pitcher clients have been big league pitchers for the very reasons stated above.
This spring, for the very first time, the Baltimore Orioles had 37 pitchers, including all their major-leaguers, tested by ASMI. Rick Peterson, the Orioles director of pitching development has been a longtime adherent to the value of biomechanics.