10 MLB Pitchers Whose Mechanics Are a Ticking Time Bomb to Serious Injury

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterMay 10, 2012

10 MLB Pitchers Whose Mechanics Are a Ticking Time Bomb to Serious Injury

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    Throwing a baseball is different from throwing a football. There's an exact science that men who throw a football for a living are supposed to abide by. Every man who throws a baseball for a living does things his own way.

    The fact that no two pitchers are exactly alike is just one of the many things that make baseball so cool. As long as their pitching mechanics don't get them into any trouble, nobody is in a position to complain.

    Alas, strange pitching mechanics can lead to trouble. Take what's going on with Chicago White Sox hurler Chris Sale (pictured), for example. He has a very strange delivery that puts a lot of stress on his elbow, so it's not a shock that he's undergoing an MRI on his elbow on Thursday, according to the Chicago Tribune.

    Given the violence and general awkwardness of his delivery, Sale is playing with fire every time he throws the ball.

    And he's not alone. Here's a list of 10 pitchers whose pitching mechanics could lead to serious injuries.

    Note: All video links will take you to MLB.com.

Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Video: Mitchell Boggs nails down a win against the Arizona Cardinals.

    Mitchell Boggs is a big man, as he checks in right around 6'4" and 215 pounds. He's able to generate a ton of power, and his fastball consistently clocks in the mid 90s.

    The way in which Boggs releases the energy he builds up is strange. He gets his body moving forward, but his arm lags behind. His arm doesn't come forward until after he's committed himself towards home plate, meaning the rest of his body stays largely still when he actually throws the ball.

    We talk all the time about left-handers throwing the ball across their bodies. Boggs is the closest thing I've seen to a right-hander throwing the ball across his body. It's hard to notice at first, but it's strange.

    Since so much energy shoots through Boggs' right arm every time he delivers a pitch, I worry about how his elbow is going to hold up in the long run. 

Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals

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    Video: Kelvin Herrera throws a 101-mph fastball against the Boston Red Sox.

    As Hardball Talk was kind enough to point out, Kelvin Herrera is the hardest thrower in MLB this season. His fastball is coming in at an average of over 99 miles per hour.

    Herrera has been blessed with an amazing arm, no doubt about that. 

    The problem is that he doesn't let the rest of his body help out his arm. Herrera's delivery doesn't look that strange at first glance. But if you watch closely, you''ll see that his plant leg goes completely stiff when it lands, which helps take away some of the momentum he establishes when he strides toward the plate. He compensates for it with his arm.

    Herrera's arm is obviously strong enough to handle the task, but his career is still very, very young. He hasn't had to deal with a buildup of wear and tear in his shoulder and elbow, and that's going to happen as he accumulates more and more innings. 

    At some point, his arm just won't be able to take it anymore.

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

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    Video: Craig Kimbrel locks down a save against the Milwaukee Brewers.

    Craig Kimbrel's story, as told by Joe Lemire of Sports Illustrated, is an interesting one. He broke his foot when he was 18, rendering him unable to pitch. He took to playing long toss from his knees, and gradually built up his arm strength.

    When he returned to pitching, his fastball went from being in the high 80s to being in the mid 90s. 

    These days, his fastball checks in consistently around 96 miles per hour, according to FanGraphs. He generates velocity with what I'd call a very compact delivery. He stays closed and keeps the ball hidden from hitters, and then explodes towards the plate.

    Kimbrel's right arm, however, stays compact. He has a short-arm throwing motion, and the amount of effort that goes into it is going to put a lot of stress on his shoulder and elbow going forward. The amount of sliders he throws are not going to help his elbow stay strong.

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

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    Video: Tim Lincecum goes eight strong innings against the San Diego Padres.

    You're not surprised to find Tim Lincecum on this list, are you?

    Of course not. Fans and experts alike have been predicting Lincecum's demise ever since he broke into the big leagues in 2007, as surely such a little guy with such a violent delivery is not going to last.

    Lincecum hasn't yet suffered a major injury. Over the past couple seasons, however, Lincecum has had to adjust to a significant drop in fastball velocity. He used to throw his fastball consistently in the mid 90s, and now he sits consistently in the 89-91 range.

    Given his small stature, Lincecum's decreased velocity was inevitable. The key concern going forward is how his body is going to hold up as he gets older. His body can handle his violent delivery now, but muscles and tendons tend to get more and more brittle as one gets older.

    Lincecum made headlines when he scrapped his slider to save his elbow (see CSNBayArea.com), but I'm more worried about his core. His delivery puts a lot of stress on his back, so I wouldn't be surprised if Lincecum is done in by a serious back injury before he's done in by a serious arm injury.

Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs

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    Video: Carlos Marmol escapes a jam against the Atlanta Braves.

    The biggest concern when it comes to Carlos Marmol is whether or not he'll ever figure out a way to control the ball on a consistent basis. He's the wildest reliever in baseball.

    Marmol doesn't know where the ball is going when he throws it, and neither do hitters most of the time. This has a lot to do with Marmol's extremely deceptive delivery. He throws the ball out of a very unusual arm slot, and he hides the ball very well. It seems to explode directly out of his right shoulder when he throws it.

    The issue is that Marmol's momentum is already taking him towards first base by the time he throws the ball. His right arm drags behind before whipping forward in a very violent action.

    I worry about the long-term health of Marmol's shoulder with a delivery like this, as his shoulder is the part of his body that bears the brunt of the momentum transfer in his delivery. His elbow is also at risk, and it doesn't help that Marmol throws his slider just as often as he throws his fastball.

Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Video: Jason Motte saves a game against the Cincinnati Reds.

    I assure you I don't have it out for Cardinals relievers, but Jason Motte's delivery strikes me as being just as dangerous as Mitchell Boggs' delivery.

    Motte generates power with his lower body, but most of it comes from his upper body. He basically just uses his legs to get him moving towards the plate, then his right arm shoots up and it's all about generating velocity with upper body strength.

    He has a ton of upper body strength, but it worries me that he transfers his strength to the ball via a short-arm delivery. It's an unusual short-arm delivery too, as his arm starts back behind his head before whipping around and then going forward towards the plate.

    The speed with which everything happens in Motte's delivery is a concern too. A lot happens very quickly, and a lot of the time it looks like Motte is actually rushing through his delivery.

    As the years go by, the wear and tear in Motte's shoulder is going to build up. Eventually, something is going to snap.

Pat Neshek, Baltimore Orioles

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    Video: Pat Neshek escapes a jam while with the San Diego Padres in 2011.

    In case you're wondering, Pat Neshek is currently in the Baltimore Orioles organization. Per Baseball-Reference.com, he has a 2.51 ERA in 10 appearances for Triple-A Norfolk.

    Neshek has one of the strangest deliveries in baseball, and the picture attached to this slide pretty much says it all. The best way I can describe it is to say that Neshek looks like he pitches upside down. 

    He looks like he should be a submarine pitcher, but Neshek is more of a side-armer. His mechanics make for a very deceptive delivery, but the way in which he goes from downward movement to sideways movement is concerning. It leads to quite a bit of torque, and Neshek's entire right arm bears the brunt of it.

    Neshek's right arm is a bullwhip made flesh. Arms are not as flexible as bullwhips, of course, so it's just a matter of time before something breaks down.

Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

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    Video: Sale's recent start against the Oakland Athletics.

    Chris Sale has the height you look for in a hard-throwing pitcher, as he checks in right around 6'5". He just doesn't have the girth, as he only weighs around 170-180 pounds. He needs every muscle in his body to generate velocity.

    Sale's delivery isn't the most violent delivery any of us have ever seen, but it's a delivery that puts a ton of stress on his left elbow. His whole body moves toward the plate, and then his left forearm cracks like a whip when he delivers the ball.

    He's able to generate some pretty good velocity. Per FanGraphs, Sale's fastball is consistently crossing the plate in the low 90s. He's capable of cranking it up to the mid 90s.

    Sale made the transition from reliever to starter this year. That, naturally, means more fastballs, and that means more work for his left elbow. It doesn't help that his best breaking pitch is his slider, a pitch that is notoriously tough on elbows.

    Thursday's MRI may not reveal anything, but it may be just a matter of time before Sale does get some bad news.

Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

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    Video: Max Scherzer punches out nine White Sox in seven innings.

    It's actually a little hard to notice just how violent Max Scherzer's delivery is. This has a lot to do with how he eases into his delivery very slowly, as if to lull hitters asleep.

    And then he absolutely explodes when he throws the ball. As you can see in the picture, his throwing motion is violent enough to send him head-over-heels in his follow-through.

    Credit where credit is due, Scherzer hasn't shown any kind of warning signs that he may be falling apart over the last couple seasons. He topped 190 innings in 2010 and 2011, and his fastball has been coming in at right around 93 miles per hour since 2009, per FanGraphs.

    According to The Arizona Republic, concerns over Scherzer's violent delivery helped convince the Diamondbacks to trade him to the Tigers in the first place. He hasn't had any major health issues since the trade, but the Diamondbacks obviously figured that time would tell.

    If the injury bug does bite Scherzer, it will probably go for his shoulder. That's where a lot of the violent energy in his delivery is focused.

Jordan Walden, Los Angeles Angels

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    Video: Walden collects his first save of the 2012 season.

    Unlike Chris Sale, Jordan Walden is a big dude who also has plenty of girth. He fits the familiar mold of a major league power pitcher.

    With Walden, it's all about upper body strength. He does generate some pretty good power with his legs, but there's an odd sort of pause in his delivery where his main source of power is shifted from his legs to his upper body. This energy transfer gives him the ability to throw his fastball as fast as 100 miles per hour.

    The issue is how Walden delivers the ball. His delivery helps him hide the ball pretty well, but it also leads to a short-arm throwing motion. In the long run, this motion is going to put a lot of stress on his shoulder and elbow.

    Walden doesn't have a ton of big league innings under his belt, so he's probably okay for now. In the future, the first warning sign will be decreased velocity, and then Angels fans everywhere will hold their breath when it is announced that Walden is headed for an MRI.

     

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