Jeff Weaver last season, Mike Maroth, Todd Wellemeyer, Kip Wells, and Joel Pineiro this season, all have one thing in common, the Cardinals and their fans are hoping that pitching coach Dave Duncan can work his magic and turn these beleaguered pitchers into quality or at least serviceable pitchers for St. Louis.
While Dave Duncan will not divulge any information from his scouting reports, he has shared with me in the past that he has identified flaws in above named pitchers' mechanics and or delivery, prior to the Cardinals signing these players, that he was confident that could be addressed and with minor adjustments, could improve their overall effectiveness and be serviceable pitchers for St. Louis.
While the terms mechanics and delivery are almost always used together, to the point that the average baseball fan may think that they both mean one and the same thing, they are not synonymous.
Pitching mechanics focus on technique, rhythm, balance, front foot placement when striding to homeplate, compactness throughout the delivery and full extension of the arm when releasing the ball to maximize the pitcher's ability and reduce undue stress on the arm.
Often it is a pitcher's mechanics that is the first focus of a pitching coach, for a couple of reasons. First because it's easier to correct a mechanical flaw than a delivery problem, because mechanics is a learned behavior whereas delivery, that I'll address in a moment, is genetics and dependent on heredity, and secondly because bad mechanics is one of the most common cause of injuries to a pitcher.
A pitcher's delivery consists of his release point, arm slot, arc of the arm swing and the degree of looseness in the shoulder joint.
A main concern when trying to change the delivery or throwing motion of any pitcher is that the change could increase the risk of injury. Pushing too hard to make these changes could tear or place too much stress on tendons, ligaments and joints.
A pitcher who has been throwing a certain way for 10-15 years, you can see how he will build muscles or perhaps train muscles is a better term, to the point that the arm will resist changes to new and unfamiliar movement.
While adjusting mechanics may be one of the first things that a coach will work on, it is delivery that the coach will take a first look at, for example, the coach can tell by a pitchers arm slot what alternative pitches a pitcher may use or add to increase their effectiveness.
Pitches are thrown from six different arm slots; overhand, high three-quarter, three-quarter, low-three, sidearm and submarine. The different arm slots affect speed of the fastball, the overall quality of breaking pitches and fastball movement.
Typically higher arm slots equal faster pitches whereas lower arm slots will usually be slower but will have more movement on the ball.
Jonathan Shorey a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers and author of Baseball Uncensored breaks it down this way;
"Pitches thrown from the higher arm slots places the hand on top of the ball, creating necessary leverage to throw the ball harder.
Pitching from a lower arm slot places the ball on the side or below the ball, resulting in better fastball movement and decreased velocity.
The high three-quarter arm slot is ideal, accommodating both the curveball and slider without sacrificing fastball velocity and movement."
One problem we often see, especially with this year's makeshift starting rotation with St. Louis is that the pitchers will sometimes unknowingly change their arm slot from pitch to pitch, creating inconsistencies with their breaking pitches and their ability to locate pitches in the strike zone.
St. Louis sports columnist Bernie Miklasz made the following observations about Cardinals' starting pitching this season;
The current rotation ERA of 5.46 is the worst in franchise history in a non-strike year. But it goes beyond that. In the history of baseball, this would be the 42nd-highest ERA by a rotation in a single season, and we're talking about thousands of rotations.
As Bernie so adeptly points out, the Cardinals have a major problem with their starting rotation. If it is true that a pitcher's durability, overall effectiveness, and the ability to maintain velocity and command of the strike zone are the results of his pitching mechanics and delivery, then it should be safe to say, the Cardinals coaches will be focusing on the pitching staff's mechanics and delivery down the stretch.