Mark Mulder - The Risk Factor

The return of Mark Mulder to St. Louis off the Disabled List, may be a bit premature, at the least it comes with significant risks.

It was just two weeks ago that the Birdhouse's managing editor, Brian Walton, was in Washington D.C. covering the series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals. In addition to his game day coverage, Walton observed a bullpen session by Mark Mulder.

Mulder's bullpen came after him not throwing for a period of three weeks due to what was called at the time a rotator cuff strain.

According to Walton, "Mulder seemed to be coming less over the top – more of a shortened motion, a bit akin to the way catchers throw – and seemed to have a small hitch or hesitation in his delivery."

The left-hander, coming back from two shoulder operations, made three starts last September for St. Louis posting a 0-3 record with a 12.27 ERA. At the time and I still maintain, he had no business being on the mound. At one time, perhaps the best left-hander in the game, Mulder faced 59 batters and struck out just three of them.

Mulder hasn't seen the fifth inning of a ballgame since June 15, 2006 and I would have thought the Cardinals would have kept him sidelined last year until this spring training, this season. The risks of bringing him back in September, far outweighed any potential benefits to the team or Mark, by catching lightning in the bottle, if you will, with Mulder's return.

Mark ended up needing additional surgery on his shoulder last September, albeit, it was a less extensive procedure than his operation on his rotator cuff a year earlier. Despite this setback, once again the expectations from the organization was that Mulder would be ready this spring training and be part of the Cardinals rotation, by mid-May. Again expectations and projections that proved to be a bit premature.

That brings us to Friday's roster move, activating Mulder off the DL and sending rookie Mike Parisi to Triple-A Memphis. Initially it appears Mulder will temporarily fill the void left by Randy Flores, who has left ankle tendinitis and was placed on the DL Thursday.

The Mulder-Parisi roster move, is a transaction that I can half-agree with, that is, the half involving the moving of Parisi, 0-4 with an 8.22 ERA, back to Triple-A.

It's the other half of these transactions that leaves me wondering who's asleep at the wheel in St. Louis.

I'm all for being optimistic, but really, earlier in the week the Cardinals were actually considering inserting Mulder back into the rotation with his first start coming on Saturday, in game two of a three-game set with Kansas City.

When I first heard of this plan, the words kept passing through my mind, "You talking about Mark Mulder, the Mark Mulder who is 0-3 with a 13.50 ERA in three rehabilitation starts for Triple-A Memphis?; You talking about the Mark Mulder, our Mark Mulder, the Mark Mulder who made three starts last September for St. Louis and was 0-3 with a 12.27 ERA? You talking about the Mark Mulder, who took himself out of his most recent rehab start, because of a 'reported stiff back', that Mark Mulder?

Is this the same Mark Mulder who told reporters in Kansas City when responding to questions about his activation and assignment to the bullpen, with these inspiring words that strikes fear in opposing batters, "We will see how it goes."

A pitcher's durability, overall effectiveness, ability to maintain velocity and command of the strike zone is the result of his pitching mechanics and delivery. Mechanics focuses on technique, rhythm, balance, front foot placement when striding to home plate, including the compactness of his delivery to achieve full extension of his arm when releasing the ball.

Based on my personal observations from videos, and the live reports from games and workout sessions, by the Birdhouse's Brian Walton & Dustin Mattison, as well as Mark Mulder's own comments, Mulder is comfortable with his mechanics. There is nothing that I can detect that would suggest his mechanics will prevent him from being effective at the major league level.

My concern lies in his delivery. Delivery consists of the release point, arm slot, arc of the arm swing and the degree of the looseness in the shoulder joint.

Herein, is the problem. Mulder by his own admission, and by our own scouting reports from our staff, has adjusted his delivery.

A pitchers delivery, the throwing motion, release point and shoulder looseness is basically stems from the player's genetics. While making changes to mechanics is basically a risk-free venture, other than you may lose a few games in the process while making the changes. The challenge of changing a pitcher's delivery is much more difficult, dealing with the obstacles of heredity and the mere changing of the throwing motion, arm slot, etc., may also be hazardous to the pitcher's health.

Mulder a nine-year major league veteran, has been throwing the same way for at least 15 years and throwing that way for that length of time strengthens and builds the muscles in a manner that makes throwing very efficient. The efficiency is gained through the repetitious movements that cause the body to resist new, unfamiliar movements.

What the Cardinals and Mulder will have to watch for, for at least the next three weeks is, that Mark doesn't push these muscles too hard or too quickly, as it may tear or place undo stress on tendons, ligaments and joints. It generally takes thirty days for the muscles to memorize new movements.

It's going to be especially difficult for Mudler as he is going to have to try to make this adjustment in his delivery, risky as it is, while still trying to be productive at the major league level, playing in games that count.

If Mulder gets in trouble on the mound this weekend or next week, watch for him to revert to his old body movements when productivity becomes the focus, rather than the master of the new movements in his delivery. This roster move could be a recipe for disaster.

The Cardinals definitely need another left-hander in the bullpen, I've listen to the reasons from organization, from the top to bottom, justifying activating Mulder and putting him into the Cardinals bullpen. I could buy into it, if he was not trying to adjust his delivery, as it is, my take is, once again the Cardinals have made a decision that is a bit premature and a little overly optimistic. A decision that comes with significantly high risk factor.

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