Over the last 5 years there has been little debate as to who the best pitcher in baseball is. Clayton Kershaw has put up video game numbers since 2011 when he won his first of three Cy Young Awards. Based on WAR (Wins Above Replacement), the next top two pitchers since the beginning of the 2014 season are Corey Kluber and David Price. Since 2011, these three pitchers have combined for 5 Cy Young Awards and 8 top three finishes in the voting.
What I want to discuss in this post is their mechanics and if they are built to last for many years to come. First, we need to determine what good mechanics are. My top three points for deciding whether a pitcher has safe and efficient mechanics are as follows:
- Energy Towards Home Plate
- Position of Arm at Foot Strike
- Lead Leg Blocking
Energy Towards Home Plate
In order to maximize energy and momentum towards home you want to drive your back side towards the plate. To do this you want to think about pushing the side of your back hip towards home plate once your lead leg has reached its highest point in the leg lift. By doing this you are creating maximum energy towards home while also putting your upper body in a good position. Lets take a look at Kershaw, Kluber, and Price to see how they do.
You'll notice Clayton does a great job of taking his body straight towards home, driving off of his back leg.
Kluber could get a little more momentum going towards home if he internally rotated his back hip sooner. You'll notice his back leg doesn't start bending toward home until his front foot plants. This is causing him to not engage his lower half as much from the beginning as he could.
Price is similar to Kluber in that he doesn't start internally rotating his back hip until his foot has almost planted. He could benefit from getting that back leg driving home sooner.
Position of Arm at Foot Strike
The position your arm is in at foot strike is arguably the biggest predictor of injury. The key at foot strike is to have your arm up ready to fire. A few things to look for once that front foot plants are:
- Arm up at about 90º with your hand facing towards third base for a right hander and towards first base for a left hander.
- Hips open towards home plate.
- Shoulders closed towards home plate.
It appears that Kershaw is in a very good position at foot strike. His arm is close to 90º, his hand is facing towards first base, his shoulders are closed and his hips are open. This is a great position to maximize power and to reduce chances injuring the arm.
Kluber has a few red flags that I want you to notice. His arm is not in the optimal position as it is well below 90º presenting a "flat arm". The problem with this is because his arm is late at foot strike, it is now going to have to work extra hard to catch up to the rest of his body as he goes to throw, putting more stress on his shoulder and elbow. He does a good job of keeping his shoulders closed, but his hips are also slightly closed. By having your hips not fully opened it doesn't allow for you to get your maximum hip to shoulder separation.
Price has a lot of good things going on at foot strike. His arm and hand are in a very good position being at 90º and facing towards first base. Even though his shoulders are closed he is still closing off his hips slightly, causing him to not get as much separation as he could if they were fully open.
Lead Leg Blocking
Lead leg blocking is the act of stiffening your front leg as the body begins to flex over the front side.
Kershaw does a good job of landing with a bent leg and does a decent job of stiffening that front side to propel his body over his front leg. If we want to get real picky he could stabilize a little more by letting his front leg continue to stiffen.
It is a little more difficult to see here, but you can see Kluber does a nice job of landing with his knee flexed and then straightens as he finishes the pitch. He gets good lead leg blocking, which allows him to propel his body over his front side.
Out of these three pitchers, Price does the best when it comes to lead leg blocking. He lands with his knee flexed and aggressively stiffens his front leg as his body goes over his front side.
As you can see, just because you are one of the best pitchers it doesn't mean you are perfect with everything. There is always something to improve and work on. Based on the points above, Corey Kluber is the highest risk for injury out of these three pitchers. Every pitcher is different and some get away with poor mechanics, but the odds are not in your favor.
When it comes to maximizing your power and preventing injury, I firmly believe in these three points and I think they should be considered when making mechanical changes. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org