Jon Niese’s New Delivery Not So New

Finally! It only took an entire year, but Jon Niese discovered the mechanical flaw that was causing his shoulder pain.

If only Port St. Lucie had access to the information super highway, Niese might’ve discovered the EXACT ISSUE last March by visiting a web log called “MetsToday.” Well, I suppose later is better than never, right? Or, rather, later is better than waiting until after a pitcher is on the surgeon’s table.

For those not with us a year ago, I launched a podcast titled “The Fix” with pitching motion expert Angel Borrelli (btw, she’s an “expert” based on her credentials and advanced degrees, rather than because of a self-imposed social media handle). The subject of our very first podcast was none other than Jonathon Niese, who was suffering from shoulder pain and diminished velocity — we explained the reason for his injury.

A week later, Angel Borrelli and I followed up with another podcast centered on how to easily fix Niese’s mechanical flaw (ah! THAT’S why it’s called “The Fix”!).

Unfortunately, Jon Niese wasn’t a loyal follower of MetsToday — and neither was anyone close to him — because he and the Mets came to the conclusion that a “clean” MRI meant the shoulder was OK and nothing really needed to be done other than rest. You, the loyal reader, of course, knew different and we discussed it in detail.

Eventually, Niese realized that his shoulder ailment was connected to his mechanics. However, he didn’t understand what it was about his mechanics that was causing the problem — apparently he thought it had something to do with his arm angle. That’s not his fault, and it’s not Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen‘s either — neither have advanced degrees in body movement (i.e., kinesiology and/or biomechanics), thus neither have the background to truly understand how tiny actions within a pitching motion can be dangerous. Some day, MLB will wake up and begin to bring in qualitative scientists to diagnose pitching deliveries and prevent injuries (they’re already dipping their toe into the quantitative side of science, via biomechanical analysis, but both sides are needed to keep pitchers healthy and pitching at peak performance).

Maybe through luck, advice, or perhaps divine intervention, Niese finally found that his shoulder feels better when he strides straight:

Jonathon Niese spent a simulated game Thursday trying to get his mechanics back in order.

Niese said he noticed in his last bullpen session that his right leg was stepping toward the first-base side — not directly at the plate — as he landed. That caused him to throw across his body and, he believes, fatigued his left shoulder.

During a 76-pitch session Thursday against New York Mets batters, Niese concentrated on striding longer and toward the plate. He suggested that helped his shoulder feel better.

“It actually felt a lot better,” Niese said. “I wasn’t fatigued at the end.”

In the words of the immortal Mel Allen, “how about that?”

Finding success in avoiding pain Niese is continuing the experiment with more bullpen work::

The southpaw instead suggested improper pitching mechanics before the All-Star break were causing shoulder irritation. So he has revised his mechanics. But he’s now struggling to locate pitches with the revised motion and just needs more bullpen work to get things sharper.

Even though he was having statistical success before landing on the DL, Niese said he had drifted into some bad habits. So he now is back to striding farther with his landing leg, “which changes my arm slot,” he said.

Said Niese: “I’m kind of opening up a little bit more. I was a closed too much. So I’ve opened up. Now I’m able to release the ball out front more instead of on the side.”

OK, maybe he’s not all the way there in terms of enlightenment, but he’s close. First off, he does NOT need to stride any further or longer, he merely needs to stride STRAIGHT. He’s doing that by what he’s calling “opened up.” But again, I can’t blame Niese, nor Warthen — what they’re doing can be described as the blind leading the blind. If Niese had someone with the right background guiding him, the correction would be made quickly, easily, and with no negative affect on his command — rather, it would more likely IMPROVE his command, velocity, and overall performance.

Here are more quotes from Niese as well as reporting from Mike Vorkunov that provide us a more complete picture of what’s happening in Niese’s head:

Most important for Niese was his work in honing his new delivery. The Mets left-handed pitcher discovered it this week while throwing a bullpen session. He stopped in the middle of the session after his shoulder â?? where he has had a history of injury woes â?? began to bother him and realized something had to change. His shoulder had received too much of the burden.

Niese noticed that his stride was off. He had been landing toward first base, instead of home plate. This caused him to throw, essentially, he says, across his body.

It was a poor habit he picked up last season as he dealt with his bothersome left shoulder and it carried over to this spring.

Once he made the change in his bullpen session, he felt the strain on his shoulder go away.

“My shoulder felt great,” Niese said. “Today I went out and worked on my stride, same thing I was working on in the bullpen. I felt great.”

A few things to comment on here. First, Niese’s landing more toward first base was NOT something he picked up last season — rather, it was a habit he had before, and was most likely the cause of his shoulder pain to begin with. We know this because we have the photos and video to prove it.

Second, I don’t like the term “throwing across the body” because it can mean 100 things to a hundred different people.

Third, I’m very curious to know what turned on the light bulb in Niese’s head regarding his epiphany about his stride being off. It’s been “off” for over two years at least — what made him realize it now?

Will this discovery, and Niese’s self-diagnosis / self-treatment, prevent Niese from landing on the DL and damaging his shoulder further? I hope so, but can’t really be sure. For one, he doesn’t need to stride longer to achieve the goal of a straight stride. Second, his arm slot is not necessarily problematic in comparison to the stride issue. He’s shooting in the dark, and making adjustments without guidance from someone who knows better, so the end result is a mystery.

The good thing is that Niese recognizes that there was a CAUSE to the EFFECT of shoulder pain. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? Even in pitching a baseball, that simple philosophical causality applies. It’s a huge step for a MLB pitcher to acknowledge that his injury may have been caused by mechanics. Now all pitchers need to do is seek the right people for guidance. Fingers crossed!

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. argonbunnies April 2, 2015 at 8:22 am
    I think it’s been true for quite a while that Niese saw some sort of vague connection between his motion and his levels of pain and effectiveness… and I know I’ve heard Mets pitchers talk about Warthen giving them physical instructions like “stay on line to the plate” and “keep the front shoulder closed” etc… but how it all gets put together seems pretty random.

    I really don’t know what to make of Warthen. Most pitchers seem to like him, which is the main reason he’s still around. I know Pelfrey was a big supporter when the new regime came in and coaching jobs were in question. I dunno if the love of an unsuccessful headcase like Pelf is a good sign or a bad sign. Occasionally I hear Warthen say something smart, occasionally I hear him say something stupid, occasionally a pitcher credits him with something that helped them, and occasionally a pitcher tries to credit him for something that is actually harmful. Is he encouraging the chain of incentives the Mets generally have in place, which is “throw as hard as possible, sacrificing command and health”? (See Wheeler’s entire time in the organization.) Or is he doing everything he can to encourage safe motions, and he’s being ignored? (Similar to how MLB only listens to only certain things from Glenn Felisig while ignoring others?)

    I was really surprised by the recent slew of “hitters to emulate” articles on ESPN. When asked about the best hitting advice they’d been given, they all quoted the most mundane stuff that any little leaguer gets told by his coach, and that every major league hitting coach is certainly happy to preach — “focus, see the ball, work hard, be prepared, stay confident”, etc. The difference was that the most revered of this advice was coming FROM HALL OF FAMERS. Apparently, for Jose Abreu, there’s a big difference between being told “work hard” by every coach in his life and being told that by Albert Pujols. Apparently, for Jose Altuve, there’s a big difference between being told “try to hit the ball up the middle” by every coach in his life and being told that by Miguel Cabrera.

    So maybe Dan Warthen’s biggest hurdle to improving his pitchers is simply the fact that he isn’t Tom Seaver.

    Does anyone know if Pedro’s services deal with the Red Sox would preclude him from being another team’s pitching coach?