Matz Shoulder and Elbow Issues Directly Related
Steven Matz has been pitching nearly the entire season with an elbow issue — going back to the forearm tightness he experienced way back in early May. The forearm tightness evolved into a bone spur in his elbow, and, most recently, shoulder discomfort developed. Mets management and team doctors would like you to believe the shoulder and elbow problems are not related, but that is absolutely, positively, not the case.
Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: injuries — to any athlete, in any sport — occur due to a specific reason. Every single injury has a root cause. There may be some mystery that requires detective work, but, if someone spends enough time and has the right background, the cause can be discovered.
Now, let’s get another thing clear: pitching injuries don’t happen just because the act of pitching is somehow “unnatural” nor because an arm injury is inevitable. People who say that are misinformed and/or lazy. The WAY a person pitches MAY be unnatural, in that his motion defies natural, efficient body movement (i.e., goes against the way the bones are aligned and move). Pitching a baseball can be “natural,” efficient, and safe. It’s when a pitcher goes against efficiency that problems, such as injuries, arise. People with background in anatomy, physiology, and/or kinesiology understand what I’m talking about.
So, if you’re reading this far, you have at least some faith (or hope) that the human body can propel a baseball without self-destructing. Holding fast to that faith, we can put on our detective hats and research the reasons Steven Matz is having arm problems.
First off, Matz’s left arm is far behind where it needs to be at foot strike. There is a mile-high pile of scientific evidence that says the throwing hand must be at a certain position (called “high cock position”) when the front foot touches dirt so that the lower body and trunk — the largest muscles in the body — can take much of the brunt of hurling the baseball. Matz’s arm is a few “beats” behind when his right foot lands, so as a result he’s putting undue stress on his arm. Many MLB pitchers have this flaw (Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler are prime examples); it’s fairly common and extremely dangerous. It’s a timing issue and can be easily corrected, with the right person applying the correction (this person is rarely a pitching coach). Interestingly, though, this timing issue is not the reason Matz has a bone spur and shoulder discomfort — though it likely caused his first UCL tear and may have had something to do with the forearm tightness he experienced in May.
Rather, the bone spur and shoulder injuries are directly related to another flaw that Matz shares with Syndergaard — a poor follow-through. Essentially, the two young pitchers are unable to properly “apply the brakes” to slow down their arms. One thing that both Matz and Syndergaard do better than 99.9% of human beings is accelerate their arms rapidly enough to propel a baseball over 95 MPH. However, just as important as acceleration is deceleration — the arm has to eventually stop, and there is a safe and efficient way to do this. I like to compare it to when Chevrolet put a 400-horsepower engine in the lightweight Corvette back in the 1960s — when they dropped in that 327 V8, they also equipped the car with four-wheel disc brakes, at the time, it was one of the only cars in the world to have such stopping power. Because if you’re going to go that fast, you’re also going to need a way to stop. Pitchers who throw 95+ MPH need the best brakes, and neither Matz nor Syndergaard have them.
Again, this is an easily correctable flaw. I’m not going to get into the whys and hows because that is far beyond the scope of this blog post. What’s key is to understand that when a pitcher does not properly slow down his arm with help from his largest muscles, the brakes have to come from the back of the arm — specifically, the tricep and shoulder. Constantly abusing these parts of the arm in this manner will result in pain, and when the pain is ignored, eventually the bones’ protectors — ligaments, tendons, muscles — will break down. When the bones lose these protectors, the bones grow to create a protection for themselves — these growths are called spurs.
Are you starting to connect the dots?
So now let’s look at Matz (and Syndergaard, for that matter). His poor follow-through is putting undue stress on the back of his elbow and his shoulder. The Mets doctors said that Matz couldn’t damage his UCL by continuing to pitch — and they were probably right. What they didn’t mention is that the UCL wasn’t really at risk — the shoulder was. The treatment was not to correct the follow-through flaw, but to apply cortisone injections and anti-inflammatories to kill the pain. (No wonder Matz said his elbow was feeling “better” — he wasn’t feeling anything!) With no pain in the elbow, Matz could continue to pitch — and continue to shred his shoulder.
The irony is that the Mets have been hell-bent on making sure Matz’s mechanics REMAINED THE SAME, going so far as to use cutting-edge technology called TrackMan toward that goal. The same mechanics that caused the bone spur, and, eventually, the shoulder discomfort.
Oh, by the way, remember when Noah Syndergaard’s arm “went dead” in the middle of a ballgame just prior to the All-Star break? Do you know that “dead arm” is an injury to the supraspinatus, a small muscle in the shoulder blade / scapula? Huh, isn’t that interesting …
But don’t take it from me, I’m merely a lay person and pseudo-journalist on a mission to keep pitchers safe. If you want to hear more details about this from an expert, listen to the podcast below that was recorded in mid-July. It’s mainly focused on Syndergaard, but the content also applies to Matz. (I sincerely apologize for the technical issue causing the redundant thumping in the show.)
Bottom line — these injuries to the elbow and shoulder are absolutely related and could have been prevented. And, you can expect to eventually hear about a shoulder problem from Syndergaard, assuming he, also, does not correct his deceleration flaw. At some point, hopefully, someone will wake up and change the course. Pitching injuries don’t have to be inevitable.