A Stiff Neck Could Be Good for Pelfrey

Mike Pelfrey was bumped from his Friday night start in San Francisco due to a stiff neck he suffered on the cross-country plane ride to the Left Coast. Ironically, I would argue that a stiff neck is exactly what Big Pelf needs to return to his first-half form. Well, maybe more a stiff back than a stiff neck.

We briefly touched on the subject of Pelfrey’s mechanical issues prior to the All-Star Exhibition, seeking to dispel the “dead arm” myth. Let’s take a look at more video stills to compare and contrast.

Balance point. See how Pelf is more upright on the left, slightly hunched over on the right.

These next two series of images are frames of a pitch in Pelfrey’s start vs. the Cincinnati Reds on July 5th.

Compare the above to the below, taken from Pelfrey’s start in San Diego on June 1.

So, what do you see?

What I see in the top series is the hunch-over leading to the body moving just a bit too much toward third base and then compensating by turning the upper body in the opposite direction toward first base. (The body innately tries to find a center of balance at all times.) You can see Pelfrey’s head and shoulders twisting toward first base at the release point in the first image of the second row of stills. Because his upper body is moving toward 1B, his release point is just a hair off (and in turn, his command). It’s not that noticeable but if you watch the following frames, you see his glove fall down and out toward 1B and behind his left hip. Why is the glove going there? Because Pelfrey’s momentum is taking him sideways instead of toward home plate. Again, it’s very slight and almost unnoticeable, but that little bit of motion means there is less body behind the baseball. So, either the arm has to work harder to keep the same velocity, or some velocity is lost — hence, the “dead arm” theory.

In the second set of stills, from San Diego, you see Pelfrey start and finish in a more upright — and controlled — position. In the first row of frames, he’s staying “tall” for a long time before “falling”, which means he is able to use gravity and his 6’7″ frame to his full advantage. At the release his head looks like it might be starting to go toward 1B, but the following frames show that his momentum is definitely driving more forward, toward home plate. Evidence of that is his follow-through, where he finishes facing home plate. Contrast that last frame from San Diego to the last frame from Cincinnati, where he is actually taking steps toward first base.

The good news is, this isn’t a major problem, and can be easily fixed. In fact, Pelfrey looked to be staying upright, “tall”, and balanced at least 60% of the time in his last start. You can easily tell at home watching on TV by taking note of two checkpoints: the balance point (is he hunched over or keeping upright?) and the follow-through (is he facing home plate or turning toward the first base dugout?).

Bottom line? Keep your chin up and your back stiff, Mike. Maybe that stiff neck could be a reminder.

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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. Mike July 19, 2010 at 12:27 pm
    See Joe, this is exactly why I read your blog. This and your previous post on framing. Lets hope Mike is aware of this.
  2. Anthony July 19, 2010 at 2:17 pm
    Outstanding work once again Joe. When can you take the pitching coach job for the Mets?
  3. Mic July 19, 2010 at 2:26 pm
    Sorry to put you to work Joe, but there is one ‘observation'; it also seems pel is ok thru 4 innings, but in the 5th he implodes……..is there a back issue, brought on by fatigue?
    • Paul July 19, 2010 at 6:20 pm
      @Mic: i would imagine hunching and twisting like Pelf’s been doing would be much more tiring than the more balanced mechanic he was employing earlier. also, perhaps to compensate for his sense of lower strength/velocity, pelf might be exerting more with his arm and leaving him more exposed and tired by the 5th inning…

      Joe, are these shots being taken at the same point in the game? It would be fascinating to see if this is just a late game, getting-tired habit or if he’s starting right out of the gate off and hunched like this. Do we know if Pelfrey in the 7th inning in SD looked like he did in the 1st?

      • Joe Janish July 19, 2010 at 7:50 pm
        Interesting points by both of you on the fatigue factor.

        Pelfrey didn’t make it out of the fifth inning vs. Cincinnati, and I had noticed him hunching over from the first batter of the game. It has been more or less a sporadic issue, which has become more pronounced in his past few starts.

        I’m pretty sure these particular stills were taken during his final inning vs. Scott Rolen — so he was somewhere around 75-80 pitches at the time.

        The shots of Pelf vs. San Diego were taken around the 6th or 7th inning — which was probably near the same pitch count (he finished the game with 110 pitches in 8 IP).

  4. Paul July 19, 2010 at 6:11 pm
    the angle of pelfrey’s leg towards the end of those shots definitely points to what his hunching is causing… very nice work joe. i should probably start doing this kind of thing with some of our pitchers in my adult league team!
  5. Walnutz15 July 20, 2010 at 5:57 pm
    Can someone PLEASE get an interview with Brent Kemnitz, to ask him what he worked on with Pelfrey over the winter?

    Haven’t seen anyone in the media remotely broach the subject…..and I’m wondering WHY?

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Warthen hasn’t figured out what’s wrong with Pelfrey over his last handful of starts.

    That’s what happens when Big League pitchers go back to work with their college coach in the off-season……Dan Warthen SUCKS. Maybe the novices in the media and talk-radio will realize that Brent Kemnitz was, and always will be, the key to Pelf’s success.

    This is precisely why I balked at giving Warthen any credit for Pelfrey’s change in demeanor out on the mound in the first couple of months….and moreover, his development of the split-finger.

    When Kemnitz cites you, specifically, as the best pitching prospect to ever come out of a perennial-Division I power — typically, there’s just a bit of merit to it.

    And being that Kemnitz focuses completely on the mental aspect of pitching…..I have a feeling that Pelfrey spent a very good amount of time with him over the winter. We know that Pelfrey went back to work-out at Wichita State, but what was the extent of Kemnitz’s involvement?

    Hearing some of the comments he made last season watching Pelfrey pitch; it sounded like he wasn’t too thrilled with the their handling of him through the years….

    Get that man on the horn, and see what the problem is — if it takes a “D.L. stint” to send him back to Wichita for 2 weeks?

    Get it done.

    We all know how successful Warthen was with the other headcases on this staff (Perez, Maine, et al)…..things that make you go “hmmmmmmm”………

    Your thoughts, Joe?