Mike Pelfrey Pitched with Rotator Cuff Strain

A little tidbit in the Daily News:

“I had a strained rotator cuff and a strained posterior capsule almost the whole season,” Pelfrey told the Daily News Thursday

Further …

Pelfrey said the Mets did not pressure him into pitching through the injury, and that he did not consider it a risk. So he took a pain-killing injection in his shoulder before every start, and pushed through.

Remember his slump last year, which he described as a “dead arm phase”?

We challenged that here at MetsToday, mainly because “dead arm” is an ambiguous, useless descriptor used by dinosaurs that somehow continues to get passed on from generation to generation of pitchers, and jotted down by journalists. How the rest of the world can advance in terms of technology and medical science, while MLB trudges along as if it were still 1850, is maddening. I guess teams and players use “dead arm” to hide a true injury from the media, and the media accepts it as if it were an actual diagnosis.

Actually, I’m lying — sort of. There IS an actual diagnosis of “dead arm”, and it does kind of fit what was physically wrong with Pelfrey last year. But when a player says “dead arm” and a journalist includes “dead arm” in their story, I doubt very highly that they think it means “hypertrophy of the posterior capsule” or “refractory posterior capsular contracture of the shoulder”. Because if they did, they wouldn’t blow it off as a “temporary thing” that can be “pitched through”. When one has suffered true “dead arm”, he most likely needs some kind of surgery to correct the issue.

In other words, “dead arm” means different things to different people. Ergo, a bad way to communicate.

But let’s move on to what we saw last July: a slight change in Mike Pelfrey’s mechanics. I first noticed his “hunch over” at the leg lift as an occasional thing earlier in the spring, but didn’t give it much pause since he was pitching so well in the first half. But I noticed it more and more, and finally did a rudimentary and likely illegal video analysis that confirmed a very slight change in his motion that affected his balance and release point. One thing I noted, in addition to the release point inconsistency:

… 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.

To date, that issue has not been corrected. He was still doing it as late as September and from what I’ve seen this spring it seems to have evolved into his mechanics as a regular habit.

The multimillion-dollar question: is this slight mechanical issue something that caused the shoulder injury, or was it a reaction to pain from the injury? Or, does it have nothing to do with injury at all?

If the “hunch over” was part of the cause of the rotator strain, and he doesn’t correct it, he’ll likely further damage his shoulder as time goes on. If he’s doing that to somehow avoid pain (consciously or unconsciously), then it’s possible that he’s still experiencing pain — though, it’s just as possible that the imbalance issue came about for some other reason, and it is simply an ingrained habit now.

How will we know for sure? We won’t — and neither will the Mets — until someone more qualified takes a good look at Pelfrey’s mechanics, or he breaks down. Hopefully, he won’t break down at all and this will be remembered as some kind of “panic post” hours before Opening Day’s first pitch.


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. JoeBourgeois April 1, 2011 at 1:06 pm
    Why would the video analysis possible be illegal?
    • Joe Janish April 1, 2011 at 1:44 pm
      Because I took it from MLB.com without expressed written approval.
      • Ken April 1, 2011 at 3:03 pm
        Your correct legal response: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was just kidding.” 🙂
  2. NormE April 1, 2011 at 4:50 pm
    “a rudimentary and likely illegal video analysis”

    That’s one of the reasons I, among the multitudinous others, read your blog. I love it!

  3. Professor Longnose April 2, 2011 at 8:24 am
    When I saw the link on HBT to the News article, I came here to see what you had to say about it. You hadn’t posted anything on it. I was going to ask about it but I was busy and never got to it. Glad to see it wasn’t necessary. It will be interesting to watch Pelfrey’s mechanics.

    Is something like Pelfrey’s injury, whatever it was, curable with a winter of rest? What are the odds that he’s pain free this season?