How Serious is Chris Young’s Injury?
It only took two starts for oft-injured Chris Young to land on the disabled list with the diagnosis of “biceps tendinitis”. Young was reluctant to be removed from the 25-man roster, but understood the decision from the standpoint of the team.
From The New York Times:
Young, who will miss at least two starts, said Friday night that he still felt some soreness in his shoulder but that no M.R.I. was scheduled. He planned to rest it for a few days, then begin throwing on Tuesday.
“The irritation in the biceps tendon is lingering, and the best thing for it is rest,” he said.
The Mets’ desperate pitching situation actually got worse Saturday when Chris Young was placed on the 15-day disabled list with biceps tendinitis. Removing him from the rotation, however, was better than risking him against the Braves Sunday with a tired bullpen and the possibility of a setback.
“I understand completely,” Young said before Saturday’s doubleheader at Turner Field. “Doing what’s right for the team first, and secondly for my long-term health. Obviously, there’s a level of disappointment, too — this wasn’t what I’d hoped for coming into the season. But you can’t predict these things.”
Young, 31, made only four starts last season because of shoulder problems, and the Mets — taking into account those health issues — signed him to an incentive-laden one-year contract worth a guaranteed $1.1 million. Despite that history, manager Terry Collins said the team has no plans for an MRI, and Young said he doesn’t want one.
“I think at this point, the symptoms are more important than what you can see on the test,” Young said. “The MRI may or may not show something. It may or may not show something completely different than where I feel the discomfort. We’ve talked to the doctors, and treating the symptoms, I think, is the better solution at this point.”
From the above quotes, it doesn’t sound like Young’s issue is so serious; after all, if it was, he’d be getting an MRI, right? And to the common layperson, “biceps tendinitis” doesn’t sound all that dangerous. It sounds like something that might happen when one over-flexes his “muscle” to show off.
In truth, however, biceps tendinitis can be a very serious problem. Don’t take it from me, though — instead, consider what a scientist has to say.
Curious about Young’s injury, and having heard the term “biceps tendinitis” before, I called on Angel Borrelli, MA, CSCS, USAW. All those letters after her name mean that she’s qualified to speak on the matter of pitching injuries (and pitching mechanics, as well). Angel, in fact, works with pitchers all the time — from little leaguers to MLBers — she is a Sport Kinesiologist who is an expert in troubleshooting the pitching motion.
This is what Angel says:
“The Chris Young thing…it can be bad.
Bicep tendonitis usually refers to inflammation of the long-head of the biceps in the bicipital groove which is located on the upper arm bone. The first problem can cause the tendon to slip out of the groove causing damage to the tendon and/or wearing down the bone…both of which cause the shoulder to become unstable.
The second problem is that the long-head of the biceps inserts on the inside of the shoulder joint and problems with it can create problems for the labrum.
The third issue is…bicep tendon problems are intimately associated with supraspinatus problems (one of the muscles of the rotator cuff).
It’s one of the worst warning signs a pitcher can have; it’s a huge precursor to labral or supraspinatus problems.
The good news is…it is a “warning” sign…and it is usually a pitching-mechanics issue.”
Allow me to repeat: “one of the worst warning signs a pitcher can have”. Yikes! But as Angel says, it is good that Young’s issue is a warning sign and could be related to mechanics — which means it can be corrected. I asked Angel what might be a recommended course of treatment. Her response:
“treating the symptoms” + “the cause of the problem” would be the best formula. On Tuesday, when he begins to throw, unless he plays catch with arm mechanics that do not exacerbate the problem, he will feel pain again; if not when playing catch…possibly pitching. The biceps tendon becomes aggravated for very specific reasons, all of which are easy to detect when you know what to look for in this throwing/pitching mechanics.
I wasn’t sure if Angel was aware of Young’s shoulder surgery from 2009, so I mentioned it to her, thinking that maybe this was “typical” of someone recovering from such a surgery. Her answer:
I wasn’t aware of the surgery but it means that it is more important than ever to get rid of this problem, and its cause (which is always mechanical) as soon as is possible. He is probably not presenting any symptoms in his shoulder and that is probably why they are opting not to have an MRI. But they should do a film analysis of his last outing and have all the arm angles checked before he starts playing catch. It is so simple to do — and if you think about it a “no-brainer”. You should always return to the scene of the crime to figure out what happened. They have the film sitting there — from all four angles — they should use it.
Again, this could be good news — IF there’s someone who is qualified to look at the film and help Chris Young throw with proper mechanics. But does such a person exist? In other words, do the Mets have someone on staff or that they can call on who is an expert in kinesiology?
Likely not, unfortunately; there are only a handful of MLB organizations that recognize the value of that kind of expertise. For all the much-hyped intelligence of the Mets’ new front office, I’m not sure they are among that handful — considering all the injury-riddled pitchers signed this past winter. It’s remarkable that for all the millions of dollars big-league clubs spend on pitching, and all the attention paid to comparatively trivial details such as pitch counts, most teams make no investment in experts of human motion, who can do far more to keep pitchers healthy than the 100-pitch count ever will.
Ah if Rainbows were Curses we would be riding high 🙂
Joe, why doesn’t this doctor Angel call up Sandy Alderson and off to consult the organization. I’m sure someone of her credentials would at least be given a meeting with Alderson.
When your car breaks down, does the mechanic call you or do you call the mechanic?
There should be another opportunity for me to speak with Sandy, though not sure when. In the meantime I’m going to stand on my MetsToday soapbox and keep screaming until someone pays attention.
If Kooz and The Franchise had a closer, they still wouldn’t have won many games because the Mets offense back then resembled that of a dead-ball era club. 😉 But I get where you’re going, and yes it is an interesting point to ponder. If nothing else, having a closer pitch the ninth would have shaved off about 10-15 innings per season for each starter … might that have made them stronger? Who knows?
Unfortunately, pitchers returning from shoulder injuries are about as dependable as used Hugos.
And as easy as it is to say change Young’s mechanics; changing a pitcher’s mechanics may make him less effective. And even subtle changes in mechanics can effect the movement on different pitches and obviously command.
Look what happened when Warthen tried to improve Ollie’s control by squaring his finish up to the plate, no more velocity. Remember Henry Owens? If only someone could have fixed his mechanics.
It was still a good risk by the Mets, incentive deal and perfect fit from a stadium standpoint. Ideally he pitches enough to give us some quality innings, qualifies as a type B free agent and we get a pick for him next year. If not, he didn’t cost us much.
Joe, a little late, but amazing job with the Rule 5, you nailed it!!! I have to admit, I never considered Emaus, I liked Nate Spears at 2B, but obviously he doesn’t have the power. Savery would have been nice. Thanks for all your insight.
As for this:
“And as easy as it is to say change Young’s mechanics; changing a pitcher’s mechanics may make him less effective. And even subtle changes in mechanics can effect the movement on different pitches and obviously command.”
I have to disagree. First, changing a pitcher’s mechanics could (and should) make him MORE effective. Pitch movement has less to do with mechanics and more about finger pressure, hand angle, and wrist movement at the release point. Your example of Ollie Perez actually goes against your argument, because in reality, Ollie pitched his best while under Rick Peterson’s tutelage. Peterson was one of the few (only?) coaches to get Ollie on a decent path toward the plate — not great, but decent — and more importantly, put him on a program to repeat his mechanics consistently. I don’t know that Ollie ever had “good” or “safe” mechanics, but Peterson definitely made tweaks that allowed him to be a more reliable pitcher.
If Angel is paying attention to the comments, maybe she can weigh in as well. She has real-world experience in applying adjustments to pro pitchers and is more qualified to speak to this subject.
I definitely believe there are many cases when someone with the knowledge of the doctor can have an immediate and extremely positive impact on a pitcher. But I also think there are some pitchers whose unorthodox delivery contributes to their effectiveness. Sid Fernandez is the perfect example. Young, although not as extreme as Sid, may fall into that category.
As for Ollie, I am no expert, but watching video of him under Peterson, it looked like there was a lot more power being generated from his trunk, to the point where it was dangerous because his back was almost to the plate. Under Warthen he looked like a golfer trying to drive without raising his club above either shoulder. But with that said, I only had one game recorded of Ollie under Peterson, and as you said Joe, Ollie didn’t always repeat the same delivery. I have read that Peterson was not popular with some of the players, but I wish they could have found another role for him in the organization, he was talented.
Personally, it worries me that Young doesn’t even want an MRI of the shoulder, I have to wonder if the damage was already done.
I would love to hear the doctors thoughts on the best arm slot for a pitcher. Looking at pitchers that have gone high in the draft, it certainly seems like guys who throw straight over the top have more shoulder issues than guys who throw from a 3/4 slot. If I were running a team I would be talking to someone like Dr. Borrelli before I drafted a pitcher. Joe, maybe a future subject around draft time? 🙂
Thank you both again for all your time.
As for submarine pitchers, I will defer completely to Angel as I’ve always thought it seemed safe but don’t know for sure.
Believe it or not, there are a few MLB teams that confer with scientists with backgrounds similar to Angel’s when it comes to drafting, trading for, and retaining pitchers. However it is something of an “industry secret” right now so we don’t hear much about it. If I get lucky I may be able to blow the lid on that soon — because in the end, it can help literally thousands (millions?) of pitchers in the future.
I hear you on tailoring solutions to the individual pitcher, allowing them to retain what keeps them effective. I imagine that’s an easier task for some pitchers than others, though, right?
I’ve often heard that by the time the landing foot hits, the throwing arm should be cocked at a 90-degree angle. If the arm is not yet at that position, it is considered “late”, and a late arm is correlated with stress on the joints and with shoulder injuries. Does this rule of thumb hold true in your experience?
I ask because Young is always late (by that definition), and it seems to help him hide the ball from hitters. (His arm stays tucked back behind his body longer than usual.) So, if that’s part of what’s wrong with him, wouldn’t fixing it inherently make him less effective? Watching him throw 85mph fastballs by major league hitters, it seems to me that Young absolutely relies on hiding the ball as long as he can!
But I want to bring up something: if indeed that is what makes Chris Young effective, you have to wonder if it is really worth it? Meaning, is it better to have a Chris Young who is lucky to be healthy enough to pitch only 10-15 games a year before getting injured, or does it make more sense for him to adjust his mechanics and find out if he can stay healthy through an entire season? From the team’s standpoint, I’d take that chance (change the mechanics). From the pitcher’s perspective, I’m not sure, since it seems that teams pay huge sums of money on the chance that a chronically injured pitcher might stay healthy enough to justify the contract.
Maybe I’m over-estimating how easy it is to find an adequate #5, or maybe I just liked watching Gee the other day…
I kind of assumed that most pitchers are already hiding it as well as they can, and that Young hides it longer because he’s doing something that others aren’t willing do, possibly for good reason. The only alternative would seem to me to be that most pitchers have been taught mechanics that are vastly sub-optimal. Which I could believe; I just wonder if I’m understanding you right.
After watching the kinesiology-inspired mechanics Mike Marshall teaches, it seems to me that different motions have different strengths, and no one way is optimal on all fronts. Like how Marshall’s protege Jeff Sparks got great movement on his pitches and was never injured, but couldn’t throw strikes or reach 90mph.
Unless I spoke with Chris, I could not say if he uses his unusual method of hand-break (actually there is no hand-break because his pitching arm does not move with the glove movement) for the purpose of hiding the ball…or…if his method is for another reason…and it just happens to hide the ball.
Think about it: does Dan Warthen know about kiniesiology? Should he? Even Rick Peterson is FAR from being an expert on the subject, but he is one of the few who sought advice from “non-traditional” (i.e., people who never pitched professionally) sources such as surgeons, Dr. Glenn Fleisig, etc. And some might even argue that Peterson knows “just enough to be dangerous”.
And here is what makes things more difficult: let’s say there is a parent of a 16-year-old boy who is throwing 90+ MPH. The parent goes to a local batting cage and has the choice of hiring either a former pro pitcher or a kiniesiologist to work with the kid on his mechanics. How many parents are going to choose the scientist?