Mejia: Bad Luck or Just Bad?

After hearing the news of Jenrry Mejia’s elbow injury, many fans lamented about the “bad luck” of the Mets, and how they “can’t catch a break”. Is it really “luck”? Or are injuries such as this more indicative of something “bad” about the Mets? Or perhaps baseball in general?

Let me preface this argument by sharing a personal story that — to me — presents irony as well as comparison.

Last night I got a call from a college catcher and pro prospect with whom I worked for three years, teaching and developing proper catching technique and mechanics — all based on kinesiological fundamentals. Understand this: I am NOT a kinesiologist, nor do I pretend to be on TV. Rather, I am blessed with a good eye for noticing things, a penchant for understanding processes, and I have some teaching skills.

In any case, this catcher called because his throws were off. They were high, and a little to the right. My first question to him was if he had pain in the front of his shoulder, and he answered in the affirmative. I met him immediately to evaluate his mechanics.

To make a long story short, he looked like a completely different catcher compared to the last time I’d seen him (last fall) — in a bad way. After some conversation and cajoling, it came out that he met a “scout” who had determined that his “pop times” weren’t fast enough and he needed to “work on his throwing technique”. The catcher admitted to taking some “advice” from this scout on how he could “improve” his throwing.

Well guess what? Whatever the scout told him was completely wrong, and caused this catcher to throw with less speed and accuracy, and caused his shoulder to hurt. Together, we corrected the issues in about an hour and a half. If the catcher works on re-developing the “good” habits, he should be fine in a few weeks at most — and, his shoulder will stop hurting. Oh, and I guarantee his “pop times” will improve dramatically, as well as his accuracy.

I don’t bring this up because I want you to think I’m some kind of savant. Rather, I relay it as an example of a.) how professional baseball people don’t necessarily know what’s best; b.) that changing a player’s mechanics don’t have to be impossibly complicated; c.) how improving mechanics usually if not always results in better on-field performance; and d.) that there is a direct correlation between improper mechanics and injury, and therefore there is a way to avoid many injuries.

I also bring this up because in my little world, it was ironic that this young stud was calling me about a mechanical issue the same day we found out about Jenrry Mejia’s elbow injury — an injury that was inevitable due to his own mechanical issues (a few of which we discussed here last September). For whatever reason, “organized baseball” is immune to the philosophical concept of “cause and effect”. In baseball, injuries “just happen” and cannot be averted — particularly with pitchers. People inside of, and close to baseball lazily fall back on the theory that “the overhand motion is unnatural, therefore injuries are going to happen no matter what”. I’ll agree that throwing a baseball is not necessarily what the human body was built to do. But, I patently disagree that injuries happen due to some mysterious, uncontrollable force. Baseball is NOT immune to causality; if one pitches with inefficient, dangerous mechanics, then one is likely to become injured. Further, most pro pitchers ARE TAUGHT harmful mechanics by people who are supposed to be “experts” — the professional pitching coaches at every level of the game.

Which is where we come back to Mejia, who barely pitched before the age of 16. The Mets signed him when he was 17 1/2, so we can guess that they saw him pitch from his nascent stages of development. The point being, there was a world of opportunity to get him going with safe, efficient mechanics, but that didn’t happen — and as a result, today we see a sad story of a 21-year-old flamethrower who has now seriously injured both his shoulder and elbow within a 7-month period. The saddest part? It was avoidable.

I don’t mean to pick on the Mets; there are at least 25 other teams that are as ignorant and stubborn when it comes to pitching mechanics (a former GM told me under the strictest of confidence that there are about 3 or 4 teams that he knows of that secretly employ scientists to evaluate pitching mechanics). The only reason I single out the Mets is because this is a Mets blog and the Mets are the team that I watch every night and is the team with which I am abnormally obsessed. One need only look across town at the Yankees and their problems with Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain (among others) to know that pitching injuries bite teams other than the Mets.

The point of this long diatribe is this: the Mets are not victims of “bad luck”, and neither is Jenrry Mejia (unless you position as Mejia being unlucky not to be with one of the teams that has scientists on the payroll). There is no “luck” involved with pitchers injuring their arms — particularly, pitchers who are barely old enough to drink. Everything happens for a reason, and at least one of — if not the main — reasons for pitching injuries is because of improper mechanics. There are no professional pitching coaches — to my knowledge, anyway — who have a degree in human physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, or similar concentrations in the human body and its motion. Therefore most of them are not qualified to evaluate and “correct” a human movement such as pitching mechanics without the assistance of an expert. It’s high time that baseball wanders out of the 18th century and begins to embrace both technology and modern science, and begins to accept qualified, expert evaluation as part of the process in choosing and developing pitchers. With pitching at such a premium, and good pitching so rare and expensive, one would think this breakthrough would have happened a long time ago.

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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. Tommy2cat May 3, 2011 at 8:37 am
    Joe – I agree with your premise. I would refer readers to “Nolan Ryan’s Pitchers Bible” for recommendations on training and technique. The late Alan Dorfman’s “The Art of Pitching” for the mental aspects.

    Training and conditioning. Accelleration/Deccelleration, Mental preparation – visioning techniques.

    The athlete is responsible for knowing his body, his tolerances, what he can and can’t do, what feels natural and what doesn’t. The coach/trainer’s role is to take what the athlete/pitcher has to offer and cultivate a mentality that throws strikes, stays ahead of the count and keeps hitters off-balance.

    That’s my take.

    Tommy2cat

    • Joe Janish May 3, 2011 at 9:03 am
      Tommy, agreed. Nolan Ryan’s book is a decent guide, as is Tom Seaver’s (The Art of Pitching). Bob Shaw wrote a pretty good one too back when dinosaurs were roaming the earth. And Dorfman’s book is excellent as well, though I think the one you are referring to is “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching”.

      But one thing not to ignore is adding an expert to the mix. Meaning, a scientist. As in, someone who has studied and understands human anatomy and its movement. That is the missing piece of the puzzle.

  2. Walnutz15 May 3, 2011 at 8:53 am
    I recall discussing Mejia’s mechanics here around February — commenting and agreeing on how, in having seen a bunch of his appearances last year….that his mechanics were downright awful.

    Whether it was starting off on an extreme side of the rubber, over-rotation in his actual delivery [he'd already had a "strained rotator-cuff" -- hmmm....], or flat-out “off” finishing position after his release and follow-through [completely out of position, to the point where he'd never field anything if he continued with the same mechanics] — there was still a tremendous, tremendous amount of work to be done.

    When you see stuff like this, it makes you even more enraged to know they rushed him last year…..for less than nothing on a terrible club.

    Makes you wonder what kind of silly strain on his arm could have been prevented — and I’m with you, 100% Joe.

    Thank you, Jerry and Co. – for forcing “fits” at every turn…..really no different than the Met “philosophy” of promoting Minor League position players, without — well, you know — actual positions.

    You’d like to think that they’ll now be forced to correct his throwing motion, provided he gets back to where he needs to be, post-surgery.

    Good luck, Hendrry.

  3. B May 3, 2011 at 9:46 am
    You would think that this “genius” front office would already employ someone with the background in biomechanics or kinesiology you mention. It seems like a no-brainer to increase your return on investment.
  4. Silent Bob May 3, 2011 at 10:17 am
    Looks like Mike Marshall is teaching using kineisology along with his MLB career credentials. I wonder why he’s never been a pitching coach for a big league club.

    I realize baseball traditionalists shun new ideas (especially outsiders with that fancy book learnin) however Marshall is in the club and you would think some club would approach him. Maybe he has been approached and makes too much money doing the private thing, but is asking for donations on his web site.

    • Joe Janish May 3, 2011 at 11:04 am
      Marshall is an extremist — even for scientists. His methods and theories are far too radical for baseball to accept right now. Baseball needs first to embrace the concept of working with mainstream scientists who are qualified to evaluate body movement.
      • argman May 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm
        Joe – could you elaborate a little a why Marshall’s methods are considered extreme? When I was reading your article, he was the first person I thought of, but I also know that he hasn’t worked in “organized” baseball in years.
        • argonbunnies May 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm
          Marshall is a paranoid know-it-all who rubs people the wrong way. When the Rays took his protege Jeff Sparks out of innings after walking the bases loaded, Marshall claimed it was a conspiracy to inflate Sparks’ ERA by letting those runners score in order to discredit Marshall.

          The motion Marshall teaches is also VERY different than traditional mechanics, and it’s hard for me to believe that it could generate as much power. I’m also skeptical on control. Pitch movement and resilience from injury, though, look plausible to me. I bet MLB teams could get could mileage out of having one such pitcher in their bullpens!

  5. Walnutz15 May 3, 2011 at 11:09 am
    This organization, in particular, has always been fond of the “Snap, Crackle, Pop” movement.
  6. Steve S. May 3, 2011 at 11:29 am
    Please forward this to Sandy Alderson, and ask him about this issue the next time he meets with bloggers, Joe!
    • Joe Janish May 3, 2011 at 12:34 pm
      I wouldn’t want Sandy to think I had lobby for a job.
  7. Walnutz15 May 3, 2011 at 12:17 pm
    Agreed, Steve.

    I’d love to have access to Alderson and Co.

    . . . .or Ricky Bones, to ask him if the Mets ever mandated a change in mechanics – while Mejia was sent to work at Buffalo this year.

    . . . .or Dan Warthen, to ask him how often Mike Pelfrey’s gone to work with Brent Kemnitz back at Wichita State – since he became pitching coach.

    . . . .or either of The Wilpons, to ask them if they think they’ve ever assembled a truly competent coaching staff.

    It doesn’t take an expert to notice that our Minor League system has rarely (if ever) done what it takes to truly cultivate and develop the talent they do have within the organization.

    Biggest problems within the Met system have been where actual decision-making comes into play:

    - promotion vs. another year of development
    - starting vs. relieving [for pitchers]
    - issues of poor mechanics
    - issues of what players need to work on
    - issues of what position “Prospect X” will play
    - issues of maybe selling off at peak-value for a player or package that could help the big-league club. [Santana trade falling into their laps, excluded]

    Far too often, they’ve never been within the same time-zone as “sound judgment” in any of these respects.

    And it shows.

  8. Tom May 3, 2011 at 12:39 pm
    I wonder why they don’t hire Rick Peterson as CEO of pitching. He has a a good understanding of mechanics and has worked with Dr Andrews for years.
  9. Patrick May 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm
    In the strictest of confidence, is there any proof the four teams employing scientists have delivered enduring or any results?

    I certainly agree with your premise that to just say it happens, is a total bogus punt.

    But look at Rick Peterson and his biometric mania, for every Scott Kazmir he “predicts”, there are pupils the like of Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson who went under the knife and out and out disciples such as Barry ZIto who lost nearly ten miles an hour off the fastball.

    Last year all I heard around baseball was in regards to the flawless mechanics that would protect Stephen Strasberg from elbow problems. That did not work out so well.

    Francisco Rodriguez has to have among the worst mechanics I have ever seen, and yet he appears to be able to weather the storm of pitching consistently in the pen.

    Baseball like every profession has morons who believe they know the answer. The scout that told the catcher you know to change, probably same benefits in suggesting similar things to a few other players, and probably harmed equally as many. Bottom line there is no one size fits all, but certainly teams should be more open to ideas.

    • Curtis May 3, 2011 at 2:05 pm
      “But look at Rick Peterson and his biometric mania, for every Scott Kazmir he “predicts”, there are pupils the like of Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson who went under the knife and out and out disciples such as Barry ZIto who lost nearly ten miles an hour off the fastball.”

      I could easily be wrong here, but didn’t Mulder, Hudson and Zito all take their nosedives AFTER they left Peterson’s tutelage? As Joe points out in his fifth paragraph, about five minutes after you leave the influence of a particular coach, you come under someone else’s influence. I don’t think Peterson should get the blame for things that happened while he wasn’t around to prevent them.

    • Joe Janish May 3, 2011 at 2:07 pm
      Peterson didn’t necessarily know what he was talking about. He knew more than the average pitching coach, but his knowledge was incomplete. Just because someone says that they are going to use principles of biomechanics doesn’t mean they know how.

      But as long as you bring up The Jacket, he DID seem to help Ollie and Maine — for a little while, anyway.

      As for Strasburg, Angel Borrelli spotted a flaw in his motion before he destroyed his elbow. She’s not directly connected with organized ball so that’s probably why you didn’t hear about it. Which again, is my point: MLB needs to look OUTSIDE their boy’s club and consider the expertise of people more qualified to speak to biomechanics.

  10. Nathan May 3, 2011 at 1:03 pm
    Joe I am in total agreement. This can go all tge way to high school coaching and independant coaching. These guys tend to have very little idea about stress managment. At twenty I was pitching for an independant team and the Coach tried to fix some of my issues but it was a little late as I developed a ucl tear and ended my time pitching. If someone along tge way knew what was correct I could have fixed this before the problem manifested.
  11. Joe May 3, 2011 at 1:50 pm
    “Bad luck” also is a term used by those who don’t want to or are not knowledgeable enough to understand the true reasons behind something.

    But, why is this specific pitcher over others hurt? And, why now? “Luck” sometimes has something to do with it. This is so even if the person is putting himself at risk; but others are too. Again, sometimes the specific instance is partially luck.

    As to this case, I have no idea, and will let others here with more knowledge discuss the matter.

  12. mic May 3, 2011 at 5:32 pm
    Matz: barely pitched a game

    Kazmir; his big knock was the same as Jenry’s an injury waiting to happen….

    Humber’s knock was too many college innings.

    So what IS the solution?

  13. James May 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm
    My question is, what did Seaver, Koosman, Ryan, McGraw and others know that Gooden, Mejia and countless other Mets in between don’t seem to know about mechanics? 40 years ago they pitched more innings and seemed to pitch longer…or is my sample size just too small. If they knew this stuff 4 decades ago, why don’t they know it now? Or do we have to bring Rube Walker back from the grave?
  14. Charlie Euchner May 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm
    Excellent post. One minor quibble: the Mets are deep into the 18th century, not the 17th. Give them their due, please.
  15. Mike May 4, 2011 at 4:31 pm
    Looks like you got a shout out from Toby Hyde today regarding your statements about the lack of science being used to teach prospects in baseball. You can see it here: http://www.metsminorleagueblog.com/on-the-mejia-to-the-bullpen-meme/

    I’m a big fan of Toby’s work, despite what some claim is an organizational bias. I think he has one of the best views of the Mets system and first hand knowledge of specific players (the best kind of knowledge). Anyway, just thought it was cool to see two of my favorite Mets blogs collide.

  16. Eric May 5, 2011 at 4:01 pm
    So how do the young guys in the Mets system look in regards to mechanics? Do you see Harvey or Familia having a similar injury in the future?