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.
About the Author
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.