How Jonathon Niese’s Delivery Can Be Fixed


The bad news: Jonathon Niese left Sunday’s ballgame after the second inning with pain in his elbow. The good news: assuming the MRI comes out clean, the arm problems Niese has experienced this spring can be easily fixed by making minor adjustments to his pitching delivery.

Last week, Angel Borrelli and I discussed Jonathon Niese’s shoulder injury. After Niese’s first start last Tuesday, I sent slow-motion video from the game to Angel to analyze, so that we could see how his mechanics looked and what he might need to “fix,” if anything (the name of the podcast is “The Fix,” after all). There are three things to consider with a pitching injury:

1. identifying the injury (and whether surgery or rehab is necessary)

2. allowing the injured body part to heal, and strengthening it

3. identifying what in the motion is causing the pain that sent the pitcher to the doctor in the first place.

The idea of this podcast was to focus on #3 — to examine the video from last Tuesday, and figure out why Niese might be experiencing shoulder discomfort and a drop in velocity. Angel was excited to see that the adjustments that needed to be made were minor — that his issue was easily fixable.

We got on the phone at 11:30 Sunday morning, so keep in mind, we didn’t know he was going to hyperextend his elbow less than two hours later.

I listened to the Mets – Cardinals game on WOR, and the moment Josh Lewin and John Franco reported that Niese had left the ballgame with elbow pain, I called Angel. The first thing that came out of her mouth: “Do you know where in the elbow he’s having the pain? Because it would make sense if it’s in the back of the elbow — that would mean it’s a deceleration issue and what we talked about this morning.”

For the record, we didn’t know for sure it was pain in the back of the elbow until a few hours later. I point this out not to prove that Angel is some kind of a psychic, but rather to help you understand that the human body works a certain way, and properly trained scientists can connect the dots and help prevent these kind of injuries.

If you are interested in learning more about why Niese has been having problems with his arm this spring, and how the shoulder, elbow, and rest of the body work together, then listen to the podcast below. Angel describes in-depth the following topics:

– Forensic analysis of a pitching motion
– Point of acceleration in a pitcher’s delivery (a.k.a., “max external rotation”)
– Leading with the elbow
– Jonathon Niese’s shoulder injury vs. Johan Santana‘s
– How the mechanics of Johan Santana and Bartolo Colon have evolved similarly (and dangerously)

Again, if we hear that the MRI comes back clean — meaning, no major injury with Niese’s elbow — then his arm woes can very easily be alleviated, because thanks to science, we understand where the pain was coming from and how it can be fixed. Once we hear the results of the MRI, I’ll circle back with Angel to learn more of what’s going on from a scientific angle.

In the meantime, listen to the podcast below (and the first one, if you haven’t heard it already), and if you have any specific questions, please post them in the comments — I’ll get them answered for you either here or in the next podcast with Angel.

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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. Walnutz15 March 17, 2014 at 8:39 am
    Johnny-Timebomb’s already well on his way to blowing-up, and we’re not even close to the starting gate.

    I have no faith in the pitching coach to implement effective adjustments, considering the laundry list of major (mechanic-related) injuries to occur on his watch.

    It’s amazing to me that this coaching staff is still in tact. Guys like Hudgens and Warthen are dinosaurs in the new world of MLB.

    Don’t even get me started on Collins.

    Gonna be another fun year.

    • Dan42 March 17, 2014 at 9:08 am
      They are definitely far from unique, example being Patrick Corbin’s “unexplained” performance drop towards the end of last year.
    • Joe Janish March 17, 2014 at 9:55 am
      I can’t put this on Dan Warthen — he’s not a biomechanics / human kinetics expert. It’s endemic throughout baseball, at every level. The role of the pitching coach should be to help with mental preparation and strategy. Additionally, teams should hire qualitative scientists to evaluate pitching mechanics and make adjustments. No baseball coach should be expected to fully understand kinesiology, unless he has an advanced degree in the subject. Note that “advanced degree” is very different from “studying” the subject or reading about it (Rick Peterson and Tom House, for example, know just enough to be dangerous).

      Considering the billions of dollars MLB brings in, and the tens to hundreds of millions invested in top pitchers, the cost of hiring scientists to help keep pitchers healthy should be a no-brainer.

      • Walnutz15 March 17, 2014 at 10:15 am
        No disagreement here. However, it has been with rarer-than-rare occurrence that any of these guys make it through a full season while wearing our laundry.

        That, to me, is enough to know we’ve had a problem on our hands for awhile. Let alone digging any further into what I’ve already thought of Warthen for the past 5 seasons. It’s clear that he, like Hudgens, isn’t anywhere near effective when it comes to making mechanical adjustments —- an area I think the FO really needs to address with these arms, just as I see it being a hindrance to hitters, attempting to make every hitter into a robot that sees “X”-amount of pitches per AB.

    • DanS March 19, 2014 at 11:45 am
      I made a similar point about Warthen last week with regard to Edgin. Some of the contributors here don’t seem to think that “mechanics-related” issues are part of the pitching coach’s domain. Yet, they are willing to offer insights based on their watching film! I think you hit it right on the head: coaches like Warthen are dinosaurs. It’s time to bring in some coaches who can do more than set the rotation and cheerlead.
  2. Dan B March 17, 2014 at 10:11 am
    Joe you make a great point about the pitching coach. Not only are they not effective at breaking down pitching motion but by trying to do so the pitching coach is taking his focus away from what he should be doing which is managing the mental elements. Maybe pitching coaches are afraid they will be seen as less needed if they bring in experts. I think the opposite might happen as they focus more on what they know. Also, evaluating pitching motion should start in the minors and monitored throughout the pitcher’s career. A MLB pitching coach can’t do that.
    • Joe Janish March 17, 2014 at 10:32 am
      Dan, you’re spot-on, on all points.

      Funny you suggest that coaches are afraid. Angel told me that whenever she walks into a baseball training center to work with one of her clients, the pitching coaches grumble — they can’t stand her, because as long as she’s making mechanical adjustments, the pitching coach doesn’t have much value — other than to sit on a bucket and be the catcher.

      It is going to be a hard pill for pitching coaches to swallow — to admit they don’t really know enough about body movement. But that doesn’t mean they have to be useless. For example, a scientist is not going to know how to set up a hitter, or teach the nuances of a change-up grip. The addition of scientists to the equation of keeping pitchers healthy has to happen — the sooner, the better.

    • DaveSchneck March 17, 2014 at 5:24 pm
      Amongst your excellent points, I think the most important is that this role split from the pitching coach needs to happen at the lowest levels in the minors. The old school, hardened pitching coach will always have some resentment and turf protection, it is human nature, but in the long run the biggest roadblock will be from the athlete. It will be hard enough getting drafted kids to change, since “their” mechanics are what made them excel and get drafted in the first place. To get a guy like Niese, or Santana, or Medlen, or Beachy, or any big leaguer to change is near impossible. These guys have ascended to the top 150 of the 7 billion humans at starting a professional baseball game as pitcher. Millions of potential earnings are at stake, and for a 1-3 year big leaguer, most of these guys haven’t earned enough money for financial comfort should they need to change careers. They are not going to change. The team that gets its kids to change, A ballers, rookie camps, and shows the results, will be emulated. And, when that happens, it will seep into high school ball and become part of the fabric of training pitchers from childhood. It won’t eliminate all injuries, but it should certainly help to reduce them, and prevention is the best medicine out there.
      • Joe Janish March 17, 2014 at 6:11 pm
        Agreed, Dave.

        One thing I want to point out, though. A common misconception is that mechanical changes are drastic. In most cases, all that’s needed is a minor adjustment, and, when applied properly, the pitcher feels the difference immediately and embraces it. That said, I’d be surprised if a pitcher — regardless of age — would refuse to “change,” because he’d immediately feel better about the adjustment. I get where you’re going — we’ve seen it with Dylan Bundy and Trevor Bauer with their long-toss programs. But the difference here is that the changes are not necessarily drastic, they can feel and see the improvement immediately, and it’s based on hard scientific facts, rather than theories posed by ignorant, unqualified people.

        For the record, Kris Medlen went to Angel after his Tommy John surgery, made adjustments, remained healthy, then stopped working with her about a year and a half ago. Coincidence?

  3. Walnutz15 March 17, 2014 at 12:24 pm
    Always encouraging to hear about cortisone shots being administered in Mid-March to players with recurring injury-history.

    Prevention and Recovery, baby!

    • Joe Janish March 17, 2014 at 1:17 pm
      Yeah, just saw that. So, he’s going to feel no pain and start throwing again right away. That’s fine, IF he adjusts his motion and plants his foot properly. If not, though, we can expect to see more injuries in the future.
      • Walnutz15 March 17, 2014 at 2:02 pm
        Hey – definitely don’t have to convince me of the Mets horrendous handling of pitchers through the years.

        I fully expect this to mask his pain, at least to get them through “breaking camp” – then having him take his spot in the rotation when called-upon, only to hit the D.L. shortly thereafter.

        Niese gets hurt, literally every year. It’s just a matter of “what and when” it is……..rather than “if” it will happen.

        • Izzy March 17, 2014 at 6:34 pm
          Its not just the Mets walnutz. As many have alluded to, baseball doesn’t use scientists to do scientists work and they send guys to doctors who know that cortisone shots make you feel better for a while and being doctors they don’t know motion from the man on the moon. You hear about cortisone shots everywhere. Get em back on the field and hopefully they make it until October.
        • Walnutz15 March 17, 2014 at 7:31 pm
          Never did I imply it’s “just the Mets” — they’ve just specialized in it for over 20 yrs runnin’ now. It’ll be comical when they pass Niese off as “fine” and he’s injured again by May.
        • argonbunnies March 17, 2014 at 9:35 pm
          I wonder how the Mets stack up against other teams — somewhere between the middle and bottom, for sure, but I don’t know how many more pitchers they’ve shredded than nearly everyone else. Which teams are doing well in this regard? I think the Rays, but that may be due to losing all their pitchers while they’re still fairly young. Although youth hasn’t saved Oakland…

          The White Sox have led MLB in starting pitcher health for the past decade or so, and much of the credit has been given to head trainer Herm Schneider. I’d be interested to hear if he and Cooper talk before Cooper addresses pitchers’ mechanics. Schneider’s not a scientist, but seems like a pretty badass physical therapist.

        • Joe Janish March 17, 2014 at 11:03 pm
          About two years ago, a former GM who shall remain nameless once told me, in confidence, that “about 3 or 4 teams” use science / scientists / biomechanic studies in evaluating pitchers. However, I’m guessing that those teams were using Rick Peterson’s service, which is only one-half of what’s needed (he does quantitative analysis, and what’s necessary is both quantitative AND qualitative; it could be argued that qualitative is more helpful, but since it’s more difficult to measure by the bean counters … well …).

          Are more teams employing scientists? Gosh I hope so. The shame is that the ones that are, are using it as a competitive advantage and in secrecy — kind of their “moneyball” advantage. Which really, really sucks, because if the information is not shared, pitchers at every level, every age, will continue to put themselves into danger.

        • DaveSchneck March 18, 2014 at 8:50 am
          Joe and AB,
          It is inevitable that it will “come out” sooner or later, likely later, and many will suffer unnecessary injuries as a result. This is no different than any other medical advances.

          I would love to see an analysis of teams and pitcher injuries. This isn’t an “age” thing, along with Harvey, the Nats lost Zimmerman and Strasburg to TJ at an early age, Melen and Beachy are young as well, and it looks like the recent rash of guys dropping this spring is among the younger players as well.

        • Izzy March 19, 2014 at 2:26 pm
  4. argonbunnies March 17, 2014 at 9:24 pm
    I dunno if Angel feels comfortable speaking about this in public, but what I’d like to hear is why pitchers ever stop working with her. If they actually do feel good and perform effectively under her guidance, why in the world would they take the risk of changing their supervision? Most athletes are completely allergic to change when things are going well.

    Either applied pitching science is hit-and-miss (and thus hard to conclusively credit), or there’s some other source of resistance in place here. You think Medlen’s really going to risk his career just to help Roger McDowell feel secure?

    • Joe Janish March 20, 2014 at 11:23 am
      Argon, you pose a very good question. I think a very big part of why a pitcher would stop working with Angel — or ANY outside contractor for pitching — has much to do with MLB teams discouraging it, combined with MLB teams convincing pitchers that they know best, combined with the kids being afraid to rock the boat. Pro ball is highly competitive, as you know, and there’s an incredible amount of pressure to “do as you’re told” in order to remain in pro ball and advance to higher levels. SOME pitchers can get away with what is perceived as rebellion — Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy (ironically) come to mind — but for the most part, I think newly signed, young pitchers are afraid to go outside the organization for help.

      But that’s only my theory.

      As for Angel, I think she’d be shooting herself in the foot if she elaborated on why previous clients left — it wouldn’t bode well for future business (how can a prospective client trust her, if she is open about her business relationship with previous clients?). But, here is her response:

      “While I would love to answer your excellent questions in a way that would help me look better, I cannot. Pitchers hire me to help them when they are in situations that require my respect and understanding. Even though those situations have passed, I cannot violate their privacy out of respect for them and the next future client/pitcher that may need the same discretion from me.

      Good coaches, i.e., those of us who are behind the scenes, know that our work may go unnoticed by the masses. But if you are a committed coach, behind the scenes is where you want to be.

      Here’s what I can say without conscience: my current business is made up of 95% of high school and D-1 college pitchers. 90% of them have been with me for years and 50% of them for 6 years or more. My pitchers remain uninjured; they are closely monitored in terms of their pains; they strength train under my guidance; and in any holiday or off-season, pitchers that I have worked with fill my schedule for workouts and tune-ups…and off-season
      adjustments…to be sure that they are on track.

      My work right now is about engineering the next generation. With that being said, I will continue to try and be heard by that one pitcher of this generation whose mind may be open to a different way of doing things.”