Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Drabek & Hutchison: Doomed by the Inverted W?

By
It would be a gross understatement to say lady luck has not been very kind to the Blue Jays starters this season. Three mainstays in the starting rotation went down in a matter of just four days; what kind of a freak occurrence was that?

Despite no real warning signs, could it be that Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison were destined for injury all along?

A few years back, I delved into the injury bug that was plaguing the Blue Jays starting rotation. Back in 2009 just as they are now, it seemed like the starters were dropping like flies. It turns put part of it had something to do with the "Inverted W".

If you've never heard of the "Inverted W" before, then I highly recommend checking out this piece by Chris O'Leary titled "Death to the Inverted W". That's essentially the shape the pitcher's arms make as they cock the baseball: an upside down W.

The Inverted W isn't necessarily a death sentence for pitchers, but the list of players who displayed the symptoms and gone on to have Tommy John surgery is staggering. There's Stephen Strasburg, Mark Prior, Shaun Marcum, and B.J. Ryan just to name a few.

And now the Blue Jays could possibly be adding two more names to that list: Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison. Drabek underwent Tommy John surgery on Tuesday, and it looks like he is one of the "Inverted W" offenders (or is actually in an "Inverted L"?)

It hasn't been confirmed that Drew Hutchison will need Tommy John for his sprained UCL, but the Blue Jays are getting a second opinion in Florida. Which coincidentally, is also where Dr. James Andrews resides ... unofficially known as the grim reaper for pitchers.

Again, we see that Hutchison is lifting his elbows above his shoulders to create that Inverted W.

Although it might seem like this is something that's only affecting the Blue Jays, they aren't the only team who has been victim to one of their young starting pitchers going down to an elbow injury. Just look at Brandon Beachy, who also suffered an elbow tear similar to Kyle Drabek.

Beachy displays the textbook case of the Inverted W, so it should come as no surprise that he'll also likely need Tommy John surgery as well.

So what's the big deal about the Inverted W? ESPN did a feature piece on Tommy John surgery earlier this year focused mostly on Stephen Strasburg, but broke down the side affects of the Inverted W quite thoroughly.
"To throw a baseball properly, a pitcher must get into the right position at the right time with the right succession of movements, like dominoes falling. Disruptions in this kinetic chain, as experts call it, cause problems at the weakest link, most often the elbow or shoulder.

If a pitcher's elbows come higher than his wrists and shoulders, with the ball pointing down, he's demonstrating an "inverted W" -- a sign that his sequence is off and he's fighting his own body. Such poor timing leads to arm lag, evident when the throwing elbow trails the shoulder once the shoulders square to home plate.

Strasburg exhibits both problems, forcing him and others like him to rely more on the arm's relatively small muscles instead of the more massive ones in the legs and torso. Throw after throw, the shoulder and elbow are under extra stress.

The higher the pitch's velocity and the worse the flaw, the more the arm suffers. And the more a pitcher throws, the worse it gets."
The whole kinesiology and biomechanics involved in a pitcher's windup and delivery is something that's rather complicated, but one wonders that if the Blue Jays coaching staff have noticed the Inverted W in Drabek, Hutchison or any other pitcher's delivery. if it's in fact something that can be fixed.

It seems like the Inverted W is the side affect of a timing issue with a pitcher's delivery. The elbows are being elevated, therefore there's more stress on those joints. And the reason for that seems to be because the pitcher is lagging in their delivery and has to overcompensate by getting more power from his arms rather than his legs.

I don't know if it's something that's an easy fix, especially for someone like Kyle Drabek who has spent years on end with the same delivery. The much more deep-rooted problem seems to be Drabek's timing, and his tendency to fall off the mound towards first base.

The strange thing about Kyle Drabek is there are some photos where he's clearly displaying the Inverted W or Inverted L, and then there are others where his delivery looks nothing of the sort.

Correcting the Inverted W might be more successful with Drew Hutchison because he's still relatively in the infancy of his pitching career compared to Kyle Drabek. Really though, these guys are just going to pitch they way they've always pitched.

The Blue Jays don't necessarily need to go back to the drawing board and completely overhaul Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison's delivery, but the Inverted W is definitely something that should be on their radar.

Images courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images and Reuters Pictures

15 comments:

  1. Great information here.

    It's hard to imagine what this rotation is going to look like by the end of the year, but it could be ugly if we are just using some fill in players for the remainder. Judging by interviews with Farrel, it doesn't sound like they are eager to bring up any more of their young talent quite yet.

    I'm sure that the Jays are already keeping a very close eye on their young arms in the minors. I wonder if we're going to start hearing stories of some of our guys 're-vamping' their delivery, trying to avoid this 'inverted W'. If that is something that can even be trained!

    Let's hope these guys heal up properly, and are back pitching next year....or the year after.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One guy that I'm surprised the Blue Jays haven't gone with yet is Scott Richmond. He's down in Vegas right now, but not on the Blue Jays 40 man. He certainly could be serviceable for some innings, probably a better choice than maybe Chavez or grabbing somebody from New Hampshire.

      Delete
    2. Right, I completely forgot about Richmond. Surprised he hasn't been given a shot yet over Chavez, or even Correno. Plus, we had an empty spot on the 40 man up until the Jays claimed Pauly....which I can't see lasting long.

      Delete
  2. I wonder about kids who look up to pitchers like Strasburg and Beachy and try to emulate them

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Steve, it seems like a vicious cycle - guys were probably emulating Mark Prior's delivery as he made his way through the ranks, and then those guys develop the Inverted W as well, which leads to another crop of pitchers emulating that style.

      Delete
  3. I'm looking through my Getty archive and not seeing images of either Hutchison or Drabek raising their pitching side elbows above their shoulders in the Inverted W, so I'm not sure I buy that they're doing this. If they were, though, I'm not sure I buy that there's anything more than circumstantial evidence to suggest it's a problem. Pitchers of all types of delivery get hurt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stoeten, it's kind of hard to tell. I only found one actual straight on shot of Drabek's delivery (the one above), and it almost looks more like the "Inverted L" than the "Inverted W". With Hutch, it's harder to sell because it kind of looks like a side angle.

      Delete
    2. This is why bloggers should stick to blogging. Those two examples are awful. Drabek is a borderline 'W' at best, Hutchison is no where near a 'W'. Neither are an inverted L's either. The inverted L looks exacly how it sounds. Elbow is level with the shoulder, and the forearm/ball are pointed straight down.

      Delete
  4. You can add Morrow to the Inverted W club:

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-AP0VkLZp70s/TwZCvZ71q4I/AAAAAAAAAPM/R7tiz-ugziE/s400/brandon-morrow.jpg

    Chris O'Leary, probably the main advocate of the Inverted W theory, mentions the Jays in a recent article:

    "Given that Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez all have Inverted W's, you have to wonder if, like the Blue Jays, the Nats are either scouting for the Inverted W and/or don't believe it's problematic."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It definitely looks like Morrow is in the Inverted W club. That picture was from last year at least, so maybe he's altered his delivery?

      In that post I did in 2010, I asked Chris a similar question about why all those injuries were congregating on the Blue Jays roster (back then it was Marcum, Litsch, McGowan and Ryan). Here's what he had to say:

      "I have often wondered if someone inside the Blue Jays is actually selecting guys because they have the Inverted W. They just seem to congregate in the Blue Jays more than in any other organization, which makes me wonder if people are either drafting or signing pitchers for it or teaching it."

      Delete
  5. You'll find baseball people who swear the inverted W is a guarantee for injury, and you'll find others who find the claim laughable. I'm definitely in the latter group. Nolan Ryan had awful mechanics and a very obvious inverted W, and he's one of the most durable pitchers in baseball history. The fact is, pitchers are doing something that is at the extreme limits of what a body can physically do. Throwing 95 mph is not a normal thing. Shit happens in baseball, and anyone can get hurt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nolan Ryan didn't have an inverted W.....
      http://www.chrisoleary.com/projects/pitchingmechanics101/Essays/ScapularLoading.html

      http://www.chrisoleary.com/projects/pitchingmechanics101/Essays/MarkPriorPitchingMechanics_ADifferentPerspective.html

      Delete
  6. Why isn't it just called an "M"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's a good article here behind the explanation of why it's Inverted W and just just an M:

      http://www.drivelinebaseball.com/2011/09/08/why-its-called-the-inverted-w-and-not-the-m/

      But basically it's that most pitchers have their arms in the upright W position when they plant their front foot, while the others have it upside down or inverted.

      Delete
  7. New team, new baseball field drag, new people and new uniforms. That is the possible outcome for those new recruits.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...