Pedro Martinez is one of those iconic baseball pitchers.
He has a certain flair and certain mentality and more importantly…
Knowledge that we all need to learn from.
After all, a Hall of Fame career can be even more fulfilling if you have the intangibles to teach others how to succeed (without telling them to go about everything exactly how they would. This phenomenon is why many elite athletes are horrible at coaching).
Back to the task at hand.
Pedro Martinez of the Boston Red Sox (formerly New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies) had a immensely successful career and a couple years ago was asked about how to save the pitching elbow.
Seems simple, right?
Well if it was that simple baseball would have solved the epidemic by now.
Let us see what Pedro’s take is on the whole situation via the Major League Baseball Network.
Pedro is talking about how to save your elbow in relation to Tom Koehler, who had some ugly mechanics back in 2015.
Let’s break down the video advice, piece by piece.
Bulk on Baseball Pitchers
In Pedro Martinez’s opinion, every young kid that is rushed up, is built on power (insert mental image of Jose Canseco here) and does not necessarily have the other tools or intangibles to succeed.
His statement may seem like a large generalization with gaps in between ideas, but let us expand his thought process.
Velocity is the easiest way to get noticed. Albeit sometimes for all the wrong reasons.
This translates into baseball pitchers putting velocity up on a pedestal and in return glorifies the radar gun.
Velocity becomes sexy, which means, baseball pitchers train for velocity. A vicious cycle.
Building pure muscle without an overall conditioning program, does not make you a better athlete, it just makes you, well, strong and less mobile.
This is where Pedro (and we have to love his usage of terms) highlights “baby ligaments”.
Many baseball pitchers do not understand that pure strength training without increasing flexibility will cause mobility issues.
The lack of mobility will limit range of motion and put awkward undue stress on your ligaments. Couple this with increased power output and you have a recipe for disaster, regardless of what pitching mechanics you have or sport you are playing.
To recap that thought, improper strength training (without increasing flexibility) leads to decreased mobility or range of motion.
Diving deeper into this thought process. Many high velocity baseball pitchers in the 90’s and even today are often tall, might be lanky, and use their flexibility and long levers (arms and legs) to generate velocity.
This phenomenon is why you see football players who are bulky, struggle to throw the baseball.
I myself suffered through this when I was younger.
I weight trained for football and saw my baseball flexibility decrease massively. I did not stretch enough and saw my accuracy diminish.
The two may not seem related, but hear me out.
My body remembers my release point through muscle memory. My arm reaches a certain point in space (say from a high 3/4 arm slot with my pitching arm fully extended) and my mind tells my hand to release the ball.
Now if I am overly bulky (without flexibility) my release point will likely change. My throwing arm will not be able to extend all the way due to the lack of flexibility (and disproportionate muscles).
My arm will follow a different arm path than what my body is used to and my mind will be confused. My mind will have to relearn where that release point is.
Now do not get me wrong here, we are not saying do not weight lift. We are saying train to be flexible, agile, and lean ala Tom Brady’s mantra.
Tom Koehler’s Troubling Pitching Mechanics
The video above highlights some interesting issues with Tom Koehler’s pitching mechanics.
While Pedro goes on a few of his sidebars, the main thing we can pick up from his Koehler’s mechanics, is foot placement. We touched on this earlier with the article about the importance of the front-foot, but let us reiterate.
Koehler’s front toe tracks a bit open (albeit on a different path than the MLB Network highlighted in their video, at least in our opinion).
Koehler’s front foot lands behind (or to the left of) his back foot.
What this means is that he is not following a straight line to the plate.
This causes his front shoulder to open up too soon.
The forward momentum then creates an awkward arm path for his throwing arm.
As you can see in the video, this arm path and open front shoulder causes undue stress immediately on his arm that unfortunately was not fully remedied, since the release of the MLB Network video.
Notice how his front foot falls off the straight line path (blue rectangle) and lands in the open position (green rectangle). As Pedro noted, this causes the front shoulder to open up and the throwing arm to lag behind.
Here is a clip of Tom Koehler’s pitching mechanics in 2016.
Unfortunately, Koehler has not altered his approach, and could soon be a victim of the plagued elbow stiffness (if he has not already).
Will Pedro’s Advice End the Elbow Epedimic?
Unfortunately, we here at Innings Pitched do not think his advice will end the elbow epedimic.
If you will allow it, let me get on my soap box here.
Pitching mechanics, in baseball, is so difficult to understand, as many get it wrong (believe me I have been there).
Now, do not think of this as making excuses, but hear me out.
Baseball pitchers would love a one size fits all approach to pitching mechanics. The reality is, that type of thinking contributes to the problem.
Two different baseball pitchers with two different body types and tendon/muscle flexibility are going to approach pitching mechanics differently.
The more flexible pitcher will likely have a larger range of motion, the less flexible one will be more compact.
You cannot really expect two different baseball pitchers to mechanically perform the same way. Especailly if the baseball pitcher’s natural flexibility was not altered by their lifting program,
Instead of honing in on the perfect set of pitching mechanics, let us all as whole focus on strengthening the muscles around the elbow to help protect the tendons. After all, you cannot strengthen ligaments, only muscles.
The other step to this process is for baseball pitchers to be honest about feeling fatigue, discomfort, and/or pain IMMEDIATELY.
Baseball pitchers are just as much to blame for the epidemic as baseball coaches and pitching instructors.
What are your thoughts?