In 1974, for very different reasons, Los Angeles Dodgers’ teammates Tommy John and Mike Marshall
catalyzed two of the most profound discoveries for pitchers in modern
baseball history. The more famous of the discoveries was due to the
efforts of renowned surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, who would perform
the first UCL (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) transplant surgery on a MLB
pitcher. Jobe would take a tendon from another part of John’s body and
reconstruct John’s shredded elbow ligament with it. The implanted
tendon would fortify John’s elbow and act as a ligament. The result was
bionic! Instead of having his career cut short at the age of 31, John
would go on to pitch another 15 years, win 20 games in three different
seasons, and another 164 games overall. The famous surgery was coined
after it’s initial patient and became known as "Tommy John" surgery. In the last 33 years the procedure has saved the careers of hundreds upon hundreds of major league pitchers.
When John underwent the first procedure, the odds of him pitching again
were 100-1. Now around 85% of pitchers who undergo the surgery return
to pre-surgery performance levels within about two years. The surgery
has become so popular that many young pitchers are having it performed
even when their elbow ligament damage is minimal. In many young
pitcher’s eyes the surgery is inevitable and they would rather get it
out of the way sooner rather than later. According to Dr. James Andrews (the foremost "Tommy John" surgeon)
the most common age group now to have the procedure is between 10-18
years of age. This startling fact begs the question, is elbow ligament
transplant surgery, as well as the plethora of other devastating arm
injuries preventable? Or are these injuries just a reality for young
arms that, more than ever, push the radar gun close to 100 mph?
The Marshall Plan
The same year John became the successful guinea pig for modern day
surgery, Mike Marshall accomplished a feat that would challenge the
traditional idea that arm injuries were an inevitable result of being a
professional pitcher. In 1974 Marshall won the NL Cy Young Award by
pitching in a phenomenal 106 games. More phenomenal were the other
records Marshall set by pitching 208 1/3 relief innings that year, and
at one point throwing in 13 consecutive games. Overall, Marshall went
15-12 with 21 saves and a 2.42 ERA. He was injury-free for the rest of
Most everyone in baseball including John thought Marshall was just a
physical freak of nature. But, there was a method to Marshall’s
ability, a very scientific method that drew heavily on Sir Issac Newton’s "Laws of Motion". Marshall has dedicated himself to learning and teaching now for almost 40 years.
In 1967 after experiencing shoulder soreness while pitching for the
Detroit Tigers, Marshall began to apply his love for science and
research to himself. He wondered what was causing his soreness and went
about experimenting with the mechanics of how he threw to rid himself
of the discomfort. The discoveries Marshall would make were
groundbreaking in the science of bio-mechanics applied to the throwing
of a baseball. In 1978 Marshall, while still pitching for the Minnesota
Twins, obtained his Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology. Over the next 29
years Marshall would continue to develop his ideas on the best
mechanics to throw a baseball.
For those unfamiliar with Marshall’s work, here are some highlights
of the mechanics behind Marshall’s method. The scientific explanation
for Marshall’s ideas are pretty complex, so I’ve done my best to
simplify them here. I’ve also linked to a video of a Marshall student throwing a baseball
with these techniques. Unfortunately, the video is from Yahoo, so
there’s a thirty second commercial before the video begins. But, it’s
worth checking out:
1- Sir Isaac Newton’s "First and Second Laws of Motion"
teach that in any movement the direction of the force is the same as
the direction of the acceleration. The most efficient and powerful
movement is that which moves in a straight line. Because of this
Marshall believes that pitchers should apply all of their movement in a
straight-line force towards home plate. Any windup that requires you to
turn your body away from the plate he believes is inefficient and
causes extra stress to the arm. Marshall teaches a pendulum windup much
like a softball pitcher uses or some of the pitchers from the early
part of the nineteenth century.
2- Hidden Velocity– Marshall
teaches pitchers to release the ball from their hand later than
traditional approaches. He claims this will add extra velocity to a
3- Pronation of the Forearm–
This means that a pitcher should turn his palm away from his pitching
arm with the thumb pointing downwards upon follow though. This movement
relieves stress in the elbow and shoulder and prevents the forearm bone from slamming into the upper arm bones.
4- Rear Foot Forward– Pointing
the rear foot forward off of the pitching rubber alleviates stress to
the knee and hip joint while also preventing groin pulls.
5- Throw in a Back To Forward Motion– Marshall claims that throwing across one’s body causes extra stress to the arm that will cause many types of injuries.
6- No Leg Kick– As Marshall puts it, "Stand still and then lift your foot about four feet in front of you. How’s your balance?".
By teaching pitchers to move their foot forward without a kick,
Marshall believes that one has a stronger center of gravity to exert
7- Hand Under The Ball– Pitchers who throw with their hand on top of the ball are prone to rotator cuff and Ulnar Collateral Ligament problems.
These are just a few of the ideas Marshall teaches to improve a
pitcher’s health with his mechanics. To understand more fully, one
really might want to take an anatomy class.
Marshall claims that if pitchers learned his methods, 95% percent of
arm injuries would be preventable including Rotator Cuff problems and
the infamous "Tommy John" injury and. Marshall’s book, Coaching Baseball Pitchers (can be read free on the internet) should probably be on the nightstand of every pitching coach in baseball. So, why isn’t it?
Don’t Wanna Hear It!
Lack of exposure is one reason. Recently though, Jeff Passan
opened Pandora’s box and re-introduced Marshall to the baseball
community in his expose "Outside Pitch" on
Yahoo.com. As Passan’s article articulates, the answer to why organized
baseball has turned a blind eye to Marshall probably lies somewhere
between ignorance and opportunity. In the mid-nineties Marshall sent a
letter to every GM offering his services. Not one replied. Major league
GMs are afraid to send Marshall top-tier talent because the mechanics
he teaches are a direct challenge to the traditional mechanics that
baseball coaches have been teaching for the past 130 years. As Braves
GM John Schuerholz explains,
"It’s so far afield from the traditional,
normal method… Not many people I’ve talked to would be comfortable
embracing a concept that’s so diametrically opposed to the teachings of
If baseball was to adopt Marshall’s ideology they’d basically be
indicting themselves for teaching inferior mechanics. In a recent
conversation I had with Marshall, he shared with me his frustration
from the fact that most pitching coaches have a very limited knowledge
of biomechanics and science which creates a gap in communication, if
not a total brain freeze.
"The minute I start talking to any
pitching coach about the science their faces go blank," Marshall says,
"But, when I give a lecture at any major university, I get a standing
Marshall makes no bones about what he thinks of baseball’s power
brokers. He thinks that the traditional mechanics that they teach
pitchers actually cause most of the arm injuries.
"I got tired of appeasing the stupid… How
long does a blond have to act like a ***** before she gets a date?
These people (in organized baseball) are idiots. They don’t know a ****
thing. The thing is, they’re powerful. They get the kids and can
destroy them. And they do."
If one looks around the majors today, it would be hard to argue with
Marshall’s contention that the traditional pitching mechanics that are
taught contribute to and may cause most arm injuries. Currently, in the
major leagues their are roughly 360 pitchers. If one were to look at
the injury list, one would find that 73 pitchers or a little over 20%
of major league pitchers are currently on the Disable List (DL) or
day-to-day with elbow or shoulder injuries. This number does not
include back, leg, rib, or other arm injuries. It also doesn’t include
the many minor leaguers that are suffering from arm injuries.
So are these injuries really inevitable? Or as Marshall insists, can
95% of them be prevented by learning his throwing mechanics? And if
pitchers did adopt Marshall’s mechanics could they still pitch as
effectively? You’d think that at least one GM might want to give
Marshall a shot to prove his ideas at the major league level. What
would a GM like the Cubs’ Jim Hendry really have to lose by sending some of his MASH patients like Mark Prior or Kerry Wood over to Marshall’s school in Zephyrhills, Florida for a few months?
For the answers to these question and more
insight into Dr. Mike Marshall’s theories on pitching, tune into
BASEBALL TALK w/Carl the Cabbie & Dugout Joe this Sunday, May 20th
at 1:00 PM. If you have a question you’d like to ask Dr. Marshall you
can call in between 1:00-2:00 at 646-478-4570. Just click HERE
to go listen to this week’s show or any of our past shows. Also, if any
MLBloggers would like to be a guest on our show to talk about and
promote their blog, just e-mail us at email@example.com.
Carl The Cabbie