learned about what the red flags are and how to train movements that will be
green flags," Peterson says, who was fired by the Mets on June 17 as part
of a purge that included manager Willie Randolph. "And most of the people
who cannot perform the movement patterns have some genetic disposition—either
their hips are locked or they don't have the flexibility—so that the major red
flags in deliveries you get from the lab are not fundamental-skill issues.
They're physical and conditioning issues."
offices, coaches and pitchers, however, rely on the same observational approach
to pitching mechanics that has been in place for more than 100 years. Such
analysis by "eyeballing" is combined with a preference to leave a
pitcher alone, no matter how poor his mechanics may be, if he is getting good
results. "That philosophy," Peterson says, "would lend itself to
people who buy expensive cars and stop changing the oil and rotating the tires.
'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' People don't take care of their home that
way; they don't take care of their car that way; they don't take care of their
bodies that way."
MARK PRIOR is a
classic example of a high-performing pitcher who was permitted to break down
because of poor mechanics. Ironically, Prior was often hailed for his
"flawless" mechanics when the Cubs drafted the righthander out of USC
with the No. 2 pick in 2001, though that assessment seems to have been
influenced by scouts' preference for his 6'5", 225-pound body type. Studied
closely, his mechanics included two severe red flags: 1) Prior lifted his
throwing elbow higher than his shoulder before reaching the loaded position,
increasing the stress on his elbow and shoulder; and 2) unlike Lincecum's
dynamic late torso rotation, Prior rotated his hips and torso before getting to
the loaded position. With the letters of Prior's jersey already facing the
target, his arm could not simply "go along for the ride"—the ride was
over, so his arm had to generate all of its own power.
Prior went 41--23
over his first four seasons in the big leagues. During that time, in 2003, when
Prior was on his way to a career-high 18 wins, Peterson gave a presentation to
the Oakland scouting department about "certain red flags in a delivery that
we can't do much about" as the A's prepared for the draft. The idea was to
avoid sinking large signing bonuses into players with a high potential to break
down. (Late picks, because of their lower cost, don't carry the same
One of Oakland's
scouts, responding to Peterson's red-flag warnings, said, "Hey, that's what
Prior does. Are you saying that we shouldn't draft a player like that?"
"No, not exactly. He's one of the best pitchers in the league right now,
but what I am saying is, If he doesn't have maximum [shoulder] rotation, it
will lead to injury. It's like slamming the brakes over and over. The brake
pads are going to wear out until it's metal on metal."
suffered a series of shoulder injuries that have limited him to one win and
nine starts in the three seasons since. Still only 27, he is out for the
season—again—after surgery to repair a tear in his right shoulder. "Prior
is almost all upper body," Chris Lincecum says. "You could cut his legs
off and he would throw just as hard. I don't like to put my finger on players,
but I've been doing this a long time. I've said, 'He's going to blow his elbow
out' or 'His back will go out.' Sure enough, it happens, including Dice-K
[ Daisuke Matsuzaka], Jake Peavy, Prior.... I have a hard time enjoying the
game. I'm sitting there criticizing the pitcher. It hurts to watch pitchers.
Seventy percent of the pros have poor mechanics."
was supposed to be Tim Lincecum. A 6-foot righthander from Rutgers who hit 97
mph on the gun, Brownlie was regarded as one of the top pitchers in the 2002
draft. Peterson was working as the A's pitching coach at the time. Just before
the draft, Oakland G.M. Billy Beane gave Peterson videotapes of some 20
pitchers the A's were considering as draft picks and told him to break down
each pitcher not by stuff and performance but by the biomechanics of their
winter Peterson had met Brownlie at a banquet and told him, "Hey, I hear
you're great. Congratulations, I hear you're going to be a [first round]
pick." But when he watched Brownlie on the tape Beane had given him,
Peterson says, "I'm literally sick to my stomach. I'm going, 'This is so
A few days later,
when Beane asked Peterson what he thought of Brownlie, the pitching coach
replied, "He has certain characteristics in his delivery that will lead to