Somehow it’s still spring training, and it won’t stop being spring training for another week and a half. We’re at the point now where everyone is beyond ready for meaningful games to begin, but just because spring training might last too long doesn’t mean it doesn’t serve a useful purpose. In spring training, pitchers and hitters can start building up their stamina. In spring training, young players can try to push veterans for jobs. In spring training, teams make money! And in spring training, players can work on tweaks during live game action without the games yet being of any real significance. Players seem to be constantly making little adjustments.
Now, the people over at Hardball Talk do great work in chronicling all the best-shape-of-his-life stories that emerge around this time of year. It’s intended in fun, but it could also conceivably be of some analytical value. Here, I want to chronicle stories of pitchers making mechanical adjustments, tweaks to their deliveries. Implementing changes they made over the offseason, or even earlier in spring. I think it would be handy to have this information in one place, even if it’s presently unclear why that might be. It could be of use down the road.
I’ve spent a lot of time on Google, and below, you’ll find what I’ve recovered. Note that changes to delivery are not the same thing as trying a new pitch — that might make for an interesting but separate reference post. Also, this is about pitchers tweaking their mechanics, not hitters tweaking their mechanics. And finally, before we proceed, please let me know in the comments if there are stories that I’ve missed. I’m almost certain that there are, and there are possibly several of them. Think of this as crowdsourcing in a way, and if you provide a link, I’ll add the information to the post. Now, the rest of the post.
Also part of his issue last season, Abad said, was his arm slot. He was bring his arm too far out and away from his body and flying open when he delivered to the plate. He said he worked during the winter to stay closed and hold his arm higher.
The reliever has been working with Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves on improving the direction of his stride when delivering the ball
“A more controlled setting and to continue to focus on stride direction,” Farrell told reporters when asked about the thinking behind the simulated game.
“Coming into spring training I felt fully healthy, but when you’re trying to overwrite 10 years of neuromuscular programming, in four or five weeks, it’s a little bit tough,” he said.
Bauer said he’s making the changes to improve his health and command. He did not go into detail about the changes.
“It’s feeling great,” Beavan said. “I worked on it pretty hard this offseason. I’m showing my front side earlier this year, breaking my hands up early, kind of like [Doug] Fister, how he gets that front side up real quick. I’m not that dramatic, but I’m trying to get it where everything is coming downhill.”
Bray is still trying to rid himself of the bad habit that cropped up last year. He has always thrown from a high three-quarters arm slot. “Right now,” Bray said, “I’m right over the top.”
“That’s a working process,” pitching coach Steve McCatty said. “We keep doing it. It’s something that became a bad habit last year.”
“My arm angle got a little wide and I was kind of turning the ball behind my head a little bit, even trying to make it sink. The ball was moving a lot, but it was moving early.”
Enright went 5-1 with a 2.73 ERA in eight starts for the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees, earning a September callup, and worked with pitching coach Mike Butcher in Arizona during the offseason to regain his old delivery.
That process started in early December when Hendrickson, a 6-foot-9 lefty, started working on a new sidearm delivery.
The basic approach right now is trying to have Jimenez work more fluidly and swiftly throughout his motion from the wind-up. In studying video from the pitcher’s days with the Rockies and comparing to footage of his most recent season, Cleveland found that Jimenez was nearly a full second faster with his delivery a few years ago.
Last season, Jimenez’s slowed motion caused him to pause slightly when he reached his right hand behind his back. On occasion, he would hook the ball behind his back before then driving toward the plate. Such hesitation diminished momentum and, in turn, contributed to the pitcher’s drop in velocity over the past three seasons.
New Red Sox manager John Farrell and Lester both noticed some “clicks” in Lester’s delivery that set him off down the wrong path last season, particularly before the All-Star break. Lester, Farrell said, swung his lead leg “like a swinging gate,” with a collapsing backside. Those minor tweaks caused Lester to lose his downward angle, which helps with both pitch location and velocity, and his pitch deception.
“Last year wasn’t off by much. Honestly it’s a click,” Lester said. “That click can mean the difference of the angle. Your hand’s underneath it as opposed to being on top. Cutter flattens out. Curveball’s loopy. Just that click can make the biggest difference. We’re trying to fine-tune those things.”
What Masterson did was instead of landing with his left foot pointed directly at the plate, he moved a few inches to his right.
“I closed it off a little bit, to throw off a stiff hip,” said Masterson. “It’s the thing we’ve been talking about all spring, and sure enough after we made that adjustment, all of a sudden the ball had a lot more depth to its break, we had some quick innings and not a lot of good swings.”
I knew I hadn’t seen a delivery like that in camp so far.
It was non-roster invitee Daniel McCutchen testing out a new lower arm slot.
We haven’t talked much about McCutchen. He’s kind of been lost in the shuffle among all the pitchers here in camp, but his new delivery — in which he almost frenetically uncoils into a low three-quarters style motion — was enough to raise eyebrows.
Instead, Adair tweaked McFarland’s mechanics to literally put him in a better position to get hitters out.
“Just a little alignment adjustment,” McFarland said. “I was getting a little across my body with my hips, so I just kind of realigned it and positioned it toward the plate a little more, and I’m able to throw a lot more strikes.”
That’s when Nova and Larry Rothschild began working on a slightly altered delivery, one without such a long motion before Nova delivers the ball.
Nova isn’t exactly short-arming the ball, but he said he’s concentrating on keeping the action shorter from the moment his hand gets to his hip. Nova said that, from that moment in his delivery, he tries not to overextend to the back. He said he’s always thrown his curveball with that slightly shorter arm action, and now he’s throwing everything that way.
Pomeranz is still making his pitch for a spot in the Opening Day rotation. But no matter when he settles back into the big leagues, he knows the mechanical tweak he’s made in camp — getting more length in his left arm as he brings the ball out of the glove — has to be in place.
Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones asked Porcello to work on his delivery during the offseason. And Porcello, Jones said, was “the epitome of a professional” with the way he responded.
“I kind of just pretended like I didn’t know how to pitch and started from scratch, doing simple drills,” Porcello said. “It’s worked out. It’s helped.
“I redirected my focus to keeping my head on line, keeping my shoulder in, things that you would almost tell a Little League kid. That’s really it. I just tried to rebuild my foundation and my mechanics a little bit.”
Qualls during the offseason started from scratch. He re-implemented his old delivery and returned to getting over his front side and finishing his slider.
Since his last start, Richard has been working with pitching coach Darren Balsley to slightly raise his arm slot on his delivery.
“A minimal change in the arm slot made a big difference,” said Richard. “I stayed on top of the baseball. That gave me better action and command on the fastball. Keeping the ball down with movement is a good sign.”
Out of the majors for the last two seasons, Robertson has re-invented himself as a bullpen candidate with an unusual approach.
Robertson is the man with two deliveries. He will still throw a few pitches from a conventional three-quarters angle but will also drop down to a sidearm release, sinking the fastball. The different deliveries have flustered hitters to date.
Romero had been throwing across his body, with a lot of his momentum heading toward the third-base line instead of directly to home plate. That has stopped Romero from properly following through on his delivery and creates problems with location.
“I think over the last couple of years he has gotten himself into a position where it’s difficult for him to repeat pitches where his initial stride is going,” Walker said. “We’re trying to get him cleaner to home plate, more of a straight line, which frees up his arm a little bit.”
Romero also has adjusted where he sets up on the rubber for each pitch. He now positions himself in the middle of the rubber as opposed to the first-base side.
As promised, closer candidate Bruce Rondon and pitching coach Jeff Jones spent a good chunk of Wednesday morning’s batting practice in the bullpen, working on his delivery. They worked a little on his release point, and they worked some on getting his legs involved in his delivery again.
The photograph that benefited Wainwright was taken a couple years ago. It showed his stride to the plate was a little longer.
Wainwright asked the team’s video technician to record his next bullpen session. The right-hander immediately noticed the difference when he returned to the longer stride.
Weaver, who was pulled from his final 2012 start after one inning because of a sore shoulder, said he’s getting back to his usual arm slot, which is more of a three-quarter delivery.
“The last few years I’ve had to kind of go over the top to throw around that tightness,” Weaver said. “It’s going to take a while to get that muscle memory back and get back to my normal arm slot.”
The Sox worked with Webster on two subtle mechanical tweaks this spring in an effort to let his stuff play in the strike zone on a more consistent basis.
The first tweak pertained to where the 23-year-old was setting up on the mound.
“A lot of two-seamer guys, they’re either in the middle of the rubber or on the first base side of the rubber. Webby was way on the right side, so you see him chasing right-handers a lot because he’s so far away. So when you move him over it gives him an easier plane to throw his sinker,” said Nieves.
The second related to Webster’s head position when he threw toward the plate. At the start of spring, his head would drop slightly as he worked toward the plate. The Sox worked with Webster to keep his head upright to create better direction to the plate, keeping him on a line that more easily extended to the strike zone.
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