Madison Bumgarner’s Fastball: An Investigation
Awhile back I detailed Madison Bumgarner’s drop in velocity last season and why I wasn’t worried about him going into 2010. Two appearances in Spring Training though have changed that outlook. Now you can color me worried. The panic being induced is due to reports out of Arizona saying that Bumgarner is topping out at just 89 mph on his fastball. After coming out of high school throwing 95 mph, I was ready to reserve judgment until we saw how he recovered over the offseason. Now that the offseason is over, there’s reason for some concern. Even so, it’s only March, so it’s not quite the time to run around like chickens with their heads cut off.
So instead, we’ll take the even-headed scientific approach that begs the question: why the continued lack of velocity from the young lefty? Some say it may be a problem with his mechanics, while others say it’s his throwing habits between starts. Either way, it seems worthwhile to compare his delivery from his low-minors/hard-throwing days to his current motion in Spring Training to see if anything really is different.
First, his load:
The photo on right is from Bumgarner’s last Spring outing, while the one on the left is from his days playing in Augusta. While the one on the right is a split second later in his delivery, the first thing I notice is that while his lower body is a stage later in the second photo, his upper body seems to be in virtually the same place as the photo on the left. What this can be evidence of is that from the hips up, his upper body is behind his legs. If his arm drags behind his lower body, that could potentially take a few miles off his fastball.
Next, let’s look at the following stage in his delivery for further observation:
Now here is where things become a little clearer. In the photo on the far right, Bumgarner’s a split second further in his delivery once again. His front foot is completely planted, while his arm is in an identical place relative to the other two photos. On the right, you’ll see that while his hip rotation has yet to begin, his front foot is firmly down. Ever try throwing a baseball flat-footed? That’s essentially what’s happening here. It’s yet another instance of his upper body lagging behind his lower body, causing his arm to drag across his body instead of driving towards his target.
And now the hip rotation:
Everything looks great, right? Upper body driving towards the plate, front foot planted firmly in front of him, no problem. When it comes to pitching mechanics though, one tiny little thing out of sync can throw everything off track. If you’ll notice, his back foot in the photo on the right is slightly lifted, while in the photo on the left his back foot is still earth-bound. His arm and torso are still driving towards the target, but his back foot is a split second ahead of him in the more recent photo on the right. His upper body is still lagging behind his legs, making it much more difficult to generate power through his motion.
Any finally, the release point:
See it yet? The ball is leaving his hand at precisely the same point in both photos, but the lower body between the two Bumgarner’s doesn’t match. The more recent photo once again shows his back foot leaving earth significantly earlier. On the left (back when he threw 95 mph+), there’s complete balance, with his back foot a fraction of an inch off the dirt. It may seem like a nitpickingly small detail, but it’s also an important one. The motion of throwing a baseball at a maximum velocity is dependent on generating power from bottom up. Essentially, your legs provide the power, while your torso and arm provide the torque. When both of these factors are in perfect balance, you have yourself the optimum delivery. When things start getting thrown out of sync though, you start having problems.
At this point anything I’m saying is really just pure speculation, but it’s my best guess. If Bumgarner’s problems are truly due to mechanics, then I’d say that’s the best possible scenario when measured up against a potential injury. Mechanics can be fixed through observation and repetition, while fixing an arm problem can be a much messier process. Until he starts reporting pain though, all we can do as fans is guess. That and sift through hours worth of photos of his delivery until we find something indicative of his lost velocity. Either way, here’s hoping the issue is worked out sooner rather than later. Stay tuned…
Spring Training photos used with the express permission of Joseph Pun and AZGiants.com