Bringin’ Some Serious Cheese: Rich Harden

Mid to high 90s fastball, slider, changeup, spuckle (thanks to Adam Melhuse for that one). Rich Harden’s stuff can and will be described as:
a) nasty
b) dirty
c) filthy
d) all of the above

However, Rich Harden comes with the “When healthy” label. I’m not going to go into detail about his injury woes. Besides reviewing his mechanical efficiency, what I would like to do is to attempt to answer the question— Are there any aspects of his mechanics that makes him more injury prone than the average pitcher?

Let’s try to find out.


First a quick note: The above clips are synchronized to release. You might notice that, on the side shot (right), Harden is further along into his delivery. Harden from the center field camera (left) will catch up to him later on in his delivery. There is a simple reason for this. The side shot is a warmup pitch. The first pitch is a game speed fastball.

Tempo

I mention tempo quite a bit in my evaluations. As a quick and dirty reference, I count the number of frames it takes a pitcher to go from top of the knee lift to release. As a general rule, “the quicker the better.” Assuming that number one’s fastball above has better velocity than number two, we can see Harden controlling the velocity of his fastball by the effort he puts on the pitch. Effort and tempo go hand in hand for the most part. More effort usually equals quicker tempo, as we see on the clip above. That said, I’d like to compare apples to apples. Here’s a clip of Harden’s game speed fastball compared with Matt Cain‘s game-speed fastball.

I have to admit. This caught me by surprise. Compared to many power pitchers, Harden is actually pretty slow from top of the knee lift to release. I had to give him a 5-6 frame head start so that both release at the same time.

So, how does he throw so hard? We’ll get back to this one later.

Arm Action

I’m sorry to say this, but I’m not a big fan of it. If I can properly recall a former pitcher’s arm action, it has a Billy Koch-ish element to it that I don’t really like. Here’s some more video….

These 12 frames show the part of his arm action I don’t like. A couple of things…

1) If I were to draw a straight line connecting his elbow to the wrist, do you see how his wrist is cocked upwards with the ball “higher” than that line? Check out the Harden-Cain clip above and focus on Matt Cain’s arm action. Notice the difference? I like Cain’s MUCH more because the elbow “picks the ball up.” In Harden’s case, the ball and wrist pick the elbow up.

2) His arm seems to straighten out on the way back. I prefer a shorter arm action. Again, focus on Matt Cain. See how Cain maintains a slight bend on his elbow on the way back?

It’s not all bad, though. Here’s the REALLY good part of his arm action.

That’s REALLY quick. How does he get his arm to be that quick?

Lower Body

Let’s talk about the absolutely unbelievable part of his lower body action.

Focus on his left foot as an indicator. See how his foot picks up speed into footplant from around frame three? That is a STUPID aggressive “stepover,” and I love it. I’m not going to cover the “stepover” again, but it assists in getting your hips to rotate quickly. What he does here is one of the main reasons that he is able to accelerate the arm as quickly as it needs to in order to throw a baseball over 95 MPH.

WOW! Check out the separation between upper and lower body. See the tension build around his midsection as his lower body turns while his upper body stays closed? Outstanding stuff…

Front side/glove

I’m not going to talk about this too much. Refer to the first video. He’s decently good in this department. He does “firm up” the glove as he gets ready to release, but there’s just something missing there. It just doesn’t look good (I’d like the glove to be up more) but the main issues are covered. His lead elbow is out in front as is his glove. There’s a slight pull of the lead shoulder going on there. Not bad, not outstanding.

Conclusions

So are there any aspects of his mechanics that makes him more injury prone than the average pitcher?

1)Rich Harden isn’t an average pitcher. Outstanding fastball velocities come with higher force requirements on the ball. His body/arm are responsible for such forces.

2)And to answer the question above… I am not sure, but I do have a theory and a recommendation.

It seems to me that Harden is a believer/practitioner of a few modern day mechanics’ preachings that I don’t particularly care for: “Tall and Fall” and “get to the balance point.” It seems to me that while Harden does an outstanding job of creating/transferring energy into the ball, he does it too late. He waits too long to begin the throwing process. I’d like him to spread the force out over a slightly longer period of time. Rather than tell him to speed his body up, here’s the adjustment I’d like to see from him. This is the last video, I promise…

Mr. Harden: Forget “getting to the balance position and then going forward.” You’re stopping your momentum by doing so. See how Lincecum above is drifting forward slightly before he’s gotten to the top of his knee lift? He has begun applying force sooner. Do I think this is THE answer? I’m smart enough to realize that I don’t have all the answers. However, I DO believe that this adjustment will lessen the impact (on his body)of creating all that force in such a short period of time.

Of course, it then becomes a question of whether or not the A’s or Rich Harden are willing to make that adjustment. Do the A’s risk messing him up by tinkering with his mechanics? Absolutely. Here’s hoping that Rich Harden strengthened his body over the offseason to handle such forces and that mechanical changes aren’t necessary. From a fan’s point-of-view, here’s hoping that he stays healthy over the rest of his career. He could be something special.

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