Jeremy Accardo will start the season as Toronto’s closer due to B.J. Ryan‘s inevitable return to the 15-day disabled list. This is certainly no surprise to me, as he came back at least two months prematurely from his recovery from Tommy John (TJ) surgery.
Ryan had struggled with soreness in his pitching forearm, and in his biceps. What lies right in between these two anatomical regions? You guessed it—his surgical site. The soreness he is experiencing is likely due to deconditioned muscles, as well as the fact that these surrounding muscle groups are working harder to stabilize the medial aspect of the elbow joint where his ligament reconstruction took place. This is aside from the fact that his pitching motion places extraordinary stress on this area, even when healthy.
Right now, Toronto is planning for a best-case scenario of a mid-April return to action. While this is certainly possible, if Accardo performs like he did last season, there will be no need to rush Ryan. Actually, it would be in his best interest to simply sit out six to eight weeks and allow for proper healing and rehabilitation. This would at least put him on course for a more reasonable return from TJ surgery.
Pitching mechanics: an overview
As I have alluded to before, Ryan has perhaps the most injury-prone pitching mechanics in baseball. Even when he does return, he is a sure-fire bet to end up on the DL again due to the herky-jerky timing of his left elbow and shoulder motion during his windup and delivery. He would benefit from a major overhaul of those. Do the pitching coaches in Toronto have any plans to change his mechanics?
As Chris O’Leary describes his arm action, he presents with a major “inverted L,” a term that pinpoints the significant internal rotation of the shoulder as he brings the ball back behind him and the subsequent rapid external rotation of the shoulder that ensues.
This is dangerous because his rotator cuff has to work unfathomably hard to slow down his arm during the internal rotation phase, return his arm into external rotation in preparation for the high cocking phase, and prevent the shoulder from experiencing too much stress in its anterior (front) as he brings the pitching arm toward home plate.
He places a tremendous amount of strain on the external rotators of the shoulder, the internal rotators of the shoulder, the anterior shoulder and labrum, and the muscles and ligaments of the medial aspect of the elbow. Also, how are you supposed to deliver the ball appropriately toward home plate if you are leaning significantly toward first base? The fact that nobody has corrected this is absolutely astounding.
Combine this with the fact that he “whips” the ball toward home plate with an across-the-body motion—with his body ultimately falling toward first base. The reason he falls toward first? Locking his plant leg creates a situation where his body can no longer rotate to the right (toward home plate), so his momentum is stopped and shifts back to the left as he advances his trunk over the plant leg.
This is a cause for concern because his meniscus cartilage likely is going to grind away and cause problems, much like is the case with Brad Lidge. Not only that, but the rapid collision of the articulating surfaces of the femur, tibia and patella are going to create a formation of bone where the surfaces meet, which over time can lead to decreased mobility of the knee joint and pain.
There are so many injurious flaws to his pitching motion. He raises his pitching side forearm with his elbow on the way up to the high cocking phase. The shoulder is externally rotating before his elbow gets to this point, creating a subsequent whip-like motion of the shoulder and elbow. Think of the sound of a whip cracking.
This is Ryan’s elbow and shoulder with each pitch he delivers.
2008 Fantasy Expectations
With all that is wrong with his pitching mechanics, and the lengthy injury history he has, you surely cannot expect a full season’s worth of save opportunities from B.J. Ryan. If you drafted him, you must have an alternative plan—either Accardo, another closer or a few relievers who have potential for closer’s gigs later this year (Tony Pena, Jonathan Broxton, Rafael Betancourt, et al). I would be surprised if Ryan he ends up with the majority of saves in Toronto this season. Projections: 42 GP, 1-2, 39 IP, 38 H, 18 SV, 18 BB/35K, 4.05 ERA, 1.35 WHIP