Jake Peavy’s max effort mechanics

Along with Brad Lidge, Jake Peavy has been one of my readers’ most frequent requests. Indeed, Peavy has been on my “big board of projects” for a long time now and it’s about time I profiled his unique mechanics and approach to pitching.

Since I’m not a comedian and don’t do transitional material very well, let’s get right to it…

Here is a clip of Peavy’s delivery.

Quick observations:

1) Peavy goes after it, no doubt about it. If you don’t think Peavy is a max-effort guy, go ahead and listen to one of his starts; you are very likely to hear him grunt. I like to talk about “intent” a lot. As you can see by this clip, Peavy doesn’t hide the fact that he trying to throw the everlovin’ crap out of the ball.

2) Peavy seems to “jump out” at hitters with an aggressive move toward the plate that I’ll cover in more detail later. I’ve long thought that pitchers who aggressively “jump out” are more effective with their offspeed pitches because the hitter will try to “hit the motion” and jump out themselves.

3) Peavy doesn’t have the fastest tempo in all of baseball. However, there is no interruption of momentum as he freely flows through his motion. You can see that on the way down from the top of his knee lift, he seems to “load up” on his back side and spring at the hitter.

Let’s take a closer look at the good and the not-so-good aspects of Peavy’s mechanics.

The not good

1) Peavy’s front side mechanics aren’t the best. He seems to pull the front shoulder and his glove out of the way pretty violently. I prefer that pitchers “tighten up” at release with the glove and lead arm close to their center of mass and the lead elbow out in front. I was taught that pulling the lead arm violently increases the risk of shoulder troubles (especially the front of the shoulder). Here’s a still picture comparing Peavy with Randy Johnson, who is the gold standard when it comes to front-side mechanics.

Here’s another interesting picture. Drew Brees attended Purdue University at the same time I was there. I’ve seen him practice and have always been impressed with his front side mechanics:

Note how “wide” Peavy is compared to Johnson and Brees. Tightening up also helps in terms of command. How is Peavy’s command so good even with how “wide” he is at release? Familiarity with one’s own mechanics is a powerful thing:

2) Peavy finishes abruptly and recoils his arm. Notice how his throwing arm whips back after release:

The good

You may be asking yourself: Where does Peavy’s arm speed and velocity come from?

1) The “scap load” (loading the scapula).

I’ve talked about scap loading before in my other articles (you’ll have to do a little research). Notice that as his arm comes up, it “loads” horizontally towards first base.

To illustrate, let’s try something:
Stand up, elbows at shoulder height (or slightly below), forearms parallel to the ground and at a 90 degree angle with the upper arm. Now, imagine someone is behind you and slowly elbow that person without rotating your torso. Feel that stretch in your pec/shoulder? That elastic loading and subsequent unloading of the shoulder (and the correct timing of it) is a big driver of arm speed. Think of it as stretching a rubber band and then letting it go.

Here’s Peavy showing you how it’s done (even though the angle isn’t the best):

2) Peavy’s “stepover.”

As I mentioned earlier, as Peavy lowers his left leg on the way to footplant, he picks up his pace in order to build momentum into the pitch. In this next clip, focus on his left foot as the indicator. Notice how it hovers for a few frames before he “steps over” an imaginary object and aggressively sets his foot down. That move kickstarts his aggressive hip rotation.

Why does this clip stop for a few seconds on the last frame? I wanted to show you his hip/torso/shoulder separation. His butt is almost facing forward while his chest is still facing third. That’s some serious torque.

3) I briefly mentioned that the timing of the scap load is very important. This next clip focuses in on that timing:

Notice the timing of the scap load (shoulder stretches back) as the hips start to turn. Notice how the hips turn his torso. Try it yourself. That separation of the hips and torso is timed almost perfectly with his scap load.

Final thoughts on his mechanics

Let’s get this clear. Peavy is a max-effort pitcher with high risk/high reward mechanics. I happen to love pitchers who “go after it” even if they are considerably riskier. I would love to see Peavy clean up his mechanics in order to reduce the risk. However, I would not be in favor of him toning down his aggressiveness.

The question is: If you’re Peavy and/or the Padres, do you take the chance of potentially messing him up mechanically in order to make him less of an injury risk? This is a very tough question to answer and one which I would have to think about a bit more if I’m the Padres. Personally, I would very delicately try to introduce some ideas/techniques to lessen the risk while making sure that he remains as aggressive as he is now.

There are ways to lessen the risk, but I’d be inclined to concentrate on a rigorous conditioning program instead of revamping his mechanics at this stage of Peavy’s career. There are a few other things in his mechanics that would worry me as well, but let’s not dwell on the negatives and focus on the positives in his case.

Peavy’s approach

Stepping away from the mechanical side of things, I’d like to talk about how Peavy attacks hitters, specifically right-handed hitters. I thought that Peavy was the typical “hard in, slider away” type of pitcher. I was wrong. After watching a few of his starts, it became apparent that Peavy really doesn’t throw inside as much as I thought he did. He employs what I like to call the Smoltz approach.

Let me relate a little story I remember from my youth. You see, the Atlanta Braves were Puerto Rico’s team back when I was growing up in the early/mid-90s. Their success, along with TBS televising almost every single game, made it tough to not become a fan. While I never jumped on their bandwagon, I did pay attention to the way that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz went after hitters. When my pitching coaches would sing the praises of throwing inside, they would mention the Braves Trinity’s approach of staying away but coming inside enough to have hitters respect the inner half. It was apparent to me that the one guy who didn’t follow this approach was John Smoltz. He preferred the “fastball out, slider out of the zone” approach. He never seemed to pitch inside, especially to right-handed hitters.

I actually believe that Smoltz pitches inside more now than in those years. While I don’t have the numbers from the old days, I do have the numbers from this year. According to information from ESPN Insider, Smoltz throws pitches from the inner third and in (off the plate) just 16% of the time. Peavy: 19%. Webb, who is a true “sinker in, offspeed away” pitcher, checks in at 40%. Peavy and Smoltz also both favor the away, low and away, and low and further way (out of the zone) zones.

Other pitchers and their throw inside percentages:

Matt Cain: 24%
Greg Maddux: 24%
Phil Hughes: 31%
Jonathan Papelbon: 31%
Carlos Zambrano: 32%

Want another guy who has a reputation for throwing inside more than what he actually does? I have always thought that this next pitcher didn’t walk this walk. He just talked like he did:

Curt Schilling: 22%

Of the pitchers I listed, I would agree that Webb, Maddux and Zambrano throw a different type of fastball (sinkers) than the others, but it was still surprising to find out that Peavy throws inside as little as he does (to RH hitters). Hitters must know this fact about Peavy. So how come they just don’t camp out all over the outside corner and wail away at him? Well, it’s just not that easy.

Peavy’s stuff is excellent. With a hard, tailing fastball that he can get up to 96 mph or so, the hitter must be aware that a fastball at that velocity, thrown inside, is tough to catch up to. Fastball aside, what I think makes Peavy so dominant is his array of breaking pitches, combined with his command of that fastball on the outer edge. Not only does he challenge hitters from about the same arm angle, but he mixes an 86-88 mph slider with a 80-82 mph slurve and a slow, big breaking 75-76 mph curve (which he doesn’t use very often). He also throws a change up, but he uses that pitch mostly against lefties.

I have a treat for you. The following clip is a voice-over analysis where you can listen to me comment on Peavy’s approach while I play a clip of particularly nasty fastball/slider combo.

Click here to find out what makes Peavy so tough.

I wouldn’t necessarily advocate the Peavy/Smoltz approach for all pitchers. That said, Peavy shows us (with his approach and mechanics) that there are many ways to get it done.

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