Brandon McCarthy: Mechanical changes for the better?by Kyle Boddy
April 28, 2011
Brandon McCarthy has made some major changes in 2011 while pitching for the Oakland Athletics. Jeff Sullivan noticed this on Baseball Nation, referring to the change in his arm slot. I took a look at one of his older starts on July 31, 2007 (Texas @ Cleveland) and compared it to a game I went to in Seattle on April 21, 2011. Here's the raw PITCHf/x data from those two games via BrooksBaseball.net: 2007, 2011.
You can see in the 2007 data that he threw a four-seam fastball that was primarily higher in the zone with little lateral break (consistent with a higher release point), while in 2011 he relied more on a two-seam fastball with larger lateral break and more sink (consistent with a lower release point).
His breaking balls have changed as well, mostly due to the change in arm slot, I'd bet. Also available in that link are the average release point plots that show that McCarthy's release point is significantly lower in 2011 than it was in 2007:
His release point appears to be more consistent in 2011, which may be a good thing with regard to limiting elbow injuries (though McCarthy's injury problems have been shoulder/scapular in nature).
While it's pretty rare to find a pitcher who has made such major changes in approach and arm angle in the major leagues, it's even more rare to find someone who has made whole cloth mechanical changes in addition to revamping how he attacks hitters.
McCarthy has obviously made the basic mechanical change of arm slot (as shown in PITCHf/x data), but it goes way beyond that when you examine the video evidence. Compare his mechanics from 2009 in this high-speed shot by Trip Somers of TexasLeaguers.com to the video I shot in 2011:
Simply pause the video at footplant to see the major changes in how he loads the scapula. More careful examination will reveal that he is using his lower body more efficiently and effectively in the newer video than he was in the 2009 video. To use common scouting language, McCarthy is a lot less "max effort" in 2011 than in 2009 without any detrimental effects (no drop in velocity).
I've also put together a comparison video from 2007 to 2011 using 30 FPS low-quality broadcast game footage from the games selected above:
In my opinion, McCarthy's new delivery is a huge upgrade on many levels. He's obviously getting much better results with it, but the new delivery promotes rotation significantly better by doing a superior job of finishing rotated to the target while his trunk is "stacked" more efficiently. He is "loading" his scapula in a better pattern, which may help to limit injury given his history of scapular stress fractures without any loss of velocity.
We know that McCarthy has worked with a number of people on revamping his mechanics, including his former pitching coach in Texas, Mike Maddux, and TexasLeaguers.com writer (and current pro scout) Trip Somers (source: scout.com).
He pitched a brilliant game (albeit against a mostly inept offense) when I saw him, losing 1-0 against Felix Hernandez. It's hard not to root for a guy who is willing to put in the work and research to stay in the big leagues, and the fact that he pitches for a team I have a casual rooting interest in makes me hope McCarthy puts together a great career going forward.
Oh, and he has a great sense of humor. If you haven't read his Twitter account, you need to. Here's an image he made because he "felt left out" of the Oakland rotation:
References and Resources
-Trip Somers, TexasLeaguers.com (and current pro scout)
-Driveline Baseball, high-speed scouting
-Scout.com, McCarthy test drives new mechanics
-Brooksbaseball.net, PITCHf/x tool
Kyle Boddy is the owner of Driveline Baseball and Driveline Biomechanics Research, both in Seattle, Washington. At his facility, he's melded statistical analysis, strength & conditioning, prehab/rehab, and advanced biomechanical analysis concepts to develop improved efficiency, durability, and fastball velocity of baseball pitchers. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and found on Twitter: @drivelinebases.